Remembering George Conjar: 1924-2020
Edgar Cayce saved his life. By word and good deed, he passed the blessing forward
George and Jacqueline Conjar of Middletown, PA
"You're doing fine, just fine..." nineteen-year-old George Conjar was told.
These were the words spoken by Dr. Charles Custer, chief of medical services at the Pennsylvania State Tuberculosis Sanatorium at South Mountain, intended to comfort the young man. Only Conjar, in room 441 of the South Mountain men's ward, in a building complex where he had lived for the past three years, knew he wasn't fine. Tuberculosis had destroyed his left lung and the infection had spread to his right. He was spitting up mouthfuls of bloody mucus; fever and cold sweats kept him from sleeping; he had lost nearly twenty pounds in the last 11 weeks. But on this day, July 8, 1943, he had reason to believe his prayers would be answered. Three hundred miles away in Virginia Beach, Edgar Cayce was going into trance to try and save his life.
Four years earlier Conjar was a happy and healthy high school junior in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one of five children born to a family of working-class Eastern European immigrants. An honors student, he was class president and played varsity baseball and football. Then, in the late fall of 1939, while playing an away football game on a particularly cold and rainy afternoon, he was injured and later became ill with pneumonia. He spent the Christmas holidays in bed and returned to school when the next semester began.
George Conjar looked forward with great anticipation to Spring baseball season, 1939
By all outward appearances, he seemed to be doing well, but when his school tested him for tuberculosis, the results came back positive for "incipient stage" TB in his left lung. TB being a contagious disease, he was taken out of school. By state mandate, he was then sent to a preventorium, an institution designed to contain and treat children who had been exposed to tuberculosis but were not yet symptomatic.
Children arriving by bus at the South Mountain Preventorium
Conjar's three-month stay at the South Mountain Preventorium was not altogether an unpleasant experience—more like a "summer camp," he later told Cayce researchers, except that the kids—ranging in age from 15 months to 18 years—were rarely permitted outdoors. There was still plenty of exercise, however, mostly in the form of calisthenics and swimming in one of two indoor pools, along with the occasional outdoor baseball game. In addition to the indoor pools, the massive four-floor building in which he lived contained an auditorium, a library, four classrooms where nutrition, hygiene, and a wide range of other subjects were taught, and lounges where patients could go to listen to the radio, play cards, and talk among themselves.
George Conjar kept the above photo of three friends from the South Mountain Preventorium tucked in the pages of his bible.
Conjar easily made friends among the approximately three hundred patients who lived in the dormitory-style sleeping quarters, and with regular visits from his family, the months passed quickly. He was sure that he had beaten the disease. He had gained weight, thanks to the generous helpings of food served three times a day and had put on muscle, the result of the calisthenics. He was looking forward to football and starting his senior year when, as a routine procedure before release, he was retested. The X-ray showed his left lung had worsened. Rather than being sent home, he was remanded to the South Mountain Sanatorium, a seven-floor hospital and cottages complex directly across the street from the Preventorium. As there was no known cure TB, this was where patients went to die. A few months or years. It was just a matter of time.
South Mountain Sanatorium
Where patients in the preventorium were children, here there were young and old alike, nearly a thousand TB sufferers in total. With the constant reminder that death was the inevitable next step—the South Mountain TB cemetery was directly behind the building—there was a sense of gloom and despondency.
George experienced the same wide range of shifting emotions as the others: hope, despair, love, sorrow, happiness, and tragedy. He enjoyed playing cribbage, visiting the chapel, walking the hallways, and living in a quaint cottage where other patients with less severe cases lived. This was where he was staying when his first phrenicotomy was performed. The procedure involved making a small incision in the skin just above his collarbone and "crushing" the phrenic nerve, thereby paralyzing a portion of his diaphragm and diminishing the volume of air he could take into his lungs. The procedure may have been moderately effective in slowing down the progress of his infection but left him sick to his stomach and increasingly having to gasp for air.
