Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lyn Ott the year he heard of Meher Baba

Lyn Ott carries kerosene up the hill to his Zena church 
In the photo above, my father Lyn Ott carries kerosene for the heaters up the snow covered hill to our church-house in Zena, Woodstock. The year is 1964, the year he heard of Meher Baba from Yvonne Riley.

The image is eery and atmospheric. I noticed how haunting this fifty year old photo was when I came across it this morning, looking at other images from my family's past. And so I thought I'd share some of its back-story, which isn't told anywhere I don't believe, except perhaps in Lyn's lengthy unpublished memoir, Journey Out of Darkness. One can read the high point from that book, in twenty one parts, here.

Many have heard the story of the Otts and how they lived in a converted church in Zena. I doubt that most know more than that about this church. First of all, Zena is a hamlet of the town of Woodstock, NY (a name later made famous by the festival, which came after our family moved to Myrtle Beach, and actually did not happen in Woodstock).

Lester Ott
Lyn had acquired this 19th century Dutch Reformed church a few years before this picture was taken, as part of an inheritance from his father Lester Ott in 1958. The following year Lyn moved into the empty church with his new wife Phyllis, and her two daughters Mimi and Betsy, and slowly began to convert it into a house. I came along the same year they moved in, my sister Leslie two years later.

It was in this old church that Lyn and Phyllis' story of coming to learn of Meher Baba from Tom and Yvonne Riley takes place, and their final decision to risk going to meet him. The way my father would tell the story of these events, the church plays a role in them as a kind of spooky backdrop.

Incidentally, when Lyn aquired the church he learned that the bell that once stood in the steeple, and called its congregation from all around Zena each Sunday in the previous century, had long ago been sold and taken to India. I remember well that one Christmas, Lyn and Phyllis made a fake bell using a laundry basket and aluminum foil, and covered it with Christmas lights to be seen in the steeple from all around. It was quite a cheery Christmas that year, with a giant Christmas tree. Phyllis, who had been raised Jewish, was delighted to have her first Christmas celebrations there, with her four children by this time.

In 1966 my father sold the church and our family moved to the Meher Spiritual Center, and settled there.

That's about all there is to tell. Except one side note. The church later was featured in an article on converted churches in Life Magazine, but we were long gone. The church is still there, still a private home, but due to trees that have grown up over the years, it is no longer visible from the bottom of the hill.


  1. Wow, I never saw this before, this picture!

    1. Well as you can see it's not in very good shape. That's why it's good I scanned it.

    2. I have since updated it with a cleaned up version.

  2. thanks for the story - clearly your father was called by Baba - these kind of stories are great - he had a way of capturing us, one by one, in all kinds of ways - Fran Yule