J.D. Salinger, Out for a Stroll: Reclusive Author of The Catcher in the Rye Caught on Film

As a photographic document, this footage is only slightly less astonishing than the famed 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film of a “Bigfoot” traipsing across a forest clearing in Northern California.

In this case the elusive creature is none other than J.D. Salinger. The footage appears to have been shot quite a few years before the writer’s death, at 91, in January of 2010. The caption on YouTube simply says, “J.D. Salinger out for a stroll in Cornish, New Hampshire.” Salinger had lived a quiet life in Cornish since 1953, two years after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. But as one commentator on YouTube wryly points out, the footage was probably shot in another town just across the Connecticut River from Cornish:

If you really want me to tell you about it, this is likely Windsor, VT, judging by all the phony people and the parking meters and all. JD went there daily for his mail and a bite to eat at the diner. He was a madman that way. I know it’s corny and all, but that’s goddam Windsor, across the river from Cornish.

It’s true, Cornish has very few people and no parking meters. By all accounts Salinger lived a fairly normal life there. If you travel up that way you’re likely to meet people who remember seeing him out and about before his health declined. After he died, a trickle of anecdotes started to emerge. Their mundaneness somehow makes them all the more fascinating. For example, Yankee magazine published a story, “J.D. Salinger’s Last Supper,” about the writer’s fondness–right up to the very end–for the Saturday-night roast beef dinners at the Congregational Church in Hartland, Vermont. “Typically, he’d arrive an hour and a half ahead of the first seating–often to be first in line,” reports Jim Collins. “He’d sit quietly, writing in a spiral-bound notebook. Most people around him were unaware of who he was; the volunteers working the supper treated him like any other guest and protected his privacy.” Spiral-bound notebook, eh? Hmm.

Another anecdote is from writer Nicholas Carr, who tells a story on his blog about a surprise encounter he had with Salinger when he was an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, which is located in Hanover, just up the valley from Cornish. Carr was working behind the circulation desk at the college library one summer when “a tall, slender, slightly stooped man” walked in. He remembers his boss whispering, “That’s J.D. Salinger”:

Holy crap, I thought. I just saw J.D. Salinger.

About ten minutes later Salinger suddenly reappeared at the desk, holding a dollar bill. I went over to him, and he said he needed change for the Xerox machine. I took his dollar and gave him four quarters.

That’s my claim to fame: I gave J.D. Salinger change for a buck.

Photocopies, eh? What was that old guy up to?

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