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"Louis was my name, though I could not say it"
February 22, 2006 10:06 AM   Subscribe

The mystery of John Doe No. 24 outlived him. But this 1993 obituary in the New York Times, briefly covering what was known of a deaf, dumb, blind teenager found wandering the streets of Jacksonville in 1945, inspired a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, which in turn inspired Illinois journalist Dave Bakke to "meticulously reconstruct nearly fifty years of John Doe's life...using police reports, mental health records, oral interviews, newspapers" and write God Knows His Name: The True Story of John Doe No. 24.
posted by weston (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
From another, briefer review:
"It never crossed my mind that someday I might write a foreword to a book about John Doe No. 24~Rs life when I finished the song. Clearly, he inspired more than a few people during his life, and after it was over." —Mary Chapin Carpenter, from the Foreword

"God Knows His Name: The True Story of John Doe No. 24 allows the reader to feel how institutional life was experienced by an individual who spent the better part of his life (from adolescence on) in the Illinois state institutional system. In many ways the book provides a balanced view of institutional caregivers; some are compassionate and others less so. The real indictment in the book is of the governmental system itself and the neglect of the thousands of institutionalized persons by the legislature and the public." — Thomas Walz
posted by weston at 10:09 AM on February 22, 2006


At a brief graveside service last Wednesday in Jacksonville, a woman asked if anyone had any words to say. No one did.

That is heartbreaking.
posted by Alison at 10:11 AM on February 22, 2006


It was Lewis, not Louis. And that's what people should call him, not "John Doe #24." That's just sensationalism.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:29 AM on February 22, 2006


Have I become a monster if every time I hear a story about a deaf, dumb and blind person instead of sympathy I get the urge to ask about pinball skills and then start giggling?
posted by biffa at 11:10 AM on February 22, 2006


Sorry, CP. Just quoting the first MCC lyric I found.

Alison, that's true, and yet I wondered if the writer added that to the obituary because of a certain symmetry. It almost seems fitting that a euology for the life of one who used few words would be silent. How much harder would it be to find something to say about someone who could never tell you the story they have about themselves?
posted by weston at 11:10 AM on February 22, 2006


It was Lewis, not Louis. And that's what people should call him, not "John Doe #24." That's just sensationalism.

Not to mention confusing for "John Doe #23" and "John Doe #25."
posted by tkchrist at 11:41 AM on February 22, 2006


Thanks, weston, I have a copy of a cover of the song and have always wondered what the story was.
posted by penguin pie at 11:43 AM on February 22, 2006


a deaf, dumb, blind teenager
I'm told he sure plays a mean pinball.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:42 PM on February 22, 2006


Who told you?
posted by weston at 12:46 PM on February 22, 2006


From the last link: "...and, finally, four years in a nursing home in Peoria. Meanwhile, John Doe had become blind and diabetic..."

The NYT obit says he was blind when found wandering. The article about the book makes it sounds like he didn't lose his vision until later in life.
posted by Carbolic at 3:01 PM on February 22, 2006


Well biffa, at least you didn't think of Voldo.
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:29 PM on February 22, 2006


Yes, Who told me.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2006


The NYT obit says he was blind when found wandering. The article about the book makes it sounds like he didn't lose his vision until later in life.

I noted that curiousity, too. Either someone's wrong, or the theory he lost his sight to diabetes was actually put forth near the time he was picked up in Jacksonville.

Or both, I guess. I do plan to read the book and find out.
posted by weston at 6:35 PM on February 22, 2006


If the kid really couldn't speak - and most deaf people can make noise, although some are not intelligible - then he was mute, not dumb. But still, true mutism - a complete inability to produce sound vocally - is quite rare. But "dumb" is from about 1945.
posted by etoile at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2006


Oh, and just as general commentary on the guy's life - State Schools were horrible places to keep anyone, especially someone like a deaf-blind person who doesn't require round-the-clock care.
posted by etoile at 11:34 AM on March 1, 2006


Also, from the NYT: "in 1945, a deaf, blind teen-ager" ... "Officials believe he was 64 when he died" - really? You are a teenager when you are three years old? They must have meant 74, right? Okay, I think I'm done.
posted by etoile at 11:35 AM on March 1, 2006


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