Off-Broadway Spectacular

"I would give them away, but after years I gave it up because nobody was interested," he says. "I never had any desire to organize anybody."

He's not some crazed evangelist; there's nothing of the stereotypical, proselytizing fanatic in his makeup. If you need a label, a little eccentric might be the right one. Mitchell is simply a guy who wants space to practice his unique, personalized beliefs, a retiring man who used to live in a pyramid.

Now let's let Mitch Mitchell talk:
"I worked for the railroad in 1942, and I quit that and got a job as a lifeguard in the summer in Logan, Utah. Then I topped beets in the fall, and at night I didn't have anything to do, so I'd go home in the evenings and play solitaire. And one night, I opened the drawer where the cards were and they were stuck together and underneath was a pamphlet.

"The author didn't sign his name, but it had his address on it, and it was in Salt Lake City. I got on my bicycle [Mitchell doesn't drive] and pedaled down there about 50 miles. I found out that this man was a member of the church and he'd been excommunicated twice. After that he didn't go back, but he wrote tracts just like I'm doing here. So the cards were directing me down to this place.

"I got loaded up on the bicycle with these pamphlets and started distributing in my hometown, which was about 95 percent Mormon. That was where my trouble began. They were about to lock me up, but I escaped and came down here. I was 30 then."

Arriving in Phoenix with literally nothing, Mitchell found himself living in one room of a shared basement that "smelled foul," for three dollars a week.

"I thought, rather than live in a hole like this, I should buy a piece of land. I was offered a piece of land, enough to build on, for $200. I bought that in 1950 and started the pyramid on April 6, which was the day of the founding of the church," says Mitchell. "I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone; build a pyramid [to live in] and at the same time I'd build a monument to Chief Joseph."

I called the Mormon Visitors Center and asked a Sister Sloup about Chief Joseph. "No, I've never heard of him," she said. "Sounds like something somebody made up."

Mitch Mitchell is down for a visit to the pyramid. He's energized; you can tell the place has an effect on him. It says "Truth Hunters Welcome" above the low-slung door. "I printed [that] up there, and all these years nobody has ever got curious enough to ask about it," Mitchell says quietly. "I guess I waited 46 years for you to come along."

But he has had visitors over the years.
"I had some youngsters in here once, teenagers. I never saw them before, but they came by, they were curious, and I said, 'Do you want to come in and look?' So I brought 'em in and began explaining some things, and one of 'em said, 'This is weird, let's get out of here.' So off they went. I never saw them again."

Weird is all in the mind of the beholder; the pyramid is now open, its secrets to reveal. You feel as though you're walking into a huge work of folk art--because that's what it is, I suppose. The white walls are decorated in a precise, deliberate fashion with newspaper clippings, photographs of a daughter from a previous marriage, three pictures of Joseph Smith cut from magazines, a deck of playing cards splayed out to represent Mitchell's favored calendar of 13 months, 28 days per month, starting at the vernal equinox. Next to them is a portrait of an Indian, beneath it a drawing of a flag, done by Mitchell, on a patch of denim from a jumper he used to wear.

Boards fold down to become a table and bed; the top of the pyramid opens up, tepee-style, to pass air through to a vent in the floor. "It's always a few degrees cooler than it is outside," he says. "I have water running up to the door, a couple of sawhorses near the door, and I put a big tub on them, which I would bathe in. And, of course, I wired the place for electricity."

So that is the story of the pyramid I found next to a junkyard. Now you know who Mitch Mitchell is, and you know a little bit about his 83 years, 20 of which were spent in a dwelling whose blueprint came from the back of a dollar bill. It is a place that still waits patiently among the roosters and rusting hulks of discarded American metal for a white Indian to arrive. What can you say about that? Mitchell emerges from beneath "Truth Hunters Welcome," stands in the baked dirt, just sort of smiles as his blue eyes blaze away, righteous and proud. I think of something he said to me, something I like a lot: "I've always been considered rather peculiar.

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