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Monday, February 08, 2010

The Real Timothy McSweeney

An odd and touching story by Dave Eggers, founder of Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency. His website, literary journal and publishing house bear the name of a mysterious man who shared his mother's maiden name.

She grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, one of five children, the daughter of an obstetrician, Daniel McSweeney, and his wife Adelaide Mary McSweeney.
When Eggers was a kid, his family started getting "strange mail" addressed to him and his mother.
These were usually notes written on pamphlets and other sorts of mail that required no postage. The messages were confusing, but generally seemed to be written by a man named Timothy McSweeney, who thought he was related to my mother, and who was hoping to visit soon. Sometimes Timothy would include train schedules and other plans. Sometimes they included drawings and diagrams. Usually the letters had a sense of urgency, as if after many years of searching for his relatives, he had found my mother and I, and wanted to reconnect as soon as possible.
Eggers, having appropriated the man's name for his publishing concern, learned a few years later of Timothy McSweeney's identity.
One day in Boston in 1943, my grandfather Daniel McSweeney delivered a baby. This baby was put up for adoption, and was adopted by another McSweeney family.
Timothy McSweeney grew up to become an artist, fell mentally ill, and was eventually institutionalized.
It was from this institution that he began to send letters. According to his brother David, he would search through city and state records, find names, and write to the people he found.

Presumably, he saw my grandfather's name on his birth certificate and came to think Daniel McSweeney might have been his father, not simply the delivering obstetrician. And thus he sought out the children of Daniel McSweeney. [Link]
The real Timothy McSweeney died last month at age 67.

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