Shortly after the 1929 stock market crash, a flamboyant false prophet and mass-marketing genius decided to reinvent himself. Utilizing $2,500 from investors, he printed 1,000 sets of Psychiana lessons (the first and only religion with a money-back guarantee), 10,000 sales letters, and placed a $400 ad in Psychology Magazine. Soon rural Moscow, Idaho, became home to one of the era’s most successful New Thought religions. Award-winning author Brandon R. Schrand’s newest book, published by Washington State University Press and titled, Psychiana Man: A Mail-Order Prophet, His Followers, and the Power of Belief in Hard Times, tells the story of Frank Bruce Robinson, his correspondence gospel promising health, wealth, and happiness to anyone who believed in the “God Power,” and his unwavering followers—from a desperate dust bowl farmer to a former heavyweight boxing champion. Despite their faith, he was not who he claimed to be. Officials investigated Robinson for mail fraud and immigration violations, eventually indicting him for falsifying information on his U.S. passport application. As Latah County’s largest private employer, his small-town trial packed the courtroom and made national headlines.
Schrand first learned about Robinson and Psychiana entirely by chance from a brief entry in a local history book. “The story was so bizarre and baffling that it seemed like bad fiction. But it wasn’t. It was all too real. The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I became,” he explains. To tell the story, Schrand drew from Robinson’s prolific writing, the Psychiana papers housed at the University of Idaho, Latah County Historical Society materials, and other primary sources. Surprisingly, in combing the archives—including more than a thousand pages of letters from and to Robinson’s students—he found no instances of anyone requesting a refund, and almost no negative feedback. Indeed, when Postal Inspector Stephen Howard Morse dispatched a form letter to Psychiana students asking for negative experiences, he received only praise and stalwart defenses of the religion and its leader.
Brandon R. Schrand is the author of The Enders Hotel: A Memoir, a 2008 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers summer selection, and Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior. His nonfiction has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Utne Reader, The Georgia Review, North American Review, and numerous other publications. A winner of the Pushcart Prize, he has also been a resident at Yaddo. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Nonfiction, from the University of Idaho, and an MS in American Studies from Utah State University.
Psychiana Man is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 414 pages, and lists for $24.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360, or online at wsupress.wsu.edu. A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.