Author, political gadfly and Snohomish legend John Patric died in 1985, but a tempestuous chapter of his storied life has been unearthed for a new generation.
A five-part podcast, produced by the Everett Public Library, centers on a 1958 jury trial in Snohomish County Superior Court. The issue was Patric’s sanity.
Clarence Boyd, Snohomish police chief at the time, had charged that Patric was mentally incompetent. Patric was ordered into Northern State Hospital, a mental institution in Sedro-Woolley. There, a 60-day evaluation stretched into about six months in the mental wards.
There was plenty of evidence that Patric’s ways were far outside the norm. The son of a hardware store owner and Snohomish’s first librarian, Patric was known to mail dead birds and fish tails to his perceived foes. A frequent candidate with a libertarian bent, he made doomed-from-the-start political runs for governor and against the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson.
The author of several books, including “Yankee Hobo in the Orient,” Patric traveled widely and wrote for National Geographic. He studied journalism at several colleges, and was expelled from the University of Texas after a fistfight with Allan Shivers, a future Texas governor. Before returning to Snohomish in the late 1950s, he lived for years in the Oregon woods, at a place called Frying Pan Creek.
Patric’s self-published Snohomish Free Press newsletter, later renamed The Saturday Evening Free Press, was a name-calling tirade against local police and other officials.
The 56-year-old Patric acted as his own attorney at the insanity trial. The podcast, written by Everett Public Library reference librarian Cameron Johnson, tells how Patric sparred with Judge Edward Nollmeyer “at every opportunity.”
“He warned jurors that ‘What happened to me could happen to any of you.’ He questioned most of the jurors about their belief in Americans’ inherent right to be different or unorthodox,” says the podcast, much of it based on newspaper reports. One witness for the defense, a Snohomish proofreader, testified that “If John Patric’s insane, I’d like to be just as insane myself.”
In the end, on Sept. 27, 1958, the jury deliberated just 12 minutes — apparently taking little time to review evidence that included lengthy medical reports. The unanimous verdict found Patric to be legally sane. Patric was immediately released — and congratulated by many in the audience.
The Everett Daily Herald, which Patric lambasted as the “Everett Daily Whalewrapper,” called his self-defense “skillful.”
“He was an iconic American character,” Johnson said Tuesday. “He was a curmudgeon, a nonconformist, a rebel and giant-killer, and a drifter and hobo.”
Johnson never met Patric, but had heard about him for years from David Dilgard, the Everett library’s longtime Northwest historian. Dilgard, who retired earlier this year, met Patric through the years and knew his brother, Bill Patrick, who died in 2005. The brothers spelled their last names differently, but shared some qualities.
Like John Patric, Bill was a frequent but never-elected candidate. He also bedeviled officials. At his memorial service in 2005, then-Snohomish Mayor Liz Loomis recalled Bill Patrick bringing her a gift at a meeting. It was a bag of dog feces, meant as a strong statement on the condition of city parks.
In research for the podcast, Johnson relied on news articles, Patric’s Free Press and on Dilgard’s comprehensive work.
Dilgard, in 1998, wrote a tribute about Patric titled “The Diogenes of Avenue D,” a reference to the location of Patric’s house, which was cluttered with newspapers. Diogenes was a Greek philosopher also known as Diogenes the Cynic.
Patric’s odd habits and austere existence were cited by Dilgard, including his subsistence diet of canned mackerel, chocolate bars and coffee.
The fifth installment of the podcast is a song, with lyrics written by Dilgard. It’s performed by Van Ramsey, an Everett library employee and local musician. The tune begins “He might mail you a dead rat or bird.” The song offers a clue to the meaning of Patric’s pen name, “Hugo N. Frye.” It’s meant to “tell us all to go straight to hell.”
“The reason we chose the trial as a way of talking about Mr. Patric, it’s such a good lens for the rest of his life,” Johnson said. “I know he was annoying and probably drove people to distraction. But to lock him up and charge him with insanity — at the time, they were doing things like lobotomies — that’s the kind of thing I think could have happened in the Soviet Union.
“As library people, this man’s free press rights resonated with us,” Johnson said.
If Patric were alive today, Johnson believes he’d be a famous blogger. “John was a skilled writer, a very talented guy,” he said. Would he have wanted to meet Patric? “Maybe for about five minutes,” Johnson said.
Podcast listeners, after learning about Patric’s curious life, hear Dilgard’s song. Ramsey sings its thought-provoking refrain: “He was eccentric but justified.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein @heraldnet.com.
The Everett Public Library’s five-part John Patric podcast, written by reference librarian Cameron Johnson, centers on a 1958 trial regarding the Snohomish man’s sanity. The segments are about four minutes to 12 minutes each. Listen at www.epls.org/325/John-Patric.