Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Andrew Julius Miller: A Brother
 


Andrew Julius Miller: A Brother

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 03, 2013

A year ago we talked about disruptions in church services and bringing the spirit back to meetings after such an event. I illustrated that post with the story of a mentally ill man named A.J. Miller, who appeared in the Salt Lake Tabernacle carrying a banner and dressed in fantastic robes, because an angel had instructed him to do so. He was arrested, but not prosecuted, for disturbing a religious meeting.

Today I would like to revisit that story, this time looking at the life of the man beyond that single day in the Tabernacle.

Anders Julius Möller – his name later anglicized to Andrew Julius Miller – was born at Hindby, near Malmö, at the southern tip of Sweden, at 6 p.m. on the 4th of July 1837. He was christened a week later. Other than the names of his parents and four siblings, I know little of his early life. Later, in the days of his delusion, he would claim that an angel appeared to his mother before his birth, telling her that the son she carried would become a great prophet; he also related how “millions” of people visited the family’s home to gaze on the newborn prophet.

He grew up as a Lutheran, and, when he was a teenager, he apparently fell in love with the priest’s daughter (if we can trust his own story); she died when they were both 19.

Andrew was baptized as a Latter-day Saint on 24 September 1860, when he was 23 years old. I have no information on how he met the missionaries, or who baptized him, or whether any of his family were converted along with him. The diary of a Swedish missionary gives us this glimpse of Andrew’s early church life:

On the 19th of July [1861] I received a letter from A.J. Möller of Simrishamn dated the 19th which informed me that he was sick. He asked that I and Nels Eliassen might come and administer to him. I did as I was asked altho I didn’t receive the letter until evening. I got ready and went with Brother Eliassen to Simrishamn. We arrived early in the morning, the 20th and found him on his sick bed. He arose and we administered to him and he was healed by the power of God. Then we ate and drank coffee and after dinner left Simrishamn. Brother Möller accompanied us a long way. When we arrived at Jarestad I left my brother and went to Ystad and arrived there quite late that evening.

This and other entries in that diary indicate that Andrew enjoyed the company of the missionaries and was willing to walk long distances with them (and back, after parting from them) in order to extend his time and conversations.

Andrew’s connection to the Church caused him to emigrate with a Mormon company: On 12 July 1870 he left Copenhagen for Liverpool; on 20 July he sailed aboard the S.S. Minnesota; on 1 August he arrived in New York, and  he then crossed the plains aboard the transcontinental railroad that had been completed the year before. The Minnesota’s manifest lists several other Möllers aboard, but apparently they were unrelated to our 33-year-old traveler. The same record indicates that Andrew was a “smith” but does not tell us what kind of metalworking he did. Ten years later, the 1880 census would indicate his profession as “toy maker”; perhaps he was a tinsmith or a blacksmith, with his toys reflecting the trade he had learned in Sweden.

Although his mental disorder would eventually take a religious turn, it seems very likely that no sign of that trouble was manifest in his first years in Salt Lake. A report after his illness began describes him as “once a thrifty workman, an ardent churchman.” On 20 July 1874, two years after his arrival, he received his endowment in the Endowment House. I am not certain how common it was for a single man to be endowed at that period … but in one sense, he was not a single man. Three deceased women, all with Scandinavian names, were sealed to him on the same date. I know nothing of these women beyond their names – had he known them in Sweden? was one of them the Lutheran priest’s daughter?

Nor do I know just when Andrew began showing signs of mental illness (in one interview he said he had begun receiving visions eight years after coming to Utah, or 1880), nor what type of illness it was. None of the accounts I have found mention any physical injury. The accounts are unanimous in asserting that Andrew never showed the slightest inclination toward violence, and that while he described night visions and visits from angels, and made extravagant claims about his own divinity, he otherwise was personally functional and very social.

