Friday, March 03, 2006

Michael Earl was a charismatic street person who roamed Albany, New York for four decades. He was part of the scene in the hippie days when many people hung out in the parks and on the streets. Eventually the hippies faded away but Michael stayed on. He was famous around Albany for his independent spirit as well as his colorful nickname.

Michael developed many friendships with people who admired his fierce independence, and didn't mind helping him out with their spare change. There were also, no doubt, many who felt that there was not much to admire in this tough and unpredictable outsider.

Religion played a big part in Michael's personal world view. In conversation he frequently included references to biblical figures, and also some entities that emerged from his own personal mythology, like a demon called "the Jasper."

Michael Earl died on November 15, 2002. This blog is dedicated to his memory, and created for his friends who recognized Michael as a free spirit who endured many hardships in order to live in his own way.

In the mid-eighties I shot a rock video about Michael. Click here to see it.
I think that he would be pleased to know that his fame lives on.

If you would like to contribute a story about Michael, click the comments link below. If you have a photo that you would like to add, please send it to me at mta at

Guy Spataford


The Albany Times Union said...

A spirited homeless man passes on

By BOB GARDINIER, Staff writer
Times Union
First published: Friday, November 15, 2002

Many people had a story about him, but few knew the name of Michael Joseph Earl, a homeless man who died Monday at 56.
To his family, he was "Mikey." To those who saw him on the streets of Albany over the last four decades, he was "Michael the Archangel."

Judge Thomas Keegan gave him the nickname in a 1966 court appearance in which Earl was charged with wearing a white cape and chasing nuns around in a downtown church.

Maybe it was because of Earl's ability to travel great distances on foot in a matter of hours, or maybe it was his wild hair and stern, blue-eyed stare -- some mistook it for a glare -- but "Michael the Archangel" stuck.

Those who talked about Earl on Thursday said they enjoyed his nonsensical eccentricities. He stood up straight and held his head high as he put miles on his sneakers -- from the soup kitchens on Broadway to the strip malls of Delmar.

James Earl said he wanted his brother to be understood. "He was harmless, but he could scare people, though. His nieces and nephews loved him and cried their eyes out when he died. He used to screw up his eyes sometimes and tell them, 'I got my Tyrannosaurus Rex parked right outside.' "

Michael Earl was found dead Monday in his room at the Skylane Motel in Menands of an overdose of antihistamine inhalers.

His brother said Earl had a speed habit he couldn't afford. For about eight years, he panhandled money to get high on nasal inhalers meant for colds and allergies.

"He had an iron will, but I told him again and again that crap was going to kill him. It did," James Earl said.

Michael Earl was arrested 86 times in Albany and another 15 times in Poughkeepsie, his brother said.

"I was constantly going to find him or pick him up or get him out of jail," his brother said. "But, you know, everybody, including us, loved him very much and he'll be missed."

For many years, Michael Earl eluded security personnel at the vast underground Empire State Plaza complex, hiding there after hours to sleep on cold nights.

"Mikey knew this place inside and out and better than anybody," said Lt. Steve Lawlor of the Capitol State Police.

"We arrested him so many times we really got to know him," Lawlor said. "It might seem odd me saying this, but I'm really going to miss Mike."

Earl was all over Albany: sitting on a Lark Street stoop in his underwear in the middle of January; wearing a long cape and claiming to be Jesus near the Moses statue in Washington Park; or asking for money from shoppers at the Hannaford store on Central Avenue.

"He never said he needed anything," said Donna DeMaria, with the Homeless Action Network, "and we would always try to give him winter clothes, but he would never wear them. Most times, when one of our people die, the families don't want any mention that they were homeless. It is touching that Mike's family wants his story out."

Services for Earl are from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Zwack & Sons, 633 Central Ave., Albany. The Rev. Maurice Drown of the Trinity United Methodist Church on Lark Street, who knew Earl for many years, will give a eulogy.

I'mJustSaying said...

Christians, Muslims and Jews hold a common belief that Michael The Archangel is the leader of the army of God, battling Lucifer in the war between good and evil. He is also the patron saint of artists, police officers, soldiers, ambulance drivers, and hatters, among others.

