May 03, 2019
Nearly a week has passed since droves of people descended upon a vacant Brewerytown lot for a party inspired by the unusual “Steel Furnace” flyer distributed throughout the neighborhood – and, then, the world – back in February.
The events of Saturday, April 27, 2019 somehow managed to generate more questions than answers about the local man who authored a missive that confused the heck out of most people who read it.
Sure, we learned that 64-year-old Milton Jackson had written the flyer, that some of his “students” had transcribed it and that it was distributed by someone who didn’t look anything like Jackson, who revealed himself to partygoers that special day.
In the days since, quote-unquote haters questioned whether Jackson – aka ABBA – was actually involved, and cast aspersions upon the intentions of those who accompanied him to the vacant-lot gathering, arguing that it was a delusional scam or a money-making grift.
On Thursday, Bessie Jones – who spoke on behalf of Jackson several days earlier – opened the doors to her North 28th Street home to reflect upon what happened on Saturday, and offer the world a fuller story than it has heard thus far.
Along with her sister Karen, Bessie spoke about the 40 years of history leading up to the Furnace Party, explaining away the lingering public misperceptions.
She said Jackson granted her permission to speak with PhillyVoice though he could not attend, as he lives in a long-term healthcare facility in Montgomery County.
What transpired was an hour-plus breakdown of the paths that led everyone to the lot that day.
Bessie and Karen are two of four women who have spent years gathering ABBA’s teachings into binders, folders and booklets.
Along with the other two women – Bessie’s birth sister Eddye and Alvonia Smith, who brought framed copies of the flyer to the party – these “spiritual sisters” call themselves “The Tetras.”
“We’ve been in the community for 40 years and back when we were younger, ABBA was a sentinel, a guardian, who walked the streets,” Bessie said moments before producing the handwritten copy of what would become the Furnace Party flyer.
He would “patrol” Girard Avenue from Girard College to 33rd Street, walking up and down the thoroughfare each day. He kept a particularly close eye on the newsstand that Bessie and her late husband operated at 29th and Girard. They compared his vigilance to that of the Three-Eyed Raven in "Game of Thrones."
"ABBA is overjoyed, and he’s getting ready to write again." – Bessie Smith
“People used to call him a bum, but he was a bum in the community coming to remove the veils of ignorance,” she explained. “He served this community for 40 years. We didn’t realize it then, but he was always looking out for us.
"He was a community bum, wearing the same clothes everyday, but he would drop little tidbits of knowledge on us. That’s how he reached us. He told us he’ll teach us more, and we wanted to learn.”
Over the years, Jackson lived in a trio of abandoned properties in Brewerytown, seeking shelter in Bessie’s home during the winter months.
About four years ago, "The Tetras" knew something was amiss when Jackson didn’t come to Bessie’s when the weather turned cold.
It was then, in an abandoned home near 29th and Stiles streets, that he suffered the frostbite that claimed most of his toes, according to Bessie. That left him unable to get around without the use of a wheelchair.
As Bessie tells it, Jackson told them that he left his body to watch the amputations, which aligns with their belief that he can communicate telepathically. (Assertions that he has moved through concrete walls could not be proven.)
Over the years, Jackson would rely on the women to record thoughts he wanted preserve for educational posterity’s sake.
“The pen will be our weapon. You will write books for me,” Bessie said of his message to them, noting that he also invented a series of unique “glyphs” through which they can communicate. “We have 1,000 books written and dictated by ABBA. We’re his ‘Charlie’s Angels.’”
There’s one called Keystone 30/30 “which is a teacher’s guide for a whole new way to learn.”
Other titles – which the women proudly shared at the dining room table where Jackson wrote the text for the flyer – include The Book of Liberation, The Circle of Love, “which liberates the gay community”; and Emanations, Erudition, Restoration, Rebirth, Concordant of Truth, The Root of Truth and Rainbow Serpent, which includes advice on “how to keep negativity out of your life.”
“They’re all about solutions for the world today,” she said, noting that a party-goer from South Philadelphia is coming to her house on Monday to help set up a website to sell copies of these writings.
Still, it was a simple flyer that brought all this attention toward these five people, who say they give out food, clothes and small loans to those in need in their immediate community.
“We heard the message from that flyer for all of our lives,” Bessie said, noting that she was actually the “furnace” referenced therein. “In alchemy, ‘Athanor’ the woman is a furnace. ABBA wants us all to become furnaces so we can purify, clean and heal ourselves when our temperatures are hot enough that foreign objects in a body can’t survive.
“What he was really doing was giving everyone an invitation to see a real steel furnace: this woman. People are saying there was no steel furnace at the party? Well, there are things that are seen and unseen. The furnace was there, but I went unseen. They didn’t realize that I was the furnace. You wouldn’t know that I was the furnace unless you had a higher mindset.”
Jackson wrote the Furnace Party flyer at Bessie’s home in June 2018. Fearing negative public reaction, she wouldn’t get copies made until November 26, when she went to a North Broad Street printing shop and had 2,000 copies made at a cost of $170.37.
A few months passed before she tracked down a man who distributes flyers, menus and the like. She paid him $100 to hand them out throughout the neighborhood along, and north of, Girard Avenue. (She backs up these claims with physical receipts.)
