Alabama Savant Invents Transistor, Cell Phone, Telegraph
Carbon Hill, Alabama, October 3, 2010 -- His name is Artemus K. Yooley, but most folks around here know him as DiCaprio, or sometimes just plain Leonardo. Most folks around here were probably thinking of DaVinci when they called him that, but no matter.
He's the kind of man you generally cross the street to avoid, but get him to talking and you discover a mind as alive and alert as the timeless genius from whom he almost gets his nickname. Avant News met with Mr. Yooley, a.k.a. Leonardo, at his home, a dilapidated ramshackle one-story clapboard house on Nauvoo Rd., just outside of Carbon Hill, Alabama, to talk with him about his one true passion: inventing.
"I dunno how I think of them," Mr. Yooley says with a shy smile. "They just come to me, and I hustle out to the shed and invent them."
Mr. Yooley, though not autistic in any way, is considered a savant. Disheveled in appearance, slightly odiferous, slovenly dressed and lacking what most people would recognize as social graces or verbal acuity, Mr. Yooley is nonetheless a gifted inventor. His mind is constantly spinning, churning out fantastic conceptions that, using only simple carpentry and electronics tools, he then transforms into impressive working prototypes.
"I think about things like how to put someone's voice someplace where you couldn't hear it, because you're too far away, right?" Mr. Yooley says, guiding us to a shelf at the back of the shed. His lavatory, he calls it, but we think he means laboratory.
"I call this a Speaky-Wire," Mr. Yooley says, proudly displaying a rusty gizmo with a sort of arm, connected to a wire running through the back wall of the shed. Mr. Yooley demonstrates by rapidly raising and depressing the arm, causing the device to emit a clicking noise.
"If you was up at the house, you'd hear those self-same clicks coming out of the other end of this wire," he says, touching the wire with grimy fingertips. "Now I just gotta think of some way of making some kind of code or something so you could understand what my clicks stood for."
Comprehension slowly dawns. What Mr. Yooley has invented, we realize, is the telegraph, with Morse next on the list.
As Mr. Yooley continues his tour, we find working prototypes of a transistor ("Itty-Bitty Switchy"), a steam engine, a cellular telephone (which would function in theory, Mr. Yooley explains, if there were anyone else who also had one and also if he had a satellite), an electric toaster ("Bread Brownifier"), a videodisc player, and a Vegas-style automatic card shuffler.
We discreetly ask Mr. Yooley if he ever tries to patent any of his inventions.
"Naw," Mr. Yooley says. "I do this for my own self. Like I said, they just come to me and I do 'em. When I'm done, I work on my shingles until I get another idea, then I do that. It's a what do you call it, hobby."
On the drive back through Carbon Hill, we stop at the Main Street Diner for a coffee and decide to chat up the customers to learn more about the strange phenomenon of Mr. Yooley.
"Leonardo?" Sally Shambles, an administrative assistant at a local insurance office, says. "Oh, he's harmless. He likes to putter out there in his backyard, and I guess that makes him happy. No one around here has the heart to tell him everything he's done is old news. And who knows, maybe one day he'll actually invent something, and then wouldn't we all feel stupid?"
By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor
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