Many things happen in New York City. With its population so large, on that island so small, in a nation so diverse, it becomes inevitably so that things will happen there–particularly urban legends–the Big Apple is in fact home to more urban legends than any city in the world. Some of America’s greatest urban legends do root in the proverbial concrete jungle. Such as fabled sewer alligators, mythical mole people, and the famous but false fact of lethal penny dropping (Empire State Building); but whereas these examples are however well known, for the vast majority of New York’s countless urban legends, notoriety is far more locally limited, with some examples relatively esoteric. The only real way to uncover such legends is to the speak with the makers themselves.
First up on the docket: New York’s Peanut Farm.
“Before Man. Before Earth. Before the Milky Way. Before the Universe. Before any life at all. There was only one. Mr Peanut. Breakdancing through outer space.” Says Mike LaPaglia, a local cab driver and lifelong native of Brooklyn, NY.
Does his claim seem ridiculous? Perhaps maybe it shouldn’t:
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, that dude [Mr Peanut] came to New York, sometime in the mid-eighties. Nightclub owner. That guy, man. That guy ruled the city, man. Magical powers that guy had. And his friends, too. Especially the tiger. But all of them knew magic, though.” Says one alleged witness and longtime member of New York’s homeless, a man known as Mohawk Joe.
If Mohawk Joe’s statement seems too incredible to be credible, then consider this guy’s bit, as well:
“… the legend of Peanut Farm [is] absolutely a true fact of this great city. …. Mr Peanut arrived in Manhattan, November the third, 1987. … In 1991, Peanut Farm opened its doors … In 1994, Flying Hawaiian was murdered and yes, his spirit does haunts there to this day. … [the media] likes to ask me, ‘how do you know’ … and so I tell them, ‘how do ya’ think?”’
Said former chief of New York Police, Chauncey Phillips, in a written statement he sent to the New York Times, 1999–five years after his own stated refusal to ever speak on the matter–insisting then, in 1994, that the myth of Peanut Farm was just that–a myth and nothing further. Phillips never elaborated on the matter after sending his letter–he had died mysteriously just three days after it was published. His body was discovered on the bathroom floor of his Manhattan apartment–confirmed as three days post mortem. Despite there being physical marks (a large gash on the back of his head), which indicated there was trauma, the official investigation by NYPD rejects that foul play was relevant, concluding instead that Phillips’ death was accidental. Many New Yorker’s have since questioned this however, which has included Marcy Tanner (allegedly), the late widow of Chauncey Phillips.
“The autopsy said Chauncey slipped … I want badly to believe that. … I think he slipped. … Chauncey never liked talking about his work, he kept a firm line between his home and his office. … All I know about Peanut Farm is that it was a nightclub, that it was run by the mob, that there were lots of drugs, that people got murdered.”
This statement, which first appeared posted on an Internet blog in 2003, is directly attributed to Marcy Tanner, but sources however, remain unconfirmed. Being that Marcy Tanner passed away in 2002, it is now virtually impossible to confirm. The blog calls itself, New York Legends: The Truth on all Things Urban. Authored anonymously, the blog garners a notably strong following throughout much of the downstate region, since its conception in 2001, when the events of 911 was then its primary focus. But since shifting its gears, New York Legends has proved itself a relevant force in the landscape of modern folklore. One aspect, on which in particular is that of the supernatural–a central feature often found in Peanut Farm stories–New York Legends’ own bread and butter.
Although variations of the Peanut Farm story run wide (seemingly wider and wider with each passing day), all Peanut Farm stories consist of the same central features–though with one caveat added therein to split, that of which being the one big question: Were they human? Most enthusiasts, and most believers, (and there is a difference between them), tend to agree that the answer is yes. That they were human. But, with that being said, virtually all visual renderings of Peanut Farm have seemed to suggest conversely a very different story.
