A gravelly voice cuts through the cold air each weekday morning at a heavily used cross section of Boston Common, delivering his daily performance from a seat on a stone wall just north of the Boston Common Baseball Field.
Gilbert Farley, the popular, self-proclaimed “Celebrity Beacon Hill Town Crier, the Weatherman” has never been too keen on the idea of begging for a living. So he’s flipped the script, delivering uplifting comments and a slice of the daily news as a service to those walking by.
“Have a great day, have a wonderful morning!” he shouts on a frosty Tuesday as foot travelers converge onto his prime real estate from six different walking paths, originating at Beacon, Boylston, Charles and Tremont streets, and two pedestrian entrances to the Boston Common Garage.
He’s just about impossible to miss, greeting passersby with banter and an accurate account of the day’s weather and the previous night’s sports scores.
“Forty-three degrees this afternoon,” Farley says. “Very, very cold and chilly.”
The 57-year-old, all-sports-and-weather newsman said he hasn’t worked a traditional job since 1980. But after twice reinventing his act, Farley has become something of an institution in the Common – a unique public servant of sorts for Bostonians who walk past.
“I don’t talk about who shot who, who killed who,” Farley said. “I let the original, regular news do that. All I talk about is weather and sports and temperature.”
Each morning he wakes up at 5 a.m. in his $135--a-week apartment in Dorchester and makes sure he knows three things – the weather forecast, the temperature for the day and how Boston’s sports teams did the previous night.
“I just love the people and the people love me,” said Farley, whose gregarious personality often gets him sidetracked in conversations with passersby.
Farley, for his part, says he has things together now.
The occupation he invented for himself – and he thinks of it as an occupation, not panhandling -- allows him to buy his own food, and pay his rent and phone bill, he said.
Farley said he got clean from drugs and moved into his apartment in 2011.
Before that he carried around his belongings in a bag and slept in the Charles River Reservation where he said he tried to keep to himself to avoid trouble.
“I don’t have to do that anymore,” Farley said. “Walk around with a bag with my clothes and be in fear because I didn’t know who was going to attack me or who was going to hurt me. In the Charles River they have all kinds of corruptions.”
He does still use trash bags, though. A Boston Common park employee recently snuck Farley a roll of grey industrial-sized bags, which he usually sits on, with a worn blue pillow stuffed inside to protect it from the elements. It also provides a buffer between Farley and the cold slab of stone he parks himself on each day.
He said he now makes $60 to $70 a day, arriving at his post around sunrise each day and then leaving some time around noon when things slow down. This time of year, he likes to head to the Dunkin’ Donuts at Boylston and Tremont streets after a four- to six-hour shift giving commuters their water cooler fodder.
Farley said before becoming the town crier in 2007, he made more money – sometimes over $200 a day – stationed in the same spot in a different guise.
First, he said, he performed with a Yamaha keyboard that took 12 D batteries.
Later on, he dressed up in what he claims was the original “Cat in the Hat” costume from the 2003 movie adaptation of the famous Dr. Seuss book.
He said both items, essential to his livelihood, were stolen from him during the several years he slept by the Charles River.
“It’s not just because of the money,” Farley said of his motivation now for trekking out early each morning. “I feel my service is something more unique and more or greater that I’m doing instead of being on drugs or homeless. … It took me away from that, and made me be sure of myself that I can pick up myself and do something creative and not just be a beggar, to do something that people would appreciate and if they want to they can give me something for my service.”
Farley insisted that he is doing good by the people who help support him.
He recalled one man who gave him a $100 bill in late November. Farley said he passed it along to his landlord later the same day.
“I’ve got to take that money and spend it wisely because people give it to me so I can help myself,” Farley said. “I ain’t going back that way to the Charles River.”
It has been a long, winding road to the current stability in his life, though.
Farley said he was born in South Carolina in the rural town of Holly Hill in 1956, but his family moved to Boston when he was 2.
He served briefly in the Army reserves in the ‘70s, he said, stationed at Fort Polk, La. After that he worked briefly in carpentry – which he learned at the now closed Boston Trade High School – and as a bricklayer.
Farley said his last “regular job” was unloading trucks and 18-wheelers for twins Arthur and Henry D’Angelo, the creators of popular sports cap company ‘47 Brand.
Today, as the self-appointed town crier, Farley is strictly his own man. He gives not just the weather and sports scores but also affirmation to each segment of his audience. He claps for joggers as they chug past, compliments men on their choice of tie or women on their winter coat.
“Freedom trail, public restrooms and visitor center straight down there,” he says, pointing a middle-aged couple with cameras around their necks toward State House. They’ve already passed by his red AMC Loews collection cup, but Farley continues to regale them. “What a beautiful day for a lovely couple walking through the park, holding hands, showing a strong sense of love!”
He’s got plenty other good lines up his sleeve, too.
“Hello, Charlie’s Angels! Morning, have a great day!” Farley will often yell to a crowd of women, regardless of age. He’ll usually get a smile or two in return.
One frequent passerby named Al bantered with Farley about the $100 bill he received, one of the first he said he’s been given since former eccentric Boston Red Sox star Manny Ramirez supplied him with one. Ramirez was known to have previously owned the 37th-floor penthouse condo at the Ritz Carlton Boston Common.
“I didn’t know him too well, but he was a swell guy,” Farley remembered.
Back then, he was still entertaining foot travelers in his “Cat in the Hat” costume.
“He cared about a person when they were homeless,” he said of Ramirez.” He’d reach out and help.”
Another regular visitor, a balding man in a beige trench coat, yelled over “Hey Gillie, you’re famous now,” as he approached from the direction of the Public Garden.
He was referencing a Nov. 27 Globe article in which Farley was a prominent source. The story, addressed an expected smoking ban in city parks.
Like any other celebrity, Farley smiled appreciatively and thanked the man for his kind words. Then he returned to back to work. Hey, there was news to deliver.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.