The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage mourns the recent passing of Walter Milton “Teeth” Kelly (1926-2012), a Baltimore Arabber, who was a concessionaire at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival for over thirty years.
In late November, as news spread of his passing, Center staff shared their thoughts and remembrances through a flurry of emails. Among them:
Barbara Strickland (Associate Director, Finance and Administration): “Mr. Kelly began selling fruit in the early seventies and continued selling fruit at the Folklife Festival till 2010. Each year he would bring his mule and wagon to the Mall and sell watermelon by the slice and fresh pineapple with a stick of peppermint candy in the center. What a treat that was for many Festival goers!”
Betty Derbyshire (Director of Financial Operations, Smithsonian Folkways): “I am truly saddened by this news. Mr. Kelly was a fixture at the Festival, as well as a truly sweet man who cared about others. His fruit cart wasn’t just a source of income to him, but a prideful profession—one that he loved sharing with others. I will miss him.”
Marjorie Hunt (Education Specialist/Folklife Curator): “Mr. Kelly was a true Festival treasure. He not only sold his fruit at the Festival, but was a participant for the American Talkers Festival in the late 1970s. Steve Zeitlin and I were privileged to be able to visit with Walter Kelly in his stables in Baltimore to interview him about his work and his artful street cries, and go with him on his rounds through the streets of Baltimore, shouting his traditional cries and selling his fruit from his horse-pulled wagon. He was a kind, gentle person and will be missed greatly.