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Throwback Thursday: William Pester, the Hermit of Palm Springs

This Thursday, we take a look at one-time Palm Springs curiosity/resident WIlliam Pester, who has been credited with lots of things. Among them: Inpsiring (by proxy) Nat King Cole's 1945 song "Nature Boy" and launching a counterculture movement that blossomed into the 1960s Woodstock generation.

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  1. "There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy. They say he'd wandered very far, very far. Over land and sea." -- Nat King Cole, "Nature Boy" (written by eden ahbez)
  2. Nat king cole, Nature Boy
  3. In the early 1900's,  German émigré William Pester made his home among the streams and valleys of Palm Canyon (tucked in the Native American valleys in south Palm Springs). Residing in a hut made out of palm trees, he lived close to the land and is rumored to have been accepted by the local Cahuilla as one of their own.
  4. Born in Saxony in 1886, Pester was a devotee of the philosophy of lebensreform (“life-reform”), which advocated natural medicine, raw foods and the benefits of nudism. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1906 and eventually made his way to the Coachella Valley where he became one of a burgeoning movement of German men who identified as "Nature Boys" and were committed to a simpler way of life.
  5. Pester’s personal and sexuality are open to interpretation and have been the subject of much debate. A bachelor for most of his life, he had strong bonds with other like-minded naturmenschen -- one of them, eden ahbez is credited with writing the Nat King Cole song "Nature Boy" about Pester. He also became something of a local attraction and celebrities visiting Palm Springs -- including Rudolph Valentino (above) -- made pilgrimages to have their picture taken with him.

    According to Matthew Link, writing in Desert Outlook, the main reason he married a woman later in his life was for her influential contacts in order to keep him out of prison, where he found himself in 1940 — at the infamous San Quentin on 10 counts of “sexual perversion” for having sex with underage boys. He served six years, writes author Peter Wild in his book about Pester, "The Hermit of Palm Springs."
  6. He was also allegedly suspected of being a German spy who sent radio messages from the top of the San Jacinto mountains back to Germany. About what, we don't know -- perhaps he was their regular source on amazing desert sunsets?
  7. Pester evidently kept a low profile after his time in jail, and hardly anything is known of his later years, except that he probably died in Arizona in 1963 at the age of 78.The site of Pester’s Palm Canyon hut is now a parking lot and trading post where tourists rush in and out. Look closely, and you’ll spot the nearby Hermit’s Bench named in his honor.
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