The Whistler

I am confounded by social media. There are days I swear I’ll delete my FaceBook account and transform that wasted time into a productive hobby such as a search for a cure for dropsy or bilious fever. I am afraid to tally the hours I’ve squandered scrolling and re-scrolling through my “newsfeed” for… I have no idea. I can’t stand the viral posting that overflows (literally these days: Ice Bucket Challenge-Enough!) with the latest FB thing.  Yet there are times I am so happy to have found and old friend or distant cousin that I haven’t spoken to in years. It allows me to keep in touch with my oldest son in Korea with little to no inconvenience to our lifestyle or bank accounts.

Today was the kicker. Today I shut my mouth. Today I stumbled upon something from my teen years that explained a man that was, as best as I can describe him, my first Urban Myth.

A picture of The Whistler. He was a guy who walked everywhere-I mean Everywhere. We would see him almost every day walking through our small town. Then several hours later, if we drove to ten miles to Worcester or fifteen to Clinton, we might see him again. Whenever we saw him, we’d beep or yell and he would respond with the loudest whistle I’d ever heard from a human being. Sometimes the whistle was quick, other times it was several notes and if he knew you, it was a ten second symphony. If I was riding my bike or with a group of my girlfriends, and waved at him, he’d whistle then yell, “You’re getting prettier every time I see you!” He never broke his stride, which was faster than most people jog, and he was in fantastic shape, as you can see by this T shirt which gives his name and age: Walter Barch, 60.

This is what his brother wrote over his picture: “He had a swagger like no other! Punchin light poles, and hearing his whistles from blocks away….he was a childhood memory….the Fox…The Whistler…Walter Barch

The Whistler

The Whistler

He wrote his story on his clothes. Usually it was just his name, sometimes his age. He had one sign that said “HEYYYYY!”  which made me think he liked Fonzie from “Happy Days”. Sometimes there he wrote a long paragraph but that was impossible to read because he was always moving too fast to see what he wrote.

This is a copy of the comments regarding Walter Barch. The photo was a TBT, or Throw Back Thursday photo, posted by his brother. The comments in italics are by his brother, all other comments are from people who remember seeing Walter Barch, or the Whistler around central Massachusetts.

  • 45 People like this.
    If only they had Nike trackers back then. I would see this guy all over central Ma. The good ole whistler!”
    My favorite time was seeing him carrying wood on his shoulders walking down Rt 9!!”
     “We’d drive by and yell “The Whistler!” and he would blow us a loud whistle!”
     “Omg we would toot and yell and he would wave.”
     “I remember him”
     “He was cool…..I always love to see him because he would whistle for us”
    “OMG! He had his life story written on his clothes and body! He was also known as The Whistler! Remember him ________?”
    “There is a movie _____ called titicut follies a documentary on bridgewater st hospital. He is in it.. I remember him walking everywhere too…”
     “I remember him well!!!!”
    Great picture. Where on earth did you get it?”
    “was wondering what happened to him.”
    “Worcester’s icon yes I always as a kid would love to see him walking down a street my father beep and see this man turn and bellow out the whistle you never forget…..”
     “Wow totally remember him punching light poles !! How the hell did u find him?”
     “Its called “throw back” Thursdays…or I like to call it a blast from the past…I don’t divulge my secrets….here’s a little bit about Walter…..he was a veteran, he was convicted of fondling a young girl and did 12+ years…when he got out he would always whistle to let people know he was coming and where he’s been so he’d always had can aliby and never be caused again. He lived on Eastern Abe in Worc. And was a Sgt. In the u.s. army….also a top boxer in the 50’s & 60’s….he was shot in the neck while serving time and part the cause for his memory loss and his “claw” hand. Did you ever notice he would swing his arms vigorously from side to side(and one hand was always bent)..that’s the claw….ohhhh now you remember huh????!!!
    He could hold a conversation with you while walking blindly backwards as well but you’d never see him not moving…..
    Walter died in the fall of “95” and is burried in Otis Air force base’ National cemetary, Bourne Mass.
    Walters favorite quote: your getting prettier and prettier every time I see ya!”
    “I loved the signs he’d wear hanging off his neck on his back….HEYYYYYYYY”
    How about Angelo? White haired and beard up and down Route 9 with a grocery cart.”“And Reggie. Black guy with a Yankees baseball hat.”
    Angelo…yes…we called him Moses…he lived under the bridge on rt. 9, lake quinsigamond…..
    The yankee…died in a tooling house fire….
    That was rooming house! Lol
    “____! How do you know all this! WOW!”
    He wasn’t just a friend…he was my brother
    “Wow! I remember him…the whistler. He would walk so proudly. Didn’t know the whole story. I do remember that he had his story written and he wore it. I can’t remember though if the story was about what happened to him. Thanks ____ for sharing.”
     “____, he was your brother truly? I used to think he was such a strong man…..I never knew his story either….. Remarkable! I want to see that swag from you too !”
    he was accused and sentenced to a crime he never commited that was his cause for walking
    Spent a long time locked up for bullshit

