A Prophet Among Us

Gustave Dore - Micah Exhorts the Israelites to Repent

“Myron St. Leasure, the dirty evangelist, has joined a bear show at Skaneateles. The bears have our sympathy.”  – Utica Morning Herald, September 10, 1878

And so a Utica newspaper heralded the arrival in Skaneateles of the Rev. Saint Myron Leasure, although the part about the bear show wasn’t true. The Skaneateles Free Press, on September 7th, offered a more factual account:

“The Rev. St. Myron Leasure, the long haired, long robed eccentric street preacher, is in town the present week, and is announced to speak at Thayer Park at 6 o’clock, this Friday evening, and 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon. His subject will be ‘Temperance and the Bible.’”

St. Myron Leasure was born in Watertown, N.Y., and in early youth was said to be a good student, noted for his speaking ability, always ready to deliver an oration, never needing notes. But  it was said that too much study affected him and “his mind gave way.”  More eccentric than dangerous, he began appearing as the self-appointed color bearer in local parades, riding a gaunt horse and proudly carrying the flag. He began speaking in public, wherever he could gather an audience, on the subjects of patriotism, phrenology and temperance. Feeling like a Biblical prophet, he began dressing like one and carrying his message from town to town in upstate New York.

Much like the ancient prophets, he was rarely welcomed. Here is a sampling of his “reviews” from local newspapers:

“A genius named Myron St. Leasure, whose hair extends down upon his shoulders and who wears a girdle about his loins, blows a trumpet, and marches under a temperance banner, is lecturing on temperance in Ontario county. He seems to be a second John the Baptist, sent especially to reform the people of our neighboring county.” — Watertown Re-Union, May 4, 1871

“Rev. Myron St. Leasure will deliver his last incomprehensible lecture in Public Square on Thursday evening June 15th at 7 o’clock. Subject ‘Temperance and the Millennium.’” – Watertown Re-Union, June 15, 1871

“Prof. St. Myron Leasure, missionary of Watertown, N. Y., will preach in the Seward Park, on Friday evening, at 7 o’clock… Subject: Temperance, Peculiar People and Prophecy.” — Auburn Morning News, June 1873

“Myron St. Leasure, who has some reputation as a street preacher, gave one of his unconnected and half crazy discourses in this place on Sunday last to a small audience.” — Moravia News & Democrat, August 28, 1878

“Myron St. Leasure, white gown and all, talked to a small crowd at Seward Avenue Park, yesterday afternoon. Several unruly and ill-mannerly boys amused themselves by pelting the great temperance advocate with apple cores and gravel stones. The ‘professor’ proved iron-clad against the assault and harangued his audience for an hour and upwards. He left the city this morning to talk to the sinners in Weedsport.” — Evening Auburnian, April 22, 1881

On April 25th of 1881, the Auburn correspondent of the Syracuse Sunday Herald, who knew Leasure from Watertown, added his insights:

“I will tell your readers what I know of him. The man is crazy.  And it is all over religion. St. Myron originally came from people in whose veins there was gypsy blood, and from that comes his wandering disposition. He has a brother named Cyrenus and a sister called Sephronia, living in Watertown. Sephronia is as crazy as a hungry bed-bug and spends about one-half of her time in the insane department of the county house in Jefferson county. She has attempted to kill herself on various occasions and one time not long ago, while locked up in the station house at Oswego, she stripped herself of all her clothing and attempted to commit suicide by hanging.

“The brother, Cyrene, known among the waifs and young dare devils of Watertown as ‘Beefsteak John,’ is not so crazy as the others of the family, but he is not of a sound mind by any means… St. Myron is a great Fourth of July orator. He always speaks somewhere on that day, and his applause generally consists of eggs of uncertain health, firecrackers and torpedoes of various sizes. I often wonder that he is not severely injured.”

Leasure’s welcome in Auburn showed signs of wear, as reported in the Evening Auburnian of  May 2, 1881:

“Yesterday ‘Professor’ St. Myron Leasure closed his evangelical labors in this city for the present. The Professor harrangued a crowd of small boys and adults at Seward Park in the afternoon. A policeman was on hand to protect the ‘Professor’ from assaults from sundry small boys who on the previous Sunday annoyed the great divine (?) by throwing apple cores and pebbles at him and prodding him with pins inserted in the ends of several long sticks… St. Myron, undaunted, finished his discourse and retired in good order. Tomorrow St. Myron starts for Seneca Falls, Waterloo and Geneva to convert the unregenerate of those villages.”

In December of 1881, Leasure treated readers to the sound of his prose (and us to a hint of his oratory) in a letter, concerning his sister, sent to the Watertown Daily Times:

“Victory, victory for Sephronia. Editors and friends, the victory is ours. All Hail! Sepronia was released from Willard asylum Tuesday, when the trustees held their annual meeting. Let’s hoist  the old flag of our glorious union on the asylum at Ovid. Sophronia is heartily rejoiced and will pay you all a visit between now and Christmas. We will probably come together next Friday. Please carry the news to brother, ‘Cy.’ Tell him and Little Anthony to be at the depot to give the alarm by raising the flag and firing at least three peals of cannon—heavy artillery—at 10 a.m. and 4 p. m. Let the people know that the jubilee is near at hand.

“Tell them that Sophronia has improved 25 per cent since she went away, the 24th of June. Tell Cyrenus not to come: we’ll both be there on the appointed time—a mother’s lost girl and stray son. Deceased doctors and four-judges don’t run this country. The ’cause’ is all right.”

By 1903, Leasure seemed to have retired from his work as a prophet, but he was still making the newspapers, as in this account from the (Lowville) Journal and Republican of November 12th:

“Saint Myron was the defendant in court last week for letting his cows run loose and forage on another man’s lands. When on the witness stand in his own behalf he launched into a tirade which the court could not stop. ‘David, the psalmist,’ he said, ‘was allowed to pasture his sheep where he wanted in the Judean hills,’ and he claimed the same privileges as the saints of old. When Saint Myron rested, all out of breath, Gen. Winslow moved a non-suit and the court remarked hurriedly that he ‘would sleep over the case.’”

Leasure did have a last hurrah, and it seems that people had grown rather fond of him. On July 3, 1913, the Watertown Daily Times reported:

Saint Myron Leasure Will Parade the Fourth

“Forced to yield to the entreaties of admiring friends, Saint Myron Leasure will positively appear in all his glory on the Fourth. This will be the Saint’s first public appearance in some time and he states that he expects the crowd that will turn out to see him will be even greater than that which witnessed the circus parade today. The historic old mare will be decked as never before and Saint Myron states that he had her shod only a month ago so that there will be no danger of her slipping if a firecracker should catch him unawares. He states that he will parade from 10 until 12 in the morning, thus giving all who wish an opportunity to see him.”

St. Myron Leasure died in Watertown, in March of 1914, found dead in bed at his home, a hut made from part of an old church steeple. He was 72. He was buried with the American flag that he had carried on many occasions.

* * *

Illustration: “Micah Exhorts the Israelites to Repent” by Gustave Dore

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