Headstone for Dancing Dave Whatley
It Happens in Alabama is asking, with all our heart, for your help in raising money for a headstone for an Alabama celebrity, Icon and regional legend, "Dancing" Dave Whatley. He passed on September 19, 2015, buried on September 25, 2015 and has no headstone. Let's give him a headstone fitting for the "King of the Wiregrass." His sister is 90 years old and only has a small amount of nieces and family left. Times are hard for all. Please would you donate what you did when he danced for you? A couple dollars or a quarter? Instead of a smile, we ask you to please, please like this page and share with your facebook and twitter friends and family and include your story in the comments of your memory of Dave. We need your help.
A Statue was donated in his honor and the Murals of the Wiregrass are painting a huge mural in his memory. All the while, this legend is buried in an unmarked grave.
Everyone has assumed that someone else took care of this. Which is not the case. I am asking for your help and donations to make this right. He brought so much happiness to everyone all his life and a Senator even spoke at his funeral on September 25, 2015.
I want his grave to be a place where he still smiles. A place where those who loved him can now come to visit and his legend will live on forever. Just the way Hank Williams, Sr.'s grave is in Montgomery.
Jim Cook, in his article for the Dothan Eagle, gave the best insight to who David Whatley was in his article:
"Keep on Dancin' Dave" :
Everyone knows him, but no one really knows him. Easily one of the most recognizable people in the Wiregrass, Dancin’ Dave is also one of the most enigmatic.
Generations of local residents have grown up seeing the sailor suit-clad man walking the highways of the Wiregrass, dancing for a quarter or asking passers-by for a ride. Although many have stopped to pick him up or have tossed him a few dollars in appreciation of his dancing, few know the real Dave or how he came to be one of the most beloved public personalities in the area.
“He’s just an icon,” said Bob Coleman, owner of Caesar’s Palace Barbershop in Dothan. “I think he’s just a breed of person who marches to his own drumbeat and I think people enjoy seeing that type of person.”
It’s hard to get to know the real Dancin’ Dave. Conflicting stories and theories abound, from what his real name is, to where he lives or why he wears white sailor suits. Some folks say he’s secretly rich, while others say he’s homeless. Rumor has it that Dave was in the Navy at some point, while other folks contend that he took up wearing his trademark outfits after admiring how some sailors passing through the area were dressed.
Dave’s real name is David Whatley, although he’s also known to go by the name of Junior Trawick. Dave’s birthplace was in Headland in a home near where Holman Headland Mortuary now resides. He was one of 15 children — 13 boys and two girls. He says he was born on March 31, 1927, making him 81 years old, but a birth certificate held by state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, who helps administer Dave’s affairs, says he’s only 78.
Lillie Bond is one of Dave’s two surviving siblings. Bond said that from an early age she could tell there was something special about her brother.
“He’s a happy person, he likes doing what he does, he always has,” she said. “He’s just a spirit like that.”
Dave’s father died when he was 12, and he left home and went to live with relatives in Donalsonville, Ga. Growing up in an era where segregation and poverty hindered opportunities for blacks, Dave only completed the third grade. He’s made a living for most of his life doing manual labor.
Dave’s travels eventually led him to Slocomb, where he stayed for many years, living humbly and getting by on doing farm work and odd jobs. It was during this time that he befriended the Smith family.
“I had been to his house when he lived in Slocomb,” Harri Anne Smith said. “He lived very simply. He was in a shack with a wood stove for heat and cooking. He washed his clothes by hand and ironed his clothes with an old flat iron that he heated on the wood stove. His house was clean with everything in its place and his yard was dirt which was raked clean. I think he did this so that he could see footprints if someone had come by while he wasn’t there.”
Maddie Tolbert, a Slocomb resident said, “He used to come by and would sell candy. My kids would always see him when he came by and would say, ‘Here comes Dave, selling candy.’”
It was during his time in Slocomb that Dave began dancing after doing clean-up work for a local night club. Residents can remember Dave standing on street corners with a transistor radio up to his ear, dancing.
