Joe Root in Erie - Part 2

Andrew Applebee - Gannon University Intern

Wednesday Jan 11th, 2023

Joe Root lived alone on the Peninsula but despite this he held quite the social circle. His trips across the bay were made possible by friendly fishermen who would give him passage free of charge. After landing at the foot of State Street, Joe would take quarter in Sullivan’s Saloon before trudging into town.


Joe would spend his time collecting things off the street and bartering goods from Presque Isle to earn a couple coins. He would often be found charming the townsfolk with his ventriloquism act where he accurately predicted the forecast through the medium of a hollow log. Once enough money was collected, Joe would make himself comfortable at the nearest bar with a hot meal before him. It was here that Joe made most of his friends. He would entertain businessmen with ideas of balloon farms and feather factories that could be built on the Peninsula. Other grandiose plans involved a circus that would feature animals carted across tightropes in wheelbarrows. Joe claimed all he needed was funding but after a long night the only funds that would surface were for the bar tab. The next day would see him trudge down State Street and go back the way he came.


For years Joe was an occasional occurrence among Erieites and most enjoyed his company. In 1903 when he was accused of stealing fishing tackle, many came to the trial to testify to Joe’s honesty. Such men included future judge U.P. Rossiter and director of the Pennsylvania Railroad Jim Tompson. After the charges were dropped Joe was reluctant to leave jail as he had become friends with Warden Moomy and Sheriff Burton.

Despite his good reputation there were some that doubted Joes intentions with the Peninsula. It was speculated that he might try to claim squatters rights and soil others’ plans with Presque Isle. In 1910 the plan was hatched by social workers to forcefully remove him from his home. The day prior to his abduction Joe visited Florence Reed and expressed his concerns. She recalled, “Joe was very upset because some people were saying he was crazy and was going to get the government to give him the deed to the Peninsula.  Joe said he never wanted to ‘own her,’ that that was other folks’ idea and he thought their ideas were what was really crazy. We never saw him again. People told us later that the posse got him the next day.”

Joe was not long for this world without his precious Presque Isle and died two years later in Warren State Hospital on October 29th, 1912.