10 of Philly’s most memorable street characters

No doubt you’ll recognize some of these unique personalities.

Famous dog fellow at the Eagles NFC Championship tailgate  in 2018

Famous dog fellow at the Eagles NFC Championship tailgate in 2018

jared gruenwald photography / for billy penn
layla

Philadelphia has produced some truly unique personalities over the years. We’re not talking actual celebs, or politicians, or community leaders, but the people who you have to have seen (or at least heard about) if you can say you’re from here.

We put out the call for your favorites, and you took things to the next level, describing figures of old and modern-day legends.

Pulling from your suggestions, we present this look at 10 of Philly’s most memorable street characters.

Singing Candy Lady

The Singing Candy Lady, as she’s known, has more than 15k followers on Instagram, where she documents her nomadic sales days.

She can be spotted around Philly balancing a box of treats on her head, and singing off-the-cuff bops like “Buy my funky candy, white boy” to entice potential customers. The sweets-pusher has been photographed with other local personalities, including Meek Mill and Congressman Dwight Evans. She managed to get some light-hearted camera time even during the tense North Philly police standoff last summer.

Philly Jesus

It’s not quite the second coming. After entering recovery from a heroin addiction, Michael Grant, aka Philly Jesus, became known for wandering Center City and spreading the gospel.

Always dressed in a long white robe with a beige covering, long brown hair and often carrying a wooden cross, Grant disappointed many of his followers after posting homophobic rants against gay marriage in 2015, as recounted by Philly Mag. He managed to put that behind him and go on to gain national attention.

Philly Jesus was featured briefly on USA Today when he showed up outside the 2016 DNC. Then he got profiled by the Washington Post and earned a shoutout on SNL after being arrested for refusing to leave the Walnut Street Apple Store. He was found guilty and sentenced to three months probation. After a long hiatus, he was spotted at the 2019 holiday market at City Hall.

Drumline Elmo

In the glow of a raging Kensington-Port Richmond junkyard blaze, a dancing Elmo marched on. That’s not a metaphor for anything. It really happened when a nuisance scrapyard caught fire in the summer of 2018.

Elmo, real name William Fulton, said his Positive Movement drumline went to perform for donations, but got viral fame when videographer Rocco Avallone captured the scene. Fulton, who had been struggling with housing insecurity, was arrested on a probation violation the day after the fire.

The man with the well-dressed pugs

Pugs wearing sunglasses riding in a bicycle basket? I’ll take two! And so will Anthony Smith, the dogs’ owner.

Smith dresses up his pups Noodles and Diva and rides them around the city where awe-struck passersby pay him for photo ops. Smith told the Inquirer that the tips help fund his doggies’ wardrobes.

The Pickleman

Steven Slutsky of Northeast Philly is a local comedian known for selling spicy pickles in area nightclubs and bars. He created his own pickle brand, Zayda’s, in 1975 and has become legend for his years of antics.

In 2015, Slutsky was stabbed in the neck. He survived, and continued to perform and help book talent for local comedy clubs.

Jury Duty Lady

Her name is Tanya Covington, but anyone who’s been called to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas knows her as Jury Duty Lady,

It’s her job it is to make people not hate the civic responsibility — and even embrace it. She’s earned adoring fans because of her fun, upbeat personality, and creative ways to pass the time while you wait to see if you got picked.

Tanya Covington at work

Tanya Covington at work

Courtesy Philly Courts

Hip-Hop Grandpop

He’s cool and he definitely dances better than we do. You can catch 70-something year old street performer Matthew Hopkins in bright colored spandex dancing to Top 40 pop and rap on any given day in Center City.

He’s been dancing in the street for almost five years now. Per the Inquirer, he was inspired by Philly’s own Anthony Riley, a one-time contestant on NBC’s The Voice who died in 2015.

Sonny Forriest Jr.

Tailgated anywhere near Citizens Bank Park? If so, then you’ve probably seen — or heard — Mr. Sonny Forriest Jr.

Forriest graces fellow sports fans with his smooth, soulful voice, amplified with speakers he carries around in his wheelchair. In 2011, Forriest was arrested at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fl. for, of all things, singing.

And in 2014, some absolute idiot stole a prosthetic leg belonging to Forriest, a Vietnam War veteran. Thankfully, police recovered his property — but that’s the last year videos of the beloved crooner were uploaded to Youtube.

The blinged-out Cadillac guy

If you’ve ridden around Philadelphia for any period of time, chances are you’ve seen at least one of Gilbert Hilton’s steampunk-style cars.

Hilton adorns his silver Dodge sedan and burgundy Cadillac SUV with finds from Goodwill. He told the Inquirer he took up the hobby after a life-changing health crisis, and attaches everything from candle holders to doorknobs to colorful reflectors to the body of his rolling art exhibitions.

Subway vent man

There’s an entire reddit thread on this famous Philadelphia fly-away figure.

TL; DR: Eventually folks came to the conclusion that he likely has mental difficulties, and making fun of him served no real purpose. He’s still a regular figure on Rittenhouse streets.

 

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