In the 1920s, citizens of the North Lansing, now Old Town, were familiar with a peculiar character. Known alternately as Mervin, Marlin, Marble and Merlin Valleau, the man born in Van Buren, Michigan, about 1861, ran for president of the United States on his own socialist ticket and was an ardent advocate for â€œtrue natural religion, which consists in being governed by instinct and desire.â€ He regularly extolled his beliefs on street corners. By all known accounts, Merlin was well know about the neighborhood, police and factory workers left him alone.
Valleau preached a diet of â€œripe fruit and uncooked edible leaves,â€ and that everyone should go naked. He did not provide details concerning how to survive a Michigan winter in the absence of ripe fruit, edible leaves or clothes. By conforming to his teaching, he believed the world would alleviate sickness, poverty, prisons, war and growing old.
He and his wife Stella Hanawald had 10 children who lived to adulthood. Stella died in 1927; Merlin in 1942. Documentation on their lives is spotty. They currently have several descendants living out of state. In the 1920 federal census, they are listed as renting a home near Webberville. His occupation is listed as Writer and Lecturer. In the 1930 census, no occupation is given. He was 69. City Directories place him living on Taft Street near Groesbeck Golf Course.
A self-published pamphlet titled The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand describes him as â€œStooped and bearded â€¦A queer figure this Mervin Valleau (he also refers to himself as Merlin in the same publication), walking down Grand River avenue in the twilight of a fall evening.â€ A local photographer of note, Norton Louis Avery, won a national photography contest with a character study of Merlin.
There are no numbers available. However, Valleau had a flock. In the pamphlet there are letters from admirers and the last page sports a group portrait of men and children nearly disrobed.
The caption reads:
Memberâ€™s of Freedomâ€™s Church practicing religion. As there is no legal means to prevent the practice of religion, there is no legal means to prevent going naked at any time, spot or place in the U.S.A.
Besides prosthelytizing Valleau wrote poetry and essays on his beliefs. Most works are a mix of his political, religious and nudist philosophy. In President Roosevelt vs. God, he writes:
Rooseveltâ€™s eye are too very small
Too see all the characters on the wall
If he could see the effects of nudistsâ€™ camps
Heâ€™d go straight to bed with the cramps.
David Votta â€“ When not working as the Local History Librarian/Archivist for the Capital Area District Library, David serves on more committees, boards and commissions than he would like to think about.