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.
"The story was always available, but not much research has been done on that period of his life," says his daughter, Nora Guthrie, president of the Woody Guthrie Foundation, created in 1972 to safeguard his archives and his legacy.
Enter Phillip Buehler, a photographer of "modern ruins," who one hot August day a dozen years ago snuck in via a window to the bowels of an abandoned part of Greystone (which exists today in modern facilities). He discovered decaying rooms scattered with files overflowing with patient photographs and records, and took some pictures.