Tommy Doran, the "Armless News Boy"



Memphis has always had more than its share of colorful characters. Here's the latest example: While rummaging through an old bookstore years ago, I turned up this old black-and-white postcard for "Thomas F. Doran, Armless News Boy." Although part of the caption at the bottom has scuffed off, you can still read: "LOST BOTH ARMS JUMPING ON FREIGHT TRAINS WHEN TWELVE YEARS OF AGE."

The photo shows the boy — more of a young man, really — neatly dressed in a jacket and nice straw hat — signing his name while holding a pen between his teeth.

Nothing on this undated card suggested Doran was a Memphian, however. But I learned more of his story one night while I was lounging in my La-Z-Boy and reading old copies of Yank magazine, published in the 1940s. One of the stories offered readers a wartime look at Memphis, and I perked up when it made special mention of Doran:

"Not all the Memphis characters have changed since the war, however. Tommy Doran, the armless news boy with the complexion of well-aged bourbon, is still doing business at his old stand at Main and Monroe, and the locals are as proud of his skill in lighting a cigarette all by himself and of his artistry in picking up a pint — or a fifth, if need be — with his teeth and taking a good, healthy swig."

Not exactly a very flattering portrait, is it? But you know, if I had lost both my arms beneath a freight train, I'd probably take a drink now and then, too. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd just stay drunk all the time. But Doran apparently made a living by operating a newstand downtown, and that showed he had more gumption than a lot of people I know. Don't make me name any names.

Doran died in 1956 at the age of 70. I don't know much else about him. Old city directories over the years identify him only as a "newspaper salesman" with a residence in later years at 158 North Main, which was the address of the old Arlington Hotel. But at one time, he was so well-known in these parts that he had his own postcards, and not even the Lauderdales can say that.

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About This Blog

Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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