Hurdy Gurdy

hurdy-gurdyThe beginning, 1970. Mr. Gurdy robs a pocketful of coins from Jimmy. The Monterey City Council had three votes, before the show was given permanent status to operate at the front of Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, California. There was a vote for a two-week trial period, then a vote for a full summer, to determine if the show was appropriate for one of Monterey’s biggest tourist attractions. In the spirit of John Steinbeck, the Monterey City Council took a chance on something offbeat. It paid off for everyone concerned.

hurdy-gurdy-02Seeking authenticity, in 1972. Over the years, Hurdy Gurdy and the monkeys experimented with many colorful costumes. This image presents a “cob organ” on a stick. This cob organ was not an authentic organ grinder’s hand-cranked barrel organ. Later, Mr. Gurdy would add two rare hand-cranked barrel organs to his collection, and they could be heard at the far end of the Wharf.

hurdy-gurdy-jimmyHurdy Gurdy and Jimmy, 1973. Gypsies were probably the best “organ grinders” ever, when it came to training monkeys for their shows. The legend is, that Gypsies invented hurdy gurdy shows, by playing hand-cranked barrel organs – or sometimes accordions – while their children begged for money with tin cups. This practice was banned, and so they took to training monkeys that would hold out tin cups, or simply take money to put into the pockets of their regal uniforms. Contributions were greeted by a “tip of the hat” from their monkeys, and many more tricks that only Gypsies could figure out how to accomplish with their animals. Their methods did not constitute cruelty to their animals. Monkeys can only be trained with cautious repetition, praise, rewards, and love.

hurdy-gurdy-03A half-barrel of monkeys. Hurdy Gurdy, with Oscar, Gomez, and Squeeker. About 1980. This photograph became an Associated Press release, and was published in newspapers all over the United States.


hurdy-gurdy-04Hurdy Gurdy and Gomez work the Monterey County Fair. About 1975. Pictured is the last hand-cranked barrel organ created by the master organ maker, Mr. Louis Bacigalupi.


hurdy-gurdy-05Mr. Gurdy carefully dresses Oscar. Over the years, many colorful costumes were constructed for the monkeys. They are obviously quite difficult to make.


oscar-02Training Oscar for a picture as “Super O.” Gurdy thought it might make a good new cereal.


hurdy-gurdy-06Gomezler the Embezzler,” about 1976. The powerful monkey could be quite a handful.


hurdy-gurdy-07Gomez takes a bow, at the Front of Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. About 1976.


hurdy-gurdy-mpcMr. Hurdy Gurdy tried his hand at politics. He was elected Student Body President of Monterey Peninsula College, in 1976. He served two terms of office. Jimmy the monkey did not get the “cold shoulder” from students at MPC.


Jump to 1993. Two committees of the California State Department of Parks and Recreation in Sacramento, reviewed and approved a researched and comprehensive proposal, for The Show to become a Historical Interpretation, representing California State’s Monument Number One – the Custom House. The Custom House is also a United States Historical Landmark. A contract was issued, and signed by a State’s Attorney General, the acting Superintendent of the Monterey Parks District, and Philip Charles Monroe.


hurdy-gurdy-08Hurdy Gurdy and Oscar perform in front of the Custom House.