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Leonard Knight of Salvation Mountain

by Deuce of Clubs (supplemented by questions from Fingers)

(First published feb1998)




Leonard Knight

Died 10feb2014



Deuce of Clubs: How did you get the idea to do Salvation Mountain, Leonard?

Leonard Knight: In 1967 I was about 35 years old, and I never loved God or the Lord, and one day by myself I started saying, "Jesus, I'm a sinner. Please come into my heart."

Fingers: All by yourself?

All by myself!


I don't know. But I said it ten times, by myself, with Jesus. And tears came to my eyes. So I said it for a half hour. And I ended up crying. And the Bible says in Acts 2.38, "Repent to Jesus and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." It don't say, "Go to man." It don't tell me to "be good." I used to swear so much I'm ashamed of myself. But ever since this happened, not one swear word. He changed me to the good!

And I tried to get this message to the world, and I couldn't do it, and I prayed ten years for a hot-air balloon, which says "God is Love" on it, and the Sinner's Prayer. 'Cos that's a nice way to present it. And the balloon rotted out on me twelve years ago, right here, and I'm glad it did, because then I put "God is Love" on this mountain. And thirteen years later, it's gotten bigger & bigger. I'm excited about putting God Mountain—or whatever—to the world in a way that everybody likes me for it. People come in, and they drink and swear a lot, and they tell me they love the mountain. And people that go to church, they love the mountain. Everybody seems to love the mountain!

I know the Bible says if we repent to Jesus, we can be saved. Just that one verse, and what was I doing in that twenty minutes? Repenting to Jesus. And it changed my life completely.

I like to keep it real simple. If somebody will take that postcard that I gave you, I got the Sinner's Prayer on it, somebody in Russia or Australia might just say, "Jesus, I'm a sinner, please come into my heart." Wow! And I've given out 102,000 postcards with the Sinner's Prayer on it, I've got the Sinner's Prayer on the mountain, on both sides of my truck, on the front of my truck—you can check to see. And I'm not playing games with God's Word. I would rather have somebody by themselves—because the Bible don't say repent to people, it says repent to Jesus. Right?

I like to give postcards, and I don't want to insult anybody. If I insult anybody, it's when I'm shaving in the morning!

Fingers: Do you go to church anywhere, Leonard?

No. I tell everybody, if you love God, tell it to Him right off. Because churches want to grab me, a lot. And I'll say, well, if I go into a town with eight churches, and join one, the other seven don't like me. And I say, gee, I got a problem: I love all eight! So I keep away from the church nametags, but I love 'em all. And I do respect them.

I wasn't sure you were going to be here, it being Sunday and all. We were over in Yuma last night & I was telling Fingers about this place and we just came out on the spur of the moment. We set out about two in the morning.

You're kidding.

Otherwise, I'd have brought you some paint.

Next time!

Fingers: Who was here first, you or Slab City?

The Slab City crew. Ever since World War II, they started to come in.

They're not here in the summertime, are they?

No, no. They're snowbirds. They know how to get good weather in the winter, here. And when it gets too hot, they go back to Canada, Oregon.... But they're smart, retired, beautiful people.

It's an interesting crew out there. Last time I was here, I was talking to a bunch of them. An interesting crew. Very independent.

Very independent. And, I don't know, to me, I'm excited about the United States of America. I feel that the Statue of Liberty in New York City Harbor came right on my door. And when all the big museums and the big art colleges get on my side, the United States treats me real fine. Everybody loves me. I have no rules whatsoever, and they're lettin' me do my thing. Beautiful! Freedom! And in the United States of America we can do that. God, I love the United States!

California came in with a big bus tour June the 28th, there was a big bus tour from Los Angeles, and they wrote me a letter saying that the mountain was the most interesting thing on the whole tour! So that was funded by California. So, California authorities? I love 'em! I really do. I love the United States and people. And I believe, I've thought about, God willing, if this mountain keeps a-goin' (and it's getting famous fast, as far as I can see), I'm gonna have another ten coats of shiny paint on that whole thing, and it's gonna bring in millions of tourists, and California authorities are gonna give me a great big smile and a hug. And I'm gonna hug 'em back!

Fingers: Are you going to make it bigger?

No. I'd like to stay here and just repaint it. 'Cos up close, where I painted the extra, it's shiny. So I know that if I paint it more, it gets shinier. And I would rather have another ten coats of paint on it and have it real thick, so it'd stay here maybe forty years.

Do you have any estimate of how much paint you've put on there?

Oh, yes, I have. But I really have no idea. I would say thirty to sixty thousand gallons. 'Cos it soaks into the adobe.

I bet it does.

Then somebody thought I was exaggerating on that.

It would be hard to say.

Awful hard. I really don't like to exaggerate. Like some people come in & they say, "How tall is that mountain?" Instead of saying, "I think it's a hundred and ten feet, look what I did!" I'll just say, "Oh, twenty, twenty-five feet," and they'll say, "No, it's bigger than that." So, I hate to exaggerate with paint if I don't know. But I do know this: every paint company in California has given me their old paint.


So people are backing me up by the millions, now. I'm really excited about that! I guess you can tell.

Yeah, it shows. I think it's terrific how—you might think in this remote location, not many people would see it, but there are actually a lot of people to see it.

