Wheeling’s Waldrum Rises Above Sorrow

No matter how hard I try again this year, Charles Waldrum won’t have ham with all the fixings for Easter dinner, and I’m guessing that will be all right with him because his 2016 thus far has truly sucked.

After finishing last year in familiar fashion – appearing in as many local Christmas parades as he could possibly pedal to – and January and February proving generally kind weather-wise with cold-but-seldom-frigid temperatures and only a few snows accumulating more than a dusting, one could believe his life to be easy-peasy as of late.

But the Wheeling man you likely know more familiarly as “Moondog” has experienced much loss in the month of March. His sister, Charlotte, died at age 59 on March 14, and then his brother, Larry, passed away at 61 three days later. The Waldrum family learned of Larry’s death while awaiting his arrival at his sister’s funeral service, and only after a couple of concerned friends walked to his house did they discover his death.

“That’s where I found out about him,” the 57-year-old Charles said. “Bad. Maybe I’m next.”

Waldrum has experienced a most difficult month of March, losing a sister and a brother in a three-day span.

Waldrum has experienced a most difficult month of March, losing a sister and a brother in a three-day span.

I met Charles first when I was in college after hearing about him during my high school years in Wheeling. The legend was that there was this black man who always rode a bike and mostly at night; some said he was homeless; some said he was mean and violent; and others said he was some kind of creature that should be avoided at all costs.

“The only people who say those things are people who do not know him,” said Don Atkinson, a Wheeling city councilman who has worked the overnight shift for Ace Garage for nearly three decades. “If you do know Charlie, then you know he’s a good person, and I know him because I’ve always seen him all over Wheeling when something is going on.

“Over the years he used to show up at a lot of the car accidents that I’d get called for, and he always helped with the cleanup of the debris,” he continued. “I remember one night when I saw him at an accident in downtown, and an hour or two later there he was in Elm Grove at another wreck. If you saw his legs like I have, you’d swear they are Hershel Walker’s.”

I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again: He hates the damn nickname. “Moondog,” he says, came from punks he once despised.

Yeah, his nails are long, he doesn’t change his clothes much, and he rides a bike to see what he sees. Yet he sees a lot.

“People on those cell phones. They’re going to kill people like one almost killed me. Almost ran me over,” Charles told me. “Those people on those drugs. Making themselves stupid, that’s all. Or they die.”

A resident of East Wheeling, he’s not homeless as I’ve told you before. He’s got a home with furniture and a kitchen, and he helps others to find their own, and it doesn’t matter what color or creed or whatever.

He’ll help you.

“That’s all I’ve ever seen him be is helpful,” Atkinson said. “If I see him at the Convenient on 16th or at the 7/11 on Market or down by the post office in Centre Wheeling, I always say, ‘Hey Charlie,’ and he always replies, ‘How are you Mr. Ace?’

“If he sees me, he’ll give me a flash of his flashlight, and I always answer by flashing the yellow lights on the wrecker,” he said. “I guess it’s our thing.”

This Wheeling icon does not look welcoming, and that’s on purpose, if you must know. If he doesn’t know you, he may shy away unless you engage him with something other than, “Hey! You’re Moondog!” When you do that, you can expect one of two things – silence, or a reply like, “You don’t know me.”

And he means every word. Few people actually know Charles, one of 11 children raised by the late Charles and Marnie; who was once accused of being an arsonist but was cleared of all charges; who has assisted the city’s police and fire departments simply by reporting what he’s witnessed during his late-night bicycle cruises; and who has escorted-from-a-distance females walking home from work in the dark.

“They don’t know how to fight off those goofs,” he told me. “But I do.”

Waldrum received a new bike from the owner of Moon River Studios (Mary Ellen Bennett) in February 2015.

Waldrum received a new bike from the owner of Moon River Studios (Mary Ellen Bennett) in February 2015.

Charles Waldrum is my friend, you see. We wave, and we talk; he asks if I’m OK, and I make sure he is, too; he watches my house, and I see him doing so sometimes, and it gives me peace; and Charles is an ally, and not a single one of the disparaging references that have been sent his way is accurate.

He’s not stupid, he’s not homeless, and he’s not dangerous unless snow covers the parking lot of the 16th Street Convenient Mart. Then, those flakes don’t stand a chance.

“You’re my friend, Steve Novotney,” Charles said after I asked him if it was true. “You’re good. Not like some of these people.”

