Dick Johnson submitted these remembrances of numismatic researcher and author Walter Breen.
Michael E. Marotta is one hundred percent right in his statement in last week's E-Sylum that transcripts of student's records are not public information. I learned the same was true fifty years ago.
I first met Walter Breen at the ANA convention in New York City 1952. Since I was in the service stationed in Washington DC I traveled to coin conventions on the East Coast. Our paths crossed many times. Also Walter came to DC often to research at the National Archives. We met frequently. I had a car and would drive him around when I was off duty.
We talked often of his education, his mental ability, his origin, his military service, his interest in classical music and a wide discussion of numismatic topics. I learned he did accomplish a four-year college degree at Johns Hopkins University in 18 months by the college's accelerated academic program that if you took the final exam and passed it you got credit for the course. He did extensive and concentrated study to pass these tests during that period. He said the stress was profound.
At this college he was taken under the guidance of a professor there, who had had a son who had an unbelievable high IQ. He committed suicide at age 8 or 9 because he "did not have anyone to talk to." He found no one who could converse with him on his intellectual level. The father had great remorse; perhaps he saw a possible a similar condition in Walter. (Which was somewhat true as Walter had infrequent thoughts of suicide.)
Walter estimated his own IQ was "the boiling point of water" -- 212. It is impossible to measure any IQ this high as so few people have such a rarified intelligence. He was a member of MENSA (where you must have an IQ in the 98th percentile or higher) and was active in their meetings. He DID find people he could talk to there.
Walter was a foundling. He never learned who his parents were. He was taken in by a step-mother in San Antonio Texas, who was very harsh with him. He was bright but not brilliant as a child. He could not stand her, so in San Antonio he enlisted in the Air Force to get out from her control. He also could not stand the regimentation of the military and during basic training had a mental breakdown. He developed true amnesia.
Walter was given a medical discharge from the Air Force and sent to VA hospitals. He spent months in VA hospitals attempting to regain his memory, but he had to learn everything all over again. He did this so quickly he developed his intellectual ability, a rapid learning capacity, and, ultimately, a high intellect. At the VA hospital they encourage taking correspondence courses, which he did and this was the basis for his wide knowledge thereafter.
So he was able to enter college without a high school degree. About 1953 I tried to research Walter's college activity, went to Johns Hopkins register's office and asked to see Walter Breen's records. "Sorry, those are only released to the person themselves, or their immediate family." My protests, "Walter has no family, I am a friend writing his biography," fell on deaf ears. No records released.
Walter did tell his story and it was published in a book. His account occupied a full chapter in The Adopted Break Silence, by Jean M. Paton published in 1954. The book relates accounts of how forty men and women searched for their natural parents. Walter mentioned he was a "professional numismatist," gave the story of his amnesia recovery, but never learned who were his biological parents.
He hated his step-mother and she was the stumbling block to his learning anything of his origin. While he was in the VA hospital trying to regain his memory, however, she did bring him some of his childhood things. Among them was a book on coins. He picked up on this, and that is how he became interested in numismatics again that developed into a life-long obsession.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
MORE ON WALTER BREEN'S EDUCATION
Wayne Homren, Editor
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