Patients at the South Mountain Sanatorium
By the end of the first year, his disease was considered moderately advanced and he was moved into the main hospital building. Treatment was advanced to include pneumothorax, which consisted of pumping air into the pleural cavity around his left lung and thereby collapsing the diseased area. Still, his condition continued to deteriorate. In addition to coughing up blood, there was fever and night sweats. So sensitive was his stomach to food that he could eat only breadcrumbs. As would eventually become his routine, he kept slices of bread in his bedroom drawer and throughout the day put tiny crumbs on his tongue until they dissolved.
When X-rays showed that his right lung was also now infected, physicians recommended a thorocoplasty, in which several of his ribs would be removed to permanently collapse his left lung so that his right lung might be spared. For George—a former football and baseball player, once proud of his body and his strapping good looks—this was a nightmare. He had only to look across the dining room to see the thorocoplasty patients—"slumped over like hunchbacks," as he said, to know his future.
Despondent, believing his life was over if he stayed at South Mountain any longer, he packed his things, and telling no one, slipped out the front gates and hitch-hiked home. He was warmly received by his family—not so friends and neighbors. Anyone who came into contact with him could potentially become infected. He was also too weak to even do routine chores around the house and was unwelcome at the local hospital. Physicians didn't want their patients exposed to him. Five months later, just shy of his eighteenth birthday, he returned to South Mountain, now resigned to his fate.
One of the roommates he enjoyed playing cribbage with was a young Presbyterian seminary student, Howard Roemer. Like George, he was in the critical stage of the disease. He had dropped twenty pounds, suffered nausea, and the mere sight of food made him sick. After one of their many conversations, Howard gave him a new book by author Tom Sugrue, There Is A River, the first Cayce biography, which had only been released the month before. George liked it so much that he immediately decided to write to Cayce a the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach and obtain a reading. Had he known how many unfilled demands there were already for Cayce readings—the backlog was nearly two years ahead—he might have been discouraged from even trying. But George, as he later admitted, was naive. "I had to try."
In fine but unsteady penmanship, Conjar introduced himself in a letter dated May 25, 1943, devoting more words to his inability to pay to join the A.R.E. than he did describe his condition.
“I have been told that a sum of twenty dollars is asked of members. You've probably realized by now that I am unemployed—that I have no money. I do get a few dollars from my mother now and then, and if need be, could fall back upon her... However, I'm against making this decision because I'd like to repay my own debt. After some debate I thought of the following: Mr. Cayce, if you gave me a reading that resulted in a cure, I'd offer you my services for eight hours of every day for one year in the practice of helping my fellow man. I'd do this entirely free of charge, food, or board, and any type of work assigned me would be undertaken with a glad heart. In the event that no cure occurred I would anyway try in same degree to do a little handwork that might bring in a few dollars. This money I would send to your foundation in the hopes that another would perhaps be benefited... You probably understand my reason for the preceding sentence is not brought on because of any lack of charity; my health would require a stoppage at this point.”
In signing off, Conjar simply said: "Well, I guess I said about all there is that needs be mentioned. Closing in all sincerity, George Conjar."
Conjar’s application to join the A.R.E.
Edgar responded three days later:
“Have yours of the 25th. Am enclosing a blank [A.R.E. application]. Will be glad to try and be of a service—and it will be entirely up to you, whether you pay anything or not. Just feel from past experience with this trouble that you can be helped, but do feel you will probably have to be at home, but do not think the cost for your treatments will be very much... Just hoping to be the means of a service.”
A date, July 8, was set for the reading. To be certain that Edgar, in trance, would find him, George said that he would be in room 441 in the bed "alongside the window" and that when the reading was being given he would be in "prayer and meditation." He also expressed, as he would repeatedly do in his correspondence to come, how grateful he was that Edgar would be doing this for him. "Until then [when the reading is given]," he wrote on June 11, "I will say an inadequate thank you for the service you are so graciously rendering me. May God bless you always and may He reward you in some way for this kindness you have shown to me."
