Joe Gould (bohemian)

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Joseph Ferdinand Gould (12 September 1889 – 18 August 1957)[1] was an American eccentric, also known as Professor Seagull. Often homeless, he pretended to be the author of the longest book ever written, an Oral History of the Contemporary World (or Oral History of Our Time). He inspired the book Joe Gould's Secret (1965) and its film adaptation (2000), as well as being a character in the 2009 computer game The Blackwell Convergence.


Gould was born in a small suburb outside Boston in 1889. In 1911, he graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in literature, even though his family wanted him to become a physician. He traveled to Canada, exploring its landscape, and then came back to Boston. In 1915, he did field work for the Eugenics Record Office in Spring Harbor. He then went to North Dakota to study the Chippewa and Mandan cultures. He gained respect for their cultures and he also learned how to ride horses, dance, and sing.

In 1917, Gould went to New York City and worked as a reporter for the New York Evening Mail. During his time at the newspaper, he had his epiphany for the longest book ever written. He would title this book An Oral History of Our Time. The book was supposedly based on a word for word account of people's lives, which Gould had listened to. In reality, the book never existed.

Gould stood about five feet four inches and weighed no more than 100 pounds, but he said that he hoped his work would make a larger impression. Joseph Mitchell wrote two profiles of Gould for The New Yorker, later collected in the 1965 book Joe Gould's Secret. Gould is also mentioned in several poems by E. E. Cummings.

One of Gould's pastimes was going to beatnik poetry readings in New York, where he recited absurd poems he made up to mock the serious poetry of other participants. One of his poems was read in a 1958 episode of "Peter Gunn", and a distillation of the same poem was included in an episode of "Happy Days" featuring beatniks.

Gould collapsed on the street in 1952, eventually ending up in Pilgrim State hospital on Long Island where he died in 1957, aged 68.

Ian Holm portrayed Gould in the 2000 film Joe Gould's Secret.