In NH town, Salinger's privacy is important to all

A logging truck rolls through the town of Cornish, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, where author J.D. Salinger spent the last decades of his life. Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday. He was 91. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) (AP)

January 28, 2010 7:11:13 PM PST
In the small New Hampshire town where recluse J.D. Salinger hid from the world, he lived in bucolic isolation in a hilltop home with commanding southerly views across the Connecticut River, Vermont's ski resorts visible in the distance.

For years, the man some called "Jerry" rattled around town in an old Toyota, wearing a felt fedora and making weekly trips to the Plainfield General Store to pick up copies of the New York Times they saved for him. He was sometimes spotted in the library at nearby Dartmouth College, where sightings would send students into frantic "JD alerts," texting one another that the famous author was in the "stacks."

But woe to the "Catcher in the Rye" fan who came looking for his chalet-style house, up a winding 1 1/2-lane road in a rural town, population 1,758. Locals were as fierce in protecting his privacy as he was.

"Everyone in the town felt that way. The interesting part was that we all knew where he lived," said Mike Ackerman, 42, who grew up here and now operates the Cornish General Store.

"The fun part was that if the people looking for him were a little more arrogant in their ways, we'd send them on a little more of a wild goose chase. But we never told anyone where he actually lived," said Ackerman, who met Salinger several times when he worked as a driver for UPS, delivering packages to him.

Elizabeth Church, 53, of Plainfield, who lives about three-quarters of a mile from Salinger, said that for a few years, she saw him regularly - rolling down the bumpy country road passing her house, his Toyota in high gear, both hands on the wheel, staring straight ahead, the engine whining.

"You could not only see him, but you could hear him coming and going, every Sunday morning. This went on for several years," she said.

Michelle Baker, 48, of Cornish, whose husband's family was friendly with Salinger, said she knew him in passing and spoke to him by telephone on a number of occasions.

"He didn't want anybody to know what was going on in his life. We just didn't pry or ask him anything unless he divulged it."

The privacy protection continued even after Salinger died Wednesday.

His longtime auto mechanic at Plainfield Sales and Service said he always assured Salinger and his wife that he'd be discreet and not talk about them. "Until someone from the family tells me otherwise, that's the way it is," he said. He didn't want to give his name.

Salinger would occasionally take in a basketball game at Dartmouth, in Hanover.

Martha Beattie, 55, of Boston, who coached his son, Matt Salinger, on the crew team at Phillips Academy-Andover in Andover, Mass., and met him once in the 1970s, saw him at games in Hanover twice in the past month - once at a women's game, once at a men's game.

Both times he was alone, sitting in the same spot, wearing big round tortoise-shell eyeglasses and a scarf, reading the program, she said. Each time, she said hello.

"He looked like a writer," she said. "He was a little hunched over, but he didn't look like 91," she said.

Beattie's daughter, Nell, a Dartmouth senior, told Beattie the library sightings were a delight for the collegians. They called them "JD alerts," the older Beattie said Thursday.

Matt Salinger answered the doorbell at the home Thursday by rolling open a kitchen window and speaking through it.

"My father was a great father," was all he said.


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