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About Tom

Tom Forshier first came to Key West in 1965. His driftwood art has been haled as genius by collectors, but he still struggles daily to find the bare necessities. And yet, he is nobody’s victim. His life is of his own choosing and has its own integrity. As Robin Shanley wrote in 1992, “For someone so extensively displayed it’s hard to believe Tom is just barely making it these days. He is a man of great strengths and formidable weaknesses and much has been his fault.”

But, his animals never want for food, his ever-changing abodes are not as disorganized as they first appear. Closer inspection reveals that every found object has been transformed into art, either by altering its appearance, or simply by placement and context in the space.

The room he lives in is a collage. It is clean; but, it will be gone inside a year and he will once again search for a new home. This has been a pattern for over forty years. Tom has lived in boats, under lobster pots, in an abandoned wheel house, wherever he can carve out a small place to sleep and paint.

Like a fox, he finds a den and makes it his own. But, times are changing – he’s moved from Key West to neighboring Stock Island where he pays a small rent for 1/3 of a trailer destined for removal as this area too becomes developed. Where he will go next is anybody’s guess. But Tom has loyal long-time friends. It is our hope that this website will help to keep him connected with them; through those he sees daily on Stock Island and those who have moved to other parts of the world but haven’t forgotten him.

He has regularly been the subject of newspaper and magazine stories over the years, as new journalists discover him and strive to convey the unique character that is Tom.


Tom was recently profiled in the Key West Citizen (08/20/06) by Terry Schmida who does a particularly accurate and descriptive portrait with this article entitled: Monkey Man: Underground artist Tom Forshier still hanging at 67.

“The genius comes to the artist from a bottle of MD 20/20. Conjured up with the twist of a cap, the genie stares hypnotically from a piece of painted plywood or hovers above a stormy sea, brandishing a trident and glaring down onto shrimp boats as they’re tossed about by angry waves. Sometimes he watches as the boat crew dumps bales of pot into the sea. Once, when Key West was a little saltier, the genie lived in every bar in town. Now, like the artist who channels him, he’s seen only in the few remaining spots, such as the Green Parrot, Schooner Wharf and especially the Rusty Anchor, where “old” and “new” Key West rub shoulders --- at the bar, and on the walls.

‘The artist is “Monkey” Tom Forshier, and the genie is what often appears when the former sits down with a pint brush, a piece of driftwood, and a Big Gulp cup full of the high-octane wine. Is the genie a spirit, a modern-day Glaukos, with a wild mane curled like octopus arms? Perhaps is it the face of the artist himself, distorted by delirium and the DTs, and a twisted mind’s eye that registers only four colors --- barely.” (Tom is partially color-blind – how the world looks to him is anyone’s guess.)

‘I don’t know what it is,” Forshier, 67, said. ‘It just comes when I sit down to paint. The tourists, they want seascapes, but this is the kind of stuff I’d rather do.’ For more than 40 years, Forshier, who shares a squalid trailer on Stock Island with dogs Brandy & Reuben has quietly reigned as the unheralded king of the underground Key West art.

“Four decades in Key West: Forshier came to Key West in 1965 from Crossville, Tennessee, where he had been working on AT&T microwave towers, 400 feet off the ground. Before that, the Danville, Illinois native served five years in the navy, most of them in Japan. He moved around a lot as a child, and so had no qualms about upping and splitting Tennessee one day when he decided it was too cold there.” (Tom came from a large and loving family and he still keeps in touch with them. His sister, Mary Alice Orazen has done a history and scrapbook about his life which will be included on this website soon.)

Schmida continues: “He jumped into a 1950 Plymouth station wagon with one gear and set off for Florida. Along the way a girl he met at a restaurant asked to come along, and the pair made their way to Homestead. Once there, Forshier fell asleep. He woke up on the Seven-Mile Bridge, with his passenger at the wheel. Before he knew it, he was at the old Gill Motel in Key West.

“We had enough money for a six-pack and a room,’ Forshier said. ‘They asked me if I was the one looking for the job. So I ended up working there as a maintenance man.’ His girlfriend became the maid at the motel.

“At Forshier’s next job, at the Key Wester Resort, he served as the pool manager, but became a tourist attraction in his own right. He had been a junior Olympic diver and COMNAV 4 Champion in Japan, and he wowed the guests at the Key Wester with his aerobatic plunges from the motel’s diving platform.

“Around this time, Forshier picked up a squirrel monkey named Igor, just one of the many exotic pets he’s kept over the years. The primate died long ago, but the nick-name it bestowed has stuck for decades.

“Since arriving in the Keys, Forshier has worked at shrimping, ‘craw-fishing’ and just about anything you can think of. ‘But mostly I just hung around the bar,’ he said. ‘Every week they changed the band, and I’d paint the sign for them.’ The bar was the old Nightbeat, located where Mangoes stands today.

“Forshier had always loved to draw and paint, and one day he brought one of his colorful creations into the Nightbeat. ‘Somebody offered me $20 for it, so I sold it to them,’ he said. ‘I hadn’t thought of selling my stuff before that. So I just started doing more paintings.’

“From that point on, Forshier’s art was seen all over town, including at the Nightbeat, where he painted all the walls, inside and out.