Conjar's month-long wait to receive the reading was difficult. He continued to steadily lose weight and twice collapsed unconscious in a state of shock and had to be revived. What pulled him through was the conviction that Cayce would provide help. Just prior to when he was to receive the Cayce reading, he wrote a letter to chief supervising physician Custer to share his excitement. In the same letter, he also expressed his intention to leave South Mountain the same day he received the reading and return home to begin the recommended treatments.
The following day Dr. Custer called Conjar into his office to tell him that he was making a grievous mistake. In so doing, Dr. Custer related a story about a mentally deranged young man who had put his faith in a "cult" and forgone professional medical help and met a tragic ending. He didn't wish George to make the same mistake. Conjar countered by telling the physician that Cayce did not want him to join a cult. He was acting out of kindness, seeking to help people who came to him by using his God-given talents.
Dr. Custer, suddenly irate, demanded to know who had told him about Cayce. Reluctant to implicate his friend Howard, George referenced popular radio show host Isabelle Manning Hewson, who had done a segment on Cayce. Instead of discussing the matter further, Custer reached for the phone and called the radio station which broadcast her show. To George's alarm, Custer proceeded to file a grievance, claiming that Hewson was driving his patients into "hysteria" with her ridiculous notions. He then referenced Conjar's name, citing him as a patient who had become mentally unbalanced by Hewson's discussion of Cayce.
"He thought that I would be forced to forget you," Conjar later confided to Edgar by letter. " He then said he didn't want me arousing the other patients with my crackpot ideas though I don't ever remember arousing anyone in any manner. All this time he had been speaking without any apparent idea of what your work consisted of, and this even though my letter concerning your readings was plain enough."
When a nurse in the room came to Conjar's defense, Dr. Custer became even more irritated. As George later wrote:
"He then began speaking of my religion and how you were not in accordance with it. I replied that a Catholic priest who knows much more about my religion than I, was cured by following the readings prescribed treatment. 'I'll bet his name wasn't in the book,' he said. 'No,' said I, 'but any doctor may go down and examine the various case histories and see for himself the work of the readings.' This stumped him momentarily and then he told me to go and get the [Cayce] book. When I returned he was looking over my chart and then said to me, George, 'You're doing fine, just fine. I don't want you to go home and undo this good.' Well that certainly hit me... He tells me I'm doing fine. Just where did he get the information? He wanted me to put faith in the medical profession and him talking like that. I couldn't reply before he ushered me out into the hall."
Dr. Custer missed his next appointment with Conjar, which was just as well, as George had received the Cayce reading in the mail, and with Custer too busy to see him, George's mother checked him out of the hospital and took him home. He couldn't wait to get started on a treatment plan.
Geroge Conjar’s first Edgar Cayce reading
The Source, speaking through Cayce, described Conjar's tubercular condition as being in "advanced stage" but was not so far gone that he wouldn't respond to treatment if he consistently followed the recommendations. "This disturbance may not only be allayed, and stayed, but the body may be capable of doing very good work, and contribute to the spiritual things of life."
The recommendations, in brief, were as follows: he was to remain quiet, preferably at home, and inhale the fumes of pure apple brandy from a charred oak keg. Further, every other day he was to ingest a teaspoon full of Acigest, a commonly available type of hydrochloric acid, stirred in a glass of raw milk. He was also to take the calcium supplement Calcois, which he was to spread thinly on a whole wheat cracker as he would butter. And rather than remain indoors, as had been prescribed at the sanatorium, he was to go outside. "Keep in the open when practical... Stay out of the night air, yet have plenty of ventilation... Keep in the sunshine, but not in the noonday sunshine—rather stay in the shade but out of doors. Rest a great deal... A little exercise may be taken; only such as walking or the like."
Conjar was also advised to pay careful attention to his diet, which was to consist of eating seafood, bones included, twice each week. Chicken, stewed bones included, was to be eaten at other meals. No other kinds of meat should be consumed unless it was wild game. Further, he was to drink plenty of milk and milk products. Large quantities of cooked and raw vegetables and fruit were also to be eaten, but these were to be "yellow," such as yellow squash, yellow peaches, yellow yams, and yellow carrots. The Source didn't explain how foods with this particular color figured into the treatment equation, nor did Conjar ask, but the reason, as later would be evidenced in studies of phytochemicals, show that these fruits and vegetables are extremely high in organic chemical compounds which the body converts to vitamins A and C, omega-3 fatty acids, and folate.
