The Candor Historical Society welcomed over 45 guests to Moondog Mania Night on Nov. 15. Those who came to hear stories about Moondog or tell their own tales entered the meeting room to strains of Louis 'Moondog' Hardin's lyrical music.
It didn't take long for the individual personal accounts to begin. Mike Gulachok from Owego started it off with a brief introduction of Moondog. From there everyone jumped in and the entertainment continued. Bucky Moon, Moondog's neighbor while living in Candor explained how in the early 60s when the goldenrod was in full bloom, he watched a man pull an eight foot red oak log that was bound with leather, across the field like a work horse. At that time Moondog was living in a hole in a ravine where he bad 'holed up for the winter.' According to Moon, Moondog declared that it was "warm down in the earth let the wind blow, I'll be fine" Moon helped him dig the hole out and offered to help him build a shack.
"Moondog wasn't a beggar, hut he led a simple life", Moon told the crowd that was gathered. "He had miles of string all over the place with knots in it to help him identify which direction and where things were located by the number of knots he had tied. I had gotten my vacation check of $222 that year and I bought the materials for him to build the small house closer to the road. When I drove by I would toot my horn and if he wanted anything he would raise his broom for me to stop. Usually he would need some provisions. I remember he always wanted Chock-full-of-Nuts coffee and he would make it in a tin can over the open fire and it looked just like tar. I couldn't stand it, but I drank it because I didn't want to hurt his feelings."
Moon recounts one time when it was a nasty, raw, day and he convinced Moondog to go home with him. "He wouldn't sleep in a bed, but put his sleeping bag on the floor." Moon said. "We did a lot of traveling together. He was a real friend. He had a lot of pride he was my kind of man."
Hardin came to Candor in the 1950s when he heard about some land that was available. He came and camped out and eventually owned about 40 acres, and lived in the area for more than 20 years.
For those who don't know who Moondog was, he was a blind musician, only able to see a bit of light and some items very dose up to his eyes, who lived in Candor during the 1950s 1970s and traveled to and from New York City where he hung out on 52nd and 54th Street around Madison Square Garden. His music was considered mostly Classical, but he also wrote poetry. He rubbed elbows with greats such as New York Philharmonics conductor Artur Rodzinski, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and he even appeared on the Today Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. His music was picked up by labels such as Epic, Angel, and Mars. Janis Joplin recorded his song 'All is Loneliness', which became a hit. He published a CD this past year.
Hardin was born in Marysville, Kansas in 1916. He was blinded at the age of 16 when a blasting cap went off in his hands. In 1933, he attended a school for the blind in St. Louis, and later attended a school in Iowa where he received formal training in music. For awhile he lived in Batesville, Arkansas where he won a scholarship to study in Memphis, Tennessee. Around 1947 he started using his pen-name Moondog in honor of his dog that use to howl at the moon.
Moondog died of heart failure in September 1999 at the age of 83, in Munster, Germany where he had lived for the past ten years. He was married twice, and according to Gulachok, he stopped dressing as a Viking about 15 years ago. "He dressed more as a druid during his time in Germany. It was his way of establishing an identity, as ge had a great appreciation of Nordic culture."
It was also a way of protecting himself in New York City. He felt people would respect him as an individual, and in fact he often had well-to-do businessmen and musicians stop by and chat with him as he stood on the street in front of a well-to-do hotel.
Phil Jordan gave his account of meeting Moondog as a child. "It was a cold, blustery night, with snow and rain and I was going across the bridge, hunched over. I saw cloth covered feet and looked up to find Moondog standing there. I thought I had died and wondered what had happened. He had a cloth knapsack and I remember thinking that that was where he put heads of children. Later, when I was working at Johnny's I asked why he would be out walking alone because I didn't understand at the time that he had no idea what the weather was like because he couldn't see it."
John Hitchings of John Fine Foods in Owego told how Moondog would come into his store with a list in Braille. "He would come into the store and read his grocery list to me and I would get his groceries for him, then call him a taxi. He often invited me to his concerts at his home in Candor. I used to watch him on the Johnny Carson Show."
