Who Was Naked Joe And How Did He Make Eustis World Famous?
These days, when most people think about the small Maine town of Eustis, they think of camping. There's a reason why we talked about getting "useless in Eustis", right? The tiny town (and we do mean TINY) only has a population of 610. However, it has a lot to offer. Hundreds of acres of wilderness, Flagstaff Lake, and the much-loved Cathedral Pines Campground.
Back in the early 1900s, the town was the focal point of one of the biggest publicity stunts of the day.
According to Boston Magazine, in 1913 Joseph Knowles was an illustrator for a Boston newspaper called the Boston Post. At that time, Boston was a very competitive media market. In the early 20th century, the city had nearly a dozen daily newspapers. The Boston Post was near the bottom of the stack when it came to performance.
Desperate to retain readers, and attract new ones, Knowles brought a crazy idea to the paper's chief editor, Charles E. L. Wingate. Knowles proposed that he spend several months living off the land in the Maine wilderness. His plan was to provide updates on his adventures by writing notes and drawing sketches on pieces of bark. He would then leave those notes a predetermined drop points. Hunting guides would retrieve the notes and hand them off to reporters, who would write them as stories and send them to Boston to be published in the newspaper.
Wingate thought it was a great idea and agreed to the stunt.
Wearing nothing but a loin clothe, Knowles entered the woods on August 4th, 1913. He returned to civilization on October 9th, 2013. During the intervening two months, he sent back many reports on his activities.
The stunt worked wonders for the Boston Post. During that time, the newspaper's circulation more than doubled. It increased from 200,000 to more than 435,000.
In addition to a massive increase in circulation, the stunt also created a fanbase for the paper and for Knowles. When he arrived back in Boston, his train was met by 200,000 people. In 1914, he wrote a book about his adventures. That book ended up selling 30,000 copies.
There was some controversy about the stunt, though. Years after the stunt, one of Knowles' drinking buddies, a freelance writer named Michael McKeogh, claimed that he and Knowles had concocted the scheme while having drinks at a Boston bar. According to McKeogh, instead of wandering through the wilderness, Knowles spent those two months hanging out in a cabin and eating canned food.
Knowles denied McKeogh's claim until the day he died. We'll never know the real story.
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