    There are times I am amazed by what I stumble onto on social media. Today is not a day that I’ll moan and groan about how stupid I think FaceBook is.

    “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”


About EF Sweetman

writing, reading, pretty much everything noir
This entry was posted in blogging, essay, family, haunted tales, Observations, society, writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to The Whistler

  1. How wonderful! Now you can stop complaining about wasting your time on FB, this was worth it!

  2. M. Wissmann says:

    Wonderful is right, Miss EW!

  3. Carmen says:

    When did he passed away I truly remember him so so well

    • EF Sweetman says:

      According to his brother, he died in 1995. I was so happy to be able to find out about him. He was quite a legend when I was young. I wrote this piece a few years ago, and now it is getting hundreds of views. Did you come from West Boylston or Worcester, or did this show up on your social media? Thanks for writing.

    • kenneth barch says:

      all this talk about his brother is untrue. walter was my uncle and my fathers father died in 1984 and their brother mike died in died in 1996. he was 73 and died of colon cancer. he had another brother named frank who lived in florida until he died 10 or 15 years ago. whoever is claiming to be his brother was lying. walter was shot in Korea in the neck ,thru the hand, and elbow,hence the claw in the ass and 1 skimmed his head.he earned a purple heart for this. he wasn’t shot in prison because he was in bridgewater state hospital where they sent sexual offenders. we used to drive down to bridgewater on Saturday mornings to bring him home on weekends and when he was released my dad was his guardian.took care of his finances and things like that.there are still a handful of barches in the Worcester area and are all related to him nephews nieces and great nephews and nieces but certainly no brothers still survive and haven’t for some time now. many of the anecdotes are true.the sign he wore told his story including the allegations. he walked 37 miles a day mostly to spencer but used many routes.he lived at 54 1/2 eastern ave until his cancer ended up putting him in the Belmont home where he died.

      • EF Sweetman says:

        Thank you for writing, Kenneth. I had no idea of any of this, nor did I doubt any of the comments after the TBT picture was posted 8/2014. It was amazing to read about a man we saw almost every day. I don’t know who the “brother” was who posted the picture, or if he meant it as a term for dear friend. Thank you for writing more about Walter. I can tell you that he made a big impact, and many people were thrilled to see him, talk to him and hear that whistle.

      • Mary Fell says:

        Thanks you for this. I grew up in Worcester, and remember the Whistler. He would stop and whistle if you showed interest. He is a happy memory for me and I believe brought joy to others. A wonderful legacy!

      • Diane LeBoeuf Rutkiewicz says:

        Hi Kenneth
        My dad’s sister (my aunt) was married to Walter’s brother Frank who lived in Florida.
        Besides walking, my dad also talked about him being a boxer. I just remember seeing him walking in several areas of Worcester and wondered where I would see him next.
        Thank you for writing about Walter.

      • EF Sweetman says:

        Thank you so much for writing, Diane.

      • kenneth barch says:

        Also , yes he was a boxer. I have a picture of him somewhere in his boxing gloves and shorts doing the fight pose. Not sure if I could find it. I even have his death certificate. I was looking for it the other day to try and refresh my memory .a good friend of his was Anthony hmura, who used to box with walter. He was the only person not related to come to Walters wake.and there weren’t many family there either. When he passed no one really noticed.people just began to wonder where he went…

      • kenneth barch says:

        You’re welcome. Frank never spent much time up here. I think I met him once when Walter was on a weekend furlough . I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9. And I think there may have been another brother named felix. Not 100% on that. Maybe your aunt would know. He also lived in FL

  4. robin says:

    I would see him alot in worcester and in surrounding towns my ex hausbands family was fond of him..the Sheehans from Fairfax rd

  5. Lori says:

    I am curious who “the brother” is that you spoke to because my father was his brother and he has been gone for over 30 years and some of that info isn’t totally correct.

