December 24th of 1954 found many Oak Park residents anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus and his sleigh. The Christmas season was nearing its climax in a spirit of goodwill and joy, but not for all.
On the 700 block of south Cuyler Avenue, a group of 20 gathered with 54-year-old Oak Park housewife Dorothy Martin in anticipation of something quite different: the 6 PM arrival of a space craft, a flying saucer that would rescue them from an impending disaster and whisk them away to the planet Clarion.
Dorothy had long been attracted to the occult and science fiction. Since the newspapers first reported sighting of a flying saucer in 1947, she became intrigued by the notion of extraterrestrial beings arriving in Unidentified Flying Objects, UFOs. She was not alone in her interests as witnessed by the many UFO clubs that formed around the country. Their members gathered periodically to delve into the possibility, and often the conviction, that Earth was being visited by advanced life forms.
Dorothy also considered herself blessed with a unique gift, that of being able to channel communications with the spirit world. This gift was something she intended to use for the benefit of others. She worked to develop it so that she could clearly articulate the messages being channeled through her.
Her first channeling experience had been contact by her deceased father. He had communicated with her through the process of “automatic writing,” a passive activity where the channel holds pen to paper and passively watches as her hand writes the otherworldly message. As she developed her skills, there would be no need for automatic writing. Messages were soon communicated directly to her through Extra Sensory Perception, ESP.
By 1954, she was no longer just receiving messages from departed Earthlings; she was increasingly communicating with extraterrestrial beings. Dorothy knew these as advanced and benevolent beings that cared for the welfare of Earth’s people.
Dr. Charles A. Laughead and his wife Lillian were already fascinated by flying saucers and often sought out UFO club meetings. They were thrilled to meet Dorothy at one of these meetings. Not only was she a fellow believer; she actually could communicate with the beings flying them. Though the Laugheads lived in Michigan and Dorothy in Oak Park, they began to correspond and regularly visit each other.
In the autumn of 1954, Dorothy shared a message with the Laugheads, one she had received from the beings of the planet Clarion. They warned of impending doom. On Tuesday, December 21, 1954, a catastrophic event, an earthquake and flood, would wipe out most of life in the central part of the United States. Further cataclysms would follow in 1955. These disasters would end most life on Earth, but a select few Earthlings would be rescued by space craft to the planet Clarion.
Having attempted to alert the world of the impending doom, Dr. Laughead , his wife Lillian, and their three children made the journey from Michigan to gather with Dorothy and other believers in Oak Park. They spent a long night waiting.
By 4:45 a.m. on December 22nd, tired and still on this planet, the group received new instructions communicated to Dorothy by the “space brothers.” The new departure time was now set for 6:00 PM on December 24th.
After a quick trip back to Michigan to deal with his sister’s attempts to have him committed for psychiatric evaluation, Dr. Laughead returned to Oak Park in time to rejoin his family for the anticipated rescue. As instructed by the space beings, the group assembled outside of Dorothy’s Cuyler Avenue home to sing Christmas Carols until departure time. This group was the self-described “Brotherhood of the Seven Rays,” or in short, the “Seekers.”
A boisterous group of onlookers also gathered outside Dorothy’s house that night. These were the gawkers, the ones who wanted to see what would not happen.
Christmas dawned with no space craft arriving; Cuyler Avenue again fell quiet.
Dorothy’s husband Harold, who was not a Seeker, accepted his wife’s need to follow her own beliefs. Oak Park police Chief Thomas P. Kearin was not as accepting and considered charging Dorothy with inciting a riot and contributing to the delinquency of minors. The police found that neighborhood children had talked with Dorothy about space travel. Imaginations stirred, some of the children reported having trouble sleeping afterward to their parents chagrin. When Harold agreed to have his wife placed under psychiatric care outside Illinois, Kearin agreed to let the matter drop.
We know about the Seekers and the events of December 1954 not only through newspaper reports in the Chicago Daily Tribune, but also through the research work of Dr. Leon Festinger of the University of Minnesota. Festinger’s researchers had learned of Dorothy Martin and Charles A. Laughead and had infiltrated the Seekers. In 1956 he published his observations in the book, When Prophesy Fails. In this work, Festinger outlined the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, a theory that attempts to explain how people will commit to and hold onto beliefs even when those beliefs are utterly disproven.
In 1955, the Laugheads moved to Florida and then eventually on to Arizona, perhaps to be near their channel, Dorothy Martin. Dorothy, now under the name “Sister Thedra,” continued to provide prophesy to those seeking it.
After examination and professional evaluation, both Dorothy Martin and Charles A. Laughead were deemed sane. They were, however, also deemed mistaken.
Written by Frank R. FioRito, May 2021