“The day of the Monkey had dawned.

“Prolific Artist: Since making a mark on the Key West art scene during the psychedelic ‘60s, Forshier has produced a mind-boggling amount of work on everything from shirts to centerboards and propellers, to the dorsal fin of a sailfish. Nearly all of his art has some sort of surreal maritime theme. ‘I’ve painted big turtle shells,’ he said. ‘One time one of them broke, but I still sold the little pieces.’

“In the pre-1974 days when navy sailors were ubiquitous in downtown bars, Forshier would draw designs on sweat-shirts with magic marker and stretch them over serving trays so the sailors could pose with them. ‘Also, I’d buy T-shirts for $2 and draw stuff on them and sell them for $5,’ he said.

“At least one bar in town has found itself missing walls which Forshier had painted. Stew’s had closed its doors for good, but one of Forshier’s fans managed to slip in one night and cart off the treasured walls.

“The artist even got to enjoy a taste of Big Screen stardom in 1975 when “92 in the Shade” made its way to the Islander Drive-In Theatre on Stock Island. ‘I took my girlfriend to see it and she was yelling ‘There’s Tom’s art’ when Peter Fonda walked in front of this bar that I had painted,’ Forshier said. ‘She thought I was a movie star.’

“Surprisingly, for such an enduring and productive painter, Forshier has never strayed far from the artistic or commercial margins he has defined for himself. He’s never had a formal showing at a gallery, and his prices have never really gone up. One of his many girlfriends used to take some of his paintings to Mallory Square to sell, but they never caught on. ‘I didn’t do very well there,’ Forshier acknowledged.

“Truth be told, the artist counts himself lucky to eke out a bare existence, selling his stuff cheaply whenever he can to augment the meager income he receives from Social Security. In this, he more clearly resembles Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski character than Salvador Dali, whom Forshier credits as his main inspiration.

“Homeless more often than not, Forshier rarely paints with money in his pocket. He paints like he needs the money. Fortunately, he does have his angels, like the staff of the rusty Anchor, the nice ladies at the Stock Island Dion’s, and even the young guy who sells him his wine at the Jolly’s drive-through. They all know his name and ask him how he’s doing.

“Many of them also snap up his paintings when they become available.

“Shelter from storms: “The storm-damaged Stock Island trailer where Forshier hangs his hat these days smells like dog and dirty carpet. Flies stir the stagnant air. At one point during an interview, Forshier, who hasn’t been well lately, rises from his chair to heave into a waste basket in the corner of his living room. “I haven’t eaten in three days,” he says, but refuses an offer of nourishment. “I have food here,” he says with quiet and disarming dignity.”
(This year, Tom made his way to a Veteran’s Hospital in Miami – He stopped drinking for an entire year and regained some of his strength, but said it was just too boring. The flies and smells the Schmida refers to were due to his illness – Tom’s “camps” may at first appear squalid, but historically they are clean – and the bad smells come from the wet marl of Stock Island – not from anything inside Tom’s home. Even the aging dog, Brandy-Marie was kept clean with regular baths. Sadly, Brandy-Marie was put to sleep in March, 2008 and Tom still grieves.)

Schmida continues: “As fetid as Forshier’s surroundings seem, he’s actually doing OK, relatively speaking. He once rented a room at the Fogarty House for $10 a week, but most of his Key West digs have been much more humble. He’s lived on – and under boats, in the mangroves, in a crude lean-to on Christmas Tree Island, a Stock Island crack-house, and on the huge gear of one of Mel Fisher’s salvage boats, moored at Simonton Beach.

“For a time, he lived and painted in an old shrimp boat wheelhouse which had been pulled from the water at the “Toxic Triangle,” near the Key West bight. That is, until he one-day returned to find it missing. It had been taken to the Half Shell Raw Bar, whose owners were eager to lend an air of “authenticity” to the eatery.

“Storms have taken several of his homes. ‘I had a nice boat, but it got totaled after one of the ‘blows,’” he says. ‘It must have come off a cruise ship or Coast guard boat, ‘cause it was unsinkable. It broke free from where I had tied it. Then they destroyed it with a clamshell.”

“At any rate, he won’t have to deal with the trailer much longer. His landlord has told him to move out by the end of the month so that he can finish the job that (Hurricane) Wilma started last October. ‘He wants to clear the lot,’ Forshier says. “I have nowhere to go. It’s getting harder to find a place. Everybody’s getting evicted. I was looking for a place in the weeds to sleep, but you can’t even find any weeds anymore to hide in.”

“He sighs.

“And takes a swig from his Big Gulp cup.

“Then he begins to methodically apply primer to a small paddle somebody’s asked him to paint. The genie is out of the bottle again. And it’s not clear if he’s the servant – or master – of the man known as Monkey Tom.”


Key West is the home of dozens – maybe hundreds - of brilliant writers, the most famous is, of course, Ernest Hemmingway. Even the media journalists there write with a real flair for words. Here is another biographical sketch which definitely captures the flavor of Tom’s character but with some inaccuracies in fact, (as noted in the italicized text).