In 1880 Andrew was living in the home of a young couple, William and Charlotte Atwell. By 1890 he was living on his own, in a tiny home (one reporter described it as “no larger than a common-size chicken coop”) on the corner of 300 South and 800 East, with his mental health seriously impaired. That impairment was of long enough standing that those who saw him in January 1890 understood who he was and that this behavior was “normal” for Andrew.

Andrew’s explanation for his appearance in the Tabernacle that day in 1890 was that he had received three visits from an angel, instructing him on the design of his costume and sceptre and directing him to parade through the meeting that day. He had not intended to disturb the meeting, he said, but “believed it would please the people to have him appear” in that manner. By this date he had also come to believe that his mother, sister, and the girl he had loved as a teenager had been reincarnated. He believed that he had met the girl on the streets of Salt Lake, she having forgotten her former life, and that she was then living in American Fork.

This belief concerning his lost love may be the source of a distorted tale of romance that appears in various versions multiple times in the Utah newspapers. Those accounts are consistent in stating that Andrew had raised the money for the emigration of a girl in Sweden, that he had sent for her to join him, and that she had died en route. But one account says she died and was buried at sea, while another claims that the ship went down with all hands. One says that Andrew received the news by telegraph in Salt Lake City; another describes Andrew standing on the New York dock and receiving the bad news from the captain of the ship. One source claims to know the name of the young lady (but misstates Andrew’s middle name); most accounts do not name her, but do provide highly colored details of her life and appearance. I don’t believe any of these stories are valid, despite the sober tone of the reporters; I think they are all part of a romance that grew up around Andrew and was freely embroidered by everyone who told the tale.

But whether or not there was any girl – living in American Fork, or perished at sea – there is no question about certain others of Andrew’s eccentricities. His home, for instance, that “no larger than a common-size chicken coop,” for one. One reporter says it “can be readily recognized from the distance by gay bunting and decorations. When near the abode, one has a queer study to inspect the many ornaments and designs composed of evergreens, colored rays, curious pebbles, banners, etc., which adorn the dwelling. … It is a wonder well worth a visit.” Another describes his house as “gayly decorated [with] bunting and fans, gorgeously striped, and paper paintings … When the wind and rain blew his fans and painted papers down, he would put them back more securely. And when they fell to pieces, Miller replaced them.” The house was decorated inside, as well. A lamp was kept always burning, the table always spread for a feast. Evidence of his eccentric home decor survives in the photograph below of his house in 1890, and of the similarly decorated home (left) at 300 South and 1100 East, where he moved prior to 1904.

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1904 … the year of Andrew’s misfortune. While there may have been incidents between Andrew’s 1890 appearance in the Tabernacle and 1904, I have found no trace of any unpleasantness in the newspapers or court files. The aftermath of the 1904 incident suggests that Andrew had lived his eccentric life without inconvenience or harm to anyone. He even worked to support himself, as a “calciminer,” a workman who painted and refreshed the plastered interiors of homes.

But in July 1904, one of his neighbors filed a petition to have the 67-year-old man committed to the state asylum in Provo. The case was heard in the district court. The assistant county physician “pronounced the defendant insane, suffering with chronic religious mania.” His delusions were enumerated – his account of his birth, his belief that loved ones had been reborn and lived in Utah, his wearing of novel religious garb, his fantastically decorated house. One neighbor said he was afraid Miller would “corrupt the minds” of neighborhood children, who, apparently, enjoyed visiting Andrew. Andrew would recite the Swedish alphabet very rapidly, for the amusement of the boys who thought he was talking gibberish. “He wouldn’t harm a young chicken,” one boy told the court. “He used to like all of us and never tried to hurt us. He used to tell me that he kept the house decorated because they did that way in Sweden. He’d rattle off a lot of stuff that he said were Swedish letters. He’d say them fast and all at a time.”

Andrew was committed to the Provo asylum. The court appointed Deputy Sheriff Axel Steele as guardian of Andrew’s personal effects. Although those effects were valued at only $10, Steele ordered that no one remove a single item from the home.

