Ed Gotwalt or "Mister Ed" shares why he needs the help of the community to help others.
Chambersburg public opinion
He loved theater, but Mister Ed didn't perform.
Ed Gotwalt really lived every day and did everything to make friends and strangers happy. It was really, as many people have put it, "bigger than life".
"There are people out there who work really hard to be characters, then there are some characters out there and that's them, they don't try. Ed was a showman. He was obviously an entrepreneur. He was always there, though there was something real about it, "said Terry Burger, who met Ed over his decades as a journalist in South Central Pennsylvania.
Mr. Ed "never met strangers"
Mister Ed, who died on February 26th at the age of 84, crossed paths with thousands of people in his decades and was the face of Mister Ed's Elephant Museum. A candy store in a huge display of everything elephant-related, it has been a must see on Route 30 between Chambersburg and Gettysburg since it opened in 1975.
"Knowing about Mister Ed didn't always start with knowing Mister Ed," Lauren Beaston of Fayetteville told public opinion. "It started with growing up locally and visiting the store."
Ed Gotwalt at Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum, Orrtanna. (Photo: file)
Beaston first met Mister Ed when he volunteered to rescue the elephants and other items that were not lost in a fire in 2010 that destroyed the store and much of its contents. She was surprised he remembered her when she later visited the converted shop.
Beaston later took her daughter to all of Mr. Ed's Easter, Halloween, and Christmas events. She always made a point of talking to him. She also supported his efforts, such as purchasing the full trilogy of "Route 30" films in which he was featured.
Mister Ed even stepped forward to help Beaston when, as a single mother, she couldn't get to her daughter's daycare on time.
"Mr. Ed would see my (Facebook) post and comment or message me that he would pick up my daughter and bring her home or his house until I got out and he and Miss Pat (Ed's wife) were watching her" said Beaston in a text message. "I cannot repeat enough the gratitude and admiration I have had for him over the years."
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Catching up with Mister Ed became a tradition for Dave Yates. The man from Gettysburg met him back in the 1970s when he was working as an apprentice for the company that made water and gas connections for sellers at York Fair. He eventually took over the company and tried to see Ed at the show every year.
"The first time you meet him, it's like meeting a new, old friend," said Yates. "I don't think Ed ever met strangers."
Erica Lee will "forever cherish" a photo Mister Ed took with her stepson in July 2015. A few years earlier she moved from San Antonio to Chambersburg. When a friend and her elephant-loving daughter came to visit, Lee knew they had to go to Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum. Ed, who had turned the business over to his granddaughter and husband the previous year, happened to walk in just before the group left.
"I said to (my stepson) Gabe, 'Look, there's the famous Mister Ed,'" Lee said happily agreeing to take a picture with the boy, who was then 5 years old.
"He was always quick with a smile and what a smile he had," she said.
"He was just great in his presence"
Mr. Ed had the gift of making customers and acquaintances feel like dear friends. He made people feel important, much like he treated his own granddaughter.
"It would fall to the floor and make me feel like nobody was as important as me at that moment," said Nicole Bucher, who now owns the business with her husband Isaac. "I think that's how he made other people feel and why they appreciate the interactions they had with him."
Nicole said her grandfather's plays – like the time he played show music while walking the streets of New York City – sometimes made her ashamed growing up, but seeing how he ran his business helped her, the person to become who she is today.
"The larger-than-life person didn't get me on this stage as a kid, but growing up shows what he meant to the community and it was really special," said Nicole.
Burger, who first met Mister Ed in the spring of 1985 on one of his first assignments for the Gettysburg Times, said his mind always compared him to the short film "Lord of the Rings" Barliman Butterbur. round and friendly host who took great care of his customers.
"I was always surprised when I saw him after a while how small he was. He seemed just a little bigger than life, and it's true. He was just great in his presence," he said.
He saw firsthand how much people valued Mister Ed when he interviewed him in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the store over a decade ago.
"People went on and said, 'Mister Ed, you probably don't remember me, but …' and then gave him an elephant," said Burger.
The sun was shining on Ed Gotwalt, better known as "Mister Ed", when he was packing elephants to be sent to the Ringling Mansion in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in August 2015. (Photo: file)
When Ed Gotwalt became Mister Ed, he achieved the goal he set in the beginning.
He started his candy business in the 1970s "with the intent of becoming that character, Mister Ed," said Isaac Bucher.
"He really wanted to make it his goal to become that character in the community that everyone recognized. It started from the beginning and took quite a while. That set him apart from other people," he said.
As Mr. Ed said to public opinion in 2002, "I lost my name a long time ago. Everyone just calls me Mr. Ed."
The business, originally known as Mister Eds: The Area's Most Unusual General Store, developed when Ed started collecting elephant jewelry and other strange items. The original business closed for bankruptcy in 1983, but a godsend and a local broker helped it find its current location. He opened the business in 1984 as the Mister Eds Elephant Museum.
More: Mr. Ed won't let another car accident slow his recovery
"He loved proving people wrong."
Stunts were at the heart of his unique marketing brand.
At Christmas time, he became known for arriving at his shop as Santa Claus. When his attempt to arrive in a hot air balloon failed and he was dangling from a tree in the Michaux State Forest, it caught international attention.
To celebrate America's bicentenary in 1976, he made the news for his efforts to stay awake for 76 hours. And yes, he did it.
“He was always thinking, always dreaming, and always coming up with ideas that other people thought were a little crazy. He loved proving people wrong,” said Nicole Bucher, adding that he had a yellow notepad to keep ideas around and write down lists.
His care extended beyond his own business to the region. Janet Pollard, the executive director of the Franklin County Visitors Bureau, saw this as both attended events promoting local tourism.
"He was absolutely entrepreneurial in his approach to getting people interested not only in his products but also in the place we all call home," she said.
The Buchers made changes to the business – like adding more homemade products and expanding the wholesale business – knowing they had the full support of Mr. Ed. Now they plan to follow his advice to always follow your gut instinct, Nicole said.
"I will go forward and listen to my stomach and know that I have my grandfather's blessings."
Amber South can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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