This, along with a recommendation that he receive a check-up reading eight weeks into his treatment, was the extent of the advice. To help put the advice to best use, enclosed with the reading was an illustration of the charred oak keg and how it should be configured so that he could best inhale the apple brandy fumes.
Conjar received the reading on a Monday, arrived home the next day, and wrote Edgar on Wednesday. "By Friday I expect to have everything in readiness and to be able to begin my cure... I am also enclosing four dollars which I have managed to save from my allowance. Soon I hope to send you money regularly; first to try and pay in part for what you are doing for me and secondly, in the hopes that with it you may be helped by me in the continuing of your work for your fellow man. Thank you very much for your kindness; I can't express my gratitude appropriately."
Conjar would continue writing Edgar, telling him of the progress he was making, asking questions, and invariably enclosing a dollar or two. However, hopeful and committed as he was to be carrying out the recommendations, he had challenges yet to be met. Foremost among them was obtaining a charred oak keg. In a letter he wrote to a manufacturer he indicated that he wouldn't be using it for distillery purposes, but to follow health recommendations for treatment of TB. In return correspondence, the manufacturer expressed his sympathy for Conjar and his condition but said that he wasn't licensed to sell kegs for medicinal purposes.
Conjar went to his upstairs bedroom and cried into his pillow, thinking that his treatment would have to be delayed until he could somehow obtain a keg. By then it might be too late. But the next day he was delighted to suddenly find one delivered by the same company he had initially made his request. Though the manufacturer hadn't been able to "sell" him one, the sales agent had been touched by George's letter and "given" him one. Then there was the problem of obtaining brandy. Apple brandy was not available in Harrisburg, only applejack. George's older brother solved this problem by making a road trip to Maryland. The other products, Acigest and Calcois—were more easily obtained. Thus, with a concerted and well-choreographed effort by his entire family—his father prepared the keg, his siblings brought the food, and his mother prepared it—his healing began.
Four days into the treatment plan Conjar reported "a queer, light-headed feeling for an entire day." Twenty-four hours later, however, the feeling was gone. He then experienced a slight fever which lingered for a week, and profuse sweating. He wasn't concerned; rather he was pleased that the treatment seemed to be having an effect.
As numerous times before, he expressed his thanks in a letter to Edgar. "What you've done for me I'll never be able to repay you for. I thank God for letting me come into contact with you... If God is willing that my health be restored through you it will make me, I believe, happier than anyone on this earth. I already am ecstatically happy for what has already come to me."
Conjar's correspondence continued to be upbeat. In August, little more than three weeks since acting on the recommendations, Edger received a few more dollars in the mail, along with a note: "I'm feeling fine since starting treatment, in every way. Really, a new man. The sunshine feels wonderful, too; it's the first I've been out in it for a length of time since 1940."
In reply, Edgar encouraged him to stick to the regime. "You are going to have days when you won't feel so good, but I sincerely believe from past experiences that if you will do all the readings suggested for you and don't overdo it, you are going to get real results and I know that you will be a new and a happy man and I am looking forward... to talk to you personally."
George too looked forward to that moment. This, written in early September, which accompanied his $2 a month allowance:
"With your permission I'll come to Virginia Beach and thank you personally. It won't be an adequate thank you, since I can't even begin to put into speech such a great 'thanks' as I feel... I am in need of spiritual help as well a physical, and since I've come to know you I am, I know, much better spiritually, and feel much better physically."
Edgar was pleased that George should be thinking beyond his physical healing. He sent George a copy of a new book, A Search For God, which was a compilation of spiritual readings Edgar had given for the group of A.R.E. members in Virginia Beach and Norfolk who had come together out of profound desire to better understand themselves and their relationship to God.