Oh, there's a lot. I blame a lot of it on the Raw Vision and museum people. Artists all across the world just wrote in nice letters saying things like Mona Lisa's paintings had lead in it, and no, you don't put that in a toxic waste dump!

Fingers: What I think it was, Leonard, it's not that they're worried about the environment. I think they didn't like your message.

That coulda had something to do with it. Also, they wanted to make a paying campground up here & make a little money. But they really make money with the tourists. I think they're realizing that now. Then, in the summer—and Niland's a beautiful town. And I'm proud to be part of Niland. In the Tomato Festival Parade last Saturday, they made me King of the Parade! So we get along good. I got a big trophy. See, there's a lotta love between people close to me and people far away. And poor little Niland, during the summer they close the doors, the waitresses don't have a job. Then the snowbirds come in—not just the snowbirds, but a lot of activity, tourism, really—they open their doors and they make a little money so they can glide through the summer months. But during the summer months, with no tourism here—I hope that all the supervisors and politicians realize there's money in tourism. And I think they realize that. That's why they're treating me so good now.

Where are you from originally?


I thought there was some kind of an Eastern accent there.

Yeah, I grew up on the Vermont-Canada border.

Long way from Vermont down here.

Yeah. I like it. I love the sun. I really do.

Fingers: How do you deal with it in the summer?

It's really kinda easy for me, because the little restaurant that's in town, they keep me in there three hours longer than they should. They give me coffee and donuts a lot of times, free. Not because I ask. They want to. If you don't want to give me paint, I don't want it. But I give postcards; people give me paint. So it's kind of a gimme mountain! (Laughter)

I always find it hard to sleep when it's hot.

It gets that way here, I'm not saying it doesn't. But sometimes, at two in the morning, when the moon is out in the middle of summer, and it's pretty nice, and man, I can sing a song and be happy as all get- out!

When we were here in November, Daniel Paul & I and a few others, we were sitting up at the top of the mountain at night, and we were having a good old time, looking out into the dark, listening to the coyotes and having fun. But then we realized we were probably having too much fun and didn't want to keep you awake, 'cos we figured the mountain is probably like a big amphitheater, so we thought we'd better leave.

No, I'm sorry you left, 'cos I could've made more noise than all of ya! (Laughter)

Well, we figured that had been quite a long day for you—that was the day we were trying to help you get the balloon in the air.

That was a beautiful day! I've got video of that, ten minutes, since Larry, the movie producer, got inside of it and took pictures of it, and it looked like crazy art! And he got ten big pictures, this big, of crazy art. He hasn't sent 'em to me yet, but he's going to. And the sun was shining through that rotted material, but inside it looked like brand new material. Anyway, it was very exciting for me, that day.

There were cars parked all over here and I don't know how many people.

It's getting exciting. People are liking what I'm doing and sending me nice letters about, "We're so glad we visited you, thanks for the postcards." Being nice is something that really thrills me a lot! If you're nice to me, I just want to be nice back. It's easy! And it seems to be getting easier, as the mountain becomes more popular. I feel like a counterfeit, kind of, 'cos I'm really not an artist. I don't want to tell the world that too plainly, but...!

Well, that [the mountain] is art, and since you did it, you're an artist. That's what I think.

Anyway, thanks. A young kid in town says, "Leonard, how come all the countries of the world like your mountain and they don't in the United States?" And I said, "My goodness, that's a thrill for me, because they love it here, too!" Isn't that exciting? Getting "God is Love" down to every culture? Go on, let's just all work together and love each other and be nice.

I hope I'm not running off at the mouth too much. You can cut out things you want to.

I might complain if I was taking shorthand.

I get excited about the World Wide Web. It's a thing I don't know anything about. But I know that once it gets in there, it's in there for the future. Maybe in the 24th Century people will go way back to the Dark Ages of 1900s...! They put it on the Web, I'm looking way ahead, but you never know. But I'm real excited about getting pictures of this in magazines and books, because it brings the political system on my side . . . I'd like to have the political system on my side.

I've already got some photos up on my WWW site of your mountain, and I have a picture of you up there.

Beautiful! And I hope it makes you feel real good.

It does.

You could be a part of keeping "God is Love" down here in the future. Because, really, the young kids talk a lot about that World Wide Web, and they know what they're talking about. And they can find it. I'm excited about that. It's almost like being a pioneer in the World Wide Web. Man, once it gets in there, mister, it's in there. That's what people tell me. And these young kids sometimes I didn't think they had much knowledge, but . . . whew! Look out, they know how to do it!

Fingers: What does your brother think of it? [Leonard's brother had just arrived from back east.]

Oh, they love it. He's my older brother. Really excited about it.

Fingers: You said you haven't seen him in seventeen years?

I've seen him since then maybe an hour or two. Now they're gonna be around, stay a whole week, and we're gonna go to San Diego, the minute you leave!

It's been a delight to see you again, Leonard.


© Deuce of Clubs

You can contact Leonard Knight at:
Leonard Knight
P. O. Box 298
Niland, CA 92257

Leonard Knight & Salvation Mountain have appeared in many books & magazines, as well as in the documentary Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Here are some source items that, with luck, might be appearing in a thrift store near you:

Self Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments

Santa Barbara (magazine), Fall 97

Preservation (magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), September-October 97

Raw Vision #16 (magazine), Fall 96

Detour (magazine), December 95

Here's a previous visit to Salvation Mountain

and a cool pen holder Leonard made

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