By the early 1880s, Dr. Pike had amassed about 2300 followers–his stated goal. Most of them were simply wealthy donors, but a handful of them lived and worked with Pike in a secluded location he called the Mechanium, participating in seances and attempting to render the disordered series of visions Pike claimed to be receiving into a workable blueprint. Pike himself called his closest followers “the 23 disciples” but available records show their numbers fluctuating from as few as six to as many as 32.

Pike retired from the lecture circuit around the same time, devoting himself entirely to what he was now calling the “Electro-Mechanical Messiah” in almost all communications. Perhaps due to the failures of his first few iterations, which had parts fabricated at various East Coast machine shops before being shipped to Pike for assembly, a machine shop was assembled onsite and the design took on a more iterative approach. As Pike put it in a letter to a follower in Boston:

“It is my belief that we will not create a vessel that is not the perfect Electro-Mechanical Messiah simply because it is beyond the capacity of any mortal, even one who has been in contact with The 23 like I have, to achieve such divine perfection. Therefore it is my belief that we will build an imperfect vessel (one might call it a prototype or trial messiah!) which will then assist us in designing a more perfect vessel and then so on and so forth, iteratively, until we arrive at the end point and the new age begins.”

Construction of increasingly elaborate mechanisms was well underway by 1883, and by 1885 there were complaints from locals about Pike’s increasingly odd and noisy hours, as well as showers of sparks and occasional explosions coming from the property. It was for this reason, apparently, that Pike invited local reporters and photographers for what would be the only tour of his compound ever offered to someone outside of the 23 Disciples before his death.

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