Hunting J.D. Salinger circa 1961

Since J.D. Salinger died over three years ago, his mystery remains. The fact he turned away from the public view during most of this life, and lived as a recluse in Cornish, New Hampshire, only seemed to make him more well known to the public. After he died, there was much speculation that finally everything he wrote during his over 50 years of seclusion would finally be released. Yet, nothing has come of that speculation, and it’s still very unclear what will become of those writings. I find it interesting that the mystery of J.D. Salinger living as a recluse was firmly set in the public mind as early as the sixties. I discovered a November, 1961 issue of Life Magazine that contains an article titled, “The Search for the Mysterious J.D. Salinger.” In it, Ernest Havemann actually goes to New Hampshire and basically stalks Salinger, including managing to snap a picture of him working in his yard. There are some fascinating tidbits in the article, including the fact Salinger would write for hours on end in a small concrete studio next to his house, his interest in Zen Buddhism, and a description of his relationship with the local area teenagers.

His chief friends, however, were the students at Windsor High School, classes of ’53 and ’54. He went to all their basketball and football games, sitting with them in the students’ section, and afterward shot the breeze with them at their hangout, a lunchroom called Harrington’s Spa. When there was an out-of-town game as many of the youngsters as could were welcome to pile into his jeep. His full name is Jerome David Salinger, and the youngster all called him Jerry. When they spotted him on the streets of Windsor they could call to him and wave, from as much as a block or more away, and he would invariably look up, grin and yell back. He was practically one of the gang. In the evenings, when a group of the students had got together in a car and had no place to go, they took to riding up the hill and visiting Jerry. There was no fence in front of the house in those days; they could walk right up and knock at his door. Some of them had read Catcher and liked it; some had tried to read it and had bogged down, and some had hardly even heard of it. This seemed to make no difference. If anything, Salinger seemed to prefer the poor students, the boys who were skirting the edge of trouble, like young Holden Caulfield in Catcher.