I was on the road to Virginia last night when the Tweets began to appear, words of shock and sadness. Next my Instagram and Facebook feeds filled with memories and pictures — Anthony Wright, better known as Tony the Peanut Man, had passed away. He was 63.
For 25 years, Tony was the face of one of the Lowcountry's favorite, and most acquired, tastes, boiled peanuts. He was best known for his work at the RiverDogs where he sold peanuts since 1997. Often you heard Tony before you saw him.
"Hey, hey, what I say, I got some boiled, got some toasted, got some stewed, got some roasted!" Tony would sing out to the crowds.
In fact, it was at a RiverDogs' game many, many moons ago that I tried my very first boiled peanut from Tony himself. How could I resist? How could any of us resist the charming man in the sweetgrass boater hat? That moment was an epiphany — the summer sun warmed my cheeks, the sound of beloved RiverDogs' announcer Ken Carrington joked overhead, and on my lips was the salty taste of a perfectly squishy legume. "Ah," I remember thinking. "This is what a baseball game is supposed to be like."
For others Tony's work took on a more historical meaning. City Paper contributor Robert Moss remembers Tony this way:
With his signature topless straw hat and basket full of peanuts in plastic bags, Tony the Peanut Man was a fixture at RiverDogs baseball games and countless other events around town. He was a local institution, but he was more than that. Anthony Wright was carrying on a century-old tradition of peanut vendors that is unique to the lower part of South Carolina, one that dates back to the early 20th century, when each fall enterprising men took to the streets to hawk freshly boiled green peanuts. They’re as simple a food as you can find — humble legumes, boiled in water flavored with nothing more than salt — but when delivered with an infectious smile and a catchy jingle, nothing is more sure to set a festive mood. Tony, you will be missed.
For former CP writer Paul Bowers, it was Tony's incredible perseverance that left a lasting impression. In 2012 a fire destroyed all of Tony's peanut-cooking equipment in his backyard including 900 pounds of peanuts and the walls of 50-gallon metal drums. Tony estimated the damage at $10,000, but he didn't give up. With help from the community, he rebuilt.
And as Paul says, he offered something of a "benediction in the midst of his own troubles."
Tony said in City Paper's feature, "In my lifetime, I know that things can easily be turned around, so there's no use in me getting angry or getting upset. I'm walking away with a smile, and that's what it's all about. It's like death. Somebody dies, you're going to feel the pain, and then you pick yourself up from there."
Tony then told Paul, "Don't think I'm alone, now," he added, pointing skyward. "I've got a friend up there helping me out. As long as I've got that, it's all good."