The sailor suits came later. Dave said he started wearing the suits after meeting some Navy sailors and being impressed by the uniform. Dave got some of the suits and began wearing them. He’s tried giving them up once or twice, but said he likes the notoriety they give him.
“I quit wearing them one time, but then nobody could see me,” he said.
Eventually, Dave became known for showing up at local festivals and events and dancing. Local law enforcement agencies have taken a kindly view toward the eccentric icon, realizing that he’s a benign presence in the community.
“Dancin’ Dave bothers no one,” Headland Police Lt. Dennis Cobb said. “Dancin’ Dave is just Dancin’ Dave.’”
More than 10 years ago, Dave’s house in Slocomb burned to the ground in a fire. Since then, he’s lived with Bond in a house in Dothan near Walden Park.
“Sometimes he makes me laugh, and sometimes he upsets me,” Bond said. “But I put up with him because when I was real small my father told me before he died to take care of all my brothers and sisters, and I took care of them.”
Driving around with Dave can be a history lesson. Having resided in the Wiregrass area for nearly seven decades, Dave knows just about everything about any given place. On the road to Headland on Tuesday, Dave pointed out the many changes he’s seen to the small town where he was born.
“Back when I was 20 years old, all the houses looked like that one right there,” he said, pointing to an old wooden shack on Headland Avenue. “Headland has sure come on. Ain’t nothing like it used to be.”
Smith said Dave has an uncanny memory for people and places and can often tell local residents surprising things about their family history.
“People say he’s crazy, but he’s not,” she said.
Coleman said Dave is a throwback to the old Southern eccentrics of yesteryear, those residents who might be described as ‘a little touched,’ but who the whole community thought well of and worked to take care of and protect.
“There won’t be another one like him,” Coleman said. “That type of person has become conformed to the system. Some people refuse to conform to the system, and he’s one of them.”
Smith said, “I think Dave is very much a part of who we are now. I believe the people of the Wiregrass would do anything they could to help someone in need. I think they help people like Dave every day. It is just that many of the people that are helped do not dance on the corner and wear white sailor suits. Now, Dave will always be Dave, and there will never be another Dancin’ Dave.”
Lance Griffin a News reporter with the Dothan Eagle really summed up just how special Dave was to so many people, in his article:
"Mourners gather to remember Dancing Dave Whatley ".....
HEADLAND – Dancing Dave Whatley did not need music to have a song.
Even though Dave’s health began to fail a few years ago and he was not as noticeable on the roads of the Wiregrass, this region of more than 100,000 people seems empty because of the absence of one.
The message Friday morning at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church was that although Dave Whatley died this week, and although his body was carried by horse-drawn carriage to his burial place in Dothan, he is still dancing.
Rev. Delvick McKay, pastor of Greater Shiloh, drew from Dave’s Biblical namesake, King David. The Bible says David danced before The Lord. Friends and family who gathered to pay respects Friday are convinced Dave Whatley heard the church choir music Friday morning, and danced.
Relatives celebrated the simplicity of Dancing Dave’s life. Nieces and nephews said the essence of Dave could be summed up in one sentence.
“All he wanted to do was dance and make people happy,” one niece said. “He lit up a lot of lives.”
The simplicity of his life did not diminish the impact.
Dancing Dave was a fixture at the annual National Peanut Festival Parade. Other parade participants have access for specific reasons. The mayor and commissioners are granted access because they are elected officials. Pageant queens are granted access because they won contests. Non-profits are granted access because they are charities. Marching bands are granted access because they are affiliated with schools.
Dave Whatley was granted access because he was Dancing Dave.
Senator Harri Anne Smith said she remembered one Christmas in Slocomb when Dave came to her door to wish her a Merry Christmas. She later learned that Dave had been to many homes in Slocomb that day. Sometimes he would leave with a plate of food. Sometimes he would just say Merry Christmas and move on to the next home.
Dancing Dave ascended to almost myth-like status many years ago in the Wiregrass. He would be seen by someone walking on Highway 431 between Headland and Dothan in the morning, then on Highway 52 near Slocomb just a few hours later – almost always dressed in all white.
If you made eye contact with him, he would dance for a couple of dollars, or a quarter, or a smile.