Anonymous said...

The first time I met Mike was the summer of '71. I was living in 299 Lark St (now Romeo's Gift shop). Reedy's Tavern was across the street then (opened at 8am, like Pauly's) anyhow, its now a Lark St. version of an "upscale" restaurant or something.
Three cops were trying to get Mike into the back of a paddy wagon and were having one hell of a time of it. All the time Mike was screamin' that he was Jesus and boy was he in shape! Jesus never looked so fit! He was back on the street in a couple of days and all was once again right with the world. One good way to get around Mike in the street was to ask him for spare change before he could ask you. In that moment of confusion you could usually make your getaway (us old hippies didn't usually have that much change to spare or we were savin' up for GJ's).

Anonymous said...

When I worked at Eckerd, he used to come in and get a Benadrex inhaler, shakily count out $5.47 in mostly pennies, chew the top off right in front of you, chug it, drop the trash on your register and bounce out the door. He always paid though, he didn't steal it. I didn't want to sell it to him, but we were terrified of him.

Anonymous said...

My favorite moment was when Michael revealed Lucifer, and I saw that terrible loneliness and inner sorrow reflected on a human face. A separation from God, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I have quite a few stories about Michael. Some favorites occurred at the Lark and Madison laundromat.

Michael would sometimes drop in on his daily rounds to check out the contents of the driers. If he saw a piece of clothing of interest he would open the door, try it on and usually carefully place it back in the drier if it didn't quite fit.

From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.

I will check with his family before deciding whether it is appropriate to share some other stories.

Anonymous said...

For several years from 1977 to about 1981, my wife and I worked at Mike's Giant Submarines / NEBA Roast Beef located (then) at "The Point", where Washington and Central Aves. joined. This was just across from the junction of Central and Northern (Henry Johnson) Boulevard, and faced the statue of the Spanish-Amer. War soldier. Among the many colorful locals one encountered there almost on a daily basis (including Willie, a lobotomized WW2 veteran, and James, a homeless man in shorts who spoke several languages and held advanced degrees) was Michael The Archangel, whose usual activities included running wildly through traffic in a cape and shorts (regardless of the weather) and screaming biblical verses or anything else that came to mind. Occasionally, he would stop in long enough to partake of one or more of his inhalers, which seemed to fuel his visionary activities much as spinach fueled Popeye.

Michael The Archangel was a fixture of that location. He was so much a part of that area, that when I wrote a screenplay almost 30 years later based on my wife and I meeting and working at the sub shop / NEBA'S during the 1970's and 80's, Michael The Archangel was prominently featured in one of the scenes. I could not even recall the times this many years later without MTA being a central part of it.

Until I saw the notice seeking input to this BLOG in Metroland, I was not even aware that Michael was gone. No one I know that worked at NEBA's will ever forget Michael. He was the type of person who stood out, even in a place like The Point where abnormality WAS the "norm". Certainly there were bad and good facets to MTA, but no one can accuse him of blandness. Furthermore, he will, MUST, be remembered by all those who came into contact with him. Period. - JL Hausman - "sandwich technician" - Mike's Submarines/NEBA Roast Beef, 1977-1981.

Anonymous said...

In 1994-95 I worked at Mario's Pizza (269 Lark I think) as a delivery guy, and Michael would often come into the restaurant. Once I was heading for a party on a cold Albany night, probably Dec 1994, and the boss let me take some of the leftover pizza with me to the party--we even warmed it up in the oven. On my walk toward Madison Ave I encountered Michael, and I gave him quite a bit of the steaming hot pizza in a box. He was grateful and looked quite pleased to get this surprise hot meal on a cold night.

Although I was aware that he was an erratic character, to me he always seemed like a genuinely good man. And he did it his way.

Thanks for the blog and the film (the first scene of which features Michael outside of 187 Lark Street, my old apartment!)

Anonymous said...

