I’ve been lucky this year. Twice I stood still with the only noise coming from the wind, and in each instance, I simply lost time. It could have been minutes or hours or anywhere in between. Both sites, one a work of spiritual art, the other a desert town established and developed by one man after selling off his parachute business (more on this later), evoked the experience of being overwhelmed. In each case, the site’s beauty, complexity, and sheer magnitude left me in awe, feeling so small in comparison to the vision and passion it took to create these places. The more recent of these trips was to Niagara Falls, but not while getting soaked on the Maid of the Mist deck or in the Cave of the Winds. Instead, I was 2 miles north of the attractions that bring so many to town, at 1308 Ontario Avenue. This is The Second Coming House, a meticulously hand-carved and painted masterpiece by Prophet Isaiah Robertson that must be seen in person to grasp its beauty and intricacy.
Robertson, born in Jamaica in 1947, was taught from a young age to pray for Salvation. Shortly before her untimely death when he was twelve, his mother had a vision, believing that the Lord had extraordinary plans for her son. Following Jesus’s footsteps, he became a carpenter and erected his first house without any formal training. In 2004, he moved across the border from Toronto to Niagara Falls, drawn by the appeal of affordable fixer-upper homes he could renovate and resell. Having attended the Mount Erie Baptist Church as a devout parishioner, the church contracted him to sheetrock their walls. Instead, with the divine guidance of God, he was directed to utilize lavish golden oak panels with intricate architectural inlay that hold hidden biblical messages. At an outdoor spiritual revival, a speaker sensed there was someone in the audience gifted with prophecy. This led to the Jubilee, his “first prophecy,” in 2006, the year of forgiveness and redemption.
Robertson’s “second prophecy,” predicting The Rapture (the second coming of Christ and the ascension of the Saved), occurred in 2014. As told via symbols painted on stone and elaborate hex-like designs of stone and sand foretold the coming together of four prophets, one coming from the East, one from the West, one from the North, and the last from the South. On their joining, Jesus is to descend. The front yard of his home was transformed into a rock garden containing a unique sepulcher between the sidewalk and the street. It is centered by a petroglyph-like body of Jesus Christ taken down from the cross, surrounded by red rocks, two of them split at the bottom to represent nearby Goat Island, which divides the Bridal Veil and the Horseshoe Falls. In his eye, that symbolic separation is where God’s son will perform his final judgment of followers (represented by sheep) and the unsaved (depicted as goats). One is baptized with water, the other baptized with fire as the water rushing to the Niagara Falls whirlpool will be transformed into the Lake of Fire. To Robertson, the ever-present rainbow over the Horseshoe Falls was Noah’s prophecy holding a sacred covenant; the roar of the Falls was perceived as “the voice of God.” There are two paths, you go to the left, or you go to the right.
He spent 10 years, 5 months adorning every inch of his home and yard into a reading of the New and Old Testament prophecies. The painted stones and wood-cut mosaics are joined inside the house with countless laborious lines of purple beads symbolizing the path to Salvation. Often during the visit, the outside world seems to fade away. It’s in stepping back a moment in the middle of the street when you can rhapsodize about the “parallel reality.” How infinite the sublime can be, how it seems you’ve stepped into a candy-colored central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights. And it’s when you step back you realize how monumental it is, how this contemplative and ethereal environment can remind you of Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project – the big sun- but without the gimmicks. This is art in the form of pure devotion. Here, I get lost in the purity of Robertson’s intentions. And his most transcendent moment was not here for my visit.
After a short illness, Prophet Isaiah Robertson passed away on January 25, 2020. As devastating as it is when a brilliant artist passes on, it can often also mean the loss of their environment. This artwork is unaffiliated with a museum or the conventional art world; rather, it is fully embedded in the neighborhood. A neighborhood that has felt its emotional impact for so many years now. Luckily the renowned photographer Fred Scruton had been dear friends with Prophet Isaiah for over a decade and had frequently returned to the site to document its transformations. With his vast archived meticulous documentation, Scruton approached the Kohler Foundation to save the site from decay stemming from the region’s harsh winters. By 2021 conservators dismantled the large pieces to preserve them for future generations. The Kohler Foundation has acquired and preserved more than 30 such environments, partnering with regional stakeholders to continue the legacy locally. In this case, the fantastic team at the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area gave me a tour of what has been preserved and restored thus far and walked me through plans of what is to come. It’s a tremendous responsibility. They all reside on Holy Ground. Prophet Isaiah built a 25-foot-tall wooden cross at the foot of his driveway and declared this the last opportunity for the unsaved to repent. It’s a mesmerizing marker, a place for each of us to better our inner and outer lives, but it’s also a great responsibility to carry this torch. After so many long winters the cross is being conserved in Carlisle, PA but will be back. This site is as dependent on Niagara Falls, and Niagara Falls is dependent on it. I am just thankful they get to remain together.