Monkey Tom: The Pirate Artist draws from the School of Innocence
By Robin Shanley

The pirate artist sat in the door of his studio. His paints were arranged about him, his canvas, a discarded fish crate. Thunder rumbled far on the horizon, a squall was breezing in, but he wasn’t worried. He had his place fixed up pretty good. It was a small cabana, just big enough for a good sized bed, but the plywood walls would keep the wind out. Through the open windows coiled thick vines of green and yellow elephant ear. Palm fronds rustled over shelves of broken tape recorders, radios, headsets---a renegade Radio Shack showroom. Someone at a thrift shop had thrown them away. He saved them. Three dead phones hung by their cords. He was going to paint one red, in case the president called.

He was always painting something. Once he painted his pet corn snake with the red and yellow bands of its poisonous coral cousin. That was a good one. It really shook the tourists up, wrapped around his arm. It escaped on day, perhaps bored with show biz. Now the empty cage sits by a hollow mahogany stump that’s framed in sparkly gold sequins. It contains the bones of a cat that had been killed by dogs. It was a beautiful friend and, with bleach and artistic arrangement, he memorialized the feline. There were larger bones hung over the gate, powerful ju ju to help with the painting. There were generic cigarettes, cheapest from the gas station and, earlier, a mayonnaise sandwich that would have to do. The most important stuff, however, was in the ice chest, cold and inspirational. He poured some out as a raindrop plunked on a leaf and the time was right for another Monkey Tom original.

During his career, Thomas Lee Forshier has committed art in many studios. One of them was on Christmas Tree Island, years ago when it was a thriving colony of social castaways. That was, until a desperado named Mexican Joe was tied to a tree and tortured, and finally killed for stealing cases of beer, “They dropped him in the water with cement blocks tied to his feet.” The police seized this opportunity to sweep the island clean. They “trashed my whole place, Everything I had. They took all the sugar, flour, my dive gear, poured it in one big pile.” Tom, of course, had nothing to do with this violent murder. As will be shown by other newspapers articles, he is well regarded by the police and the other members of the legal system in Key West.

Before the crackdown, however, he would paint among the Australian pines, then “plan the swim out” into Key West, to avoid the swift currents. He’d put floats on his paintings and tow them to shore with his pet monkey Igor either riding on the art or on Tom’s head.

Igor was a squirrel monkey Tom had bought when he managed the pool at the old Key Wester. That was in the sixties and Tom was twenty-five. The hotel gave him a room, free food and rink. With the monkey there lived a pet seagull, with on wing, and iguana “and a whole buncha scorpions.” The guests loved Tom. There was something else he did to “impress the people.” It was done on the high dive board where he would do a “back flip, come back on the board, then do a half twist, then do a back two and a half.”

The Key Wester interlude ended when Igor took sick. There were too many trips to the vet and the bars downtown. “That’s when all the Conch boys liked to beat up on the navy guys. I was clean shaven then and the conch girl was real friendly. They beat me up pretty bad.”

When Igor died Tom’s mother came down to help out. “I was all beat up and we lived in a place behind (what was) the old Nasty Nancy’s. I had her selling T-shirts, y’know, seconds, for two dollars. I’d use a y’know, magic marker and draw motorcycles and stuff.”

After that, he lived by the Simonton Street beach, where Mel Fisher “had some kind of mooring” for a floating treasure ship. There was a huge toothed gear there, held up by it’s shaft. “Tom covered it with an awning and moved in. He tied his boat there and things were pretty good until, “the Cubans came from Mariel, building cardboard houses and everything and the cops came down heavy.”

He once lived in a shrimp boat wheelhouse that had been pulled out of the water by the old fuel docks. It was his “office:” and studio with a “refrigerator full of beer.” Then the Half Shell Raw Bar wanted it to lend some authenticity to its new décor. “They took my house,” says Tom, so he went over and threatened to “blow the place out.” The wheelhouse remains, but its probably safe to say Tom is 86’ed from eating it raw forever.

He remembers cleaning the tar from the benches that were once under the Caroline/Margaret Street shelter. The mess was put there by parties wanting to upgrade the neighborhood. Too many dirtbags and winos hiding from the sun and unsettling the tourists. When the tar didn’t work, the city simply removed the benches.

Now he’s hiding out in the cabana, deep in the trees and bushes of Stock Island. Although he behaves himself more these days it’s probably still a precarious homestead. The headlines have lately been fanning the good citizens into a crusade to clean up the “squalid” conditions of that ambitious key.

Even living in a boat is chancy these days. “I used to love boats but you can’t even do anything on a boat now. You gotta have enough equipment to sink the boat almost.”

Monkey Tom carries himself with an air of rough refinement. All the frayed edges seem serene and appropriate. The beard is long and unkempt but the clothes are clean. On his left hand is tattooed an important symbol of his—the black widow spider. Up the arm is an age-blackened “something from the navy.” On the right bicep-an eagle. He sees himself as “ugly and old” but “still alive” and able to “ride to Key West on a bicycle.” He has no beer belly but that may be from not knowing where his next meal is coming from. But, he still “has it good.” His roof doesn’t leak, and his dogs, Maxi the pup and the black Shepard giant, buddy, love him. Burt, the land crab, however, can sometimes be hostile. For the most part, animals are drawn to him. It’s “the people” he can’t get along with.

