Episode 93: Celestial Atom Smasher

Aaron bews a cuppa’ of sleepytime-cult tea. Then Shea impresses patrons with the Mighty Atom’s strength!

Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that’s brewing up some crazy

I’m your host this week, Aaron, and with me are:

I’m Shea, and this week I learned T.S. Eliot added the S to his name because T.Eliot backward is “toilet”.

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  • Aaron: 5
  • Shea: 4

Aliens, Herbalists, & Bears, oh my!

Being a good British show Doctor Who has, more than once featured “a cuppa” which is either British or Galifrain slang for a cup of tea.

First seen in Series one, episode four, titled Marco Polo, each Doctor has had, at some point, their own cup of tea. According to the Eighth Doctor, one should “never turn down tea if it’s offered. It’s impolite, and that’s how wars start.” Perhaps most notably in Christmas Invasion the first-holiday special featuring 10, Jackie brings a thermos of tea into the TARDIS so they’ll have a snack during the end of the world. “Very British” according to Rickey… I mean Mickey… When the tea falls into the TARDIS’ dash it turns to steam, awakening the 10th Doctor from his regeneration-sleep, with the Doctor declaring “Tea! That’s all I needed! Good cup of tea! Super-heated infusion of free-radicals and tannin, just the thing for healing the synapses…”

But no, this isn’t a story about Doctor Who, this is my perhaps sad, diet-Coke version of a Mike Hall intro.

Ashley and I drink a fair amount of tea. She more than I, but our pantry is pretty well stocked with an assortment of teas from all over the world. From Macha to Earl Grey, hot. One of our favorites is Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Herbal Tea.

It’s a tasty wind-down tea for sure. Made with chamomile and, apparently, like 30 other bits of shrubbery found in the Colorado mountains.

I never would have guessed it, but Celestial Seasonings is semi-local. Also, in terms of guessing, I’d have been the more right about the location — with horseshoe rules of course — because even if I’d said New Zealand, I’d be closer to the right place than all the rest of the stuff I’m about to talk about is to reality.

And no, despite where I’m sure many of you think this is going, I’m not going to debunk Sleepytime. Unlike the Doctor, a cuppa isn’t going to wake your nan from her coma, heal your broken bones, or align your chakras. Tea isn’t medicine. At least, not anymore. A cup of boiled aspen bark might have been better than nothing in the ye-oldie, splinters-can-be-fatal times. but no longer.

Chamomile is generally associated with drowsiness, but it’s not melatonin or chloroform. And the tea isn’t magic, but a nighttime cup of tea and a bit of quiet do go a long way toward helping many people sleep. Not sure that the ingredients of the tea are the linchpin of that process though…

So, what was all of that? Well, it was a time-filling, long-winded, dismissal of medical tea nonsense so we can talk about what really matters. Their name, religious practices, eugenics, and the aliens that inspired it all…

The Doctor is an alien. See, see! I planned this. Kinda.

Speaking of timey wimey, the year is 1969. Some friends are hiking the Rockies in Colorado and discover that most of the plants here become tea if you dry and boil them — so they start a tea company. Fresh off the Summer of Love they name it after one of their girlfriend’s flowername, and Celestial Seasonings is born.

Which is super cute and totally fits on the side of a tea box.

However, Mo Siegel and John Hay, two of the founders of the company, are also super into the new-age bible, The Urantia Book.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the book, as I was before this story, it’s a crazy-town, alien-Jesus, woo-woo affair written by William Sadler around 1900 for a Seventh-Day Adventist splinter group. The full book is available though because the Urantia Foundation said it was written through superhuman/alien/whatever beings, the Arizona Supreme Court said they couldn’t copyright it. Also, it’s just frilly nonsense for Sadler to not-hide his racism.

And it makes for great pod-fodder! But moving on…

It’s 1970 and they’re enlisting wives, girlfriends, also probably male friends, into picking herbs from a naturally growing field they found hiking around Boulder. So, found tea. Guess we can all be glad they knew what poison ivy looked like. From this comes Mo’s 36 Herb Tea which was sold, according to celestialseasonings.com, exclusively in an unnamed Boulder health food store.