And with that order to protect Andrew’s belongings, something unexpected began. One neighbor had made the charge that brought Andrew’s commitment, but others of his neighbors – including county officials who lent their prestige, and Andrew’s landlord who did not mind in the least what Andrew had done to his property – demanded that Andrew be released. Twenty of them – twenty! – contributed toward a civil bond to guarantee that Andrew would behave peaceably and pose no danger to the community. Other neighbors were disappointed that the full bond had been raised before they had a chance to contribute. One newspaper reported:

There was no happier man in the state of Utah yesterday than Andrew J. Miller, who was last Wednesday committed to the state mental hospital at Provo, no longer under duress of a “mental hospital” guard.

Miller’s release was accomplished through the efforts of neighborhood friends who have been working since his commitment to raise a bond of $250, a guaranty of his sane behaviors in the future. Yesterday the sum was raised and placed in the hands of Attorney August B. Edler.

When intelligence of his neighbors’ action was brought to Miller and he was told that he was to be released, he was overjoyed. He clapped his hands in delight and his gratitude was outspoken. John Meyerhoofer, Mr. Miller’s landlord, 343 Eleventh East street, is to act as his guardian.

Andrew came home to a “cordial welcome” from his neighbors. “He has been at work during the last few days,” one newspaper reported, “placing all his decorations back in their proper place. … Nothing was taken away from the fantastic cottage at 343 East Eleventh street, but many of the things had been disarranged.”

Unexpected aftermath of this incident was a charge to the bishop’s court, that the man who had instigated the commitment had acted with “grossly unchristian conduct.” The outcome of the bishop’s investigation was a promise by the once-hostile neighbor to “cease all persecution or other action directed against Mr. Miller, and … prevent any member of his family from doing anything to annoy or embarrass the old man in any way.”

And so Andrew lived on, in his decorated home, dreaming his dreams and receiving his visions, at peace with the world. Until 17 January 1913. That night an oil lamp broke in his home. Tiny as it was, and filled with curtains and paper decorations, the interior was immediately engulfed in flame. Andrew staggered out into the street, severely burned.

But his eccentric adventures had not quite reached their end. Taken to Holy Cross Hospital, he responded to treatment and was moved in a few days to the county infirmary to convalesce. His room on the second floor of the infirmary did not appeal to him … so he left. Out the window. Dressed in nightclothes, wrapped in a bed sheet, on a winter night near the end of January. Some railroad switchmen found him seated on their equipment and returned him to the hospital.

His burns, coupled with his age, and perhaps complicated by the exposure of that night, proved too much for him to recover from. Andrew died at 3:10 p.m. on 1 February 1913, and was buried on 6 February, in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Bishop Edwin E. Sheets, who provided the information to complete Andrew’s death certificate, officiated at the funeral.

Andrew Julius Miller had friends, or at least tolerant well-wishers, but no near family, no descendants, nobody to care today who he was, or to be glad that his mind has been healed and that he is back on course in the next life. For today, let’s be his family and claim him as a brother.



32 Comments »

  1. There’s something both immensely sad and ennobling about this story, Ardis. For those of us who have a family member who struggles with mental illness, it’s very comforting to learn of the kindness of Miller’s neighbors. Thank you.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — April 3, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  2. Thank you, Gary. Ever since I used Andrew’s story in the post a year ago, I’ve felt that I used *him* in a way that made a joke out of him and his life. Maybe this will make up for that.

    I’ve learned since writing this yesterday that a fragment of his story appears in a DUP publication. It’s mostly the romantic tale of a lost sweetheart (this time the story has her dying on their wedding day), and he even loses his name (he appears there as “G.J. Miller”).

    Now that the weather has turned so nice, I’m planning another trip to the Salt Lake Cemetery to visit the graves of people featured in Keepa stories. Andrew is on the list (although I’ll be surprised if he has a stone). This time I’ll take pictures and post them.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 3, 2013 @ 9:54 am

  3. Thanks so much for giving us a fuller picture of Brother Miller, and I will claim him as such today. Like Gary, I find this story is both sad and hopeful. The fact that he had neighbors who cared about him, despite his eccentricities, is wonderful. Mental illness was, and is still, such a poorly understood problem. Good lesson here for all of us to remember.

