For many who grew up in Raleigh in the 60s and 70s, a trip downtown was not complete without buying a bag of peanuts from the peanut man. Jesse Broyles, a fixture at the Capitol from 1963 to 1981, braved the elements and the efforts of state groundskeepers to rid the grounds of peanut hulls and pigeons.
A familiar sight to Raleigh citizens since he settled on the Capitol Square steps facing Fayetteville Street four years ago, Broyles can be seen anytime of day, rain or shine, selling his peanuts and talking things over with passers-by and the pigeons.
"I used to sit over there," Broyles said, nodding toward the other side of the steps. "Peanut sellers had been sitting there for 40 years until George Cherry [director of the state General Services Division] made me move one year after I come here. I guess he thought I'd give up on account of being out in the weather without the shelter of that magnolia tree. ...
"One day when it was raining I pushed my cart back under the tree and Cherry came down and bawled me out. But I don't mind being out in the wet -- used to be a Marine."
Broyles laughed. "My business has picked up 200 per cent since Cherry made me move over to this side. People buy more peanuts since I'm out in the open."
Cherry's other tactics [to shoo away the pigeons] have made no impression on the birds, Broyles said.
"They tried blinking lights to scare them off, but they didn't pay no mind, did you, Speck?" he said, cracking a peanut for a black-spotted white pigeon. ...
Grass fertilizer has poisoned many of the birds in the last few years, Broyles says, and has slimmed down the flock from several hundred to only 100.
But Broyles is unruffled. "I think maybe they're getting immune to it."
Not even the recent loss of the legislator trade disturbs the stout-hearted Broyles. Legislators, when in session, used to account for a good deal of the peanut business, because they often walked through the square. In the last session, peanuts were outlawed in both houses because of the continual cracking noises.
"That don't really hurt my business none," Broyles said, "because the legislators just bought peanuts for themselves, never for the birds, so they didn't buy as many as most do."
Broyles says that although most people consider peanuts "just bird feed," he has "never seen a legislator give a peanut to a pigeon." The N&O Jan. 3, 1967