Joe Root was born in 1860 and as a young man became a fisherman’s apprentice and later a fisherman. Apparently not happy just fishing at Presque Isle, he decided to make it his permanent residence. He built shanties out of driftwood and whatever suitable materials washed up on the shores of the peninsula. He sustained himself by fishing, hunting and collecting fruits and berries, especially cranberries that were once very abundant on the park. He would also occasionally charm picnickers into sharing their lunches. It is said that the diminutive bearded man who walked with a limp and wore an old felt hat entertained children and adults alike with his excellent ventriloquism skills. He would pretend to carry on conversations with his hat or a hollow tree stump. He also delighted the children with his bird calls and his stories about his unseen friends, the Jee Bees, who possessed an uncanny knack for predicting the weather.
On his rare trips into town Joe would discuss strange business ideas in exchange for a drink or two. One of his business schemes included building a hot air balloon factory on or near Presque Isle to shuttle people back and forth between Erie and Buffalo. Joe’s favorite idea appeared to be the creation of a circus whose main act would involve a tightrope strung between the peninsula and the mainland across which wild animals would be transported in a wheelbarrow.
Eccentric but harmless appears to be the consensus regarding the inimitable Joe Root. Like many before and after him, Joe’s eccentricity may have been his downfall. It is said that Joe was the victim of a scheme to have him removed from his beloved Presque Isle for fear that he would claim squatter’s rights to the peninsula. It was claimed that Joe had been involved in a violent altercation and he was removed from Presque Isle under a shroud of secrecy and committed to Warren State Mental Hospital (WSMH) in Warren, PA on April 14, 1910. Longing to return to his beloved Presque Isle, he died at WSMH two years later .