Sam Ketcham seems more puzzled than hurt when he talks about his abrupt ouster from the upscale Atlanta shopping mall where he had performed his organ grinder act with a monkey for three decades.
Ketcham, known around Atlanta as The Monkey Man, can be found these days in short stints such as the North Georgia State Fair.He was doing a brisk business Thursday night while his 39-year-old monkey, Willie, dressed in a flowered suit and cowboy hat, collected mostly nickels and pennies from children at the fair.
At Lenox Square, the mall where he worked since 1959, he said he and his son, also an organ grinder, could pull in a couple hundred dollars in a good week.
But he was told this summer he no longer fits the image of Lenox Square and could not perform there after July 19.
"All of a sudden, I got a letter saying I can't come back," he said.
Ketcham, 72, is among a vanishing breed, doing an act associated with simpler times in a city that strains to be a model for the future.
"Everybody gets a kick out of it," Ketcham said, nodding at the kids. "See how they go? They go crazy over the monkey."
When Willie needed a rest, Ketcham locked the animal in a compartment in the back of his cart, and mused about how his life has changed.
"Everybody calls, wanting to know when we're coming back to Lenox Square," he said. "I don't know what to say."
He gets by on Social Security and odd jobs now, with help from his son.
Warren Chaumont, Lenox Square's director of marketing, said Ketcham just didn't fit in any more at the mall, one of the city's most stylish. He said some store owners objected to the organ grinder's presence and the mall had received some complaints from shoppers.
"Having an organ grinder in the middle of the center was not in keeping with the caliber of stores," he said.
Ketcham said he can keep busy with an occasional fair, birthday party or banquet, but that can't compare with a regular site.
"Everything's so high these days," he said. "There's nothing like having a steady place to go to every week."