This was true even back in Illinois where “the people were mean” and his mother was “then trying to get me locked up in a nuthouse.” She worked in one for twelve years and “thought everyone belonged there.” Anyway, he was talking to a girl in a bar:

“I’m going to Florida.”
“Where?” she asked
“I dunno. Homestead. That sounds like a good place.”
“Take me.”

When they got to Homestead it was raining.

“I went to sleep, she was driving and when I woke up, I was on the Seven Mile Bridge.”

They hit Key West, expecting hula girls, but instead, for six dollars, “got a room and a six pack” at the old Gill hotel.

The receptionist asked: “You’re the one lookin’ for the job, right?” “That’s me,” he said, not believing his luck. There was a hurricane warning and his first job in Key West was boarding up windows.

The girl eventually went home to marry “a farmer. I shoulda kept her. She was real pretty with long dark hair.” He wishes he could “get the girls” he had as a lifeguard. Tom has a great romantic soft spot for the female of the species. His paintings hardly every feature a woman because “they come out ugly.”

He was once married to a seventeen year old girl but their union lasted only six months. In his great despondency and talent for pouring anything down his throat he drank a can of what he thought was battery acid. He wanted to end it all. Only it wasn’t battery acid, it was fiberglass hardener. In front of horrified friends and bystanders he plunged into the waters by City Electric. By the time they fished him out and pumped his stomach at the hospital he’d known “the answer to every question that’s ever been asked. I was very happy.” It was a revelation of sorts. – (As one who was there, and cold sober on the day Tom drank the fiberglass hardener I must interject that this story is not true. Tom was not depressed or despondent. It was a “normal” day for him and for us all. He thought the fiberglass hardener was water because it was being stored in old gallon milk jugs in the common refrigerator. He didn’t really swallow much of it, but when he told us what had happened, someone called the medics. Not wanting to go to the hospital, Tom jumped into the water and swam around for over an hour while people called to him to come in. He was a strong swimmer and dove around the cove like a porpoise! Finally, the medics said that anyone with that much energy was probably ok and they left. Later, we sat on the rail of a shrimp boat, with the very rough and tumble group that included his young wife’s step-father and we passed around a jug of milk instead of the usually MD 20/20 and all these tough characters – for the love of Tom - pretended that this was a normal and delicious thing to be drinking. We kept a close eye on Tom all that evening and he had no symptoms and was perfectly fine the next day. – That is the true story.

Then there was the girl, who, in anger, ran back to Tom’s bedroom and squirted all his paints in the sheets. Tom came home later, drunk as usual, and crawled in. He woke up the next morning as colorful as an artist’s palette.

Another woman lived with Tom for five years in a houseboat. She watched him paint until he urged her to try her hand at it. He started her on backgrounds then encouraged her to do seascapes. “you know how to do it,” he said, “Just sign my name to it.”

Today, she’s on her own and you can hardly tell her work from Tom’s. she signs her own name now and they’re very good. Only “she doesn’t do my weird stuff. Just little palm trees and stuff.”

Tom tells a good story. His voice is coarse, but soft-spoken, coming in the halting cadences of the street. He’s not afraid to portray himself the fool and is disarmingly honest. His eyes are bright in their nests of lines and wrinkles. Even those who feel he’s a disgrace grudgingly admit he’s “a pirate.”

All this could qualify Monkey Tom for Key West “character-hood.” They are in short supply these days and we could use the patronizing adjectives like “salty,” “quirky,” or god forbid, “colorful.” What transcends all this hype, however, is his ability to grind out blazing works of art.

Whereas the trained, self-conscious artist cannot ignore the art of his predecessors, nor his contemporaries, the innocent or naïve works as if he were the first man alive…it (naïve art) has no past and no future, it captures “now” and freezes it forever. – Innocent Art by David Larkin

Anything serves as his canvas; a boat’s towing block, the side of a building, a coconut. Inspiration flows from many sources; a woman, smugglers, the grain God put in the wood. But most importantly, the main creative interstate, the propitious demon, is the purple catalyst—MD 10/20, MAD DOG, high octane wine. Without this, the “weird stuff” will not visit. There are other sweet vices; hunger and lack of cigarettes are also great motivators, but the life and art support system comes in a bottle.

On a typical day he will sell his work at the bars for ten, twelve dollars. In more critical time he will let them go for smokes or a can of bug spray. This is survival art. Tom is always one painting away from the mangroves. His bread and butter work is the ubiquitous shrimp boat silhouetted against a lurid sunset with a lobster trap or treasure chest washed up on the beach. Malcolm, the crane, usually stands guard nearby.

“I’d like to do the ones that take more time but I’m usually broke so I gota do things like that. I’ve gotta get wine and cigarettes.”

His only formal training was when he went to “a place in Monticello, Indiana. I won this thing with a picture of a waterfall. The only thing we did in that school was sniff glue and squeeze each other until we passed out. Lotta girls up there. Fun but I didn’t ever paint a picture all the time I was there.”

He’s done work on black velvet before but doubts his ability to do renditions of Elvis or bullfighters.

“No, I can’t do pretty. I can do ugly.”