And when Mr. Waldrum makes those kinds of judgments, he does so using zero prejudice other than favoring good people over bad people. He has long disliked drug dealers, prostitutes, and wife beaters, but he’s also critical of the children who he says are following in their parents’ footsteps.

“Young teenage girls shouldn’t have babies,” Charles said. “Selling drugs on the corners like their daddies did? That’s stupid. You go to jail for that.

“Kids think they’re tough with those guns. Guns aren’t tough. They don’t make people tough,” he blurted, “but those boys think they do, and they’re wrong.”

Charles seemed to recognize me when he entered the Capitol Theatre lobby one day while I was hosting a cash-raiser for the victims of Hurricane Katrina soon after the storm struck the Gulf Coast in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and former congressional members Bob Ney and Alan Mollohan contributed $500 each during the broadcast. Then in walked Charles, and the whispers by those behind those brass doors echoed, “What’s Moondog doing here?”

Well, he was there to contribute.

“For those people,” Charles said to me as he handed a white envelope. “They need it more than me.”

Once he left the lobby, I opened it and there were three one dollar bills.

“That’s the man he is, I’m telling you. That story doesn’t surprise me at all,” Atkinson said. “He’s good people.”

Once again it was Waldrum who was the last attraction during the 2015 Perkins Restaurant - Fantasy of Lights Parade in November 2015.

Once again it was Waldrum who was the last attraction during the 2015 Perkins Restaurant – Fantasy of Lights Parade in November 2015. (Photo by Wallis)

What You May Not Know

He knows how to fall asleep while sitting on his bike, and yet he still appears to be alert and on patrol.

“So what? When I sleep is no one’s business.”

He hears what you say, and if he didn’t wave back it’s because he didn’t appreciate what you may have yelled in his direction.

“People can be mean, man.”

When he does stop pedaling, he does so only in areas where he can trust people.

“I have a lot of friends everywhere.”

He wears the firefighter’s jackets no matter what the temperature is.

“They gave it to me, and it keeps me safe.”

Charles Waldrum has long been an ally of the Wheeling Fire Department. Here he is pictured with former firefighter Joe Leffe Jr.

Charles Waldrum has long been an ally of the Wheeling Fire Department. Here he is pictured with former firefighter Joe Leffe Jr.

Charles travels far fewer bicycle miles these days.

“I’m getting’ old, man. I hate old.”

When his bike is stolen by, what he calls, “haters,” people are still quick – including me – to purchase new wheels for him.

“I love those people, but one of them had those round handlebars and those swing around and hit me sometimes in my stuff.”

The owners of the Wheeling Brewing Company are soon to purchase him a new bike in appreciation for permitting them to use his nickname for their “Moondog” IPA.

“I don’t drink that beer. Don’t need it like some do, but those people are real nice.”

His favorite food?

“I like wings but not that hot shit. You can keep those to yourself.”

His favorite question?

“Why?”

Why why?

“Because I want to know.”

Know what?

“Whatever I want to know.”

Charles is friends with the good people in Wheeling, including the Rotriga family who owns Miklas Meat Market on Carmel Road.

Charles is friends with the good people in Wheeling, including the Rotriga family who owns Miklas Meat Market on Carmel Road.

Can he read?

“I can read what I need to read, but books and stuff are for people like you.”

Like me?

“You have a job. You gotta read.”

Can he count?

“I know you ask a lot of questions.”

Do you have one of the bobbleheads the Wheeling Nailers distributed at the game a few years ago?

“No.”

Why not?

“No one gave me one.”

Do you want one?

“Why would I?”

He was born in 1958 and has never lived anywhere but in East Wheeling.

“Don’t want to live anywhere else.”

Ever go on vacation?

“Every day.”

Charles Waldrum is now 57 years old and is more respected by Wheeling residents than ever before.

Charles Waldrum is now 57 years old and is more respected by Wheeling residents than ever before.

He’s had a year so far that could make many crumble in sorrow and sadness, and though he is aware of the grief felt by his surviving siblings and friends of the family, Charles still is capable of separating those emotions from being Wheeling’s rambling man.

“Don’t want to think about that stuff.”

And then I told my friend Charles that I would pray for him and his family, and he shot back immediately, “Pray for them, not me.”

Not you?

“Don’t need it. I got God.”

And then Charles touched his heart.

(Photos by Steve Novotney)

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62 Responses

  1. Mike

    Someone once asked me why do you speak to him meaning Charles, and I replied to them why do I speak to you. You are no greater than he is and no more special to me as he is. He is more of a friend then most of the people I call my friend. So you tell me why I talk to him.

