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?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hold­en Caulfield in NYC: An Inter­ac­tive Map

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