Brought Out by Chicago Publication
Old-timers in Warsaw and Kosciusko county, to a large number
will recall "The Immortal J.N.," who in the seventies
and early eighties made perennial visits to this section of the
middle west. His name was Jacob Newman Free. With his long, flowing
gray hair, at first glance he gave one the resemblance of "Buffalo
Bill," although not so neat in his appearance. Frequently
he would gather a crowd on the street corner and make a fairly
good address on various topics. He rode on railroad trains, he
stopped at hotels-and he never paid a cent. In fact he never carried
money. Being a "little shy in the upper story," old
acquaintances frequently took pity upon the aimless wanderer and
fed and lodged him for a "short spell."
"The Immortal J. N.," however, never lingered long in one place. A supper, a lodging, a breakfast-and away he'd go.
More About "J.N."
"Letters," a publication sponsored by Time magazine, contains this communication from D. M. Hoover of Elkhart, Ind., concerning "J.N."
"During the period of 1898-1902, I was a teacher in the schools of Elkhart county, Indiana. Several times in this period "The Immortal J.N." appeared at our county teachers' meetings. He was a large man of striking appearance, kind of a cross between Buffalo Bill and a Southern Colonel.
"He would enter some session of our meetings and would sit quietly and austerely expecting to be called upon for an address. In this he was never disappointed. He would talk for some five or six minutes in a rambling but forceful and eloquent manner. There was very little point or sense to his remarks.
"The legend concerning him was that he had been an able lawyer in an eastern metropolis; that he had been employed to defend a man who was accused of murder; that he believed his client to be innocent, his sympathies were aroused, he took a great personal interest in the case and devoted himself and all his talent unreservedly to his client's cause, and that his argument to the jury was sublime. He won his client's acquittal. That the accused thereafter thanked him for his masterful defense and wanted to pay him his fee, but he also revealed the fact that he was actually guilty of the crime. That he then refused to take pay for his services; that something "snapped" in his head; that he brooded, lost all interest in his profession and gradually developed into the strange and irresponsible character that we knew, and was described in your Letters."
A Letter From Ohio
Francis W. Shepardson, of Granville, Ohio, writes:
"J. N. Free, a familiar character in the central states 50 years ago, was from New Lexington, Ohio, Where his brother, Major Free lived, the latter an officer in the Union army during the Civil War. "J.N." had a head injury when a youth-which modern surgery might have helped-so that an unusually bright intellect was wrecked.
" J.N was tall, dignified in appearance and in deportment, wore long hair. He was well-informed on all questions of the day and could make a better than ordinary speech upon them, his rounded sentences often, however, being punctuated by references to `this eternal pressure.' He was a frequent visitor at our printing office in Granville, Ohio, seeking copies of our `esteemed contemporaries.' His pockets always were stuffed with newspapers. He never paid railroad fare. The 50-50 story was told in every community with an individual setting. The Granville setting was:
"Mr. Buxton (proprietor of the local hotel): `J.N.' you have been here at the hotel for a week now, and you have entertained my guests with your stories and your conversation. So I am going to throw off half the bill for the week.'
" J.N.: Thank you, Major. That is very generous. As I will not allow any man to outdo me in generosity, I'll throw off the other half and call it square.'
"An incident comes to memory. There was a great soldiers' reunion in Columbus half a century ago, when Charles Foster was Governor of Ohio. Only a few could get admission to the Opera House where the distinguished guests were to speak. `J.N.' took up his position on the west steps of the State House-half a block from the Opera House-and began to speak. He was holding the attention of a crowd of several thousand with an interesting address (I was close to him and heard it) when, from the Opera House across the block, there came a sound of cheering. `J.N.' stopped short in his address and said: `Listen to that cheer! They are cheering Charlie Foster. He and I were in the same regiment during the Civil War. We were both Captains in the Stay-At-Home Guards.'
"Letters" Follow Up Trail.
Then the publication quoted from proceeds:
"To Readers Hoover, Shepardson and others who touched on the same ground, thanks for picking up the trail of The Immortal J.N. Letters followed it to Chambersburg, Pa., where Jacob Newman Free was born in 1828 to an influential family in which there was said to be a strain of Indiana blood. He died 76 years later near Sandusky, Ohio, lies buried at McCutcheonville, Ohio, where his father was a minister. Most widely accepted is the story that shortly before the Civil War, Lawyer Free lost a murder case in Cincinnati because of inability to find a certain witness. Mentally and emotionally upset he traveled every state in the U.S. searching for the witness.
" `The Immortal J.N.' was never known to carry money. If a conductor asked his fare, he would proffer a handful of pebbles from his pocket. After being put off the train, he would simply flag the next one. Railroads grew so weary of having their schedules disrupted by `J.N.' that most of them gave him free passes."
Northern Indianian & Warsaw Daily Times - date unknown.
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