People who saw him in person or via video on social media noticed his hands shaking in a fashion reminiscent of someone who could be suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
“He doesn’t have Parkinson’s, Cerebral Palsy or anything like that,” she said. “He was in a trance, a yoga mantra to bring good energies – spiritual beings and vibrations – in."
Mimicking the motions that Jackson made on Saturday, she said, "These were his gesticulations. He was doing yoga, but they didn’t see it because they’re blind. The wind and the lack of mud on the lot were the first spirits that went unseen.”
Jackson was said to be overjoyed by the turnout at Saturday’s party, particularly because of a guest list which The Tetras agreed was full of “only people with pure hearts.”
“People were writing about how there were no incidents (involving public safety) at the lot. There couldn’t have been incidents, because it was a love fest,” Bessie said. “These are the things that we have been talking about for 40 years, and when you finally get the finished product, you want to show it off.
"This was his way of showing us off without saying any words," she noted. "He’s on the same frequency as us.”
The event was justification that four decades of taking dictation and turning it into books – that fill a whole room at Bessie’s house – was worthwhile.
“For years, he kept prodding us on. Ten years in, we were asking ourselves ‘what are we writing?’ At 20 and 30 years, it was ‘why are we writing?’ Forty years in, we realized we’d been doing this and a generation has come and gone,” she said. “But, he always told us this has a happy ending. The party was that happy ending.”
The women realize that strangers have questioned their sanity. Heck, two of Bessie’s four children “are non-believers.” (One of them called her on Saturday saying, “‘Mom, there’s some cult up at the parking lot dancing.’ I couldn’t tell him about the letter his mother put out.”)
While positivity abounded during the interview, the women conceded their darker thoughts about the world in which they live.
They see the measles outbreak as “a plague on the nation,” and that end times foretold in the Bible – they’re spiritual, not religious but still draw upon those teachings – are approaching.
“There is a great destruction of people coming. In the Bible, it talks separating the wheat from the chaff. Well, if you’re chaff, you gotta go,” she said. “When we see it happen, we can’t get sad. You had a choice in life. You had time. There will be no sadness or remorse. It’s time for us to live on the planet the way it was created and designed for us."
They're asked what they want to say to people who liken their commitment to ABBA as cult-like.
"We’re not some crazy people. We’ve been doing work, waiting for the day when we could share it," Bessie said. "When the mothership comes, I’m not talking anymore. The time for talk is over. Whenever the universe brings change, it always gives the solutions. The solutions are here.”
Hearkening back to Saturday, they noted that Jackson was late arriving at the lot because his daughter – who thought he was merely coming to visit The Tetras for a day – was unaware about her father’s flyers and the event forming at his chosen lot. (Bessie and Karen think he chose it because it used to be home to a supermarket.)
They couldn’t personally pick him up at the Montgomery County facility. This, because they’re persona non grata after sneaking him past security for a day a couple years ago so he could return to the Brewerytown community.
“They had to change the whole security code of the place,” Bessie laughed. “They said, ‘you know you can’t come back, right?’”
The women spoke wistfully about their memories of the Jackson of old. They said he would take them shopping. They noted that he worked at a pharmaceutical company and camera store in Center City. They said he was “always into bodybuilding and reading,” speaks several languages and “can take anything apart and put it back together again.”
“People are saying that he’s a false prophet, that he’s not real, because he didn’t deliver the furnace,” Bessie said. “Those people just didn’t realize the furnace was right in front of them the whole time. He knows how to stir things up. He's really dramatic. This is all his doing.”
As for the future, The Tetras and ABBA are happy people have asked about making the Furnace Party a regular event. They suggest that that's exactly what's going to happen.
Next week, Bessie meets with the web designer in the hopes that a website will help her spread Jackson’s books farther and wider.
With another home in Levittown, she also has plans for the property in the 1500 block of North 28th Street.
She’s looking to turn it into a reading room, or library, where people can come peruse ABBA’s writings and decide for themselves.
“I want this to be a place where people can read and study and whatnot. These books cover every discipline: math, philosophy, everything. And, it’s all written at a child’s level because we believe everything should be simple,” she said. “Nothing we’re doing is about money."
Instead, it's about spreading information and love.
"The word ‘ladle’ is in Philadelphia, which is a city of masters. Knowledge, money, food, we give these things out, like a ladle gives things out," Bessie said. "When the books go out, we will make some money and that will be used to establish a ‘True Church.’ That doesn’t mean a physical church, but a way to get in touch with the universe.
"The furnace is me. The furnace is you. We don’t need a physical building for that.”
As for Jackson, he was inspired seeing “something so magical happen when every vibration pulled all these people together.” In fact, earlier this week, he requested that Bessie bring him “some paper, envelopes and a copy of ‘Flex’ bodybuilding magazine.”
That can only mean one thing.
“He’s getting ready to write again,” Bessie shared. “I don’t want people to think negative things about us, terroristic things. It’s good to bring about change for the planet. That is what we’re all about.”
Now, all The Tetras can do is sit back and wait for the new writings to arrive on North 28th Street. Then, they will get to transcribing their way into a fifth decade helping ABBA share his thoughts with the world.
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
Add Brian's RSS feed to your feed reader
Have a news tip? Let us know.