The Monkey Man Draws Big Following at Grange Fair
Jerry Brown never set out to become known as "The Monkey Man."
But it's a name that's inescapable, especially now that he's become a Grange Fair celebrity.
Children and adults all crowd around for a chance to meet Brown and his furry faced co-worker, a Capuchin Monkey named Django. (That's pronounced Jango. The D is silent.)
A smiling youngster walks up with a coin in his hand and that's Brown's cue to go to work.
"Hold your hand like this," he says, instructing the young man to hold the money out in front of him. "Hold it still. Django, take the quarter. Into the cup," he says, as the monkey drops the quarter into a small black coffee mug.
Brown keeps up a stream of gentle patter as the crowd gathers around him on the midway. The place is infused with a familiar blend of fairground aroma's from nearby vendors selling everything from sugar waffles and funnel cakes to barbecue ribs and home style meals.
One of the challenges is getting very young kids to hold still long enough for Django to do her thing.
"Would you like the monkey to give you a kiss?" Brown asks a small girl. "Yes or no? Look at me," Brown says patiently. "That monkey is going to climb over and kiss you right there and it could scare you. It's very important that you hold still."
Django leans over and offers a "kiss" -- more like she's licking the tip of the girl's nose. One after another, the people who've gotten a monkey kiss walk away with big grins on their faces.
Cassie Poorman brought her seven year old son Wyatt to see The Monkey Man. "I think he's cute," she says, referring to Django. "She shook my hand and got on my hand and then went to the nose -- gave me a kiss on the nose and then she gave my son a high five."
Sometimes, Django pulls up short. "She likes the way you look," Brown explains to a man. "She wants to come with you but she hates cologne."
Bobby Ewing, 11, was visiting the Grange Fair from his home in McVeytown. "It felt weird when it shook my hand and its tongue felt like a dog's. Like a tiny dog's tongue," he says, talking about the kiss Django planted on his nose. "He got on my shoulder and then tried to get on my head!"
It's not just about the monkey. Brown prides himself on being an entertainer.
He performs magic tricks, mysteriously transforming a one dollar bill into a fiver. Occasionally, Brown picks up one of the musical instruments he plays, including a concertina and a ukulele.
Brown says he's been a professional entertainer for 47 years. When he got Django, in the early 90s, Brown was creating educational theater programs for kids in school. He says schools were interested in shows about foreign cultures and he began portraying a Gypsy character. He says Django is a Gypsy name.
Over time the work has shifted and Brown found himself performing less and less at schools. Eventually, the county fair circuit became a full-time gig. "My work is totally seasonal now," Brown says. "I work festivals from mid-April to the end of October, early November.
"I never really intended to become the monkey guy like this. This happened by accident like all good things in my life."
Brown, who hails from Lancaster, Pa., has been performing at the Grange Fair for the past several years.
He has many other talents including stilt-walking, juggling and fire eating but The Monkey Man persona has become an irresistible force. "I hardly get to do anything anymore because of her. I tell people I used to be a real entertainer but now I just drive for the monkey," he says laughing.
There's even a website now and it's called The Monkey Man. Brown's slogan is "Have monkey will travel."
"Oh, you're cute. I like you" a man gushes, watching Django intently. "Thanks," Brown replies quickly turning to the next customer. "Cool. Hold that up like that. Hold it still," he says. "The monkey will take it. Take your quarter. Be gentle. In the cup."
Then it's off to the next smiling face.
"Hold your hand like that," Brown says, showing a child how to hold the palm of his hand out flat. "Hold it still. The monkey will give you five. Django shake her hand."
Five-year-old Sahana Davidek was clearly impressed with her monkey encounter. "It was cute," she says. Sahana didn't want a monkey kiss, opting instead for a high five. "It feels soft," she says of Django's hand.
"Hey kid, don't wipe that off," Brown admonishes a teenager. "Monkey kisses are lucky. How do you think I got like this?"
"You're cute," a passerby calls out, pointing at Django. Without missing a beat, Brown fires back, "She was saying the same thing about you."
Brown says everybody just wants to have contact with Django. "At my age it's something that I do that I love that gets better as I get older. That's a blessing."