    Comment by kevinf — April 3, 2013 @ 11:02 am

  4. This is simply extraordinary, Ardis. As ever, you are doing the Lord’s work.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 3, 2013 @ 11:12 am

  5. Wonderful, Ardis, and good for those neighbors.

    This made me wonder about the Swedish community in Utah. I don’t have time right now to see if the subject is covered in any periodicals or theses, but Wikipedia has an intriguing little article (National or ethnic cultures of Utah: Sweden – Swedes) including reference to the “Swedish rebellion” of 1902. I’ll have to find out more about all of that since the people I’m working on right now (this very minute) were Swedish immigrants in the 1880s and 1890s.

    Comment by Amy T — April 3, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  6. What a beautiful and sad story! It brought tears to my eyes.

    How wonderful to hear how the neighbors rallied for him. Maybe we need more bishop’s courts like that one today? I would like to think I’d never rat on a beautiful neighbor like Brother Miller.

    Comment by Grant — April 3, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  7. “His mind has been healed and that he is back on course in the next life.” This rings true to me. I recently did some work in the temple for a mentally ill ancestor of mine. I knew her and loved her, but didn’t really think that the work was going to be of value eternally. She was just too messed up. I was surprised to realize that she had accepted the work and even more surprised to receive a mini-revelation about how mental illness is burden that is lifted in the eternities. I was ashamed of my dismissive attitude towards someone I love, toward someone God loves. It was quite the learning experience.

    Comment by Jami — April 3, 2013 @ 11:54 am

  8. Thank you all for your sympathetic responses. There’s Zion-like unity in this.

    (I have the name of the neighbor who initiated the commitment proceedings, but have chosen not to name him here. His initials are FMS — if that sounds like an ancestor and you’re brave enough to want to know, write to me with the name of your ancestor and I’ll let you know.)

    And looky, looky what I just found in the diary of a Swedish missionary:

    On the 19th of July [1861] I received a letter from A.J. Möller of Simrishamn dated the 19th which informed me that he was sick. He asked that I and Nels Eliassen might come and administer to him. I did as I was asked altho I didn’t receive the letter until evening. I got ready and went with Brother Eliassen to Simrishamn. We arrived early in the morning, the 20th and found him on his sick bed. He arose and we administered to him and he was healed by the power of God. Then we ate and drank coffee and after dinner left Simrishamn. Brother Möller accompanied us a long way. When we arrived at Jarestad I left my brother and went to Ystad and arrived there quite late that evening.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 3, 2013 @ 11:54 am

  9. Really fantastic. On so many levels. Thank you, Ardis.

    Comment by Janiece — April 3, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  10. I’m touched, Ardis. Thank you for this wonderful treatment of one of those lesser known saints.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 3, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

  11. Several of the very prominent founding members of the neighborhood where I now lived, (including one fellow who watched the Yankees march on Fairfax Courthouse, and was still listed as farming 70 hours a week in the 1940 census) died childless. I have recorded what I could in a neighborhood history, and I have visited the graves of several of them, in a neighborly sort of way. (Fortunately, two of the couples were buried in fairly small church yards.) We’re told not to aspire to earthly honors–but somehow it seems a loss to the world to lose a story.

    Comment by LauraN — April 3, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

  12. Wonderful story. As a folklorist, I’m interested in his decorated house, which we in the profession would call a “folk art environment” or “outsider art.” There are many of these kinds of environments around the country, and they are all idiosyncratic expressions of one person’s vision. The term “outsider” refers to the fact that the makers don’t conform to societal norms of behavior, yet in most of these cases, the makers are functional enough to take care of themselves. Their creativity is sometimes derided, sometimes appreciated, as in Andrew’s story. I love that there are photos of his house. What a wonderful job of mining history, Ardis!

