Cult leader's early years were spent on the move
[numerous typographical errors corrected]
Mel Lyman's history is a lot more mundane than that of his communities. Born March 24, 1938, in Eureka, Calif., Lyman is the son of a sailor and a waitress.
Like many American families, the Lymans moved a lot, sending Mel to grammar school in Santa Rosa, Junior High in Salinas, and high school in Grant's Pass, Oregon. He eventually got his diploma from Mission Adult Night School in San Francisco where he studied IBM programming.
Mel left home at 17 with his sister, Bonnie. They headed for San Diego, where Mel met and married Sophia Lucera.
Two years later Mel was arrested for possession of marijuana, the first of two such arrests.
The first Lyman community started after Mel moved his family to Portland in the year following his arrest and acquittal.
Around this time Lyman, already proficient on the harmonica, learned to play guitar and banjo. He made the first of many cross-country trips in search of old-time musicians. It was one of these musicians, Obrey Ramsey, that led Mel, in 1961 to North Carolina, where the second Lyman community was formed.
Lyman didn't arrive in the Northeast until 1962 when he came to New York, leaving his wife and three children in North Carolina. And, unlike others of the time, it was neither the colleges nor the "hippy scene" that drew Lyman to Boston. It was love. Her name was Judy Silver, a Brandeis student, and they moved into a house in Waltham in 1963.
His second arrest for marijuana forced him to choose between jail or a job. He accepted the position of banjo player in Kweskin's Jug Band. The formation of Lyman's Boston Community at Fort Hill followed about two years later.
The background is simple, but something in that average American upbringing changed Mel Lyman from a harmonica player with a diploma in computer programming into a leader of men.
In his book, "Autobiography of a World Saviour," Mel attributes his success in part to the influence of his mother. "Had I not been given such a wise mother," he writes, "I might have spent my entire life thus removed from humanity, but she was here to teach me how to love and want to help people." It was his mother, too, he says, that taught him the value of hard work, order, and the role of women.
But all this training in love and order was, in fact, preparation for the day when Mel would fulfill his destiny. "Long ago in another time in another dimension on another planet," he says, "I volunteered for an assignment the nature of which I knew little . . . It was necessary to put forth a special effort to redeem the planet (Earth)."
How far Lyman succeeded in his assignment remains to be seen. His communities now dot the Western hemisphere from Paris to Maine to Los Angeles. He communicates only through a ouija board.
But even in the ephemeral state, Mel still holds the power over a large family of talented, intelligent and educated people.