Service, parade set for the panhandler known as Mr. Butch
By Bryan Marquard, Globe Staff | July 19, 2007
In the days since Mr. Butch died last week, the stretch of Harvard Avenue in Allston that he called home has become a mecca for friends who walked the sidewalks where he panhandled and played a pennywhistle, a pied piper of urban cheer.
They have come to tell stories, funny and sad, about the homeless man who made them feel a little more at home in Boston.
"It's become like Butch Central here," said Sue Jeiven, owner of Regeneration Tattoo, which for a few days has hosted a window display that included Mr. Butch's famous leather coat with his name stenciled on the back in red and white letters.
"People just want to talk about how they knew Butch," said Toni Fanning, owner of Ritual Arts, the store next door. "He touched an awful lot of people in so many ways."
On Sunday, friends of the homeless man who seemed to have more constituents than many a Boston politician will gather with Mr. Butch's family at 6:30 p.m. on Harvard Avenue to celebrate his life with a parade led by a New Orleans-style brass band, followed by a chorus of pennywhistles and a funeral service at a nearby church.
Mr. Butch, whose name was Harold Madison Jr., was 56 when he died from injuries he suffered when the motor scooter he was driving hit a pole the morning of July 12.
A fixture in Kenmore Square for two decades beginning in the late 1970s, he had moved to the section of Harvard Avenue north of Commonwealth Avenue about a decade ago.
Family members in Worcester, where Mr. Butch grew up, knew he was well liked, but they did not know the extent of his popularity until after he died. In the past few years, friends had created a MySpace tribute website and a Wikipedia entry for Mr. Butch. YouTube videos on the Internet show him in his many facets, from the rhyming street poet whose words delighted passersby to the angry man who could spew drunken harangues.
"I had no idea he had met so many people," said his sister, Jeannette Madison of Worcester. "It just meant that Butch had a life of his own. And that was life, being out there meeting people. He's one of those types where there's a master plan for him, and that was it. That was God's master plan for Butch."
The response to his death, she said, has been overwhelming. By yesterday, the guest book for Mr. Butch on legacy.com ran 29 pages.
"We loved Butch in our way, and Boston loved Butch in their way," she said. "Butch is my brother, and we loved him, no matter what he chose to do."
Mr. Butch chose to live on the streets of Boston, moving to Kenmore Square in his late 20s. A drummer and guitarist, he wrote songs, played on the streets, and occasionally sat in with bands in clubs.
Music will be a theme Sunday when the parade forms at the corner of Harvard and Commonwealth avenues in front of Marty's Liquors, a tip of the hat to Mr. Butch's taste for spirits. Following the brass band, the parade will travel along Harvard Avenue to Brighton Avenue, then head west toward Cambridge Street.
En route to the International Community Church on Cambridge Street, the crowd will pause at the accident site. Fanning said organizers are trying to find a way to set up an audio system at the site to play a clip of Mr. Butch performing one of his songs, "All I Want to Do Is Drink My Beer."
The parade will end with pennywhistles played by anyone who wants to join in. The service will begin at 8 p.m., followed by gatherings in the church and at local bars and restaurants.
"I feel like you should be making a joyful noise when you leave this earth," Mr. Butch's sister said. "I want us to be happy on Sunday, and I want us to rejoice that Butch is safe in the arms of God."
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