The Blue Moon Diner was crowded, loud, and hot on Sunday
Sidney Tapscott, a man known and loved by thousands of Charlottesvillians, died Tuesday, July 17 at the age of 89. For decades, Tapscott was a ubiquitous presence around downtown, sweeping up outside Miller's and other businesses, sitting with friends, jamming on the harmonica with the Hogwaller Ramblers, almost always wearing overalls and a red bandana.
"He loved microphones," recalls Jamie Dyer, lead singer of the Hogwaller Ramblers, describing Tapscott's enthusiasm for performing on the harmonica or fiddle during Hogwaller sets at various establishments from Blue Moon Diner to Escafé to Fellini's.
Indeed, bands and music establishments embraced him– he plays on the Hogwaller Ramblers album, and a painting of an overalls-wearing Tapscott pushing a cart with a broom inside it hung on the wall of Starr Hill Music Hall on West Main Street. Ntelos Wireless Pavilion boss Kirby Hutto describes the artwork as "classic Sidney."
"You'd recognize him from a distance," says Hutto, who first met Tapscott back in 1976 as a UVA undergrad when Tapscott was a janitor at Cabell Hall.
"If you were hanging out in the evenings," says Hutto, "he'd come up and talk to you, tell you what was going on."
Tapscott's devotion to keeping the historic building in top condition was complete, says Hutto, noting that it earned Tapscott a nickname: "Mayor of Cabell Hall."
In subsequent years, Tapscott, who was born in Scottsville in 1923, continued cleaning, sweeping sidewalks and doorways in front of local businesses, often earning a couple of dollars for each job, but always ready to help.
"He'd get up at 5am and by 8 or 9am, he'd make more money than some people made all day," says Dyer, describing Tapscott as an "entrepreneur and a philosopher" who– while his education was a mystery– could dole out bits of wisdom in few words.
He'd been leaving an impression on people for decades, says Leo Daugherty, a professor in UVA's Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program who first came to town in 1960 or '61 to look at UVA for graduate school.
"I had rented my first rental car and was driving along West Main," Daugherty recalls in an email. "I saw a tiny man hitchhiking. I stopped and gave him a lift. It was Sidney."
More than 50 years later, that memory is still vivid.
"I was 21 that day. Sidney just looked like he always looked. Now I am 72, whereas Sidney just stayed the same until he died yesterday. He didn't exactly exist inside time, Sidney."
Less than a day after his death, a memorial Facebook page "Friends of Sidney Tapscott" already had more than 1,500 members who posted favorite memories and tributes.
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