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Los Angeles, California

Box Canyon

The quiet canyon has a tumultuous history involving a doomsday cult. 

Box Canyon in California is smaller and narrower than a river canyon, with three steep walls and only one point of access. The rocky hideaway in Southern California started out as the place for a weekend getaway, but its legacy was cemented later on when it became the home base for a doomsday cult.

Francis Pencovic, who went by Krishna Venta, claimed to be the second coming of Christ. Venta, who insisted he came from the planet Neophrates—where he’d been born 240,000 years prior—started the W.F.K.L. Fountain of the World in 1948. He bought up 25 acres of land in Box Canyon and built a monastery and several dorms to house his 100 or so followers.

The Fountain of the World was incorporated in 1951, and the cult’s long-haired and constantly barefoot members often helped to fight wildfires in the area. Neighboring communities sang their praises.

But within the monastery, Venta was preaching about the impending World War III, fought between communist Russia and capitalistic America, which would coincide with a race war. In the end, a godless Russia would prevail. That’s when Venta and his followers would step in and take back the world (with love and kindness rather than guns, apparently).

In 1958 two men whose wives had joined the cult acquired 20 sticks of dynamite and showed up to take revenge on Venta, who they felt was a sexual predator. They recorded a tape outlining their plan and showed up at the monastery’s main building with the explosives strapped to their chests. The ensuing blast killed them, Venta, and seven of his followers.

Many of the members stuck around for varying lengths of time—a few went on to die at Jonestown in 1978. But without its charismatic alien leader, the cult limped on until disbanding in the ‘80s.

Recently, wealthy people have started to displace those who live in the area, often in small trailers and even makeshift shelters left over from the old monastery. Realtors would like to provide a new legacy for the area, one of extravagant homes in the remote, now-quiet canyon.

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