The professional has to master a technique in order to free himself, the innocent is born free. – David Larkin

It seems preposterous to apply the term Innocent of Naïve to the work of a man who’s been banned from almost every bar in Key West, usually for pitching bottles at the bartender, a man who snorts ether and sets his beard on fire for photographic effect. This does, however, seem to be the closest definition of his school of art. His favorite artist is the man “who has the handlebar moustache. Yu know, the famous one.”

While Salvadore Dali and the Surrealists are apparent in Tom’s liberal use of symbols, a more revealing influence might be found in the thriving psychedelic art scene of the sixties. When Tom hit Key West, the love generation was painting their houses in day glo acrylics, decorating their rooms with black light posters and ingesting dangerous amounts of hallucinogens. It was a great rainbow explosion of democratic creativity. This is hard to imagine in the nineties when HARC and the culture police tell you how to paint your house and what color, but it’s true.

Like many artists Tom possesses a sensory idiosyncrasy. He’s color blind. When they tested him in the navy he could only find four out of eighteen colors. He thought they were kidding about the missing ones. It’s not that he doesn’t see colors, but he sees them differently than the rest of us. The effect of seeing a number of his works on display is not unlike seeing the reef for the first time on mushrooms. The colors blast themselves into the back of your brain.

If you admire proper perspectives or delight in realism, a Monkey Tom is probably not for you. But, if you want to see something that crawls from the bottom of a bottle of Mad Dog, wild and howling onto the canvas, then you might appreciate some of Tom’s visions. … his “ugly” ones.

There is one seascape, done in pinball colors, where a solitary lighthouse shines its lonely beacon on a giant floating MD 20/20 bottle, while on the other side a sailing ship is sinking on the reef. It’s salvation and damnation, life and destruction, all in one enigmatic vision.

In other works, demon faces float by smiling, while sharks swim below. In another a dagger is thrust through the eye of a leering Neptune, exiting out a nostril. A sacred third eye shines serenely in the forehead. On the dagger’s handle Tom has pasted a label from the ole Mad Dog. He saves all his labels and is getting quite a stack. His bicycle frame is a collage of them. When asked what he’s thinking of when he paints these terrifying dreams he replies:

“I think a lot when I’m painting but I don’t think about painting. I don’t know; it just comes out.”

His first painting ever sold came at the old Nightbeat Lunge, where he’d clean up and paint a new picture for each band playing. He was working on a “tunnel going somewhere with a spider at the end of it when somebody asked, “How much do you want for it?” (pause) “I’ll do some more of that.”

For someone so extensively displayed it’s hard to believe Tom is just barely making it these days. He is a man of great strengths and formidable weaknesses and much has been his fault. Any bar that’s been around long enough to matter has a Monkey Tom somewhere. He’s on trucks, signs, fences, bail bond offices—anywhere someone will give him something to keep the show going. He once painted all the walls of Stew’s bar for a place to drink and sleep. When the joint was closed down someone went in and cut all the walls down and hauled them away. To this day no one knows where they went, but that has to be the ultimate artistic compliment.

At the Rusty Anchor there’s a bidding war going on between two girls who work there. They snatch up whatever Tom brings in, then take the works up to Geiger Key Marina where they sell it (at a lovely profit) to two gentlemen who very much appreciate Tom’s DT visions.

When we went up to photograph their outstanding collections, Tom came along. He’d never been to Geiger Key before. Everyone was honored. As he posed amidst his impromptu gallery, his fans changed into their good clothes and combed their hair to be photographed next to him. They brought him beers (no wine available). The dogs put their heads in his lap and, he’s, the pretty girls were there. The manager lured him up there just in time for Hurricane Andrew. While the force five nightmare was considering the Keys, Tom was painting his portrait for last month’s Solares Hill cover.

He’s back now and maybe you can catch him just right at Rusty Anchor – what’s left of the shrimp docks—or with his buddies passing a bottle around. On Saturdays he’ll be at the free food table eating a sandwich. The church picks Tom up for services but for now he “just likes to listen.” The pull of the free life, the song of the wine and the grand snatches of art, where a shrimp boat forever pulls a florescent wake are still too strong.

Monkey Tom and the writer would like to offer a thousand thanks to the following who went above and beyond the call of duty to make this article possible. Everyone who donated access and enthusiasm to Tom’s work. The Key Wester for digging into their archives. Teddy Z for general direction and background on the Sixties. Barbie and everyone at the rusty Anchor for getting us together and baked potatoes. The key West Baptist Temple, the Cubby Hole and the fudge cycle Shop for the patiently Christian act of feeding the homeless and hungry, even though they may not be saints.


Family History

Monkey Tom Forshier
Key West Outsider Artist

By Tom’s sister
Mary Alice (Forshier) Orazen

Mary Alice (Forshier) Orazen with Tom when he won the Hemingway Look-alike Contest.

In 2004, Tom’s sister compiled a scrapbook collage of her memories and thoughts about her baby brother, “Tommy Lee” including photos and press clippings. We will post as much of it as possible here – beginning with her words.

For Tommy Lee Forshier AKA Monkey Tom. Not that he looked like a Monkey, but he got his name because he had a real life monkey named Egor. Really Tom was shy, and Egor was an attention getter.