Seeing Dancing Dave became an event. As technology advanced, people would post photos to Facebook. Some would make videos and post to You Tube. One woman saw Dave recently, bought him lunch and asked him how he got all those white suits.
When Dave was 12 years old, he worked cleaning yards and hoeing the garden for a Headland businessman who gave him white shirts and ties. It soon became a trend.
Later, sailors coming home from service gave their suits to him as gifts.
“They would come by and leave me some in a box on my porch,” he said during a recent YouTube interview. “They would have their name on there and I would know who left them.”
As mourners left the church Friday, a man in the back stood as pallbearers pushed the casket toward the hearse.
“There will never be another one like him,” he said.
Here is how I got involved:
"A Mural, A Statue, an Unmarked Grave?"
By: Janet Kynard , It Happens in Alabama
My Heart was broken like a little child. Remember when we were children and things didn't go according to our plans? It was the end of the World! It's like getting skates or a bike on Christmas, only to open the door, and it's raining in Alabama. That's what happened to me! I cried like my favorite pet or toy was taken away. Let's back up and let you know what happened.
I was on a business trip to Dothan, Alabama. I had not been there in years, as this was out of my territory. So while I was there, I decided to learn more about this town, for posts for my website and articles for a book I am writing. I had passed through there on the way to the beach for decades.
When I checked into the Clarion, I noticed a visitor guide. I picked it up and after getting settled in my room, I read it from cover to cover. After getting finished with my work the next morning, I began my journey. First stop was the Statue of Jonathan. Crazy place to start, right? The engraving on the statue read, “For I heard Them Say ‘Let Us Go to Dothan’” (Genesis 37:17). I titled my article about the murals of the Wiregrass based on this bible verse.
As I traveled around the downtown area, I noticed I was surrounded by nuts! Yep Peanuts! While researching the murals and peanuts on the internet, I discovered an amazing person! Dancin' Dave Whatley! He had a peanut that was donate in his honor and a mural of him is being painted. It is being painted on a historic building across from the G W Carver Interpretive Museum and is expected to be dedicated the first of November, during the Peanut Festival.
The more I read about Dave, the more excited I got. I felt an immediate kinship to him, as if I had known him forever. I found out where he lived; that he was always at every festival, parade and event, was a permanent fixture around town and could often be found walking down Hwy 431 or Hwy 52. After finding out on the internet that he had a peanut in Headland, Alabama, just outside of Dothan, I got, just like a child, so excited. I might be able to meet him. I knew I had to keep my eyes pealed, just in case I passed him on the four lane.
The next news release broke my heart, like a child on a rainy Christmas morning with a new pair of skates under my arm. I found out that the person I had developed a connection too was gone. I was almost a year late. Dave had died of cancer on September 19, 2015. I cried like a baby the rest of the night. I felt so empty, like I had just lost a member of my own family.
I stored his final resting place in my GPS and the next day, was off to Memory Hills Cemetery. I wanted to give Dave a present, so I stopped on the way, to pick up flowers for his grave. I wanted white roses because he always wore white, but I could not find white ones. Then I remembered a picture of him wearing a red tie. I purchased red roses and found white ribbon with rhinestones on it. How perfect I thought. Dave will get a smile from this. The rhinestones will sparkle like the twinkle in his eye, when he made others smile.
I walked into Ward-Wilson Funeral home with a tablet and a pen to get directions to his grave site. When I approached Dee and a gentleman at the desk, Robert Greathouse was coming down the hall to greet me. With a sympathetic, condoling look on their faces, skin in a shade of gray and a very quiet concerned voice, he was asked, "Can I help you." I replied, "I hope you can. I am looking for the grave of Dancing Dave. I understand he is buried here." At that very moment all 3 people got a twinkle in their eye, a huge smile on their face, their skin turned Alabama peach and the quiet voices turned into excitement.
Robert said, "I Know exactly where it is. Follow me. I'll take to right to it." I pulled my little blue Kia around the building to follow his big red truck and off we went. As I followed him, I drew the directions to Dave's final resting place, on my tablet laying in the seat next to me; first right past the funeral home, first left, first left, then Robert parked on the right near the corner. With a happy heart, I got out of my car with Flowers and camera in hand.
