I remember this guy

Published: August 20, 2007

Joybubbles (the legal name of the former Joe Engressia since 1991), a blind 
genius with perfect pitch who accidentally found he could make free phone 
by whistling tones and went on to play a pivotal role in the 1970s 
subculture of "phone phreaks," died on Aug. 8 in Minneapolis.
Associated Press, 2005

Joe Engressia, or Joybubbles.

He was 58, though he had chosen in 1988 to remain 5 forever, and had the 
toys and teddy bears to prove it. The cause of death has not been 
determined, said
Steven Gibb, a friend and the executor of the Joybubbles estate.

Joybubbles, who was blind at birth, was a famous part of what began as a 
scattered, socially awkward group of precocious teens and post-teens 
with exploring the phone system. It could then be seen as the world's 
biggest, most complex, most interesting computer, and foiling the phone 
system passed
for high-tech high jinks in the '70s.

"It was the only game in town if you wanted to play with a computer," said 
Phil Lapsley, who is writing a book on the phone phreaks. Later, other blind
whistlers appeared, but in 1957, Joybubbles may have been the first person 
to whistle his way into the heart of Ma Bell.

Phreaks were precursors of today's computer hackers, and, like some of them, 
Joybubbles ran afoul of the law. Not a few phreaks were computer pioneers,
Steve Jobs
and Steve Wozniak, founders of

Joybubbles felt that being abused at a school for the blind and being pushed 
by his mother to live up to his 172 I.Q. had robbed him of childhood. So he
amassed piles of toys, Jack and Jill magazines and imaginary friends, and he 
took a name he said made people smile.

But he never lost his ardor for phones, and old phone phreaks and younger 
would-have-beens kept calling. Joybubbles loved the phone company, reported 
he had illegally discovered and even said he had planned his own arrest on 
fraud charges to get a phone job. And so he did, twice.

Well before the mid-1970s, when digitalization ended the tone-based system, 
Joybubbles had stopped stealing calls. But he was already a legend: he had 
around the world, talking into one phone and listening to himself on 

In an article in Esquire in 1971, the writer Ron Rosenbaum called Joybubbles 
the catalyst uniting disparate phreaks. Particularly after news accounts of
his suspension from college in 1968 and conviction in 1971 for phone 
violations, he became a nerve center of the movement.

"Every night he sits like a sightless spider in his little apartment 
receiving messages from every tendril of its web," Mr. Rosenbaum wrote.

Josef Carl Engressia Jr. was born May 25, 1949, and moved often because his 
father was a school-picture photographer. At 4 or 5, he learned to dial by 
the hookswitch like a telegraph key. Four years later, he discovered that he 
could disconnect a call by whistling. He found this out when he imitated a
sound in the background on a long-distance call and the line cut off. It 
turned out that his whistle precisely replicated a crucial phone company 
a 2,600-cycles-per-second tone.

Joybubbles's parents had no phone for five years because of their son's 
obsession. Later, his mother encouraged it by reading him technical books. 
His high
school yearbook photo showed him in a phone booth.

By the time he was a student at the University of South Florida, Joybubbles 
was dialing toll-free or nonworking numbers to reach a distant switching 
Unbeknownst to telephone operators, he could use sounds to dial another 
number, free. He could then jump anywhere in the phone system. He was 
from college after being caught making calls for friends at $1 a call. In 
1971, he moved to Memphis, where he was convicted of phone fraud. In 
Tenn., he was hired to clean phones, a job he hated. In 1975, he moved to 
Denver to ferret out problems in Mountain Bell's network.

He tired of that and moved to Minneapolis on June 12, 1982, partly because 
that date's numerical representation of 6-12 is the same as the city's area 
He advertised for people yearning to discuss things telephonic and weaved a 
web of phone lines to accommodate them. He lived on Social Security 
payments and part-time jobs like letting university agriculture researchers 
use his superb sense of smell to investigate how to control the odor of hog

Joybubbles is survived by his mother, Esther Engressia, and his sister, Toni 
Engressia, both of Homestead, Fla.

His second life as a youngster included becoming a minister in his own 
Church of Eternal Childhood and collecting tapes of every "Mr. Rogers" 
episode. When
asked why Mr. Rogers mattered, he said: "When you're playing and you're just 
you, powerful things happen."

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