    Reply
  2. Ms. White

    I use to live in Ohio years ago and I worked in Wheeling and hung out there also. Mr. Charles (who I only knew as “Moondog”) is a great person. He is always looking out for the other person. I always spoke to him and my children thought he was cool with all the flags on his bike. I miss seeing him. Living in Florida I don’t get up there very often.

    Reply
  3. Paula

    I did not know he didn’t like the name Moondog! It was used by everyone from the Parade announcers to everyone on the street corners. I’m sorry Charles, I didn’t know it was offending you! I have several friends that told me how Charles would see them safely to their doors after working night shifts. I’ve seen him carry a radio with him to contact help if needed. He is certainly a Wheeling icon. My heart sank when I started to read this because I thought it was going to be bad news but it turned out to be a tribute . Thank you Steve Novotney for giving us more insight,

    Reply
  4. BRENDA JOSEPH

    Never knew he didnt like being called MoonDog well when i see him its Mr. waldrum. From now on. He deserves so much respect for what he does in Wheeling . Its really alot when you think about it. Thank you Mr Charles Waldrum for evrrything you do for people in wheeling wv. GOD BLESS

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    I know Charles well. His heart is as big as he is, maybe even bigger. I used to work midnights , security for Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Admin. Bldg. I would make my rounds, upon returning to the first floor long, Charles would be waiting, making sure my rounds were done safely. I would wave, he would wave, and away he would go. He asked me once, if I was scared working alone at night. I replied, “No, I have you looking out for me,” He smiled, and replied, “That’s right!” God blessed me with my friend Charles Waldrym.

    Reply
  6. Bob

    I have always called him Charles. When I worked at the funeral home in downtown Wheeling, he would always check the doors to see if they were locked. Every once in a while I would get that midnight wake up call that the alarm was going off and when I arrived to secure the building, he would be there with the police. When I see him at the 16th street Convenient Store I always give him 5 dollars for lunch. He always thanks me. Good article !!

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Thank you for this piece. All people are entitled to dignity and respect and that starts with being addressed by your name. Now that I know his, I look forward to telling Charles hello.

    Reply
  8. amy

    I am not from Wheeling, although this story is amazing. Sound’s like such a respectful man. This man need’s to be famous and show the world God’s people come on all different designs. Humans are Humans! Great story is there some were about him that i could follow because i’d love to hear more….

    Reply
  9. Howard

    I’ll try to remember to call him Charles from now on. He needs a shave and cleaned up. SHAME on his so called friends for letting him look like this. Get him in the shower or hospital or nut house. It’s a disgrace not to help him and you want it to sound like he is normal. He’s a looney toon and he needs help. He looks and smells filthy and disgusting. Get him cleaned up. Shower , hair cut, shave. SHAME ON WHEELING WV. SHAME on all you so-called do gooders. Please help this man.

    Reply
    • Mona

      Howard, You are ignorant. Do you get angry at ZZ Top. They have long beards. Do you think someone should have told them to shave and be respectful since they are entertainers. Get real. He has a home that he lives in and is now in the hospital. He has never harmed anyone in the years I knew him. Find happiness in your life so you don’t sit around trying to make everyone else feel miserable like you do. Team Charles.

      Reply
  10. Douglas I.

    Lovely piece, Steve. Giving dignity to a deserving man. Years ago, there was a fellow known well around downtown Charleston, WV, pushing a shopping cart stacked with stuff he collected. He was known as Aqualung (and, in fact, Nick Nolte was said to have based his character in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills on him — he was dating a Charleston woman at the time). People here who didn’t know him called him “Aqualung,” but his real name was Bill Dunn. A local woman and her husband found him housing, but he disappeared a few years ago and has not been seen since. I wrote a short poem about him I sometimes perform at poetry readings:

    You take away his name
    when you call him
    ‘Aqualung.’
    Bill Dunn, Bill Dunn,
    Bill Dunn.
    Try it on your
    tongue.
    + + +
    Thanks for giving ‘Moondog’ back his real name.

    Reply
  11. Jay D

    Well..According to his brother, Charles named himself “Moondog” but apparently he outgrew it. Who among us still embrace nicknames we picked or were stuck with in our youth? Charles it is.

    Reply
    • Steve Novotney

      Well, according to Charles, he did not name himself, and I’ll go with what he tells me over anyone because of how long we have been friends.

      But yes, Charles it is.

