What to Do with a Deceased Prophetess? [Part 2 of a three part series.]   By Jack Hoehn, February 4, 2015:    [Part 1 of this series attempted to show the kind of world Ellen Gould (Harmon) White was born into.  It was more like a 3rd world country than it was like the USA of today.  Many changes happened during her lifetime and by the time of her death much had already changed or was beginning to change.  However, Sister White did not live to adjust to all of these changes, nor the subsequent ones.  The previous article ended with this illustration and the following questions:


Our inspired prophetess Ellen White has left us 100 books, 5,000 periodical articles, and a total of two million and five hundred thousand (or so) words.  What are we to do with someone from a very different world than our own, who left us with such a prodigious output?  How can we put Ellen on a level footing with other inspired writers such as Moses, Luke, James, and Jude?  What do we do with the writings of the Inspired Expired?]

Aging of the Prophetess

In February 1915 the 87-year-old Messenger of the Lord was in fairly good health, still able to dress herself and to get about the house.  She ate meals with the family, and when the Napa Valley weather permitted she would go out for a drive, still with a horse and carriage, although horseless carriages had been made by Henry Ford in Detroit since 1904.  There was no denying, however, that her body and mind were failing.  One of her staff, D.E. Robinson, reported to Ellen’s special friend, Stephen (and Hetty) Haskell[1], on February 10, “Her appetite seems to be good, and she thoroughly enjoys her food.  Yet we who are associated with her can see that she is constantly growing weaker…Just recently it has become quite difficult for her to write with a pen.  Some days her memory seems to be better than others.”[2]

Intracapsular Fracture

Sabbath, February 15, 1915, about noon, as she was entering her study from the hallway, Ellen tripped and fell.  After helping her painfully into bed, her nurse, May Walling, telephoned (this new service was now available at Elmshaven) Dr. Klingerman at the St. Helena Sanitarium.  When the doctor came, he said that it was either a bad sprain or a fracture.  Ellen was taken to the Sanitarium, where the newly available X-ray examination showed “an intracapsular fracture of the left femur at the junction of the head and the neck.” [3] She was moved back as gently as possible to her home, and there she spent the last five months of her life in bed.

Sufferings of a Saint

“When asked if she is suffering pain,” her son and chief agent after his father died, William White, reported to Seventh-day Adventist friends, “she will start to say Yes: then she stops and says, ‘It is not so painful as it might be, but I cannot say that it is comfortable.’”  “A few weeks later, when asked what kind of day she had had, she replied, ‘A good day—in spots.’”[4]

The Candle Flickers Out

On Thursday, July 15, it was clear that Sister White was in a coma, and no further attempts at feeding[5] or treatments were made.  Family members were called to the room for the death watch.  Friday morning, July 16, 1915, they noted her breaths were rapid and shallow at 50 breaths a minute; by Friday afternoon they slowed to 38, then 18, then 10, and before Friday sundown at 3:40 pm, perhaps close to the time her Savior had called out, “It is finished,” Ellen White’s breathing stopped.  Her great Sabbath had begun.

Her son Willie wrote, “It was like the burning out of a candle, so quiet.”[6]


It appears that detailed plans for her death had been made during her long final illness.  Curious about 1915 morticians, I looked up and found an August 3, 1915, US Patent application filed by the Embalmers Supply Co, listing “Embalming–Pumps, Syringes, Needles, Trocars, Nozzles, Goosenecks, Atomizers, Scalpels, Bistouries, Aneurisms, Arterial Hooks, Hypodermic Needles, Stop-Cocks, Draining Tubes, Nasal Tubes, Cut-Offs, Cotton Packers, Directors, Scissors, Forceps, Chin Rests, Artery and Vein expanders,” among other things!  So it appears that the technology for preservation of dead bodies was already far advanced by the time of Ellen White’s death.

I assume that is why it was possible for them to have three separate funeral services with open caskets for her during the next week.  By Sabbath, friends who called at Elmshaven “found her in a simple cloth-covered black coffin bearing a modest silver plate with the engraved words ‘At Rest.’”[7]

Funerals 3

Perhaps the most speculative chapter of the recent Oxford University Press book Ellen Harmon White—An American Prophet is Chapter 16, written by T. Joe Willey.[8]  The first funeral was on the lawn of her home on Sunday, July 18, for local family and friends.  Then, taking advantage of the California Conference Camp-meeting going on near Oakland, her body was taken by train for a second funeral on Monday, July 19, with over 1,000 Adventists in attendance.   Finally the casket went back to headquarters of the church she had helped found in Battle Creek, Michigan.  In the Battle Creek Tabernacle on Sabbath, July 24, three thousand people crowded into the church, and another 1,000 were outside on the lawn.  People passed by her coffin for two and a half hours, and then her funeral was conducted by the General Conference president she had installed, A.G. Daniells, and the sermon was preached by her faithful fellow warrior and special friend, Elder Stephen N. Haskell.

