Monday, March 27, 2006

John Doe died. No, really. That's his real name.

Obituary writers love to do obits for people with names to die for.

I know I got excited years ago when I did an obit for Happy Laffin, who had a service station called "Laffin Gas" and a wife who went by her initials - "I.M." - so when people called her name, they'd have to say, "I. M. Laffin."

Kay Powell hit the jackpot last week, when John Doe met his maker during her watch at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And she made the most of it.

In the obituary for the real John Doe that ran in the AJC on March 25, 2006, Kay wrote: For most of his 92 years, he had to show his marriage license or his driver's license to prove to suspicious hotel clerks and doubting hospital personnel that he really was John Doe.

She included intriguing statistics: In Georgia, 125 John Does have died since 1970, according to an AJC analysis of death records on file with the state Department of Human Resources. Those records do not indicate who died unidentified and who was actually named John Doe.

She threw in a nifty tidbit that never would have occurred to me: He was rarely sick, but when he did have to go to the hospital, medical personnel were constantly dropping by his room to check his identity in case he was a famous person seeking anonymity.

Great job, Kay. Does anyone else have a cool story to share about names?


Jade Walker said...

I've written obits for Elvis A. Presley (a Wisconsin man who legally changed his name in 1978 to honor his idol) and Santa Claus (an Illinois man who legally changed his name in 1997 after decades of playing Santa).

Santa was a hoot. He changed his name to prove to disbelieving kids that he was the real deal. When they questioned him, he'd pull out his driver's license and show it to them.

Amy Silvers said...

One of my personal favorites was a Milwaukee cop named "Joe Friday" back when "Dragnet" was one of the most popular shows on TV.

"I'd get phone calls all night long, at 3 and 4 in the morning," Friday once said. "Mostly kids who would sing, 'dum-de-dum-dum,' and hang up."

Complete story & photo of real-life Joe Friday meeting Jack Webb at:

Alana Baranick said...

In case you couldn't access Amy's obit for Joe Friday, click here.

Kay Powell said...

When I learned that Icy Snow Barfield had died at 103, I knew The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had to write on her for her name alone.

How on earth did an Icy Snow come about in Georgia, where our winters are warm enough to wear shorts?

Cato Bass did the obit and wrote this: Born in a log cabin in Floyd County on Feb. 7, 1895, Mrs. Barfield came into the world without any trained medical help.

"There was a blizzard that morning," said her granddaughter. "The snow drifts were 10 feet tall. Her father couldn't get a midwife or doctor. When he carried her out in his arms, that's when he decided to call her Icy Snow."

I still keep her picture on my desk, alongside the King of All the World's Gypsies in his coffin, an earlier obit I wrote. But, that's another blog.

Alana Baranick said...

Garrett Ray, retired journalism professor and newsman, asked that I post this comment for him.

Garrett says: This isn't exactly responsive to the request for unusual obit names (spinning off of the John Doe item), but it is a nifty name, tangentially related to obits: A former weekly newspaper co-proprietor in Colorado threatened to run for local office so he could use his name in campaign ads: "Cary Stiff for Coroner."