Meanwhile, Mo is finding the company’s moral compass in Urantia.

In You’ve GOT to Read This Book! 55 People Tell the Story of the Book That Changed Their Life he writes, “I wanted spiritual adventure, and I was on the ride of my life. I was searching for truth and the book was loaded with it.”

How much truth? About four and a half pounds worth. Or 2,097 pages. Not sure if truthiness is a measure of mass or volume…

Anyway, let’s have some tea-guiding, flowerchild-wooing, truth!

How about, per Mo, “Lucifer, Satan, Melchizedek, Adam and Eve, and Jesus are all extraterrestrial beings who have visited Earth.”

Yeah, how’s that for 0 to 60?

The book is all over the place. The first third is a description of the universes, and superverses (no idea), explaining the invisible seraphim, spirits, and semi-spirit beings that inhabit it. But alas, without the Avatar we may never make peace with them…

The second third of the book is more or less Jesus as you’re familiar with him. I mean, he’s got ovipositors in this one, but how is that any different from frankincense and mur really?

Also, there are billions of Jesuses… Jesussi?.. Jesusses… sons of god, on each of the 100,000 “local” universes’ 10 million inhabited worlds. But don’t worry, Earth, or Urantia, is the best.

When you die, you basically get Isikied to the next world until you eventually reach paradise.

But in case you’re worried this is a death cult, the revelator named the Brilliant Evening Star of Nebadon calls on Christians to join their “new cult.” Wait…

“The Urantia Book itself does not represent a destructive cult. But some of its self-proclaimed prophets lead groups that can be seen as destructive cults.”

Said Rick Ross, a cult expert who helped in Waco with the Branch Davidians. I’m not 100% sure if “helped” meant to be in scare quotes or not…

There we go. That was the “exculpatory” quote I was looking for. I, for one, feel a ton better.

He also assures us that it is the “true religion” and like all good books of god, offers… this book of god as proof. Dictated by “numerous supermortal personalities [who] made contact through the Thought Adjuster (indwelling spirit of God) of a particular human being on our world.”

Luckily, there’s no room for interpretation. The book was only translated from Uversa — yep — to Salvington, then into Satania, before finally English, and then the other 22 languages it’s been translated into since. So basically, it’s perfect.

“I thought that was just the goofiest thing I’d ever heard,”

Mo Siegel wrote.

And if I don’t finish this quote, he’s more or less right.


“After I read it, I was not concerned about who had written it or how it had been written because it was so powerful.”

Siegel, the other co-founder we talked about, retired from Celestial Seasonings a few years ago and is currently the president of the Urantia Foundation.

“After studying the teachings in The Urantia Book, I knew that it would feel selfish and wasteful to simply focus on material success,” he said. “So, as a young man, when I began thinking of what I could do to make a living, I immediately turned to the health food industry … The ideas [in The Urantia Book] were the inspiration for the uplifting quotes we print on the side of our tea boxes and on our teabag tags!”

Can’t get more direct than that.

Apparently, per Caroline MacDougall, their 5th employee back in the day, “It was a guide for making sure of the moral values that underlay the company at that time.” To the point where it was quoted in boardroom arguments. So… bible stuff.

Which is all fine and well — what’s wrong with a company’s moral center being extraterrestrial-friendly eh?


Siegal’s The Twenty Most-Asked Questions, which is about the Urantia Book, he’s very careful to remind us that “all persons are equal in the sight of God” and that “race should become irrelevant.”

There’s a lot of race stuff in the book. In almost every article I’ve read about it the author mentions that it’s either the or nearly the, most racist thing they’ve ever read.

But let’s start off light.

Hehe, rainbow light!

It would seem that 500,000 years ago there were six, color-based, races on Urantia (Earth). They were the Red men of rage and hostility; the jealous and petty Orange; Yellow men, fearful of all; while little Green men were, mostly, just and willful; the Blue race was most hopeful; and the Indigo Tribe… was.. compasionate…

Wait, no that’s the Lanter Corps.