The casket was closed and carried by carriage to the Oak Hill Cemetery, with “100 automobiles and nine streetcars following down Main Street.”  After a brief graveside service the local paper and the Review and Herald both reported that “the remains of our dear sister were tenderly and silently lowered into the grave to rest beside the body of her husband, Elder James White.”[9]

Dead but Not Buried

Quite a bit of historical sleuthing then is reported by Willey, that says this was not quite the end of the prophetess.  Although denied by Ellen White’s subsequent representatives until recently, records seem to show that she was removed from the grave and kept in an above ground vault for another month and four days, or until 40 days after her death.

A letter discovered from her son Edson to second son Willie suggests that he and a few others took one last look at his mother 40 days after her death, before she was finally put into the grave on August 26.  Naming five other Adventists from Battle Creek who were with him, Edson wrote his brother, “Of course, her face had changed considerably, and yet she was preserved as well as I could expect…” before they finally replaced her in the grave prepared for her.”[10]

Request for James White’s Resurrection?

Willey records, “At the time of James White’s death in 1881 an Adventist elder had urged Ellen White to appeal to God to raise her husband from the death.  ‘Do not let them bury him,’ one of the leading brethren implored, ‘but pray to the Lord, that He may bring him to life again.’  After reflecting on the request, Mrs. White declined, saying, ‘He had done his work… Would I have him suffer all this over again?  No. No.  I would in no case call him from his restful sleep to a life of toil and pain.  He will rest until the morning of the resurrection.’”[11]


Willey then speculates:  “Edson and Willie White may well have believed that their worthy parents deserved the same…benefit [righteous individuals who came forth from the dead at the time of Christ’s resurrection].”[12]

So perhaps 40 days and 40 nights after her death, this one last check of the casket by her son was necessary to confirm that in fact the Servant of the Lord was really dead and had not been resurrected and could be finally buried.

Would We Resurrect Sister White?

When I first read this 16th Chapter in the Ellen Harmon White book, I found it interesting but almost tabloid-like as a “previously unexposed secret fact” about our prophetess.  Like something from The National Enquirer or other gossip publications sold at the checkout counter of the supermarket.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that all sincere Adventists who value the church Sister White cofounded, and the concepts she introduced as heaven-sent dreams and visions to expand and widen our understanding of scriptures, have the same problem that her son Edson or the grieving elder begging for Ellen to resurrect James had!  We want her back.

It is very hard for us to bury a prophet.  And sadly for us, it is not because we love her as a person, although we have all been blessed by her, but frankly it’s because we have found her very useful, and we miss that.

She helped us make decisions on which doctrine was the most correct, and which interpretation best fit the times, and what foods were good for you, and how should you keep the Sabbath, and what was wrong with this General Conference president, or that leading medical doctor. In her two million five-hundred-thousand words we have found something for all of us.

We need her to support Trinitarian-Righteousness-by-faith-alone Desmond Ford Adventism.  We need her for “Shape up and get perfect so He can come back” and “wear your skirts 14 inches off the ground” GYC Adventism.  We need her for vegan, herbalist, enema-cleansing, no drugs, Uchee Pines or Weimar Institute “she-never-made-a-mistake” health messages.

And might I perceive that our present top church administrators appear to feel that a sacred mission has been given them to force the rest of Adventism who may be in danger of burying the dear Sister once and for all, to dig her up once more and let the world hear her speak again in all her 19th century glory?



(To be continued.  This is Part 2 of a three part series on The Expired Inspired. If you found this article interesting, please share it on Facebook or other media with interested friends.  Because this is a series, it will be closed to reader comments until after all three articles have been published.)



[1] See Part 1 of this series for the special place Elder S.N. Haskell and his wife had for Ellen White in her later years.

[2] White, Arthur L.  Ellen G. White—Volume 6, The Later Elmshaven Years 1905-1915.  Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.  Page 422.

[3] Ibid, Page 424.

[4] Ibid, Page

[5] Ibid, Page 430.  Towards the end as she was not eating they had been giving her what they called “albumen water,” apparently egg white diluted with water, that she would sometimes sip, but otherwise she had stopped eating, and now they had to quit even offering fluids.

[6] Ibid, Page 431.

[7] Ibid, Page 433.

[8] Aamodt, Terrie Dopp et al. Ellen Harmon White—American Prophet.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.  Chapter 16 by T. Joe Willey.

[9] Ibid, Willey–Page 298.

[10] Ibid, Willey—Page 298.

[11] Ibid, Willey—Page 302.

[12] Ibid, Willey—Page 302.