I pulled into Albany in August '68 by train at its old downtown railway station. Years later, I understand, it became Fleet Bank, retaining the silent vaulted ceiling that depicts the Zodiac in an astronomically accurate starry night's sky. I received my blue and gold brimless beanie there and then, learning the Alma Mater. As intended, I graduated from Albany State University, as surely as I did so many other things since - like so many others who came ignorant from everywhere and left educated for everywhere else. I've since lived and worked in Honolulu, HI, Montreal, PQ, Washington, DC, Troy, NY, Boca Raton, FL, and Raleigh, NC. I've been married 3 times and fathered a "child" now long-since grown, picked up a MS degree, caught the personal computer industry on the ground floor and rode it up to the penthouse. What a ride! I am now preparing to retire. Whew! I've seen many memorable things and met may memorable people over the years. I've also learned a lot of unbelievable things over the years, for instance: (1) The world is small [once a stranger recognized me on Waikiki as my mother's child, telling me where I once lived]. (2) Life is short [40 years go like that - watch and believe]. (3) No education is complete until one has experienced everything [to wit, I am still generally ignorant]. (4) Some things you just know [... like, I'd hear about/from Michael the Archangel, again]. Michael would panhandle from me as an impoverished student over 35 years ago as I walked, e.g. to the downtown bus stop for a ride uptown to campus. With his metronome pace and extra-wide gate he'd circle me like Indians did a wagon train while making their unmistakably fearsome point/case, impressing my mind once with the truth of his need as his eyes' steel-blue solar glare x-rayed my soul for any evidence of life, generosity or compassion. As if a bee I rightly preferred not to disturb, his unpredictability, naked power [memorably in a tee-shirt, over shirt waving like a kerchief from his back pocket], and unfettered capacity, no - American freedom to express violent anger or psychic distain in an unknown instant [a skill that I by no means begrudge] staunched my capacity for outward expression with untainted "disbelief". His image is, so, blazed onto photographic plates of my conscious mind so as to have been recollected, often. Michael always seemed as comfortably dressed, energized, and eternal as a force of nature, needless, perfectly outfitted for field duty when commissioned by God for his specific terrestrial purpose, and in a cosmic hurry. So, I extend this memorial to his Creator as commendation. If Michael's mission was to memorably exemplify a command of the raw power of human potential as a nameless individual among sentient beings on the Streets of Albany for a full generation, I am but one witness to his unmitigated success. Even the saints fail at many things, for which they sincerely beg forgiveness. If that was not his purpose, I withdraw this statement, as I am, otherwise, and as you well know, perfectly ignorant on the subject - except for the fact that this Michael was neither angel, nor archangel, nor did he need pretend to be.

kilingtonskier said...

Michael was my kid brother. I would like to thank the bloggers, with special thanks to Guy Spataford and Times Union staff writer Bob Gardinier for their thoughtful comments about Michael.
Michael was affectionately known as "Mikey". Mikey was the youngest of 6 children. Mikey, his sister Betty and brother Jim (affectionately known as DoDo) were inseparable as kids. Mikey was quite a character, very intelligent, and one hell of a good dancer. I love to dance, as did all our siblings. I always marveled at how good a dancer Mikey was, often eying him with envy at the way he could observe a new dance style and then, with no practice at all, just go out on the dance floor and do it.

Things began unraveling when Mikey got sent away to a Rochester reform school when he was 14. When he got out, like many back then, he experimented with diet pills, followed by speed.

At the age of 17, Mikey was high the day he married, with me as the best man. Less than 2 years later Mikey was divorced and shortly after began his life on the streets of Albany.

The comment made that "Michael the Archangel had the long deep look of loneliness within those riveting blue eyes was certainly accurate. He medicated his loneliness with speed. Mikey could not live in this world without getting support from speed. It was as if the Lucifer (Jasper) was just one step behind him as he trudged endlessly thru the streets of Albany, becoming more and more whacky as the speed disposed of his brain.

The Archangel could be very entertaining with his craziness and antics. But he could be very sinister and mean when he ran out of gas, the speed reducing him to skin and bones, leading him to come off the speed, and recovering at his brother's house.

