One May day in 1956, police in New Jersey stopped a skinny 43-year-old man wandering along the highway. Assuming that he was a vagrant, they thought his murmurings about being famous were mere hallucinations. But when they dialed the phone number he gave them, for his manager, they discovered that he was more than famous: Woody Guthrie was a legend.
Guthrie, who wrote “This Land Is Your Land” and more than 3,000 other folk songs, was suffering from Huntington’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that at the time was completely misunderstood by the public. He was soon hospitalized at Greystone Park State Hospital in Morris Plains, N.J. And though his family, friends and acolytes, including a 19-year-old Bob Dylan, visited him there, a cone of silence descended on the five years he spent at Greystone and subsequent stays at other hospitals until his death at the age of 55.