"When Moondog would get off the bus on his way home to Brink Road," Don Weber said, "he became well acquainted with all the dogs along the way up the road to his house. He navigated his way by the dogs bark, as he talked to them in the dark." Bob Berg, also of Candor, told how he had seen Moondog actually sing with the dogs, getting each of them to howl just right as he strummed out a drumbeat on the thigh. "It was beautiful," he stated, laughing along with the crowd, picturing the site it must have made.
Altbough Moondog was very adept at finding his way around, it wasn't always easy. Bob Weber recalled the day Moondog was dropped off at the wrong intersection. "I was living on 96B at the time and was home for lunch, looking out the window at Martin Hollow (now Ketchum). I saw Moondog heading up the road and knew that he was on the wrong road and would have gotten lost up in the woods if I didn't let him know." Weber told the gathering. "When I called to him, he recognized my voice immediately, even though he had heard it a couple of times before. I brought him back home and offered him lunch, which he declined. I took of picture of him with my son Bobby who was only two years old at the time. I took Moondog home to Brink Road."
Weber clarified that the reason that Moondog had been dropped off at the wrong road was that there must have been a new bus driver that day. Moondog had given the driver directions for the location, but a green house and white house, and a gulf station were situated at both locations. "I saved Moondog from wandering around the wilderness," Weber stated.
Bob Berg told about his involvement with Moondog. "It was the hippie era and he was a great hippie to be around. I was going to Alfred at the time and a historic building the Steinhammer was about to be torn down and we wanted to save it. But we needed the money to do it. When I mentioned this to Moondog, he offered to give a concert."
Berg had no idea at the time what Moondogs musical abilities were, but he told the music department about him and to his amazement, the music department was excited to have Moondog on campus to give the concert.
"His music was organized by the world or mind, as he felt that it was all organized by the same supreme being he was a brilliant man when he went to Germany, they grabbed him up and never let him come back to New York." Berg said.
Bucky Moon stated that Hardin lectured in colleges all over the countryside, and that he knew and played with several hundred musicians that he knew personally.
On another perspective, Peter Silag, who grew up in New York City, knew Moondog from his life there. "In the 1960s he had a corner on 55th 56th in front of a fancy hotel where he would stand from afternoon to evening. He hung out there knowing that a lot of TV personalities worked and would be walking by," Silag said. "I was in high school and my stepfather, who was a Jazz Critic, knew him. I became curious about him and decided to get an album of his from the early 40s or 50s where he actually played the instruments that he had made. Often he would disappear for a few months at a time, (probably when he came back to Candor)."
Silag says that Hardin was never a panhandler on the streets of New York. He was a well-respected musician who did not perform on the streets. Instead, he would talk to people in cosmic tones and recite his poetry and get into real deep conversations. Although Silag had no idea where Moondog spent his nights while in the city, there is mention of it on the inside of his record album from Round The World of Sound: Moondog Madrigals: "Following the writing of 3 up in my hemlock shack, I was back in New York by June 12 at Hippie House, a house full of hippies on West 82nd Street where I had been staying for some time. There I wrote the rest of the new rounds of Book I during the remainder of June. I sometimes wrote as many as six rounds in a day there before I left in August."
In the album, Hardin also mentions writing several songs after a car accident. The accident took place on the way back from the Alfred concert, Berg told of the incident prior to seeing it written up in the album the evening of Moondog Mania.
Gulachok left the crowd with one lasting impression to walk away with, that of Moondog, the blind musician, steering the Susquehanna Queen up and down the river a Viking at the Helm! Of course he was with friends at the time.
The remainder of the evening was spent listening to several pieces of his music that is owned by various members of the Historical Society, those who had come to share, and some that were on loan. There were records, cassettes, and CDs.
Gulachok has written many articles on Moondog over the years, as he was a good friend, and followed his career carefully. Many in Candor never really knew Hardin, or understood his brilliance and music ability. By sharing his stories with the public, the Candor Historical Society's intention was to educate the public on one of Candors great unknowns that bad become world renown.
For more information on the Candor Historical Societys program or membership, contact President Georgia Westgate. Meetings are held the last Wednesday of every month except for November and December.