    Comment by Elaine Thatcher — April 3, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

  13. Perfect, Ardis. As thought-provoking as the story was, it is your chosen method for atoning for your previous usage of Miller that I find most touching. Thank you.

    Comment by Alex S. — April 3, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

  14. One of my favourite Keepa posts ever. Thank you for his full story. Who knows what personal tragedies affected his mental health? I hope he has peace now.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 3, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

  15. Wonderful story, Ardis. Thank you, thank you. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — April 3, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

  16. Thanks, Ardis, for this. Would that we could all be more like the Twenty, who wanted him back among them, than the One, who wanted him away. Would that we could look beyond people’s harmless eccentricities and non-conformity, and see love and grace instead. I appreciate this lesson today and the opportunity to call him my brother.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — April 3, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

  17. Thanks for explaining that, Elaine. That’s good to know.

    Scandinavian folk art is very colorful, very decorative, and except for the ubiquitous Dala horse, not really what you’d expect if your idea of Scandinavian aesthetics comes from Ikea.

    Here’s a fascinating photo stream of traditional Scandinavian folk art. The pictures are a combination of a number of different traditions, but as you scroll down, you start to get an idea of how dreary Salt Lake City art and architecture could have seemed to Andrew Miller and other immigrants coming from vibrant folk-art traditions.

    Comment by Amy T — April 3, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  18. Last time I visited (2006) the Baptistry of the Copenhagen Temple had a fantastic folk art mural depicting the history of Denmark. It had been painted by a service missionary and I was excited to spot Hans Christian Andersen in the middle of it. However it wasn’t exactly-um-doctrinal and I have no idea of it’s fate.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 3, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

  19. Thanks for this Ardis.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 3, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

  20. Gorgeous, Ardis. This shows exactly the talent you have to share with the world.

    Comment by Reese Dixon — April 3, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

  21. When I read this account of Andrew Julius Miller, I remembered a newspaper article written 23 Jun 1991 by A.J. Simmonds for The Herald Journal in Logan, Utah. For those of you who did not know A.J., he was the curator of Archives and Special Collections at USU’s Merrill Library.

    In this article, he wrote about trying to find information about his great-great grandparents. During his research he found that they were buried in the Weston Cemetery, although the wooden markers had long since rotted away. He said that he was going to see if he could find the exact location of the graves and then he wrote, “And maybe the early records are not good enough to ever fully prove that point. But if they are, I think I’ll see that they’re marked. They deserve that much. They deserve to be remembered.

    I believe this is what Ardis does so well, time and time again, by bringing people to remembrance, people who are only known by a name in some obscure source. Thank you for this beautiful article on Andrew.

    Comment by Maurine — April 3, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

  22. Thank you for bringing this story back to life. It reflects well on a community that cared for each other, and (mostly) was tolerant of eccentricities.

    Comment by Jeff — April 3, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

  23. What a wonderful way to honor a man who loved the gospel enough to move halfway around the world.

    When I was a Beehive, there was ann investigating the church. He had been to church for several months, but since I was substituting for the ward chorister (she had twins and a toddler and asked the bishop to get a 3 month substitute for her) I had only seen him from where I was sitting on the stand. Two things stood out to me before I actually met him; he always wore t-shirts under his white shirts, most of the tshirts were printed with the names of bands, and that he was obviously used to singing four part harmonies, and sang the tenor line for every song and hymn.

    I had the chance to meet him at choir practice, which was held later in the evening. He didn’t know there was a ward choir until after he heard us perform, but once he knew when practices were he was there, every time. One time when both the director and pianist were late, and only a few of us were there, he told us to start practicing and he would see if he could “get the accompaniment right.” Without music in front of him, he played the intro, and then all four parts at once. After we had gone through it a few times the pianist arrived and he took his place with the tenors.

    He asked me to sing at his baptism. I was honored, but a little confused. I had a clear soprano voice, but we had some truly gifted singers. He just told me that he could see that sometimes I was sad, that he was too, and he wanted me to sing if I was willing. So, I sang I Heard Him Come. It was the first time I heard the song.

