In this fourth post of the series about local characters, we'll take a look at some colorful citizens who are well known in Peoria, San Marcos, Montreal, New Haven, Wheeling, Ocean City, and Omaha.
1. The Great Antonio
Anton Barichievich of Montreal, Quebec was The Great Antonio. He was born in Zagreb (then Yugoslavia, now Croatia) and moved to Canada in 1945. Barichievich made his living performing feats of strength, including pulling a bus through the streets. He made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by pulling a train in 1952 and by pulling four buses in 1960. At the height of his career, he stood six feet four inches tall and weighed 495 pounds. Barichievich was also a pro wrestler, and appeared on TV and in movies, including Quest for Fire. In his later years, he claimed he was an extraterrestrial. The Great Antonio hung around donut shops and subway stations in Montreal, carrying newspaper clippings of his past glories around in trash bags. He died of a heart attack in 2003. He was 77.
2. Willie York
Everyone in Peoria, Illinois knows Willie York. The homeless panhandler is famous for wearing burlap and bones and eating roadkill. A Vietnam veteran, he refuses offers of help from relatives, but will cause a disturbance in the winter in order to spend time in a warm jail cell. See more about York in the documentary "Sweet Jesus: The Story of Willie York."
3. The Flower Lady
The Flower Lady of New Haven, Connecticut is Annette Walton. She began to sell flowers on campus in the mid 90s so she could have something to give back to Yale students who gave her money. In 2000 she was forced to stop because she didn't have the $200 or so to buy a business license. Walton eventually obtained a license, but has been cited numerous times for violating its provisions. See the Flower Lady in action in this video. Leslie Kuo created a set of cards featuring the different local characters of New Haven. Walton often signs her card for people who buy the deck.
4. Frisbee Dan
Frisbee Dan is a local legend in San Marcos, Texas. Dan Barry can be found at Sewell Park tossing a Frisbee every day, as he has for the past 20 years. Barry moved from Ohio to San Marcos in 1986 for physical therapy after he was injured jumping out of a moving truck. He helps Texas State University students learn advanced Frisbee moves, and will sell them Frisbees if they don't have one. Watch Frisbee Dan put on his show in this video.
Moondog rides through Wheeling, West Virginia on his bike decorated with lights and flags. His real name is Charles Waldrum, and he's been bicycling for years wearing an orange vest or a fireman's jacket and a hardhat. The Wheeling Nailers hockey team gave away Moondog bobbleheads in his honor last year. See Moondog's MySpace page.
6. The Blind Broom Man
The Rev. Livingston Wills began going door to door selling brooms in Omaha, Nebraska in the 50s even though he couldn't see well enough to distinguish cash from notebook paper. He had to trust that people paid for his brooms, and for the most part, they did. Wills was also pastor at the Tabernacle Church of Christ Holiness for decades, although many of his broom customers weren't aware of his other job for many years. People appreciated Wills' kind words and cheerfulness, as well as his unrelenting work ethic. When word got around that Rev. Wills was sick and in financial straits, the people of Nebraska came through with donations for his care. He was 91 years old when he died in 2008. See a 2004 multimedia presentation on Wills' life here.
7. Boardwalk Elvis
Boardwalk Elvis is a fixture in Ocean City, Maryland. For years, he walked the boardwalk area dressed in a jumpsuit with a boombox that played Elvis Presley music. Sometimes he's join in playing a kazoo. His real name is Norman, but his last name is a mystery. Norman doesn't hang around the boardwalk as much as he used to, but there have been sightings posted as recently as 2008.
Other posts in this series:
How to Be a Local Character: 5 Basic Examples had characters from Memphis, New York City, St. Petersburg, FL, Lexington, KY, and Maggie Valley, NC.
7 Fascinating Local Characters brought you profiles from New Orleans, Boston, Toronto, Austin, Ann Arbor, MI, Anderson, SC, and Wellington, NZ,
9 Wonderful Local Characters featured folks from Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, St. Louis, St. Cloud, MN, and Adelaide, Australia.
6 of Your Favorite Local Characters profiles people you've seen in Seattle, Austin, Madison, WI, Jacksonville, NC, and one you are too young to have ever met from San Francisco.