After 40 years of roaming, Lucifer caught up with the Archangel. Michael the Archangel died alone in a motel room, Veterans Day, November 11th, 2002. I drove from Vermont, crying most of the way,(I had had a premonition two days prior that I needed to see Mikey). I felt bad. And to this day I feel bad because I never took the time to sit down with Mikey and ask him in a sincere, generous way, why this life was so tough for him.
Our family knew Mikey when he had loads of potential. His toughness reflected that hidden potential. We miss that man we once knew.

Mikey was cremated at Albany Rural Cemetery. His resting place is in Nassau, NY with Mom and his Sister who passed away within a month of his death.

Michael's eccentric behavior, and panhandling, along with visits to family, friends, and acquaintances covering seemingly endless miles has left a lasting impression for what appeared to be an "Endless Life"


jer said...

I'm jeremy mikey was my uncle. Man I remember when he sold me a rolex I knew it was phony but still bought it for a good price to support him. Miss ya mikey.

kilingtonskier said...

Thanks for the kind note on Mikey---I am DoDo's older brother --I'm sure we have met. I spoke with Do and he told me who you were. Have a great Thanksgiving and Holiday season


Albany State University said...

We have a few college students online from college of Albany State University and we love your blog postings, so well add your rss or news feed for them, Thanks and please post us and leave a comment back and well link to you. Thanks Jen , Blog Manager, Albany State University

kilingtonskier said...

Hi Jen I'm not sure what your love link has to do with My Brother Michael. I got the impression that I was linking onto a student driven site at Albany State. It was a nice site if I'd been born yesterday--unfortunately Michael the Archangel was my kid brother (he was born in 1946). Anyway-thanks for your input on MTAA. Mikey was quite the character, but the character u are reading about became what he became because of the speed he was addicted to. The talented child and young man that I once knew became the charismatic street person who puzzle and entertained so many with his antics and stamina that amazed me and many others. Given the toll speed can take on a person, Michael was considered an Iron man. I will be posting some photos as soon as I figure out how to on this blog


vidalsh said...

Don't remember when I first met Mikey, guess it was in the early 80’s. He scared the hell out of my sisters & I. He was our step-uncle & would often come & stay w/ us while he was coming off the drugs. It was frightening as a child to see a grown man behave the way he did. I didn't understand then (I was about 9 when my mother met one of his brothers), but as an adult I do. I clearly remember him pacing around our house. After some time (maybe days) he would want to go & get high. So they would either run him back out to Albany or give him bus fare. He wasn't allowed to stay if he got high. It makes sense now why he was always jittery, shaky. I remember him uttering such bizarre, frightening things, usually to himself as he paced around the house, or while he was cooking. I remember one day he chased my older sister down the street. Talk about scared! She about pissed her pants! I remember when we were living in Watervliet & a couple of guys came to our house to do a story on him. Mikey was in the kitchen cooking - he was ALWAYS eating. Guess he caught the interest of many. I didn’t realize how long he had been on the streets for.
It was sad to hear that he passed away w/o ever getting clean.
Unfortunately, as children we were exposed to things that NO child should ever have to be exposed to. . . The alcohol & drugs . . .
. . . Scarred for life !

Anonymous said...

I remember Michael well and knew one of his nephews Steve Earl.We used to call him (Steve)the Duke.I was born in Albany in 1965 and lived there for periods on and off bet.1980-82 and 1986-88.I lived a block off of Lark St on Spring St.Very close to the Point. And can recall seeing MTA many times over the years of living in and visiting Albany.I think michaels spirit will always be perpetually walkin the streets of albany as he did in life.I hope you have found rest now. P.W.M.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this blog is still alive, however I am compelled to leave a comment. There is a FB page called "You know you lived in the 518 area if...". I posted "you knew who Michael the Archangel was". The response has been overwhelming. Most of us remember him as part of an era/ icon, if you will. Most remember him as a sweet, harmless, helpless soul who marched to his own drummer. Despite his illnesses, I believe he is/was respected. That is a monumental feat. After all this time, he is still remembered!

kilingtonskier said...

Legalize drugs for those who have not been able to conquer their addiction. Give them peace, remove them from being criminalized, place them as being ill, needing medical treatment. Give them their drugs, take them off the streets hustling and stealing to support their addictions. Especially so, given we have not been able to control the import illegal drugs .