A Little Bit O’ Heaven: BJ Palmer’s Garden
Original Author: Leann Weiss, ENG340 FL11
Revision Author:

Please see the accompanying photographs listed here:
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From the creator of (A Little Bit O’ Heaven):

“Every great and beautiful thing was born of sorrow and suffering reversed. Visions are conceived in pain and given birth through the agony of a human soul to bury its sadness and forget its misery. A Little Bit O’ Heaven is no exception. Its builder produced better than he knew. This bit of a spiritual dream, was, once upon a time, a desire of one man to lay aside cares and responsibilities and muse with the gods. It was personal and, originally, was not intended for visitors. It was a vent where excess baggage was done up in a nature-lovers dream, love being unloaded onto pebbles and boulders; ponds and pools; fish and flowers; petrified wood, agates, shells, and growing plants. It was—and is—a place where humans commune! Friends heard, friends came, friends invited themselves to be invited, friends saw, friends told friends. The multitude came. It is a show place of America. It is one place travelers, convention sojourners, and friends visiting friends make a direct objective. Many famous architects, designers, builders, contractors have sketched its designs and garnered its ideas. Famed people in musical, commercial, financial, social and political life have wandered its walks, hesitated, and lived in peace and poise of its powers of plenty. Dreams create ideals. Ideals create ideas. Ideas take tangible form”
– B.J. Palmer (The Bigness of the Fellow Within 174).

A Little Bit O’ Heaven was opened to the public on July 1, 1924 in the city of Davenport, Iowa. This garden or ampule of spiritual, cultural and botanical collections was located neighboring the Palmer College of Chiropractic at the corner of Brady Street and Eighth Street. The creator of A Little Bit O’ Heaven was Bartlett Joshua “B.J.” Palmer, the son of Daniel David “D.D.” Palmer, the founder of chiropractic. Starting in 1923 B.J. began to turn his back yard into a mental and spiritual retreat from the stresses of leading and growing a profession, as well as running Palmer College of Chiropractic. A Little Bit O’ Heaven over the years contained many rare and remarkable effects such as a Buddhist garden, Hindu idols, the worlds smallest Christian church, waterfalls, numerous plants, fish and foul, and much more. B.J. was known as an eccentric man with a taste for eclectic treasures. He traveled the world many times with his wife Mabel. It was during these travels that he collected the rare and obscure items that would eventually call A Little Bit O’ Heaven home.

“The entire scheme of A Little Bit O’ Heaven is religious motif. In B.J.’s eyes, and in the eyes of the many visitors, the beauty of worshipful figures has not been limited to any one belief” (A Guide Book, 57th Edition 12). B.J. was a mad who was fascinated by many religions ideals. There were representations largely of Buddhist influence, but also Hindu and Christian religions represented in this local paradise.

As most of A Little Bit O’ Heaven, The Buddhist Gardens were created for B.J.’s personal enjoyment. However, when asked he said, “We have brought to occidental America a resetting of the atmosphere of the oriental Japan. We have gone to Nippon…picked up a Buddhist shrine…brought it to Davenport, and asked you to see…what a touch of Japan looks like. Few people are fortunate enough to travel. Fewer still can go to Japan. This, then, is a touch of Japan brought to you by one who is able to reconstruct it here for that purpose.” (The Bigness of the Fellow Within 179). The shrine of which B.J. speaks is a shrine of (The Wishing Buddha). This shrine was valued at $250,000 and was more than 1100 years old. B.J. bargained with the Japanese government for eight years before attaining this piece and bringing it to the United States. (A Guide Book 57th Edition 16). As was true of the Buddhist shrine, many of the other Buddhist objects found in the Buddhist Gardens were genuine pieces which were collected by B.J. on his many visits to the Orient. (The Bigness of the Fellow Within 179). Also contained in A Little Bit O’ Heaven to represent the Buddhist religion was The Shrine of Fugen and Monju. This shrine took two years to build and the walls were made of scrap rock which at the time cost a dollar a ton. The rocks on the roof and side wall weighed in at eleven tons. Represented in the interior walls were as B.J. said “almost every imaginable and unimaginable flower” (The Bigness of the Fellow Within 187). There was also the Buddhist Temple Bell that was over 700 years old, as well as the Three Siamese Buddhist Shrine Heads that surrounded the fish pool in the courtyard. Visitors would enter through the courtyard, so these would have been some of the first sites to behold.