Perhaps I should let the book explain:

“The earlier races are somewhat superior to the later; the red man stands far above the indigo — black — race,” says Paper 51 of The Urantia Book. It continues “the yellow race usually enslaves the green, while the blue man [which corresponds to Caucasians] subdues the indigo [black].”

We talked about the millions of worlds. Well, each gets a blond-haired, blue-eyed, Adam and Eve to “upstep” the “natives” — I hope you can hear those quote marks — by only breeding with genetically acceptable inhabitants, leaving the “inferior stocks [to] be eliminated and there will be one purified race, one language, and one religion,”

Which sounds… super familiar if you consider this was probably written around 1900.

The book continues the story on Earth by drawing attention to Adam and Eve’s failure to selectively bread “race harmonization” through what the book calls the “adamic tecnique” but the rest of us just call eugenics.

In case you think I’m joking, the book directly attributes the problem of evil to the existence of “unfit” people like “Australian natives, and the Bushmen and Pygmies of Africa” and I’m cutting the quote off there because the next sentence is… oof… uncomfortable to be around.

In part two of the book, adherents are called upon directly to “work out your planetary problem of race improvement by other and largely human methods of adaptation and control.”

Speaking of not subtle:

“Biologic renovation of the racial stocks — the selective elimination of inferior human strains, […] tend to eradicate many mortal inequalities.”

Paper 70 of The Urantia Book.

Which is scary close to this bullshit it had a hand in inspiring:

“The demand that defective people be prevented from propagating equally defective offspring represents the most human act of mankind.”

For those of you who haven’t done that “literature” thing, that’s a quote from fucking Mein Kampf.

While we can’t directly link this crap to nazis, they share influencers. Like William Sadler, who wrote the book — 3 of them actually — on eugenics from 1918 to 1922.

  • Long Heads and Round Heads; or, What’s the Matter With Germany (1918)
  • Racial Decadence: An Examination of the Causes of Racial Degeneration in the United States (1922)
  • The Truth About Heredity (1927).

The Urantia Book echoes the sentiments of these books — sometimes word for word.

In Racial Decadence, Sadler expresses, among other notions, that the “unfit” should be sterilized, that “morality is heredity” and that “some races are more moral than others.”

He was a trailblazer in the field of being a racist piece of shit. He was inspired by, and married the niece of, Dr. John H. Kellogg, the hugely famous eugenicist who also happened to invent Korn Flakes. You know, to stop people jerking off. Seriously. They were both involved with the Seventh Day Adventist funded Battle Creek Sanitarium and the Race Betterment Foundation.

Those are bad things, just to be clear.

I could fill two more shows with just the headline-worthy racism of this fucking book, but you get the idea. Everyone involved with its creation, distribution, and worship sucks. Like super, duper, wowzers sucks.

But just in case you think it was all in the past or whatever, here’s Siegel and… remember what we said the cause of disease was? Yeah…

“Illness and disease result from evil and cause suffering,” Siegel writes in “The Twenty Most-Asked Questions” on The Urantia Book Fellowship website.

“Unfortunately, several factors hinder progress toward the development of a disease-free world. The laws of genetics are immutable, and form the physical cornerstone of evolution. At the present time mankind loses about as much progress as it makes by ignoring eugenics.”

So where does that leave Celestial Seasonings?

Celestial basically created the North American tea market. By 1970 they’d grown into a proper company and by the 1980s they were international.

Today they’re a 750 million dollar a year company in a nearly 2 billion dollar industry they dominate. In 2000 they’ve been part of Celestial Group, the massive, multi-billion dollar conglomerate that owns all the other tea brands you’ve ever heard of.

Since the original founders have all moved on, retired, or don’t really matter anymore — coupled with the fact that Celestial is a massive, international company, it’s unlikely the Uantria book or its tenants still provide the moral compass of the company. Not because of their inherent concern for human wellbeing of course, just because the book is crazy and crazy doesn’t have a great ROI.