In response to George's letter, Edgar wrote:
"We need help in our spiritual lives, if we are to use our physical abilities better, and I am in hopes that you may through the offices of the Association find something worthwhile just as so many others... If you will stick right close to all of the suggestions indicated in your reading and be mindful of your diet, I feel that you are going to get along all right. Let us hear from you and... hoping to see you in the not too distant future."
Eight weeks into the treatment Conjar applied for a follow-up check reading as had been indicated in his first reading. In an accompanying note, he also expressed his profound pleasure in reading the book Edgar had sent him, A Search For God.
"It was like receiving a rare pearl after having already been given a rare diamond. You're so very good. No matter what I am or ever shall be, I shall never forget the kindness you've shown me, nor the joy you've given me nor will I ever stop working to strengthen myself spiritually so that I may duplicate part of this kindness toward another... I want you to know that whatever the outcome, I am a much happier man for having met you and will be always."
Throughout this correspondence, Edgar never alluded to difficulties he was having with his own deteriorating health, the backlog of readings still to be conducted, or the feverish pace in which he was now giving them. The Source had said that Edgar, for his own health, ought to restrict the amount of trance sessions to twice a day. Gertrude was so concerned that she pulled him aside, requesting he put the brakes on. "You're killing yourself," Gertrude had said. But Edgar wouldn't listen. He led her to the storage room off their kitchen pantry and emptied an entire mailbag of correspondence onto the floor. "How can I turn them away?" he asked. "It kills me not to do the readings. If I overdo it, that will kill me, too."
Cayce never alluded to the drama taking place behind the scenes. He merely scheduled a follow-up reading for Conjar and apologized for him having to wait until January 1944. "I know that is a long time... but it is the very best we can do at the present time. I thank you very much for what you have said. Our whole purpose is to be of a service wherever and whenever it is possible. I am sure if you keep your thinking right, then act just as you think and pray the same way, you will get much better."
Edgar received no specific reports of Conjar's health in the lead up to the second reading; rather, he received a money order for $4 and a promise of ten dollars a month to be put toward an A.R.E. life-membership. Then, just before the January 4 date the reading was to be conducted, this letter came from Conjar in the mail:
"It has been almost five months since I began treatment as the reading suggested and I certainly must say I feel great. Since the 4th will divulge the extent of my improvement I am very much on pins and needles this day. For my entire three years spent in the sanatorium only one X-ray turned out favorable; the remainder—about 10 in number—were all rather disappointing. It has been a long while since I've felt as well as I do today. My heart owes you much, not only for my physical reading, but also for the spiritual help I've received through you. My life cannot help but be happy."
The follow-up reading Cayce conducted lasted a mere five minutes. The Source declared that there was no longer an infection, yet he should continue the treatments as previously outlined to more fully restore his health. He could, in fact, begin physical labor, in moderation:
"Do not work under conditions where the feet get cold or damp, or where there is not proper ventilation in the working surroundings. But the body can begin with its activities. Keep continually the constructive thinking within itself and within that which it would do for others. For in the manner ye treat thy fellow man ye treat thy Maker. Take time to be holy. Ye have made promises to self, to thy Maker, to thy friends. Remember—what thou hast vowed, keep. For the Lord hath need of those who are honest with themselves."
Conjar was ecstatic. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart," he wrote on January 10. "I can not—nor can words—express... the joy that fills my entire being every minute of every day. My gratitude to you is likewise inexpressible but believe that completely my heart thanks you always... As soon as I can make financial arrangements for a trip to Virginia Beach, I am going to visit you so that I can thank you personally for your great kindnesses to me."
Despite the now overwhelming demands on his time, Edgar wrote back a long and heartfelt letter. This, in part, was what he said:
"I am looking forward with a great deal of pleasure and interest to the day when I may meet you in person. I believe you are going to be entirely well of this trouble. I know my own wife, whom I hope you will meet when you are here, in 1910 was in a much worse condition than yourself, and is entirely well and has little or no recurrence... It will be very well for you to check on your condition with an X-Ray and I hope that you will get just as wonderful results as many others have. You ought to be entirely well, George, in possibly less than a year."