      Reply
  12. marlene midget

    Thank you Steve, for a wonderful story about a caring man. I have known Charles and his family all my life. I was born and raised in East Wheeling. Your story was a reminder to all of us, to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Thank you.
    Sankofa,
    Marlene

    Reply
  13. Erikka Storch

    Thank you for sharing this insight into Charles’ life. He is truly a Wheeling icon, but is nice to remember the man behind that. From your articles, it should be clear to people that this gentle soul has feelings too. Thank you again for sharing. God bless his family while they mourn the loss of their siblings.

    Reply
  14. Pat Elliott

    I saw this kind hearted man bring a monetary into WTRF when I was volunteering at the Easter Seals Telethon a few years back. Warmed my heart. I will never call him Moon Dog again. Thanks Steve! Great job as always.

    Reply
  15. Dee

    Truly enjoyed the article, I love seeing Charles around town. He has such love for Wheeling and we are blessed to have him!

    Reply
  16. Sharon Mendelson

    He cares about Wheeling and the people. I was amazed by his deadication to the Wheeling Fire Department during the Imperial Display Easter Fire in 1996. He tended to cleaning up debris for days at the site. Keeping people from looting what remained and assisted with hose dragging. I witnessed this first hand. I tell my children he is good. I know two of his brothers and they are good men as well.

    Reply
  17. Jk Blair

    I got the privilege of riding him home after the Marshall County Christmas parade parade a couple years ago he was he was so thankful because it was a snowstorm .he just kept thanking me for the ride

    Reply
  18. Sister Joanne Gonter, VHM

    Steve,

    Thank you for an article that is truly a blessing – enlightening many of us who knew next to nothing about Charles. I would be grateful if you would extend to him my deepest sympathy for his losses.

    Reply
  19. Therese

    Charles is a very special man. And truly a very big part of the city of Wheeling. This is an awesome article that people needed to read about him so he can get the respect he needs and truly deserves. You are an awesome person, Charles. So glad you are around the city watching out for everyone. So sorry for your recent losses. My prayers go out to you and your family. You are AWESOME, Charles! Keep up the great work you do!! 💖

    Reply
  20. CJ Manning

    This was well written. This gave me that heavy feeling in my heart, that a man with so little actually has so, so much more than the rest of us. Knowledge is power, and I now know that my whole life I’ve been disrespecting “Charles Waldrum” because I didn’t know he hated the name “Moondog”. I will only refer to him that way so people might know who I am talking about, but I will be sure to remind them his name is Charles… same as mine, and that he deserver far more respect than I could ever hope to deserve. He used to always ride around the OVMC Wrestling Tournament when I was wrestling for Cameron High School back in the early 2000’s. We got a kick out of him, like a hero… of course there were rumors… but the man is legendary only because he is there and he is so respectful. Steve, thank you for sharing and writing these stories. I truly hope it doesn’t happen, but should anything happen to this man… I also truly hope the City speaks long and genuinely of this man and takes care of his respects going into the next life. A scholarship in his name would be just what I bet he’d like… the chance to keep helping the youths not be “stupid or die”. Haven’t seen you since college Steve, keep it real bud!

    Reply
  21. Georgianna

    Great article. Such a humble man who has been wrongfully viewed through the eyes of most of the valley for years. Thank You writing this.

    Reply
  22. HUGH STOBBS

    I REMEMBER BACK IN THE OLD DAYS OF THE ELBY’S RACE CHARLES WOULD RIDE HIS BIKE ALONG SIDE OF THE RUNNERS TO PROTECT THEM FROM PASSING CARS. GOD SURELY HAS A PLACE FOR CHARLES IN HEAVEN

    Reply
  23. Ken

    maybe instead of writing an article and snapping a few pictures of him, give him some respect and feed him, clothe him, give him a few nights in a clean hotel with a hot shower and a comfortable bed, a decent meal or two. An article is for the writer and his ego. Actually help him.

    Reply
    • Sandy

      But he’s not homeless…and this article was written by someone who obviously has a great deal of respect for this man. He’s not a charity case.

      Reply
    • Michelle

      He doesn’t need help. He is living as he chooses. Your ideas of what you think he needs is just that…what “you” think he needs…

      Reply
    • Carl

      He has all that. Did you not read the story. Has his own place and even has famliy in the area.

      Reply
  24. Jay D

    Charles’ brother Gerry (Jerry sp?) Is a long time employee of OVMC. A relative of mine also works there and introduced me to Gerry when my mother was there with a serious illness. After our introduction he asked me every time he saw me in the hospital how my mom was doing. And showed genuine concern when I explained her current condition.
    The more I read about that family the more it’s apparent those kids were raised extremely well and carried that well-grounded humanity into adulthood.

