Sympathy for the Devil in 1905 Detroit

devil statue Detroit

Herman Menz and his Detroit devil shrine.

I’m knee-deep in 19th-century Devil tales and ran across this tale of a Detroit free-thinker who decided to annoy the neighbors. Please allow me to introduce Mr. Herman Menz, a man of no wealth and dubious taste.  

STATUE OF SATAN HORRIFIES DETROIT

Herman Menz Publicly Shows His Contempt for the Christian Religion

Detroit, Nov. 9. To show his contempt for religion, Herman Menz, a contracting stonemason, yesterday unveiled a statue of Satan, which he had erected himself, in front of his home, No. 306 Stanton Avenue. The neighbors knew he had been erecting something but were horrified when they found the nature of the work. Churchgoing people are freely expressing their indignation, and there are hints that the sacrilegious statue may be wrecked.

On the base of the statue is this inscription in a sort of dog-Latin: “Homo non est creation, sed evolution. Deus non fecit hominem, sed homo fecet deos.” (Man is not a created being, but the product of evolution. God did not make man, but man has made gods.” Menz has long been an avowed infidel, and last summer when evangelists were holding tent meetings he appealed to the City Council to have them stopped or license “like any other humbug.” Asked about his unique monument, he said he didn’t believe in God, but did believe in the devil, so why shouldn’t he erect a statue of him? The monument is 14 feet high and stands on an elevation commanding a good view of the neighborhood. Satan is shown in a stooping posture behind a pulpit. He looks over the landscape with a fiendish glare, with his horns protruding from his head. Carve in the stone in front of him is the big ugly fork.

Menz was born in Germany, but has lived here 21 years. He has a wife and two daughters, who, he says, share his views.

Pawtucket [RI] Times 9 November 1905: p. 10 

No puzzle about the nature of his game.  And a slightly dangerous game it was. Michigan was one of the remaining states to still have blasphemy statutes on the books. In late 1905, a number of newspapers all over the country ran variations of the article below. None of them explain why Menz was “melancholy” over his jolly devil joke. I suspect editorial moralizing: Menz offended against community piety. Naturally he would be struck down by the hand of God.  

HERMAN MENZ’S GREAT JOKE

Herman Menz Who Made the Graven Image of Old Satan, Thought It Would Be Lots of Fun, but Instead He is Now a Morose, Melancholy Man

The Devil His Undoing.

Detroit, Mich., Dec. 22. This town’s one known devil has gone into temporary retirement.

Herman Menz, owner of the graven image of his satanic majesty, also is about ready to retire from public gaze, for he is a marked man in Detroit streets. When Menz, with the aid of a friend, carved Old Nick from a block of paving stone, he thought he was going to have a whole lot of fun with his neighbors in general and church-going people in particular, whom he dislikes intensely.

Instead he is a sad, morose, melancholy individual who no longer laughs, and who seeks the seclusion of his home as soon as his day’s work is done. There, at least, he can escape the ribald remarks of his fellow-citizens. The devil was his undoing.

When Menz unveiled his devil in front of his modest home at Stanton and McGraw Streets all Detroit turned out to gaze in wonder on the horned monster. The people came in street cars, in carriages, in automobiles, on foot. They filled the intersecting streets to overflowing and the police had to be called out to preserve order. It  is estimated that 20,000 people visited the scene in one day. With the commercial instinct of a frugal German, Menz at once removed his statue to a shed near his home and charge the curious 10 cents each to view the devil at close range.

His receipts were $200 the first day. They were almost as much the second day, while over $100 was realized on the third, and then Menz suddenly removed the devil to his sitting room, barred the door to the curious, and said he had no future plans for his image of the bad old fellow.

Menz is a free thinker. He denies that he is an atheist, but in his broken German can draw no distinct difference between the two.

Mrs. Menz is an English woman. With her husband she has lived in his town twenty-one years. She and her two daughters share the non-religious views of the husband and father. Mrs. Menz does not regret that her husband carved the devil from stone and placed it on exhibition before their home. The spirit of the Normans flows in her veins and she fears neither contempt nor contumely.

“Of course our neighbors have tried to make it unpleasant for us,” she said,’ “and the Young Men’s Christian Temperance Association sent us a letter that they would come out there and tear the statue from its pedestal, but we were not afraid. The boys gave us the most trouble. They congregated before the house and threw rocks at the statue, but finally the police chased them away.

“It is absurd to say that my husband, my daughters or myself worship this statue. We admire the thought it expresses and the art it typifies, but we do not revere it.” A number of speculators have tried to get hold of the statue of the devil. One saloon man has offered $500 for it, another $300. One liberal-minded citizen tried to buy it to present it to the public art gallery. A.H. Griffith, director of the Detroit Art Museum, says it is not art work at all.

“What are you going to do with your devil, Mr. Menz?” he was asked.

“Vell, I don’t know. Maype I keeps heem, maype I sells heem. Dot vas my pusiness.”

Evening News [Sault Ste. Marie, MI] 7 December 1905: p. 2 

Possibly money troubles were the cause of his “melancholy.” His pious neighbors should have realized that if he really had signed a compact with the Evil One, he would not have gotten into legal trouble over a debt. 

STATUE OF OLD NICK TAKEN FROM INFIDEL

Detroit, Mich., Dec. 27. Lugged away in an old cart yesterday, Herman Menz’s statue of the devil is now being guarded by a constable. The image was set up two months ago by Menz, and caused a sensation. Menz is not a believer in the Deity, and wrought the statue to symbolize his feeling as to the future. A constable with a writ of replevin called at the home of the old German stonecutter and levied on the idol. The owner resisted the demand of the officer, and he and his family tried to save the statue from capture, even going so far as to bring a sledge hammer to smash it to bits.

The constable and his assistants were successful in removing the statue, and thus made return on the writ that was sworn out by Warren West of Ypsilanti, on a claim of $51.40 for labor, part of which was performed on “Beelzebub.”

Denver [CO] Rocky Mountain News 28 December 1905: p. 2 

But you can’t keep a good free-thinker down. Early in 1906, Menz was on the rebound, campaigning for political office and working on a set of stone devils to be unveiled on Easter Sunday. 

SCULPTOR OF SATAN’S STATUE WILL RUN FOR ALDERMAN IN DETROIT

Detroit, Mich. March 7. Herman Menz, alderman. That is if the voters of the Tenth Ward are willing to be represented by the man who erected an image of Satan last summer.

Herman Menz is willing. He is anxious, in fact, to get into the council. He wants to run on the Democratic ticket, and is already conducting a lively canvass in the ward. His purpose is to secure protection for free-thinkers and “devil-worshipers” as he calls them. He says they are sadly lacking in municipal protection. IN his spare time, when he is not canvassing for votes Menz is at work on a new set of stone “devils,” which he plans to unveil at his home, 308 Stanton Avenue, Easter Sunday with fitting ceremonies.

“My friends insist on my running,” says Menz, “As they say the present aldermen are forced to give too much to charities and religion.”

Muskegon [MI] Chronicle 7 March 1906: p. 1 

I can find no further stories about this new set of devils. Were they ever finished or set up to madden the righteous? Does the original devil still exist? No connection, I assume, with Detroit’s infamous “Devil’s Night?” If you can guess my name or the answers to these questions, send to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.