Amazing Showing of Support For Old Man Chapman!



“He had gray shoes.  That’s the only thing I could tell about him because he had a hood on his head and a noose around his neck.  When I saw what was going to happen, I almost fell off the tree.  I jumped, sorry I had even wanted to know what was happening on the other side of that wall, and I ran.  I ran home as fast as I could.”

For years now, sitting in his yard at the corner of Petronia and Chapman Lane, ‘Old Man Chapman’ has been telling the stories of a far side of Key West that few can remember.

“It was right over there, where the post office is,” says Chapman,  “There were no police or justice of the peace. They were lynching a negro. That’s the way it was in those days.”

Now that Chapman’s funky world of lighted tricycle, banana bunches and crowing chickens is being squeezed out by bank foreclosure, his stories seem more precious than ever.

“My aunt was living next door in that house there on the other side of Chapman Lane,  One day she showed me these two rocks and she said, ‘on these two stones I will build my throne.’  I was just a little boy.  She gave me one of the stones and she said, ‘Go stand by the door.’  She was on the other side of the room.  She pulled out a penny and she said, ‘on these two stones I will build my throne.’  She hit the stone with the penny and the penny flew across the room and stuck to my stone.  Boy I ran out of the house!  Had never seen anything like it!”

As we reported previously, Mr. Chapman, who never learned how to read, was apparently swindled out of his family’s home when he signed documents that allowed businessman Norman Moodie to borrow $ 588,000 on his house.  The bank has now foreclosed on the house. All the ‘grace periods’ have expired.  Mr. Chapman and his family and all their belongings can be literally put out on the street by the Monroe County Sheriff any day now.  Where will they go?

“It is all in the hands of God,” says Chapman, who doesn’t belong to any particular church.  “The church is the people.  I will keep this house if God wants me to. I am too old to fight.”

About a month ago when we asked him what possessed him to put together his incredible lighted tricycle and cruise the streets as he does, he said he realized long ago that fighting was not the way, “When you fight you only manage to become what the bad people want you to be. A nigger.”

He says he loves to make people smile and to take photos with kids, “Sometimes people follow me like a dancing parade.  That’s all the reward I want in this world.”

Robyn and family

Robin Whitehead and Family,            Photo credit Cassandra McDaniel

Apparently people have heard this message of love, and locals and tourists alike have responded with more support than anyone could have ever expected.  We are already over $ 10,000, after just two days,” says Robyn Whitehead, who along with her friend Stephanie Happ, started an online fundraiser for Mr. Chapman.

“I only knew him from seeing him riding his bike on Duval. But one day I introduced myself and ever since I have loved to listen to the stories of his life.  How his mother had him at 14, the shotgun wedding with his 65 year old father.  Everything.”

Robyn says she was shocked when she read what had happened to his home and she and her longtime friend Stephanie decided to set up the GoFundMe account and organize a fundraiser party at the Lazy Ghecko.

“The whole thing kind of exploded,” says Robyn.  I had no idea that so many people care so much about him.  Even visitors who only saw him once are chipping in.  I think we are going to reach our $ 30,000 goal in no time.”

Stephanie Happ

Stephanie Happ

Robyn and Stephanie are seeking $ 30,000 in donations to pay for one year of rent at $ 2500/month for an apartment for Mr. Chapman, his wife, and their grandchildren.

Other events, including an after sundown lighted bicycle tour with Chapman and his famous tricycle at the lead are being organized as a showing of solidarity.

Chapman was initially very depressed when he finally had to admit that he had lost the house his father had built.  But now, when we read him all the messages of love and support and show him the quickly mounting collection fund, he says things are starting to make sense.  “This is a day that God has made.  I can’t thank everybody the way I want to,” he told us, “but you will do that for me.”

So, THANK YOU everybody!


For information about the fundraiser at Lazy Gecko and the lighted bike parade being organized for July 31st click here.

For information about the August 17th fundraiser planned for Cowboy Bills and Sea Dog Tavern and the bike parade sponsored by Eaton Bikes click here.

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  2 Responses to “Amazing Showing of Support For Old Man Chapman!”

  1. When will these articles about “Old Man Chapman” be concluded? I find it interesting that the subject of your article has yet to discuss his life in the mid-90s. Online research can be fascinating. The sheriff’s website has a great deal of history about other “pillars of the community.” Let’s be fair about the history we discuss.
    I find it curious that there have been no articles that feature other historians. Why not speak with Mrs. Whitehead or Mr. Campbell? It is a same Mr. Major is no longer with us. There was a man who knew accurate history. These were/are people who contributed to the community and to the nation.
    It is troubling that there are certain aspects of the articles that seem to lack adequate research. There were multiple loans and therefore multiple opportunities to back away. Mr. Moodie had ridden in the rodeo multiple times before. Anyone who has lived in the area more that 10 years knows this. How is it Mr. Moodie was able to have a name added to a legal document without notarization? Was there a notary at the convenience store in Islamorada? Were there never notices sent to the address on Petronia? It’s not like there was no income as the upstairs units were rented out.
    It would also be nice to see other points of view. We live in the area, not on the bike path of Duval. We deal with loud music, deplorable property conditions and an encampment that forms every night on property that “Old Man Chapman” no longer owns. If the Blue News truly encourages spirit, open debate, try to be a little more rounded in your reporting.

    • Would Mrs. Whitehead and Mr. Campbell be telling the stories of what it was like to be black in Key West back before WW II? Our Bahama Village section is primarily focused on the stories of the African Americans who live and have lived in Key West. We do however welcome submissions of all kinds for our Island Voices section. We are a small, independently owned [and very underfunded] publication and are not able to devote much effort to historical pieces. However, we are always looking for people who have the time to submit such pieces to be shared with our readers. If you have the time to write historical pieces based on interviews with Mrs. Whitehead or Mr. Campbell I’m sure all of our readers would be appreciative. Our story about Mr. Chapman is not about your neighborhood dispute nor the relationship between some of Mr. Chapman’s family members and the police department. It’s about an uneducated, kind-hearted old man, who grew up in Key West when segregation was the norm and who was taken advantage of because he believed a younger more educated man would show him the way. It’s about Mr. Chapman’s unassuming spirit and ability to bring a lighthearted smile to countless people [though apparently this has been missed by his modern day neighbors.] It’s also about appreciating the old Key West and Bahama Village, where neighbors sit together in the yard in old, ugly, half-broken chairs, next to unpainted dilapidated houses, while they cook and share food, music, and laughter about runaway chickens and mischievous children [rather than insults and calls to Code Enforcement.] Profile stories about private citizens, like the ones written about Mr Chapman, are not meant to provide a platform to those who can not stand the thought that others love someone that they detest. It’s just some pure and simple appreciation for what’s good in a man – even though he – like the rest of us – is not perfect.

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