I made this book, for Tom…My brother. Just to let him know his life has not been wasted. His pictures are really all over the world. He has many many friends, and has had many articles written about him.

Glad I kept all of the newspapers. One thing I know is that we will never get him off the Ocean. He is a free spirit. A special thank you to Deborah Jalbert who befriended Tom and helped me to fill in parts of his life I missed.






After Tom left Hoopeston, Illinois, we all kind of lost track of him. All we ever heard of him was when we were sent newspaper clippings or occasional letters which were few and far between. I did however receive a large newspaper article about him.

On October 1, 1992, Solares Hill newspaper had a three-page article about him. I will include the pictures on separate pages. The article was written by Robin Shanley. I don’t know if Robin was a man or a lady. Robin interviewed Tom and I can verify almost everything as told to me. Since Solares Hill paper was newspaper size I’ll type the article here. Here, Mary Alice re-typed the article already posted on this website in the “About Tom” page by Robin Shanley. – It’s the second article there beginning about halfway down the page. – She interjected one comment into the story about painting the snake to look like its poisonous cousin. “This was Tom, he had a really good sense of humor” She continues after the article:

(This is your sister now)……. Tom I am reading this article and crying. Honey this is the life you chose. Do you know after I read the article that was written in Solares Hill paper some things just did not sit with me. I did not like the way you told the story about OUR Mother. In fact I sat down and wrote to the paper expressing my feelings. Your Mother loved you dearly. She was not trying to send you to the nuthouse. She only wanted to get help for your drinking. You know yourself Bill Ryan the bondsman called Mom whenever you needed help, and your Mom was there for you. Honey, I am not scolding you. I love you and so do all our other family members. Our Mom was a wonderful Mother to all of us. Remember the poem she wrote about you?

My Youngest Son

Almost an angel, my youngest son,
artistic, wise and full of fun.
Blue were his eyes, and golden his hair,
without a worry, without a care.
He grew quickly and learned so fast,
morals and ideals I thought would last.
Oh, proud were we of his fine physique.
His way with girls was quite unique.
The girls all loved him, but he was smart.
No pretty girl would win his heart.
Bells and babies were not for he,
he’d stay single, and he’d stay free.
Of beer and whiskey he drank a lot.
I’m afraid to say, but he may smoke pot.
Most of his duties he will shirk,
go like a bum, it’s dumb to work.
His hair is long, his beard is thick,
my heart is broken, my heart is sick.
His sin is not what he has done…
Instead what he has choose to become…

Mary Alice (Forshier) Orazen continues:

Dear Tommy,

It was quite a surprise to all of us when Mom announced that she was pregnant. Being forty two, who would have guessed it? Now our family of six would in due time become seven.

Brother Jim the oldest was either married or getting married. Our sister Jean was in Kankakee, Illinois attending Gallagher School of Business. I was a senior in John Greer High School, and Dick was thirteen or fourteen, not really sure. No! It wasn’t an embarrassment to us, we were all quite thrilled.

I remember as if it were yesterday the day you were born. You were born in the winter time, and Illinois is very cold in December. Before Mom went to the hospital to deliver, we had a big fight. All the girls at JGHS were wearing those big fluffy knit sweaters. OH, I wanted one soooo bad… Mom said, “Sorry! We just can’t afford it.” But after Mom went to the hospital, I talked Dad into the money to buy one. I loved our dad. He was a soft touch when his kids asked for something.

December 4th, 1941 - sixty-four years ago, you were born. – We all went to Danville, Illinois which was only 26 miles away, but then it seemed like a long journey. I will never forget Mom and our first glimpse of you. I am sure the delivery for Mom was not easy, but she was sitting up in bed smiling, looking happy and excited. She said, “Don’t tell me I can’t produce.” Then looking at me she said, “Well I see you got it.” Yes, I was wearing a bran new white bulky knit sweater that Dad had given me the money to buy.

Tom, you were the ugliest baby in the nursery. May have been because you were so new, but you were bright red, and squalling at the top of your lungs. You weighed ten and a half pounds. The biggest reddest noisiest baby in the nursery, BUT we all loved you from the very start.

I was sixteen when you were born, and a senior in high school. I used to come home from a date and pick you up out of you crib and sing to you. I would dance around the room getting you all riled up. Then Mom would have to put you back to sleep. You were a darling baby, and so intelligent. Your brother Dick and I both used to fight over you - each of us wanting to take you with us. Then Dick and I would lay on the bed with you and tickle you and play with you. I loved to dance and I would pick you up and dance around the room with you. As you got older and were talking, we all told you stories and taught you cute little sayings. Do you remember this poem we taught you?

Little birdie in the sky.
Dropped some plaster in my eye.
Me no worry, me no cry!
Me only glad that cows don’t fly….

We would get you to recite it for company. Everyone thought you were great. Your Dad used to sit by the hour telling you stories. Stories he made up about the old west, horses and all kinds of animals – lions, tigers, monkeys etc. Tom, maybe that is why you love animals so much. He knew he was dying, so he told you “Tom, this will be the story that never ends.” And so it was true. The story never ended. Your dad smoked a lot (a very lot). I think he had emphysema, but in those days, I think they called it silicosis, (not sure of the spelling). He used to sit up at night on the side of the bed and eat apples to keep him from coughing. You were so loved…..