    • EF Sweetman says:

      It was a TBT Facebook post, a few years ago. I recognized the picture of the Whistler, the dialogue was what followed the posted picture. I don’t know who the brother was, or if the term was used in the familial sense, or in the jargon of brotherly love, and I don’t know you. It just amazed me to see the Whistler after all this time.

      • m.p says:

        Didn’t he pass away in the Christopher house on Bell Hill? If I can remember correctly, my mom who worked there at the time said that he was there but for some reason they didn’t want people to know that he was there? I’m just curious??
        Thank you

      • EF Sweetman says:

        I don’t know, m.p., I left the area in 1991. The Whistler was someone I had wondered about over the years but never expected to have his legacy and memories return in such an incredible way.

      • kenneth barch says:

        Yes he did. It was no secret him being there. The telegram did a story on him at the time as I recall.

    • kenneth barch says:

      Did you see my post above yours we responded almost exactly alike. Haha lori is my sister for anyone who read my reply earlier .

      • EF Sweetman says:

        This is really something. So many people have memories of your brother. I still have no idea who posted that picture that started us thinking about Walter again.

  6. Pingback: Well This is Interesting. | Of bees, baseball, bicycles… and other things

  7. doreen mckee says:

    most of us from prospect street eastern ave and surrounding streets new walter well. many fond memories. we talked everyday always smiling and full of my my if you arent getting prettier and prettier ever time i see you, i’m telling ya.then would start his whistling and keep on walking. those words will forever stay in my heart. everyday he said those words to me. great man and is truly missed by all

  8. Bob T says:

    He was also convicted of rape and served time in Bridgewater State Hospital in the 60’s. He can be seen in BSH in the movie Tutticut Follies. A documentary that exposed the conditions of the asylum.

  9. Paul Curci says:

    I talked to Walter a couple of times. Once on Green St. He actually stopped for a few moments. He spoke of a nurse at Bridgewater State , telling me that she was a wonderful ,kind person that was very good to him while he was there. I believe he had her name on a sign printed on the back of his shirt. I also remember there was an oil painting of him at an Art Show on the Common many years ago he was in full stride with the brim of his cap turned up. 😊

    • EF Sweetman says:

      That is wonderful, I’m glad to read that because I’m a nurse, and most people think of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when they hear of psych nurses. It would be great to see that painting, thank you for writing.

  10. gubster says:

    I grew up in Main South and when I was very young would see him walking down Main st quite alot. Of course always whistling… Regardless of the man’s past or what he did or didn’t do, every time I think of him it brings me back to a simpler time, when a total stranger for all intent and purpose, would smile, with a song in his heart, and he would “give” that to all he encountered.

    RIP Walter… you will always be a fond memory for me..

    • EF Sweetman says:

      I agree with you. He made people happy when they saw him, and it feels like that just can’t happen these days. I love reading all the memories of Walter. Thank you so much.

  11. Back in the ’80s I drove a trash truck for BFI and serviced the Main St areas of Worcester. I would see Walter every morning walking at his fast paced clip heading west. I would sound the horn and he would let out the loudest whistle as I past by. I always wondered where he was from and what kept him so motivated. I looked forward to seeing him at the wee hours of the morning, because there weren’t very many people around. As I made my way through the city and towards the end of my day I would usually see him walking somewhere and wonder how the heck this guy could keep up the same pace all day long. Thank you Kenneth Barch for you insight on your uncle, ‘The Whistler’.

    • EF Sweetman says:

      Thank you for writing Tee. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to read about how many people loved seeing Walter, felt happier after hearing him whistle, and have his comment really make their day. I hope and wish he knew that all along. And thank you so much, Kenneth, for filling in the rest of the story.

  12. Neil Donahue says:

    DATE OF BIRTH: 03/12/1922
    DATE OF DEATH: 10/04/1995
    BURIED AT: SECTION 16 SITE 602 Click to view the cemetery map
    (508) 563-7113

  13. Great post! I remember the whistler well. Used to see him walking through Spencer, Leicester & Worcester when I was a kid. My Father used to whistle back and forth with him until we couldn’t hear him anymore. My father used to throw him a miller lite when he had some in the car. ( when he had some left that is) times sure were different. Thanks for the flashback!

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