    Afterward, my family had him over for dinner. I asked him why he wasn’t a musician when he had the talent. He explain schizophrenia and the need for him to be on medication. He had been a member of a band until his late 30s, when he had his first break. Everyone assumed he had been doing drugs before the break, but it wasn’t until after it that he started using. One night he woke up and heard voices in his head telling him to hurt his girlfriend. Instead he went to the hospital and told them about the last 4 years trying to pretend everything was okay.

    While he was in a special clinic for schizophrenics, one of the other patients gave him a Book of Mormon. On the inside cover it said, “This is the only voice in your head that doesn’t go away when you are on medications. It tells you how to know the right things and helps give you the strength to do them.” It them had several page numbers to read. Part of getting out of the program was finding a job and a place to live. He bought a house with money he had saved, and made it a place kind of like a halfway house. He started reading the Book of Mormon, and contacted the missionaries.

    He was active for several years after his baptism, and I never sing I Heard Him Come without thinking about him. I sang it at his baptism and his funeral. He was killed by a man who went off his meds. No one is sure why. The house is still a place for men with schitzophenia who need a place to live while they learn to live in the community. Whenever I go to his grave, I sing I Heard Him Come. I’m too sick this year to go physically to his grave, but I will sing for him on April 10th.

    Comment by Julia — April 4, 2013 @ 2:02 am

  24. Ardis, have you ever considered a Keepa tour of the gravesites you mention? A few years ago, a cousin gave me such a tour of family gravesites in a Mississippi church cemetary which still gives me food for thought. Somehow, hearing stories about people while near their graves makes an impression like no other.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — April 4, 2013 @ 9:29 am

  25. Now that would be fun, Stephen, at least for me. I wonder if I could get together a group of 6 or more local Keepa’ninnies for something like that. Maybe I’ll just pick a Saturday morning and announce it, and see who turns up.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 4, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  26. Ooooorrrrr … you could create a podcast for people to take with them and listen to the stories on their solitary walks.

    Comment by Ellen — April 4, 2013 @ 9:49 am

  27. I have a friend who does “ghost story tours” in Salt Lake. Although she isn’t quitting her day job, they have been relatively popular, and fun. She dresses the part. I’ve taken a few stabs at taking groups cemetery hopping through middle Tennessee LDS history. The biggest problem was the sites were just too far apart, making for a very long day. I’m sure that isn’t as much of a problem in SLC.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 4, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  28. That’s a great idea, Stephen. Now if it could be sometime when I’m in town. (Especially if Ardis will lead the tour in period costume. : )

    It’s taken a day to get around to it, but I just looked at a map and see that my Swedish family lived fairly close to Andrew, but probably far enough away to be in a different ward. A quick glance at the census shows a heavy concentration of Scandinavian immigrants in the neighborhood.

    Comment by Amy T — April 4, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

  29. Beautiful Story Ardis, you made me cry. As a person who has family members with Mental Illnesses, and who by career, works with people with disabilities, this is beautiful, and as Gary said, sad and ennobling at the same time.

    Comment by andrew h — April 4, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

  30. Love Ellen’s idea! Do the tour, put it on iTunes for $5, give Keeps readers a special discounted rate, and add another small revenue stream in. If each cemetery has 1-4 tours, depending on cemetery size, I know LOTS of people who hate trying to figure out when to fine things.

    You might need a Cemeteries For Dummies Video too!

    Comment by Juliathepoet — April 6, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

  31. One could imagine several podcast tours Ardis could create – cemetaries, the Avenues, Spring City, SLC downtown, historical museums, etc. But it would be best with Ardis! We could go to Chang’s for a bit to eat after.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — April 8, 2013 @ 11:00 am

  32. Nice.

    Amy T: I have some info on a few Swedish converts in Utah (my ancestors) but they were all in Utah County)

    Comment by The Other Clark — April 8, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

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