Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tommy Doran — The Armless News Boy

Posted By on Sun, May 31, 2009 at 8:31 PM

f0ee/1243819992-armlessnewsboypostcard.jpg Last night, feeling a rare, unnatural burst of energy (I must tell my physicians about that), I began rooting through some of the 427,000 postcards archived in the Lauderdale Library. And by “archived” I mean dumped in shoe boxes, piled in file cabinets, and wedged under that wobbly leg of the dining-room table. My plan is to arrange them in some fashion, but invariably I find one card that is particularly odd or interesting, and then I get distracted. And before you know it, it’s almost 7 p.m. and time for bed!

But last night I uncovered this card, and you can see why it took my attention away from the others.

The image is a bit fuzzy, but it shows a handsome young man, dressed in a nice suit and dapper hat, holding a pen or pencil in his mouth, and apparently writing on a piece of paper “Thomas F. Doran — Armless News Boy.” And writing it better than I could, even if I used both arms. At the bottom of the card, much worn away, was this faded inscription: “LOST BOTH ARMS JUMPING ON FREIGHT TRAINS WHEN TWELVE YEARS OF AGE.”

Let this be a lesson to all of us. Do NOT jump on freight trains when you are 12. Save that rowdy stuff until you are at least 13.

Now, I didn’t realize that Doran had any local connections until a friend (yes, I still have one or two) sent me a copy of YANK magazine, published during World War II, which offered its readers a 1940s look at Memphis. Included among the sights and tourist attractions of our city was none other than this fellow, all grown-up now. Here’s what YANK had to say about him, and I’m afraid it’s not exactly flattering:

“Not all the Memphis characters have changed since the war, however. Tommy Doran, the armless newsboy with the complexion of well-aged bourbon, is still doing business at his old stand at Main and Monroe, and the locals are as proud as ever of his skill in lighting a cigarette all by himself and of his artistry in picking up a pint — or a fifth, if need be — with his teeth and taking a good, healthy slug.”

I have to say that if I had “lost” my arms beneath a freight train when I was 12, I would certainly be taking a drink now and then, no matter how hard it was to do so. I don’t know much more about the remarkable Tommy Doran — where he lived, or when he died — but at one time he was apparently so well-known in these parts that he had his own postcards, and few families besides the Lauderdales can make that claim.


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