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A Life Forgotten – Podcast #76

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wake up one day and have forgotten your entire past?  No idea of where you live, what your profession is, who your relatives are, or even what your name is.

In today’s story, titled A Life Forgotten, you will learn of one man who suffered such a fate and how he ultimately found out who he really was.

So imagine this.  You wake up on the side of the road just outside of Craig, a small town in northwestern Colorado. Nothing seems familiar to you.  You check and your wallet is gone. Suddenly you feel a sharp pain from your badly bruised ribs.  As you pull your hand away from the wetness of your face, you discover that it is bloodied.  A few feet from the body lies a gun.  You think to yourself: Is it my gun?  Could I have shot someone with it?  Or even worse, I kill someone with it?  You try to replay the incident in your mind, but you can’t remember even the slightest detail.

Such an event did happen to a 24-year-old man in May 1946.  He truly had forgotten his entire past.  Shortly after awakening, he saw a car approach, so he hid the gun under his shirt and tried to hitch a ride.  The couple looked at his battered face with suspicion, but they did give him a lift into town.

After cleaning himself up as best he could, the young man went straight to the police station and handed over the gun.

The officer asked him his name and he suddenly realized that he had absolutely no clue.  He had a badly worn identification bracelet on, from which he could make out a portion of what was left of the engraving.  It said Robert Sher…

Think of the possibilities.  Robert Sher, Robert Sherwood, Robert Sherborne. He opted for Robert Sherman, although he had no inkling as to whether that was his real name or not.

He expected to be arrested right there on the spot, but he wasn’t.  Instead, the newly named Robert Sherman walked out of that police station and right into his new life.

At first, he assumed that his memory loss would be short-lived and didn’t worry about it much.  Without a penny to his newly coined name, he obtained a job loading boxcars but ultimately decided that it was time to move on.

Without any memory of his past, he fabricated one over time.  He became Robert or Bob Sherman, an ex-Marine from Texas, who had been a student at prestigious boy’s schools in both New York and Omaha.

He worked at a casino in Reno, Nevada, and as a railroad detective in California.  He even secured a job as a deputy sheriff in Nevada.

But Bob Sherman was a man constantly haunted by his past.  Just who was he and what was the deal with that gun?  When he was fingerprinted while working at an aluminum plant, he expected the police to arrest him at any moment.  When the results of the fingerprint search came back as a match, he was shocked to find out the name of the man associated with them. It was… Robert Sherman.  Yes, he was identified as being the man he was pretending to be.

He even went as far as enrolling himself in some FBI training courses to have his fingerprints checked against their records.  Again, once again, they pointed right back at Robert Sherman.

One day, while working as a juvenile counselor in Sacramento, California, his supervisor mentioned that there was a problem with his school transcripts and it needed to be straightened out.  That was the last that they ever saw of Bob Sherman.  He hightailed it out of there and ultimately set up his own business in Los Angeles as a deep-sea diver.

As the years passed, he did fall in love with several women that he wanted to marry, but he always feared that his past would someday rise up and destroy both of their lives.  Maybe he had a wife and possibly some children out there somewhere.

Bob always moved on and then one day, about twenty years after he had lost his memory, he just plain lost it. While driving outside of Los Angeles one day, the stress of the unknown finally got the better of him and he was forced to pull the car to the side of the road.

Police found him there and took him to stay with a couple of friends for some rest.  While sitting on their patio one evening, he suddenly had a moment of clarity.

“I suddenly thought: Albany, NY. That’s where I am from.  My name is Robert Sheridan.  Johnny and Dicky are my brothers.  Lillian and Marjorie are my sisters.”

Now, as bits of his memory slowly returned, he was afflicted with a sense of guilt for the pain that he must have caused his family.  To make matters worse, he was unsure if he should abandon his current life and go back to the old one or continue living the fictitious life that he had assumed for the past twenty years.

With his mind in confusion and suddenly suffering from severe headaches, Bob decided to seek medical help.  With the help of a psychoanalyst, he was able to piece together additional details of his life.

In particular, he remembered the address of his parents’ home in McKownville, NY.  Coincidentally, I used to live right in McKownville, but I have met very few people that even know that it exists.  Both SUNY Albany and the largest mall in the region – Crossgates – are partially in McKownville.  It’s just one of those places that is so built-up today that you drive through it without ever knowing you had been there.

Finally, after twenty years, Bob Sheridan decided that it was time to head back east and confront his past. Upon arrival at his parents’ house at 19 Birkwood Avenue, he found out that they no longer lived there.  In fact, he suspected that after so much time, they may no longer even be alive.

He turned to the phone book and could only find the name of one person that he recognized – that of an uncle.  Bob made the call and learned that his sister Marjorie was living in Syracuse, NY. He drove out to see her and together they drove to Baltimore to see their brother John.  The last leg of his reunion took him to Largo, Florida to see his sister Lillian and ultimately to his parents, who had retired to Indian Rocks Beach near St. Petersburg eleven years earlier.  He learned that they were in very poor health.

Robert Sheridan with his parents.
Robert Sheridan with his parents. The image appeared on page 12 of the November 17, 1965 issue of the Middletown Journal.

And that’s when he really learned about his past.  Bob had joined the Navy at age 17 and served in the Atlantic before being a part of five Pacific war campaigns.  As a result of the fighting, he suffered a severe mental breakdown and was sent to St. Alban’s Naval Hospital in Queens, New York.

When the war ended, so did his care. Against his father’s pleas that Bob had not recovered, the Navy released him and he headed for San Francisco to report for duty.  He never arrived.

After an article appeared in the Family Weekly on February 27th of 1966, Bob received a phone call from a woman who claimed to be the girlfriend of the man who had beaten him.  “She said he had robbed me and thought that he had killed me and wondered if I was going to press charges.”  She added that Bob had wrestled the gun away from her boyfriend.  What this meant was that Bob could now be at ease knowing that he had never shot anyone with that weapon.

Bob did eventually marry and after his parents passed on, the couple left Florida and moved back to California.

Sadly, Robert Sheridan died in Medford, Oregon on November 18th, 1994 at the age of 68 years, 11 months, and 4 days. Other than the bits and pieces he learned from others, he never did remember his childhood, teenage years, or the war that he fought in.  It was a life forgotten.

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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