Robert walked back and forth, back and forth, forward and backwards for nearly 5 minutes looking for the headstone. I reminded him that Dave's last name was Whatley. Not seeing a headstone with the name Whatley on it. I said "He was buried almost one year ago. How long does it take for the grass to grow back?" He continued to walk around, when the groundskeeper drove up and ask if he could help. He pointed to a small sunken spot in the dirt near to the curb.
I burst into tears! We were standing on Dave and had been walking all over the top of him! Just like other people would have, when coming to visit their loved ones and not even realizing he was there.
Here I was with flowers that I was so excited to give to Dave, my camera and ready to meet the legend that I had connected with, only to find out he was buried in an unmarked grave? I broke down crying right there in front of both of those men! Without even thinking, the first words out of my mouth were "This is unacceptable, we have got to fix this!"
I knew immediately what I had to do! It was at that moment that it became very clear why God had sent me to Dothan. "For I heard Them say 'Let Us Go to Dothan'" took on a very different meaning that day.
How the money will be used:
The money raised will be used to purchase a wonderful marker. We want to have the same etched picture as on his marker, located at his peanut statue in Headland, Alabama.
This means a great deal to me and so many others. When I mentioned Dancing Dave to people, around town, they lit up. Their eyes sparkled and they got a huge smile on their face. When I told them about my visit to the cemetery, all smiles were gone and sparkles where replaced with a tear,
Your help in keeping his legacy alive is so greatly appreciated. We thank you so very much!
If you'd like to know more about "Dancing" Dave Whatley, here are more links:
More about Dave Whatley
ARTICLE: Discussions begin to create Dancing Dave mural
ARTICLE: Dancin’ Dave in hospice care after advanced cancer diagnosis
ARTICLE: Dancin' Dave now has his own Peanut statue
This is the most precious of all! Dancin' Dave sings "I'll Fly Away"
Be Sure to click link below for Updates and new news stories from the media.
A Conversation with "Dancin' Dave"
Most cities have at least one. That character that everyone recognizes and waves to on occasion, but who almost always remains a complete enigma.
I spotted "Dancin' Dave" walking across a parking lot near highway 52 west, with his bearded face, in his familiar white clothing, and his ever present knapsack thrown over his shoulder. I had my camera, so I decided to ask if I could make a snapshot of him. He consented, dropped his knapsack to the ground and posed.
Geneva Alabama African American Legacy. He walked over and leaned against my car and asked, "What's your name, ma'am?" I said, "My name is Claudia Williams." To that he said, "Pleased to meet you, Miss Claudia." Then he told me his name and his mother and father's name.
Almost instantly, I recognized that there was something about this man that was totally superior to the public image he portrayed. There was a kind demeanor in the way he spoke as well as his mannerisms. He was soft-spoken and very articulate. I told him that I was collecting photos and information of local blacks so that it could be compiled into a history of our culture later. He said that was good.
I had seen him often sitting on a bench outside the north K-Mart store, so I asked him if there was a reason for that. He told me that the place had a special meaning to him. His family had lived on a farm in that area over 60 years ago. He said he was a very young child then, but going there now gives him a special feeling of inner peace.
I asked him where he lives now. His answer reminded me of a lesson on giving discrete answers by grandparents when we were growing up. Some whites had a tendency to corner black children and get information from them about their parents. We were taught to give a truthful answer, but not an answer to the question.
One year when we were sharecroppers, the boll weevils destroyed our cotton crop. There was no money to pay debts that fall. The landowner took everything tangible we had to satisfy the debt. We only had a yearling calf left. I guess he was waiting for him to get fatter before he took him.
One night my dad and some friends butchered the calf and by sunrise he was on his way to a cold storage bin in Dothan. When the owner asked where he was, we said, "He's gone somewhere." "Where is that calf?" We answered, "He was in the field grazing yesterday. We haven't seen him this morning." We did what we were taught to do.
Perhaps "Dancin' Dave" felt that I did not need to know where he lived. He said, "I live in Geneva county." I respected his answer and did not press him further.