Dad died when you were about four or five years old, since I will soon be 83, my mind is not as sharp as it once was. Anyway, I remember you saying, “My dad told me a story that never ended.”

Another incident, when you were little, Mom used to tell was about Christmas. Our Dad told you another story. It was around Christmas and he told about the little boy who wanted a pony. Christmas morning he awoke to find (not switches, as the real story goes) but horse turds…Seeing the (horse turds) he said, “oh boy! I got a pony, but he got away! Our Mom took you to the barber and while there just like a kid you were squirming and wiggling. The barber said, “Tommy, if you don’t sit still, Santa will bring you switches in your stocking.” Tommy said “No! Horse Turds!” Mom was embarrassed.

Living in the small town of Hooperston, Illinois, it was a custom to drive our car uptown on Saturday (early because we wanted to get a good parking place). Then we walked home leaving the car there. Saturday night in Hooperston was exciting. All the farmers came to town to buy their groceries for the week and to take care of any business that they could only do in town. The Forshier kids would get out and walk the street. Yes, we walked up and down Main Street and went into the Five and Dime Store…We also had Murphy’s Dime Store. I was interested in boys at that time, and I met a cute little farm boy named Bill Dennis. He even walked home with me to see the new puppy our dog Whoopee just had. Do you remember Whoopee? I think she was a pit bull.

You and Mom and Dad would just sit in the car and watch the people go by. I can’t remember the fellow’s name, but it seems to me his name was Floyd Sargent. (I presume he has passed away now.) Anyway, Floyd went by, and he worked with my dad at FMC (Food Machinery Corporation). Dad spoke to him and silently to Mom and said, “Shit Ass.” As I said, our Dad was a corker…He generally said what he thought and had a great sense of humor. He probably didn’t mean it, but nevertheless, he said it. Of course, little pitchers have big ears, Tommy heard this. The next time they saw Floyd Sargent, Tommy said “Hello Shit Ass!”

Tom, in your book, I have included the only pictures I had left in my possession. See how cute you were!

Our Dad seemed to get worse and worse. By then I was married and living in Chicago. I worked in a Defense Plant. That was during WWII. You were still a baby at that time, but when I would come home to Hooperston for the weekends (Hooperston was 85 miles south of Chicago) – I would bring home all kinds of cute outfits for you. I bought the cutest coat and hat (matching tweed set and very expensive, but you were worth it. The first thing you did was throw the hat out the window and lost it. Oh well! These are just memories I have of you.

While I was in Chicago, I took advantage of things that Hooperston would never have offered. I took flying lessons at the old Washington Airport in Harvey, Illinois. Incidentally, it is no longer there. (the airport I mean). It either burned down or was torn down to make room for progress.

As I said before our Dad was sent to Mayo Brothers Hospital in Minnesota. Mom said he used to hear the planes overhead and say, “I wonder if that was Mary Alice.” I went to the hospital to visit our Dad. You know Tom, I am such a sentimentalist, I walked into the room and saw all the tubes from every orifice (oxygen in his nose, foley in his penis, Oxymaster on his finger) and I had to leave the room and cry.

To get back to my story, Dad did come back from Mayo Brothers to Hooperston. He still required oxygen, but he was not getting any better or any stronger. Mom was at her wits end. It was just her and Tommy and Dick, in the old Forshier house on 214 West Elm. Jim and Tiny were still in Hooperston. Our sister Jean was married to Art Hayden and lived in California and Dick was just home from the Navy.

Mom had been corresponding with a cousin in Colorado. She was really a cousin, but we called her Aunt Ferryl Rutan. Aunt Ferryl suggested that Mom bring Dad to Colorado. Colorado was supposed to be so healthy whereas Illinois was always humid and hot in the summer or cold and snowy in the winter.

So starts a new chapter. Mom and Dick, Dad and Tommy sold our old house on 214 West Elm and moved to Colorado.

Mom bought a house in Cripple Creek Colorado. It was on Spicer Street. Dick went to work at Trade and Transfer (a company that hauled mill tailings, coal etc.)

Being an ex-nurse, I should have realized this really was a poor move. Cripple Creek was very high in altitude. Since breathing depends a lot on the circulatory system as well as the heart and other vital organs, it was not really a wise choice. The air was thin in Cripple Creek and breathing was more difficult.

Dad was in the Cripple Creek Hospital when he died. You were only about 4 or 5 – maybe a little older, but I do remember being told that after Dad died you had to be put in the hospital for something and you started screaming when they put you in a bed. They said you screamed, “Get me out of here, this is where my dad died.”

Sure enough, it was the room Dad died in, and though you were little, you remembered. I quit my job in Chicago and came home for the funeral. With Dad gone I figured Mom could use my help. By then I was divorced and 20 years old. I went to work at the telephone company. This is supposed to be your story Sweetie, so I won’t elaborate what happened to me but me and brother Dick and you were the best of friends. We really loved our baby brother. You were cute (as a bug’s ear!) BUT, you little devil almost made me lose my chance of marrying the man I really loved…..

