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Joe Root (Pennsylvania)

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Joseph "Joe" Root
Joe Root while residing at Presque Isle State Park (circa 1890s)
Born 1860
Erie, Pennsylvania
Died 1912 (aged 51–52)
Warren, Pennsylvania
Resting place Odd Fellow Cemetery (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Residence Presque Isle State Park (from 1880 to 1910[1])
Known for Well-known hermit who lived in Presque Isle State Park; lived completely off the land

Joseph "Joe" Root (1860 – November 1912) was a well-known hermit who lived in what is now Presque Isle State Park in Pennsylvania. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania,[2][3] Root lived on Presque Isle without any modern conveniences.[1]


Presque Isle State Park[edit]

Root moved away from his childhood home to Presque Isle while still in his adolescent years.[2][3] As one of the first permanent inhabitants to the peninsula (Presque Isle wasn't declared an official state park until 1921[4]), he built a number of shacks in various parts of the peninsula to suit the particular activity of any given day.[2][3] There was also a lighthouse keeper who resided at the park during the late 19th century and he often had his tomatoes swiped by Root.[1]

Root would have built his shacks out of driftwood, packing crates and anything else that washed up on shore.[2][3] Root hunted and fished to support himself in the harsh environment - he would become fond of raw fish in particular.[5] Reportedly a dead cow once washed up on the shore of Presque Isle and Root fed off of it for an entire week (without using any implements to either cook or eat the animal).[5] Root also ate local wild plants such as wild cattails, duck potatoes, spatterdocks, rice, blueberries, dewberries, and wild strawberries.[1]

Root was a favorite with local children, entertaining them with ventriloquism and stories about his "friends".[2][3] These friends were called the Jee-Bees (alternatively known as either GBs[1] or jeebies[5]); they were highly invisible nature spirits[6] who could accurately predict the weather.[2][3] During long winter nights, Root would walk to Erie to spend some time at the local poorhouse.[5] Locals could sometimes see him walking on State Street with either a fishing net or a cane pole.[5]

Business ideas and later life[edit]

One of his business ideas was to build a balloon factory, and use the prevailing westerly winds to transport travelers across state lines to Buffalo, New York.[2][3]

Root was committed to the Warren State Hospital for the Insane in Warren, Pennsylvania on April 14, 1910 after a short stay at an Erie-area poorhouse.[5] Stories suggest he was sent there because authorities feared he'd claim the peninsula as his home through squatters' rights.[1]


Joe Root is remembered in the Erie, Pennsylvania area as a colorful character and something of a symbol of Erie's history. A local restaurant, Joe Root's Grill, honors his name, as does a winter golf tournament, Joe Root's Frostbite Open (which is sponsored by the restaurant, and other local businesses).[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Richards, Dave (March 18, 2010). "What was Joe Root, the legendary inhabitant of the peninsula, really like? Ask Brian Akula". Erie Times-News. Retrieved September 11, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Basic history of Joe Root". Joe Roots Grill. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Basic history of Joe Root (second reference)". Inn Vista. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  4. ^ Cupper, Dan (1993). Our Priceless Heritage: Pennsylvania’s State Parks 1893-1993. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks. ISBN 0-89271-056-X. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Massing, Dana (March 10, 2010). "Naturalist preserves history with Presque Isle program on Joe Root". Erie Times-News. Retrieved September 15, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Spirituality of Joe Root". Prism Comics. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  7. ^ Joe Root's Frostbite Open

External links[edit]