Man remembers days spent as Mr. Peanut
Meet Mr. Peanut.
No, this is not just the famous peanut costume or a Mr. Peanut doll or a photo of the smiling gent.
This is the real thing, a guy who actually was Mr. Peanut on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre in the pre-flood hey-day of the downtown and its historic landmarks and sights and symbols.
Harold D. Richards, 73, of Hanover Township, was Mr. Peanut for about four months during the summer of 1958. He strolled the Square and South Main Street, handing out two or three peanuts each to passersby while urging them to buy a bag at the nearby Planters Peanuts store.
Richards fondly recalled those days to the delight of folks attending the Peanut Pals convention last week at Genetti's Hotel and Conference Center. The Peanut Pals held their 33rd conclave here at the behest of convention hosts John and Janeann Lokken of Mountain Top.
Richards also met Jolyne R. Daizell, great-niece of Amedeo Obici, co-founder of Planters Peanuts which became a Wilkes-Barre institution, based on South Main Street but a worldwide seller of peanut products. One hundred years later, the Kraft Foods-owned company remains a leader in snack nut brands.
Richards is a native of South Wilkes-Barre and, like many of his era, he left high school (Meyers) to work to help his family. One day, he was walking on East Market Street when he spotted the peanut roasters turning in the Planters Peanut store at 15 E. Market St.
Entering the store, Richards said, he asked the manager if any jobs were available, thinking that a peanut roaster or cook might be needed. Instead, the manager had the 18-year-old Richards don the Mr. Peanut shell and a brief career was born.
"OK, you'll do," Richards recalls the manager stating.
Richards does not recall the man's name; nor does he have any photos of himself in costume. The pay? Richards recalls it was about 85 cents an hour.
Richards said the pressed cardboard shell of the period weighed about 35 pounds, less than the 20-pound plastic shells used today. Black shoes, black pants, white socks and gloves, spats and the trademark cane rounded out the costume.
"I carried a bag of peanuts and I gave two or three to anyone who would take them," Richards said.
He would add the sales plug and then move on, stopping to twirl his cane and offer more peanuts.
High school kids were his tormenters, Richards said. They once hung him on a parking meter. He waited for a hefty man to walk by and appealed for assistance. The high schoolers often would take the entire bag of peanuts and run off, Richards said.
Some may recall two Mr. Peanuts on the Square at the same time. Richards said a lad named Johnny, with the crew cut hair style of the day, often was out at the same time. "He was about 20 (years of age). That made him the dean," Richards said.
Richards did the Mr. Peanut cane-twirling routine for the Peanut Pals, but they know it as part of the Mr. Peanut mystique. Zachary Wood, 18, of Edwardsville, a convention attendee with his dad, donned a contemporary Mr. Peanut shell to greet Richards.
Richards said he later worked for Carter Footwear Co. and he served eight years in the 109th Field Artillery, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He worked many years at Tobyhanna Army Depot and, after retiring from the depot, he did maintenance work for Roadway Express in Pittston Township. He is now on grand pop duty.
The former Mr. Peanut and his family have a long track record of service in the community. Richards and his sons have served as volunteer fire fighters in Hanover Township and dad has done fire police work. He long has been a Halloween night fixture as a safety officer on street corners in the Newtown section.
Richards and his wife, the former Virginia Hoffmann, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in November. Sons Harold Jr., Teddy and Eric all were Eagle Scouts; daughter Jennifer (Clymo) won the Girl Scout Gold Award and daughter Brenda (Pish) earned the same award but never formally received it, dad said. The Richardses had six grandchildren, one of whom passed away, and they have two great-grandchildren.