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5 Virtuous Figures Caught With Their Flies Down (Or Skirts Up)

With Eliot Spitzer dominating today's news, we decided to look back at other so-called virtuous figures who became embroiled in sex scandals.

1. Aimee Semple McPherson (1890"“1944)

By the mid-1920s, evangelist McPherson was packing them in at her Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, preaching hope and warning against the sinful life. But in 1926, she disappeared while swimming at a local beach. She turned up a month later with a fantastic story about being kidnapped and taken to Mexico. Unfortunately, the evidence said otherwise: It appeared Aimee had been shacked up with a married man. The evangelist was charged with perjury, but she stuck to her story and was eventually acquitted. Her popularity waned after the scandal, but you gotta hand it to her for chutzpah: instead of apologizing to her confused flock, McPherson bobbed her hair, bought some short skirts, and began dancing and drinking in public.

2. Jim Bakker (1941"“ )

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Simple people with a simple dream, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker started out hosting a children's religious puppet show. By the mid-1970s, however, the fabulous Bakker duo had become the toast of televangelism. They pulled in millions of dollars in contributions to their PTL (Praise the Lord) ministry, and even built a sort of fundamentalist Disneyland called Heritage USA in South Carolina. But Jim had a couple of dirty little secrets. He had paid a former church secretary named Jessica Hahn to keep quiet about a sexual encounter they had in 1980. But when the scandal broke in 1987, questions began to be raised about Bakker's financial dealings. In 1989, he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for fleecing his flock of $158 million. In the end he only served five, and moved forward with his life, eventually opening a new ministry in a restaurant in Branson, Missouri.

3. Jimmy Swaggart (1935"“ )

swaggart.jpgSwaggart was one of Jim Bakker's fiercest critics when the Bakker scandal broke, telling an interviewer he himself had never even kissed a woman other than his wife. Maybe not. But the bombastic and fantastically successful television preacher—and cousin to rock-and-roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis—was doing something with that prostitute in a cheap New Orleans hotel room in early 1988. Swaggart's tearful, televised confession kept his $12-million-a-year, 10,000-employee religious empire together—until he got caught with his pants down again. That's right, Jimmy Swaggart was linked to (brace yourself!) another hooker in 1991. A couple of lost lawsuits, an IRS tax lien, and that was the end of the line for Jimmy Swaggart. Well, not exactly. He's still hurling rhetorical fire and brimstone on TV, radio and online, albeit on a much smaller scale.

4. Amrit Desai (1932"“ )

yogidesai2006.jpgA onetime art student, Amrit Desai came to the United States from India in 1960. He began giving yoga lessons on the side and ended up training several thousand people, who in turn became yoga instructors around the country. With his followers calling him "guru dev," or "beloved teacher," one of the things Desai taught at the yoga center he founded in Massachusetts in 1972 was that celibacy was spiritually mandatory for unmarried people. Desai even took a vow of celibacy himself in 1974, despite being married with children. No wonder it was something of a shock (perhaps greatest to his wife) when in 1994, the beloved teacher admitted to having affairs with three of his followers. The scandal forced Desai to resign his $150,000-a-year post. He eventually moved to Florida, but kept up the yoga.

5. Paul R. Shanley (1931"“ )

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In the 1970s, Shanley was known as "the hippie priest"; he was a Roman Catholic clergyman whose specialty was ministering to kids struggling with their sexual identity. By 2002, however, Shanley was a central figure in the greatest scandal ever to hit the Catholic Church in the United States. Shanley was accused of molesting more than two dozen boys over a 35-year span. Subsequent investigations into other allegations in the Boston archdiocese resulted in the Church paying $85 million in 2003 to 552 people who claimed to have been abused by priests. It also triggered similar probes, and similar results, in other areas of the country. In 2005, at the age of 74, Shanley was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.

This article was excerpted from 'Forbidden Knowledge: A wickedly smart guide to history's naughtiest bits.'

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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