It’s his favorite question, and he asks it with charmingly sincere curiosity.

That is why, if you see him and proclaim your love for him, he will ask you, “Why?”

At that exact moment, you possibly could develop countless reasons – he’s an icon, a mascot, a protector, the perpetual grand marshal, a survivor, a free spirit, a gentle soul, a bodyguard, a legend, and a tradition.

In fact, the Wheeling Nailers honored him in March 2008 with his own bobblehead night at Wesbanco Arena, and the game sold out.

Some, however, choose to believe his impact on the “Friendly City” is a negative one. These people say they see an unkempt man with an overgrown beard, longer-than-usual finger nails, a menacing flashlight, a beat-up bike, and a rough appearance. They also question others’ fascination with him. One person, several years ago, even took a shot at him in the Warwood section of Wheeling.

That didn’t scare me. It wasn’t even close,” he said with a smile. “Won’t go back there, though.”

What IS Charles “MoonDog” Waldrum to this city of nearly 30,000 residents? His friends believe he is the last pure, innocent soul in Wheeling, W.Va.

I have never seen him hesitate to give a kid his leftover change to buy a piece of candy or a bag of chips,” said Jessica Yost, the daughter of the owner of the 16th Street Convenient Store in East Wheeling. “He always lends a hand at my dad’s store and never asks for anything in return.”

Jessica’s husband, Jeff, is also a former employee of the store and is currently battling cancer. “Charles, as he so eloquently says it every time I see him, is like a brother to me. He asks me every time he sees me how I’m feeling through all of my treatments and stuff,” he said. “He’s a great man, and he takes pride in his city and the citizens of it.”

Now, who IS he? That is a completely different story.

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Waldrum is not homeless. He was born in Wheeling – one of 11 children – and raised in East Wheeling. The 56-year-old shaves twice a year, but never down to his bare face. He did not graduate from high school and has never held down a regular job. He lives in East Wheeling and has a record as a juvenile fire-setter, but he has not been suspected in a single fire investigation over the last four decades.

He pays his rent with the monthly Social Security check he has received since his father died more than 30 years ago. He has suffered his own health issues, too, yet he donates to charitable causes in which he believes.

And he does not like his nickname.

They started calling me, ‘Moondog’ a long time ago,” Waldrum said, “because I go out at night a lot.

I go out at night because it’s cooler. That’s why,” he explained. “But I ain’t no dog. I look for stuff that ain’t right. I try to help because there are some bad people in this world.”

Former Wheeling fire chief Steve Johnston served as a firefighter for more than 30 years before his retirement in 2009, and he knows Waldrum better than most. “He looks homeless, but he’s not,” he explained. “People may think he’s a bad person, but he’s not a bad person. He looks the way he looks because that’s the way he wants to look, and he helps the (fire) department and the police when he sees something.

“His appearance allows people to think that he’s living on the streets or that he’s not mentally well. It’s hard to explain Charles – he’s not a genius who has decided to live this kind of life, but he’s also not helpless either. He does what he does because that’s what he wants to do, and you see what you see because that’s what he wants you to see. His bike tells a lot of his story.”

Although he assists others, there have been local citizens who have committed crimes against him. Most often, they involve that signature bicycle. “Someone stole my bike in July near Dairy Queen,” Waldrum said. “I reported it, but the police never find them when someone steals them.

I think they throw them in the creek, and that’s stupid. That’s a waste,” he continued. “I don’t like those people, and I don’t like the people who call me names.”

Bum. Loser. Moron. Fool. Freak. Idiot. Scumbag. Weirdo. Retard. He says he’s been called that, “dirty n-word,” too.

I don’t care what they call me. They don’t know me,” Waldrum said. “When they call me the ‘n-word,’ they’re being racist. Doesn’t matter who says it. They’re a racist.

They hate … don’t know why,” Waldrum said. “They must hate themselves, too.”

Charles Waldrum roams many more neighborhoods than his native East Wheeling, and he also visits several cities, towns and villages during the course of each year. Last year alone he appeared in Christmas parades in Ohio, Marshall and Belmont counties, and he’s consistently met with smiles, waves and applause.

How does he get to each event?

Ride my bike,” he explained. “Those places aren’t too far for me – even in the snow. The worst is going up and down that hill (along U.S. 40 near Blaine, Ohio). It’s hard going up it and it’s cold coming down.”

But does he own a clue as to how most folks feel about him in Wheeling? Or that several people have created fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts using the nickname he loathes? Or that many have purchased his “Meet Me in the Alley” portrait from Wheeling photographer Bennett McKinley?

There is a difference between the person and the (Moondog) character,” Johnston said. “But I don’t think he cares if people recognize him as any more than the guy on the bike with all the flags.”

So he doesn’t care the masses see him as iconic?

Don’t even know what that means,” Waldrum admitted. “I’m me. Charles. That’s who I am.”

