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Peanut Men

GOOD GOOBERS — Whistling sounds used to be heard all over downtown Jacksonville. This probably made mouths water, for the racket came from roasters on the peanut carts that dotted many street corners. During the early 1900s, peanut men sold goobers to the numerous townsfolk who shopped & worked in the urban core. Their roasters were fitted with whistles that blew as hot vapors escaped. (Moviegoers knew the sound well enough that “The Three Stooges” referred to whistling peanut vendors in one of their comedy shorts. In an episode from 1939, an angry lady threatened the Stooges, “I’ll shoot you so full of holes that you’ll whistle like a peanut wagon!”)

A description of the peanut men was provided by long-time Jax resident Jack McGiffin in his book It Ain’t Like It Was in the Good Old Days… No, And It Never Was. According to the author, most of the vendors hailed from Southern Europe and sported large mustaches. Their carts were balanced on two wagon wheels and had two legs & handles at one end. The roaster also sat at that end, while under the cart were drawers for charcoal, empty peanut bags, and other things. Much of the rest of the stand was occupied by peanuts drying in the sun. The charcoal-powered roaster cooked the goobers in a round drum, which the vendor rotated with a hand crank. He dumped the cooked nuts into bags with a scoop, and he then kept the bags warm in a space over the drum. Each bag could be bought for five cents (or roughly 85 cents in today’s money).

Whenever people later asked Mr. McGiffin why he didn’t take a vacation from his local transportation business, he would reply, “When I take my hand off the handle, the peanuts burn.” He said that some townsfolk, remembering the downtown vendors, knew exactly what he meant.

Hotdog vendors now operate in several downtown spots, while boiled peanut stands pop up along such area highways as 441. But downtown goober sellers have gone the way of the trolley cars and the downtown department stores.

~written by Glenn Emery

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