Conjar went ahead and had an X-ray at the Harrisburg Hospital. No evidence could be found of the disease in his right lung. His left lung was scared but disease-free. The physician declared him healed. How he didn't know, but George's recovery, by any measure, was miraculous. He would never spend another day in the hospital.
The blessings were many. The tragedy—as Conjar would later tell us—was twofold.
Physicians had let so many others die when Cayce's treatment plan was so effective, inexpensive, available to nearly everyone, and had so many added healthful benefits. His entire body had been rejuvenated. The pharmaceutical-based treatment that was finally devised and used to treat TB in the 1950s, which would virtually eradicate the disease in the U.S., and is still the prescribed treatment, acts on the body as does chemotherapy. It kills the infection, but at great cost to the human body.
Edgar Cayce before his death
Conjar's other regret was that he didn't get to thank Edgar in person. In the year after getting well, while his brothers were off fighting in WW II, and he had to work to support his family, Edgar's own health had deteriorated. He was critically ill with pneumonia. He would pass before Conjar could afford the train ticket.
With the help of his family and a tight-knit circle of friends, Conjar kept secret his bout with TB and the help he had received from Edgar Cayce. He felt he had no choice: TB was contagious and had no cure—at least not one accepted by the mainstream medical community. Moreover, he well remembered the hostile reaction when he had told Dr. Charles Custer, chief of medical services at the Pennsylvania State Tuberculosis Sanatorium, about Edgar Cayce.
Still, George Conjar kept the promise he had made to Cayce and to God.
Conjar treated every day as a celebration of life. Each morning, at six a.m., he went to church to say a prayer for the blessings he had received and to silently meditate on how he could share his good fortune with others. He would go on to give a third of everything he earned to charity and for the betterment of mankind. At soup kitchens, charity drives, and many other forms of outreach, he endeavored to become a servant to all. That was his takeaway from A Search for God, the book that Cayce had given him.
Conjar, on the far right, was an award-winning salesman for D&H Distributing, a major North American electronics distributor
Conjar went on to receive a college business degree, marry a woman with whom he would be devoted for sixty years, and would work for the same Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, wholesale product distribution company for over four decades. Few salesmen worked as hard or were more successful.
George and his wife Jacqueline took their grandchildren to Hotel Coronodo, outside San Diego, CA
Retirement in 1989 brought continued joy and a well-deserved rest after a long and well-lived life. Conjar celebrated his 74th birthday with friends and family, and a party was thrown several months later for his forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Among the celebrants were five children and seven grandchildren. He experienced a different kind of joy when, over five decades after receiving his trance readings, Edgar Cayce came back into his life.
George was sitting in an armchair in his living room drinking his morning coffee when he chanced to read a newspaper article about a new book about Edgar Cayce. Seeing Cayce's name in print brought back a rush of emotions he could not contain. He burst into tears and wept uncontrollably. His wife, Jacqueline, rushed to his side, fearful that something dreadful had happened. His tears, however, were of joy. He had no idea that Edgar Cayce was still remembered or that the association with whom he had corresponded in 1945 was still in existence.
Jacqueline, too, also wept. She had always known that her husband harbored a dark secret related to the war years, 1939-1945. She mistakenly suspected that he had been a draft dodger. Why else would George and his family go to such lengths not to discuss where he had been during those years and what he had been doing? She might otherwise have pressed him to confess the truth but he was such a fine husband and father that she let it go. Now the truth was revealed. Her husband had had TB and was cured by this man, Edgar Cayce, in Virginia Beach.
Conjar called Jeanette Thomas, archivist for the Edgar Cayce Foundation. Several days later, she and volunteer researcher (and future board-member) Paul Mazza, recorded his story for the Cayce archives. And with the support of his children and grandchildren, George finally came to Virginia Beach in 2014 as our special surprise guest at the 83rd Annual A.R.E. Congress, where he gave thanks to the man who had saved his life.
George Conjar passed through "God's other door" at age 96 on November 17, 2020. His friends at Cayce Universe salute a life well-lived, and the good, by word and deed, that he brought to the world. No doubt he has been greeted on the other side by a small army of those whose lives he touched. He did mine.