Old Tom

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The following information comes from Bill Huff, Jr. a life time resident of Sodus Point.
Old Tom was another colorful character in Sodus Point. Loved by both young and old alike, they cherish the memories of him to this day. Old Tom was a black man born as Tom Jones. No one seems to know where Old Tom came from but he drifted into town one day and became a “fixture” of Sodus Point from the 1920s through the 1940s. He had a taste for ladies, beer and cigarettes which he mooched whenever he could. He would light the cigarettes from matches which he conveniently stored in his hair.
Old Tom stayed around town wherever he could find a place to rest his head and did whatever odd job needed doing. One day he was working on a cottage in town replacing a corner post which was set in a kettle. When Old Tom lifted up the kettle to replace the rotting post, he discovered the kettle was full of coins worth about $300. This was more money than he had ever seen before. The story of his windfall made the local papers. When the reporter asked him what he was going to do with his new found wealth, Old Tom replied that he might take a trip to Florida. Not surprising since the winters here were so rough. Tom would collect old newspapers throughout the year and come the cold months, he would cover himself with them when he slept to keep himself warm.
Old Tom was a big hit with the kids. One of his tricks that he did to the delight and amazement of the town youngsters was at the pier. Old Tom would light a cigarette, roll it into his mouth and then jump off the end of the pier. He would stay under water for about 10 minutes and then resurface. Climbing back onto the pier, he would take the nub of the cigarette out of his mouth which he explained that he had smoked under water. The crowd of children would applaud wildly at this seemingly impossible act. Tom never let on to the children that there was a hollow space under the pier where he smoked his cigarette.
Old Tom really shined at all the local parades. He would dress up in animal skins, attach a chicken bone to his nose and become the Wild Man of Borneo. Secreted inside a cage, the children would cautiously approach this apparition. As they came close, the Wild Man of Borneo would rattle the cage and growl at the children. They would then scream in mock terror and jump back from the cage only to repeat this process 30 seconds later.
(Editor’s note) Some of the younger readers of this site may never have heard of the Wild Man of Borneo. Below is a youtube video of the Wild Man of Borneo taken from an episode of Spanky and the Gang that tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

The following information about Old Tom is gratefully told by George Arney, Jr. and is taken from the book Sodus Point and Sodus Bay in the 20th Century by Alan Firstone who is the pen name of George Arney’s son: Chris Arney.
Tom Jones was a real character. He was a black man who lived in Sodus Point. He told people that he had no idea how old he was. All he knew was that his first job that he ever had was working on building the malt house. I never knew for sure where he lived – someplace around the Point. He used to come into our grocery store every day. He did lots of odd jobs and picked up a little money at different places. Tom was around for many years. When I was working at the malt house one summer, Tom had moved in the back of the malt house. We had a frame and with a heavy rope that we used to move heavy bags of sprouts and chaff from the penthouse up to the top of the silo. The rope pile made a nice bed for Tom. He had an old coat that he used for a pillow. Every day Harriet would make an extra sandwich that I would bring for Tom and Gladys Fuerst would make an extra sandwich as well. Oscar (Fuerst) and I would bring him two cans of beer at lunch time. One day we came down to see him, and he was still lying on the rope sleeping. We woke him up to check on him. He said: “You’re looking at one sick puppy.”
He was in bad shape, so Oscar and I got Gene Cook. He called someone in the health department and they came down to check his condition. They took him to a county nursing house and put him in an oxygen tent so he could breathe better. Somehow he got a hold of a cigarette in that oxygen tent. Whoever gave him the cigarette probably didn’t figure that he would smoke it, because he didn’t have anything to light it with. However, Tom reached up into his hair and took out a match that he had hidden. He scratched the match and it lit. The Oxygen tank blew up and the explosion killed Tom.
Tom…. To this day, Sodus Point misses you especially the kids. Parades just aren’t the same without you.