All that said, Seidel and his ilk are still crushing it. In 2010 the Fellowship sent an email to subscribers “with advanced information and forward-looking perspectives that are not suited for being posted on the website.” Imagine that. What they won’t put on the website. In this example, it was a panel on eugenics featuring Kermit Anderson, then director of genetic screening at Kaiser Permanente. So… that’s not ideal.

  • https://www.cultnews101.com/2016/01/urantia-book-cults-conspiracies-and.html
  • https://the-line-up.com/sleepytime-tea-cult
  • https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/drink/sleepytime-tea-secret-religion-behind-celestial-seasonings/news-story/9228510c5786f9b611306909484c40df
  • https://celestialseasonings.com/pages/our-history
  • https://culteducation.com/group/1289-general-information/29190-cults-conspiracies-and-the-utterly-bizarre-history-of-sleepytime-tea.html
  • http://skepdic.com/urantia.html
  • http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/celestial-seasonings-inc-history/
  • https://www.inverse.com/article/10731-cults-conspiracies-and-the-twisted-history-of-sleepytime-tea

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The Mighty Nazi Smasher

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“The Mighty Atom” Smasher

I have had a hell of a time finding motivation this week, I have two weeks of school left with my students and we are all starting to go a bit crazy. Also, I’m sure you have read the news lately, and trying to delve into that shit show makes me want to die. I did, though, come across a story that piqued my interest and has some ties to today, Nazis. It also has headshots, strongmen, and more!

You probably haven’t heard the name Joseph Greenstein, well maybe you have but not this one. Joe was born a sickly child in a small village in Poland in 1893 and more than once during his childhood, doctors said he would not survive, but he managed to make it through. Born 3 months premature and suffering many different breathing problems he didn’t give up. As a small teenager, he heard that a personal hero, Russian strongman Champion Volkano, was making an appearance with a visiting circus. Unfortunately, Joe was poor and couldn’t afford a ticket but not being one to give up he slipped in thinking he was unnoticed. He was not, circus handlers caught him and beat him so badly that they thought he was dead. Following the beating, Joe tried to pick himself up and return home. Then, something happened that would change his life – he ran into the Russian strongman who took pity on the fragile teen. Volkano sat down with him and, after talking with the boy, decided to help improve his life.

Volkano gave him the advice to eat better, train properly, and change his mindset so he, too, could be strong in heart, body, and mind. Greenstein decided right then and there to join Volkano and learn the circus trade. Despite being just 5’4″ tall, it took Joe just two years to harden his body and become powerful in his own right.

Joe traveled with Volanko and the Isakov Brothers’ Circus for the next 18 months. And after leaving the circus, a changed man, both physically and mentally, he moved back home, married, and began wrestling under the name “Kid Greenstein.”

Soon after he immigrated to America with his family, settling in Galveston, Texas where he worked in oil fields. While there one of his coworkers took a liking to his wife. The man became incredibly obsessed with her and felt that the only thing standing in his way was Joe. One day in 1914, the man decided to do something about it. He went to work and shot Joe between the eyes with a .38 revolver. Incredibly, the bullet didn’t go through Greenstein’s head. It either ricocheted or flattened on impact (accounts vary).

The hard-headed Kid Greenstein was released from the hospital the same day he was admitted. This experience sparked Joe’s interest in the mental powers associated with strength, and he gradually developed an array of strongman feats. It was soon after the “Mighty Atom” was born!

This name you might recognize, the world’s strongest man in the 1930’s.

He moved to Coney Island, NY, and showed off his skills to a paying audience. He performed incredible feats, including breaking chains across his chest and bending iron bars using his teeth. He used his hands to drill nails through metal and bit through chains, nails, and quarters. He was so strong, that he could bend horseshoes out of shape by pressing them against his forehead.

Some more of his feats of strength included:

Pulling a 32-ton truck with his hair.

Breaking up to three chains by expanding his chest.

Removed a car tire from its rim, bending steel bars, spikes, and horseshoes, all with his bare hands.

Driving spikes into wood planks with his palm.