Aside from Buddhist representation, there was also Hindu representation. There were also eight (Hindu idols) that B.J. acquired on a visit to the Island of Bali in 1930. These idols were that of the Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Krishna or Indra, Hanoman, and Rama. These eight idols purchased by B.J. arrived in Davenport in late 1932. The idols are carved of solid blocks of soft, porous lava dust. It is said that only one other group of these idols, purchased by the King of Siam in 1928, ever left the island.

There was also a fair amount of random Christian religious representation, but the most notable was (The Chapelle Petite), or Small Chapel. At the time it was the smallest Christian church in the world. It was merely eight by eight feet wide and deep and ten feet tall. The red tile that adorned the chapel was imported from Italy and England. The crucifix on the door was made of elephant tusk and was from fourteenth century Spain. Hundreds of weddings took place in The Chapelle Petite (A Guide Book 57th Edition 9). The weddings were held there for a small fee, any day of the week from ten in the morning until five at night. The chapel, which was located on the west side of the Palmer mansion, was one entrance to the greenhouse area of A Little Bit O’ Heaven. The other entrance was called (Purgatory). Purgatory can best be described a small hallway leading from the yard to the greenhouse and the falls. It is a very unusual area, made of stone and cement, and containing many intriguing pieces, such as china and other glassware in the walls, and many pieces of religious artwork. At the end of Purgatory was a representation of the Black Hole of Calcutta, which is known from the 1756 English conquest of India. The tile that was used to decorate the floor was from France, England, Italy and Spain and range in age from 100-400 years old.

A Little Bit O’ Heaven also contained (The Waterfalls) which were located in the greenhouse area. The greenhouse area was originally just twelve square feet, eventually expanding to 40 feet by 83 feet with 40 feet between ceiling and ground. (The Guide Book 57th Edition 3). Five hundred tons of glacial deposit rocks were used to construct the falls. The falls were kept running throughout the day and night to keep the water oxygenated. The waterfalls and surrounding pools contained about one hundred thousand gallons of water and about three hundred gallons of water passed over the falls every minute. The falls contained bog plants, ornamental grasses, and rock plants and the pools contained goldfish, snails, water lilies and more. There were also parrots from South America who enjoyed conversation, but became irritable when mocked or teased. On top of the waterfalls is The St. John Weather Vane which came from the Church of St. Permin in Pamplano, Spain and dates back to the 1700s. (The Bigness of the Fellow Within 178). Set in one of the larger falls was the sculpture, (The Birth of Venus), an original piece by Faginoli Bruno. This piece is made of Carrara marble and weighs four tons.

Since its public opening in 1924, A Little Bit O’ Heaven has seen over four million people come through to enjoy its organic and cultural beauty. (A Guide Book 57th Edition 1). Following Palmer’s death in 1961 A Little Bit O’ Heaven started to deteriorate. In 1981, it is said the caretaker neglected to turn on the heat causing all of the plant life to be lost. A quote of $40,000 was obtained to replant the vegetation, but it was decided that this problem added to the already dilapidating condition of the whole area. So, in 1983 the greenhouse was torn down, and much of the courtyard was demolished and restructured into what it is today. The current courtyard contains a handful of the original artifacts including The Wishing Buddha, the Hindu idols, and The Birth of Venus. Also intact is a refurbished Purgatory, as well as The Chapelle Petite (Callender). All of these things, as well as other bits and pieces once house in A Little Bit O’ Heaven can currently be viewed during a Palmer Mansion Tour.

Works Cited

A Little Bit O’ Heaven: A Guide Book: Descriptions and Illustrations. 55 ed. Davenport, Iowa:
Chiropractic Fountain Head, 1961. Print.
A Little Bit O’ Heaven: A Guide Book: Descriptions and Illustrations. 57 ed. Davenport, Iowa:
Chiropractic Fountain Head, 1963. Print.
Callender, Alana. Personal interview. 7 Nov. 2011.
Palmer, B. J.. "69." The Bigness of the Fellow Within. Davenport, Iowa: Chiropractic Fountain Head, 1949. 163-165. Print.

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