Calvin Frye & The Pie

By Tanner Johnsrud. Tanner was a journal listed practitioner for more than a decade before leaving Christian Science.

This week lots of people in the United States will be celebrating an important holiday. March 14 is 3.14 or, PI Day. So in honor of Pi(e) Day, I thought I would share a little bit of CS myth-busting.

Many Christian Scientists get their de facto ideas about what happens after death from an account claiming that Mary Baker Eddy raised her secretary Calvin Frye from the dead. (Actually, there are at least five distinct accounts of her “raising” Mr. Frye from the dead.) But the most famous one involves Calvin Frye going downstairs to get a piece of pie in the middle of the night:

“Miss Bartlett said that while Mrs. Eddy was living at 385 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Mr. Calvin Frye suddenly passed on, and Mrs. Eddy raised him from the dead. Some time elapsed from the moment he passed on until Mrs. Eddy restored him to life. One of the students who witnessed this demonstration asked Mr. Frye what his experience was during the time that, to them he seemed to be dead. He replied that he was in the pantry eating pie.” (Lottie Clark reminiscences, quoted in Mary Baker Eddy Christian Healer p. 269)

The story of Calvin Frye and the pie has been told again and again in Sunday Schools and Association meetings. And many Christian Scientists assume that what happens after death is that we go on exactly as we were before death, just as Calvin Frye supposedly went on and got a piece of pie. The de facto views of life after death for untold numbers of Christian Scientists are based heavily – not on the Bible, or real scientific evidence – but on the testimony of what people said that Julia Bartlett told them, referencing what Calvin Frye purportedly said about his experience. Many Christian Scientists logically assume, based upon their implicit trust in Mrs. Eddy and the details they know, that Calvin Frye died, and after his death he continued on to get pie, and was raised from the dead by Mrs. Eddy.

They are unaware, however, of important history regarding Calvin Frye. Mr. Frye became interested in CS after his mother was treated in CS for insanity by Clara Choate. He soon became the most devoted of Mrs. Eddy’s followers, he was her loyal secretary, not even taking a single day off for decades. However, Calvin Frye had a long history of cataleptic seizures. Catalepsy is characterized by rigid body and limbs, limbs staying in the same position when moved (waxy flexibility), no response (a decrease of sensation), loss of muscle control, and slowing down of bodily functions, such as breathing. In previous centuries people were buried alive who were mistaken for dead as a result of a cataleptic seizure.

Mr. Frye had a long history of these cataleptic seizures, which can be mistaken for death. On July 14, 1888, Mr. Frye wrote a letter about one such seizure, the onset of which he attributed to mental forces trying to attack Mrs. Eddy through him:

“About two years ago, I was having much to contend with from the attacks of malicious mesmerism, by which the attempt was made to demoralize me, and through me to afflict Mrs. Eddy. While under one of those attacks, my mind became almost a total blank. Mrs. Eddy was alone with me at the time, and, calling to me loudly without a response, she saw the necessity for prompt action, and lifted my head by the forelock, and called aloud to rouse me from the paralyzed state into which I had fallen. This had the desired effect, and I wakened to a sense of where I was, my mind wandering, but I saw the danger from which she had delivered me and which can never be produced again.” (Mary Baker Eddy Library L15943, quoted in Mary Baker Eddy Christian Healer Amplified Edition p. 571)

He said that he would never again have such a seizure. But in that, as in much else, Mr. Frye was tragically wrong. There are at least five distinct incidents recorded in authorized Christian Science literature, that tell of students of Mrs. Eddy seeing her rouse Calvin Frye from these cataleptic seizures. Calvin Frye kept a diary – there is no record of him ever saying that he died. These cataleptic seizures were assumed, by the students (who did not know of Calvin Frye’s history), to be incidents of raising him from the dead. In the above letter he spoke of his mind wandering during such an episode – is it possible that during the incident with the pie, his mind wandered and he merely imagined going on to get pie, rather than that being testimony as to a post death world that is exactly parallel with our own?

But for untold numbers of Christian Scientists, their beliefs about the nature of life after death are greatly shaped from what someone said that Julia Bartlett said that Calvin Frye told her about a mental wandering he may have had in connection with one of his recurring cataleptic seizures.

One of the hard things about getting our friends and loved ones to leave CS is that they believe this story. They think that people will just go on, just as they have, and so while death might be unfortunate, nothing really changed for that person, because death isn’t real. As a Christian, I follow what the Bible says about what happens when we die, but I fully understand that my atheist friends believe there is no such thing. Both the Christians and the atheists in this group recognize that the CS teaching that death isn’t real is a huge problem and a huge lie. We both recognize the tragic nature of death. And we want our CS friends and loved ones not to die unfortunate, painful, and early deaths. We both want the people we love to live life to the fullest. Maybe getting the truth out regarding Calvin Frye can help challenge the CS narrative which says that death isn’t real.