    Reply
    • SUNNI

      I agree…..Gerry is an awesome man as well….I worked there for over 5 years as a critical care nurse and Gerrymandering was a great friend….I knew his brother and Charles. All such very good men. Loving, kind and genuine. God bless them all.

      Reply
      • Ben

        Apparently your parents didn’t teach you to mind your own business either. You can learn.

      • Carla

        (Howard) People like you are beyond ignorant! Are you not intelligent enough to read the whole story and take away the real meaning behind it?? The fact that this man takes what little he has and gives it to others; is always watching out for other people, regardless how rude and demeaning they can be to him; the fact that he is constantly helping the police and fire fighters out to make a safer community…. and all you can talk about is his hygiene??? You sir are one pathetic, shallow individual!!!

      • Dee Paul

        You don’t know him, so you don’t know what he wads taught…. He is a wonderful person who would always watch out for me when I worked the midnight shift at 7/11, as he would put it, “to make sure you are safe”
        So don’t presume to know what Charles was or was not taught.

  25. Linda Tyler

    I feel bad that he didn’t like the name “Moondog” and will never use it again. I would love to know where his siblings are buried and place flowers on their grave. Larry n I have had many laughs tigether. Very funny man

    Reply
  26. Kurt H.

    This is a Great article ! Thanks for sharing ! I grew up on Wheeling Island then later as an adult & always treated Charles with respect & did not disrespect him like a lot of punks did !

    Reply
  27. Bill Bland

    Steve this by far is your best piece of work. Charles Waldrum has made out town a better place. Thanks for writing this.

    Reply
  28. Kristy Brost

    A very special person we have here in Wheeling; stay strong Charles. A lot of us love you and respect you always.

    Reply
  29. Bonnie Danhart

    When I lived in Wheeling ,I worked the Evening shift at two restaurants’ that are no longer there Wheeling restaurant and Country Café and Ive been out at 3am many times walking downtown,Charles was always around and I always felt safe. He was always watching over things. Wheeling Is lucky they have such a nice person watching over the city! I want to say Thank You Charles, Ive never forgotten you,you deserve the best!

    Reply
  30. Sandy

    This is a wonderful look at a Wheeling icon. Mr. Waldrum, you’re good people.

    Reply
    • Sandy

      P.S. I wonder if anyone has ever thought about making a movie about him? I would think it would be a huge hit.

      Reply
  31. Steve

    Grew up in fulton, right across the street from ace garage. I know all The characters in this story, and knew ole Charles well back in the 70 and early 80s. All I can say is Donnie, Charles and steve are good people. Nice story about a grounded man. Makes you reach deep into your memory bank. Thanks Charles.

    Reply
  32. Carla H

    A wonderful story! I hope people read this and learn about the real person Charles is. I grew up only knowing what other people told me, not the truth. I will never refer to him as moondog again either.
    The Waldrum family are wonderful people, may they find peace and comfort during this sad time.

    Reply
  33. Cathy Bartlett

    What a beautiful story. I too come from a family of eleven and my heart aches for him. I will think twice about calling him Moondog again. He did let me take his picture once when I was riding my bike. I told him he was famous in Wheeling! Thanks Charles for sharing your story.

    Reply
  34. Mark

    Excellent story. Good background on Charles….he’s the friend in the friend-ly city.

    Reply
    • Boogie Johnson

      Awesome!!! He has such a huge heart!! People don’t even understand!!! God bless you Charles Junior!!!

      Reply
  35. Lynn

    What a beautiful tribute. I learned so much about Wheelings icon. I’ll never again refer to him as Moondog. Charlie deserves as must respect as anyone else. Keep on riding Charlie and always have the wind at your back and God in your heart.

    Reply
  36. Corey

    I’m happy that Moondog has been shown as the truly good man that we in East Wheeling always grew up knowing he was. I hope that this ends all the mean lies and rumours that fly around about him. He has done Alot for people who truly needed it all his life. I hope that he is getting a nice percentage from those bobble head sales and from the brewery using his likeness. A man of his stature deserves that and a whole lot more.

    Reply
  37. Beth

    Charles is a genius as far as I am concerned, hes got Jesus in his heart, and if he figured that out, he is smarter than alot of the people who torment him, such a shame its taken 57 years to earn the respect he deserved all along. God has you Charles in the palm of His hand, keep on keepin on, God Bless!!

    Reply

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