I was going with Frank Orazen then. We had only been going together for a month when Frank asked me to marry him. Brother Dick was going with Elsie Daniels then. Frank, for some reason, told me he would get me an engagement ring but we would keep it a secret for awhile. Maybe he was afraid of what his folks would say. I agreed that it would be a secret for a while.

Of course you know your sister….. What Mary Alice knows, everyone knows….Not really! I was in seventh heaven. After my divorce I vowed never to fall in love again…..Hey! There was no way that I could keep it from Mom. She was my confidant… On the QT I told Mom all about Frank and I and that he was buying me a ring…Little pitchers have big ears and my nosey little brother (Tommy) heard every word. When Frank called me that evening Tommy answered the phone. Tommy said, “Did you get the ring?” Frank told me later that he almost backed out because of that. No, I told Frank that there was no way I could have kept my happiness from showing and that I had to tell my Mother.

Frank and I were married and you and Mom lived above the Drug Store in Victor County. Remember? Then Mom got an offer to work at a Guest Ranch in Woodland Park. So Frank and I kept you with us. Pretty soon, you would be going back to school and since you knew all the kids in Victor, it would be easier on you if we kept you, rather than going with Mom. By then we had one child, Cindy. I told Mom it wouldn’t be any harder to take care of two kids, as it would only add one. So you started living with us.

Frank had wanted a boy when Cindy was born. He loved his little girl but she was too little to go fishing with him. On Frank’s days off he would take you fishing with him. I remember Frank telling me what a little trooper you were. One time, he said you both walked up Pikes Peak (the back way) to a fishing hole there. It was a long long trek up the mountain, but Frank said you never complained and tried to keep up with your little short legs.

Frank ran the Bowling Alley in Victor and every evening he would bring the money home in a black drawstring bag. It wasn’t a great amount but a lot of bills and change.

A friend told Frank that Tommy was taking about every kid in town into Harshburgers (the town drug store) and treating them to ice cream and candy. It seemed all that money in the black bag looked good to Tommy and he knew what money could buy. That was your first spanking we had to give you and I believe it was the last. Frank set you down and first gave you a good talking to. He told you about stealing and how you can go to prison and how prisoners were treated and how a person should always be honest and trustworthy. Then, he turned you across his knee and paddled you. I think you thought he used his hand, but he really used his knife scabbard – I guess that’s what you call it. It was a leather holder that he kept his fishing knife in. You cried and later you told me, “I am never going to steal again. I don’t ever want to have to go to jail.” Really Tom, you were not a bad little kid.

You really loved little Cindy and lots of times I trusted you to take care of here while I ran to the store for a minute. One time I had to run to the store and it took longer than I expected. When I came home everything seemed all right. You said, “I changed Cindy’s clothes and gave her a bath because she spilled chocolate milk all over her. Cindy looked nice and clean in her fresh clothes, BUT, on closer inspection I noticed that she had red spots all over her. I could not figure out what was wrong until Tom said he had given her a bath in Oxydol…Oh well honey, you tried. All of these are good memories I have of you when you lived with us. Like I said, everyone in the Forshier family loves you. You lived with me first, and then Mom went to California to live with your sister, Jean Hayden and Art. They have two boys, Jim and Jacks. I guess you three boys got along ok, but got into several incidents of trouble too.

I can’t remember whether you went back to Hoopeston next or not, but I think you did. Then Jim and Tiny were your bosses. Jim and Tiny had Terry, Mary Ann and Susie at that time. They were awful good to you Tom. All the kids in that family had the very best. You had golf clubs and Flame … Flame was your horse and boy how you could ride. In fact, you always were a dare devil. There was nothing much you didn’t try.

I am doing all this from memory, Tom, and I may not be telling this right as to the times you were with every one of your brothers and sisters.

You were with Dick and Elsie a lot of the time and when they moved to Kansas, you went with them. In fact, you graduated from high school in Hoxie, Kansas. My memory of that is quite clear. I was living in Colorado then. I wanted to see my baby brother graduate. So, I drove all by myself from Colorado to Hoxie. I was still young then and you by that time were a young good looking guy. You took me several places in town with your arm around me and told everyone I was your new girlfriend.

From there, Tom, I think you came back to Hoopeston. You always were quite a good artist. At least the family thought so. We sent you to college, but it did not last long and soon you came back. You just were not interested. It was then, I think, that you went into the Navy.

I tried to tell as much as I know about your growing up. The rest of the story about going to Florida was told so well by Robin Shanley. I do, however, remember the Forshier family was going to have a big family gathering and you said…. “No Thanks! Too many bosses.”

Yes! Tom, you dance to a different Drummer, but that doesn’t mean that we all don’t love you. You are, and always will be our BABY BROTHER TOMMY LEE FORSHIER.

Tommy Lee

The clouds drift by,
The breeze blows light,
The sea is azure-blue.
I wonder, as I gaze at it,
What happened, dear, to you?

Was life’s road rocky,
Or was it kind and true?
Did you find great happiness
With all your cocky confidence
Or, were you often blue!

You wished me well,
And waved farewell,
Your laughter bright and gay,
You had so much ahead of you
As you went on your way.

And as I watch
The clouds drift by,
I idly think of you,
And wonder, did life give you all
That you believed would ensue?

Mary Alice

Forshier Orazen

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