In the 1930s, the Mighty Atom laid down on a bed of nails and did the unthinkable – he placed a board on himself and allowed a Dixieland band to play music on top of him. But one of his most incredible feats took place in 1928. He attached himself to an airplane with his hair and held the aircraft down while the pilot attempted to take off.

In 1936, six giant longshoremen became disorderly and tried to mess with The Atom. “The Atom,” after a dramatic fight, put all six men in the hospital. Many of the New York papers carried a front-page story entitled “Little Giant Knocks Out Six” The story read, “He weighs but 148 pounds, and is only 5’4 1/2” tall. No wonder writers have termed The Mighty Atom as “The World’s Biggest Little Man.”

The Atom traveled through America and Europe and became a huge sensation on the vaudeville circuit. The “Mighty Atom” performed all of his feats until the end of his life. A man who broke the time barrier with strength into the age of impossibility. In 1977, then well into his eighties, he performed a Martial Arts Show in Madison Square Gardens giving one of the most awesome exhibitions of strength performance that stunned thousands of sports fans present. He received a standing ovation.

News Paper

The “Atom” was featured several times in the “Believe It or Not” cartoons and the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records. Over the years top Government officials awarded him the Keys to 20 American Cities. He lectured and inspired thousands to better health and strength.

During WWII to give back to his patriotism, The “Mighty Atom” helped, without any compensation, to recruit men for New York City’s diminishing Police Force. He toured the city for two years giving demonstrations of jujitsu, judo, etc., to interest men in joining the civilian Police Force. He was highly commended by the Mayor and other officials of New York City.

But the main reason and best reason to talk about The Mighty Atom was because of an event that happened in 1938.

Following the rise of Adolf Hitler’s “National Socialist” party in 1933, some German Americans formed groups, patterned after the Nazi Party in Germany. These people had few connections to the “Thousand-Year Reich” and received little support from the broader German American community, yet they wore uniforms and toted swastikas and preached the same hate for the Jews, as the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party”. The most notorious of these was the “German American Bund”. Gross. Though the claim was believed to be exaggerated, Congressman Martin Dies, Jr. of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) estimated German-American Bund membership at 430,000, in 1938.

The Mighty Atom was in New York that year when he passed a building, about to host a Nazi rally. One sign high on the wall read “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.” Joe had left that garbage behind in the old country. He wasn’t about to tolerate it here.

He bought a ladder, and climbed up and tore the thing down. Twenty streamed out of the building, bent on informing Joe of their displeasure.

Maybe they assumed his height meant he was weak, or it was because he was dressed in street clothes and not his performer’s costume, but none of The Mighty Atoms’ assailants had any idea of the shit storm of fury that was coming their way. The trained martial artist and wrestler was already seen as the strongest man in the world and Joe took these nazis apart like something out of Captain America. Legs were splintered, noses smashed, heads busted. It was Epic!!!

The Mighty Atom

Joe was, of course, arrested and a few weeks later, in court with the Nazis. Eighteen in the plaintiff’s dock, and one small defendant. The judge asked Greenstein about the fight and asked if all the combatants were present. He was then informed that there were a few men who were too badly beaten to leave the hospital and they were missing. Joe, when asked about the fight, had this to say, “It wasn’t a fight, It was a pleasure.” Not long after the case was ruled self-defense and Joe was released.

This is just one of the most badass stories I had read in weeks, I’m surprised there isn’t an over-the-top action movie about this soul event! I would see it.

Joe would go on performing feats and entertaining crowds. During his last public performance given before a sell-out crowd at Madison Square Garden on May 11, 1977, the Mighty Atom wore a leather vest, emblazoned with a golden star of David.

When he was through, Greenstein took a moment to wish his great-grandchild a happy first birthday.

The man could still bend horseshoes and drive nails with his hands.

The mighty Atom succumbed to cancer on October 8, 1977.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. In 2014, Joe’s son Mike appeared on America’s Got Talent. pulling a 3500-pound car with his teeth and wearing a T-shirt promoting “Mighty Atom & Sons (1940). He was 93.


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