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Poor Old Blind Tom.

Blind Tom, the weak-witted, sightless negro, whose phenomenal gifts as a pianist and whose unnatural powers made him a wonder of the world some years ago, is now a gray-headed, infirm old man, living in retirement in a little cottage on the highlands of Navesink, on the New Jersey shore of New York Bay, in charge of Mrs. Eliza Lerch, who was appointed his guardian several years ago. After the death of her first husband, John G. Bethune, who was Tom’s manager nearly the entire time he was before the public, there was a long legal struggle between her and her father- in-law, James N. Bethune, who owned Tom and Tom’s mother as slaves, and still claimed the sole proprietorship of the musician. Tom had been a valuable piece of furniture and had brought him a large income for many years. He had earned several hundred thousand dollars, and Col. Bethune naturally objected to losing so lucrative an investment.

Justice Andrews, of the Supreme Court of New York, to whom the case finally came by appeal, decided that Tom was a free man, and permitted him to choose his own guardian, for although over fifty years of age he was incapable of caring for himself, and Charity Wigans, his mother, who still lived in Georgia, on the old plantation where Tom was born, declined to accept the responsibility. In fact, Tom did not know his mother. He met her at the trial for the first time since his childhood, nearly forty years before, when his musical genius was discovered and he was taken out for exhibition by his owner. Nor did he have sufficient intelligence to appreciate the relationship; and she, an illiterate negress over seventy, was frightened by his outlandish gibberish and peculiar habits, for when he is away from the piano Blind Tom is a most repulsive animal. He has an abnormal appetite, his passions are strongly developed, and he has no respect for persons or places. He is simply an idiot, and his mother believed him to be possessed of the devil.—” Presto.”

 

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