This week on Intersection we talked with Clyde Ruffin, president of the John William "Blind" Boone Foundation, about the renovation of the Blind Boone Home. The house is located in downtown Columbia, and opened this month after years of work. It stands next to The Second Baptist Church on 4th Street. Ruffin also led two of our producers through a tour of the house.
Listen to the full story:
Listen to the house tour.
A selected transcript from our interview with Clyde Ruffin about John William "Blind" Boone.
He wasn't born into a particularly wealthy family. He sort of made himself?
He was born with significant challenges: the challenge of race, the challenges of disability. And at the time, being raised by a single parent, I mean you know, was all of the typical challenges that should have signaled a life of very low achievement. But it did not. He demonstrated by all accounts just a joyful life and for living, that he played sports and baseball and did all kinds of things even though he couldn't see. He played, he created music on tin pans, and with tin whistles and all kinds of things and became such a darling of the community that the community actually raised the money to send him to St. Louis to go to the school for the blind.
And I was reading a little bit about his life. It sounds like he eventually left the school to just sort of make his living on the streets as a musician?
Well yes, because at the school for the blind, as you can imagine, they wanted him to learn how to make brooms, because that's what blind people were supposed to do – make and sell brooms and hopefully, you know, they could teach you how to, you know, read a little braille or something like that. And that was supposed to be your life. But there was a teacher at the school for the blind who was also a pianist, and he saw the talent in John William and began to work with him. And of course because he was truly gifted he was frustrated with this whole broom-making stuff so he just – he just ran away. He found his way into some of the houses of ill repute in the St. Louis area where these men that they refer to as professors. They were innovators in terms of music. And Blind Boone was so gifted that he could recreate anything he heard after just hearing it one time. And so, that's how it all started.
And when did Boone start building his house?
It was built as a wedding present – built by his brother in law, John Lange Jr., who was also his manager. Because Blind Boone married (Lange's) sister, Eugenia. And the house was built sometime between 1888 and 1892. I've heard that there are, there's a document that says that he took full position of the home in 1892. I have yet to see that document. And so we always say the house was built in 1890, just to be safe.
And what would the area around the house have been like at that time?
We have a photograph, a historic photograph of the house. It has a little white fence in front of it, and some people in a horse and buggy going in front of the house. So at that time you would've been able to look from the porch of the house and see the creek, and see just a green open space that was livery stable on the other side of the creek. And it probably would've been a very pastoral setting, very nice.