He told me that his parents bought him a radio when he was small and that he used to prance to the rhythm he listened to. When he was a teenager, he went with a group of boys to a dance in Florida and noticed that their dancing was completely different from what he had been doing by his radio at home. But then he got the notion to get out on that dance floor anyway and dance. Everyone was fascinated by his dance-steps and soon he had the dance floor all by himself. He has been dancing ever since.
He had been booked all over the tri-states for special performances as well as entertainment for school children. He especially enjoys performing for children. "They make you feel young." he said.
He added that he had lived a clean life. He had never drank anything stronger than a Coca-Cola and that his faith in God had kept him strong.
He reached over and picked up his knapsack and threw it over his shoulder and asked me if I would give him a quarter to buy a soda. I said, "You can't buy a soda for a quarter." He smiled and said, 'I can." I gave him a quarter and he said, "God Bless you, Miss Claudia." And I said, "God Bless you, Dancin' Dave." And he walked away down Highway 52 toward where ever he lives in Geneva County.
When I shared this information with my mother, she remembered his family and him as a small child. I've wanted to share that with him when I've seen him several times since then. But, he has always smiled and walked away. I don't know if he remembers me. maybe that is just his way of saying, "You've had your turn."
Submitted by: Claudia Williams
Check out more great stories from Geneva, AL : http://www.genevapubliclibrary.org/geneva-history/african-american/dancin-dave.html
We are getting close too closing out this fund raiser for a headstone for Dave Whatley. We ask that you please donate what you can so he can have a nice headstone.
"Dancin' Dave reappears downtown in Dothan's newest mural" by: Lance Griffin, Dothan Eagle
Dave is dancing again. White gloves. White suit. DAVE in big capital letters across his white hat. A marching band in the background.
Artist Charly Palmer has made Dave come alive again in three frantic days on North Foster Street. Dothan’s newest mural is complete.
The city can come see Dave dance again. Don’t be surprised if people start throwing a few dollars at the base of the wall where he lives.
It is appropriate that Dancin’ Dave is behind Dothan’s musical roots mural – Buddy Buie, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles and Bobby Goldsboro – and in front of the city’s economic foundation mural. He is somewhere in between, not really part of either but belonging nonetheless.
Dave Whatley, however, would have fit almost anywhere. From the moment he died in September of 2015, Mural City became incomplete. Murals of the Wiregrass began soliciting submission ideas for a Dancin’ Dave mural in April.
Palmer, an accomplished artist who was born in Alabama, raised in Milwaukee and now lives in Atlanta, has completed the mural in three days.
Dancin' Dave became famous throughout Dothan and surrounding communities because he walked everywhere he went. He dressed in all white and would stop and dance for a few dollars when he met someone.
Palmer said he was unfamiliar with Dancin’ Dave when he was awarded the project and began researching him immediately. He didn’t understand Dave, however, until this weekend.
“I guess it was Saturday, people were walking by or driving by all day and when they saw us working they would stop. Everybody had a Dancin’ Dave story,” Palmer said. “I knew from my research that Dave was an icon here, but I didn’t know how much he meant to the community.”
“He represents the spirit of this town,” Palmer said.
Palmer has participated in several high profile projects. He was selected to design the official 1996 U.S. Olympic Poster for the Atlanta Games, as well as the 1998 U.S. Winter Olympics Poster. He recently worked as a professor of fine art at Spelman College in Atlanta and is in the process of creating a children’s book. Some of his art is currently on display at the George Washington Carver Interpretive Museum on North Foster Street, across from the mural site.
However, he had never painted a large mural. Artist Wes Hardin, who created many of Dothan’s murals, helped provide the general outline for Palmer, who did the rest starting Friday morning. Palmer projected a photo of Dave onto the wall for scale. He used acrylic paint specially ordered from Japan and sent to a Los Angeles supplier. When finished, a special preserving agent will be applied.
“This has been a pleasure,” Palmer said. “Now, people in this city can always find Dancin’ Dave.”
No donation is too small as the cemetery will match donations. We ask that you share this post with your friends on Facebook and Twitter and encourage them to donate to this cause. Thank you for reading this post and caring.