Have a happy PI Day.

6 Replies to “Calvin Frye & The Pie”

  1. My fourteen year old daughter is a christian scientist and my twenty year old son died two and a half years ago. Her beliefs make it very difficult to grieve together. It breaks my heart sometimes. We are very close but she “is done grieving” for her only brother. I will never be done grieving. Never.

  2. Hi Tanner, Thank you for sharing this. I left C.S. 2 years ago and I am still struggling. My whole identity was wrapped up in it but I didn’t realize how destructive it was until I tried to leave. I literally felt like I would die if I left but I had to get my teenager out. I never got to attend a large thriving church only a small toxic one. Church services had become like attending a weekly funeral with somber readings and depressing organ music. I grieve over raising my child up in this. Christian Science always encourages people to read Science and Health through in a year but we were never encouraged to read the Bible through in a year. After years in C.S. I still felt like I didn’t really know the Bible so I decided to read it through in a standard English version. After so many years of following Mary Baker Eddy, 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 spoke to me. I no longer wanted to follow M.B.E. I just wanted to follow Jesus.

    I have heard different versions of Mrs. Eddy raising Calvin Frye from death. I never found the story comforting, as it didn’t sound like the way Jesus healed with her grabbing him and shouting at him. Actually the stories of how staff were treated have always bothered me, particularly Article XXII Sections 11 and 14 of the Manual. The Manual states that a church member when summoned by Mrs. Eddy must go to her within 10 days or be excommunicated. It also states that a person must work for her for 3 years or be excommunicated. This is so inappropriate, it crosses so many boundaries, but high demand groups don’t have boundaries. They are always telling their members they are not doing enough and they need to do more. The Manual is supposed to be divinely inspired second only to the Bible and Science and Health but there are things in there that do not seem appropriate.

    I came across a video recently on YouTube called “What Christian Scientists Believe” and of course it only mentioned the good stuff, nothing about mortal mind, malpractice, animal magnetism, or mental poisoning with arsenic.

  3. Thanks, Tanner, for sharing this. It was fascinating! It clears up the mystery of why some people, like Miss Irma Eareckson, who taught English at Principia for many years until 1972, said that Mrs. Eddy never raised anyone from the dead, while others said she did raise some from the dead like Calvin Frye. Thank you for your research into the behind the scene details! If Mrs. Eddy could really raise people from the dead, one might wonder why she didn’t raise Mr. Eddy from the dead, but instead declared he had been mentally murdered by arsenic mentally administered (even though an autopsy said the cause of death was organic heart disease, if I remember correctly.)

  4. Thank you for this fascinating explanation of the apocryphal story about Eddy resuscitating Calvin Frye from death. Myths are hard to dislodge, but this should give any Christian Scientist who has been harboring doubts more reason to question deeper.

  5. I have a story related to this. One night, many years ago, I was driving on the interstate from one side of my city to the other, going from my parents’ house to my place. My heart began to beat heavily and rapidly. My breathing got fast and shallow. I felt all shaky. I had episodes like this often. (Now I know they were panic attacks.) I was so terrified that I pulled onto the shoulder, switched on my emergency lights. I didn’t feel I could even make it to an exit–I just pulled over. After a minute or so, I got back into traffic and got to my place.

    Alone there, I remembered Calvin Frye and the pie. Suddenly I became overwhelmed by the thought that maybe I died, there on the interstate, and I’d passed on and didn’t know it, just like Calvin Frye didn’t know it. I was so freaked that I decided to call my mother–not to tell her what happened, but just to talk to her. I reasoned that, if she could pick up my call and talk to me, that meant I was still in this world and not passed on.

    I called. She answered. We didn’t talk about much. I’d seen her just 40 minutes prior. But it was super reassuring. All that fear and emotional rollercoaster just because of, as you say, “what someone said that Julia Bartlett said that Calvin Frye told her about a mental wandering he may have had in connection with one of his recurring cataleptic seizures.”

    On a lighter note, I love baked goods, so I have always, always wanted to know what kind of pie he was eating. I figure that, if we’re all supposed to believe this crazy story, we at least deserve to know that!

  6. How funny, I have never heard of this story before, or of Mrs. Eddy raising anyone from the dead. I attended my local CS church from birth through college, attended Prin, and even worked in Boston at the Mother Church for 5 years after. I’ll have to ask some of my friends if they’ve ever heard of this.

    I quit attending church in my mid 20’s (30 years ago), and no longer consider myself a Christian Scientist, however I’ll probably always carry some of the lessons I learned in church with me. Even though I don’t agree with some of the things that the church teaches, my issue is more one of religion in general, not just CS. Unfortunately there are judgmental extremists in every religion, I met more in Boston than anywhere else. In general, most Christian Scientists I’ve known, in my hometown, and at Prin, were really kind, loving, intelligent people.

Comments are closed.