Charles Waldrum

38 Responses

  1. Dorothy Jacobson Waddell

    Charles, thank you for all the times you watched to make sure I got to my car safely when I was a waitress working nights at Bugsy’s and the Lion’s Head. It means so much that you look out for the people of Wheeling. You are a wonderful, thoughtful person.

  2. Marla

    We still get cards from Charles here at Woodsfield Nursing and sure try and remember him at Christmas time. We miss seeing him but it is too long of a trip on his bike, but we still love him

  3. Brenda Lallathin

    Brenda Lallathin, Woodsfield OH

    Charles is a kind, misunderstood man that is always thinking about others before himself. Several people became friends with Charles during his stay in Woodsfield Nursing and Rehab. He would ride his bike to Woodsfield to visit and several times a year he would send a package to his friends at the Care Center with each item personally labeled. Some employees of the center attended the Nailer’s Game when Charles was recognized. He has many friends in Woodsfield and we might add that we have a good friend in him. Love from Woodsfield.

  4. Anonymous

    God bless you Charles. Your soul is beautiful and your beauty shines bright! This world needs more people like you!

  5. Virginia. Conner

    Interesting story. No one knows anthers burdens. He makes the most of his life. Attitude makes him a strong person. God bless an keep him safe

  6. Anonymous

    This world would be a better place if we all would have his attitude towards life in general. It’s not about who has the nicest car, house, jewelry or most money. Nobody is gonna remember anyone for these things but I know I will remember him for one thing… gummy bears lol might sound funny but I know what this means and that’s all that matters! Wish him all the best!

    • Jamie Stewart

      We’re indebted to those who are less fortunate than us, and we are ‘commanded’ to “love thy neighbor” We all wish Charles only the best as a creation of God, and a brother Praise God

  7. Dolores

    I have seen Charles in wheeling all my life when I worked at Peterson I took care of his mom and he would come in and spend time with her and that tells you what kind of person he is he never forgot his mom,

  8. Chris broadwater

    I have not lived in wheeling for over 20 years but still think about moondog and how happy and peaceful I felt as a kid when he would ride by and smile as he returned my wave. When I approached him to look at his flags I remember feeling as if I were approaching a celebrity

    • Reverend Dr. Steven Mentzer

      Steve, you have a wise friend. If I see him before we move away I believe I would like to me your friend, Charles.

  9. Chris broadwater

    I don’t know what it was about him that made me feel so happy and peaceful when I was a kid. He would always smile and return my wave as he rode by. I can remember approaching him to look at his flags when he was stopped on the stone and Thomas plaza. I somehow felt like I was approaching a celebrity. I haven’t lived in wheeling for over 20 years but still think about moondog and enjoy hearing stories about him.

  10. Shawn

    Wonderful article. I’ve met “moondog” on many occasions. He’s a kind and considerate person, which is more than can be said for most. He is good to the people of the city. I’m glad he rides the neighborhoods and keeps and eye out for trouble.

  11. f harris

    I met Charles. Many years ago. Charles bothers no one. He is a very kind and. Friendly. Person. Who. I. Am very. Glad to. Say is. My. Friend. For. Charles. Does not. Judge. Anyone. For who they are. So. Why. Judge him. People. Please. Get to know him. Then. See. Who charles. Really. Is.

  12. sharon

    I have seen things about Charles but never really knew him But had a chance to meet him a month or so ago and I am impressed with him. He held his light so I could pack my car and he waited until I was in my car and out of the park before he left. I felt it a honor to meet him. May you live a long glorious life Charles Thank you for your service

  13. The

    He’s not a hero, so stop giving him credit for doing great stuff. He shines a flashlight in business windows and swerves down one-way streets. So please arrest this clown before he gets wrecked in the future. Wheeling needs help not another person getting in the way

  14. Derrel

    Nicely written article on a living legend. He will always be remembered and associated with Wheeling. We need more people like him.

  15. Tammy Deitch

    People are just mean !!!!! Leave him alone and let him live his own life……that’s the way we need to live…..our Very Own style !!!

  16. Denise Gates

    Thanks Steve for this Weelunk story as well as the many others. No longer live in Wheeling but that will always be home in my heart. The world needs more of Charles Moondog Waldrum’s community spirit.

  17. Paul

    Charles is a living legend in the Ohio Valley. He will be remembered long after his time, on a level with other notables there. He has truly left his mark.

    • Linda Garrison

      i agree, i remember him from many many yrs ago .. The bikes WITH flags all over them.. he was always somewhere close .. THANK YOU! CHARLES FOR KEEPING WHEELING SAFE ALL THESE YRS .. Wheeling loves you!

  18. Connie Jeter

    Ive seen and talked to Charles (moondog) for many years, in wheeling, wv…..and especially in all the local christmas parades right after santa…we cheer for him as well….When i started working at the clinic, everyday when i got off the bus I would see him on his bike following me until i got to my job. So one day i asked him, moondog are you following me and he replied yes to make sure no one bothers you…..i thanked him and carried on….To this day when he is mentioned ……i smile and wish others was the same way……..

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