The reason for it being might perhaps be due to Peanut Farm’s inextricable connection to drugs and drug culture. But indeed, the mental image of anthropomorphic food items cavorting inside foggy nightclubs might lead one to conclude only but little else–or, if anything at all. Still, symbolism is a powerful tool. The possibility that there may be more at play to the making of these artistic works than just drug induced euphoria should not be discounted. The most reasonable approach therefore–regarding such queries–is to know and understand what concrete facts had surrounded Peanut Farm’s conception. And so of course because, that urban legend or not, Peanut Farm was never a baseless story–it is not as if it had just one day appeared out of thin air. There is indeed plenty of reason for why millions of people do know the legend of Peanut Farm, and that reason is because it roots firmly in the soil of New York’s cultural truisms.
In the early 90’s–the time of Peanut Farm’s origin–clubbing, as an activity was soaring to grand new peaks in terms of popularity; coinciding with the emergences of relevant musical genres, Eurodance, and progressive house, both of which had found dominant radio play in all major cities–though particularly so in New York City, where there it is noted for world class nightlife. ‘The city that never sleeps,’ as it is so often described. During this club boom, the area to prosper in most particular was stretched onto two city blocks near opulent upper-west Manhattan. A premium strip of extravagant, lavish night clubs. Which is where things begin to get interesting. Little known fact: the name of the street on which those fancy nightclubs are situated, was at one point (until 1920) known as Planters Avenue. There is a connection to be made there, if you’re sly enough to catch it. Planters is a world leading food corporation, of course. They brand peanuts, among other like things, but peanuts most famously. And so of course, there the connection follows: nightclubs, on Planters Avenue, hence Mr Peanut, hence Peanut Farm. Hence those two aspects. Now you have them.
Also intriguing of NY’s club scene in the 1990’s: immense notoriety over the various propensities of nightclubs in organized crime–particularly in the case of New York’s Five families–the last surviving mecca of America’s Mafia. Though much of the fire from this proved more smoke than flame, all Peanut Farm stories thereafter have involved this detail to some capacity or another. Also relevant: headlines made on the death of Angel Melendez–murdered by prominent club promoter, Michael Alig. Though this happening (in 1996) dates two years after the birth of Peanut Farm, incessant news coverage (and subsequently, a major motion picture) had likely a very strong influence on what propelled Peanut Farm onward through the years to come.
Perhaps what’s most fascinating of all, though, is Peanut Farm’s noticeably hardened emphasis on commercial culture, which is also a fascinating concept in and of itself. Mr Peanut. Flying Hawaiian (Hawaiian Punch). The tiger (Tony). The rabbit (Trix). Big Red (Kool-aid). These characters are all quite familiar, especially in American culture–generally speaking–where there, the product is everywhere. So the question then becomes: what does it mean? What on Earth are all these pantry mascots doing in nightclubs? And moreover, what should then be said of the prospect of Peanut Farm’s vitality as a real and actual fixture in New York life?
Suddenly answers begin flowing. But it’s not always so easy to decode a story like Peanut Farm’s. Sometimes caution is a worthwhile endeavor. Sometimes the connections we make inside our minds will seem viable–though in reality, they may translate really not all so well. Another wrinkle in the quilt-work of Peanut Farm is the alleged fact of its celebrity connection. According to legend, Peanut Farm was the absolute most exclusive nightclub in all of New York; so exclusive, in fact, that anything short of either a celebrity status, or a million dollar bank account, was everything less than the minimal requirements for admission.
Not so unfathomably, this premise has perhaps helped Peanut Farm to seem more believable. The idea that there was some secret club in New York City, that it was reserved for only the socially and economically elite–it really does not seem so farfetched. After all, secret societies have and do exist, since the beginning of recorded history and presumably since earlier. Skull and bones, Freemasons, Illuminati, etc. The list goes on. Clandestine recreationists do exist. But Peanut Farm, however–if factual–would make for one truly one-of-kind. And in quite a big way at that.
To this day, NYPD emphatically denies Peanut Farm’s factuality; insisting as well that Chauncey Phillips had suffered from severe dementia, that this was in fact the reason for why Phillips had retired from police work in the first place. “Listen, Chauncey Phillips was a great cop, and more importantly, he was a great person. … If Phillips had been healthy, in 1995, when he said all those things, then I’d have to believe every word of it. But unfortunately, the plain and simple truth on the matter is that he wasn’t. Phillips had served the people of New York as chief of police for twenty years. I had the honor of serving under Phillips for thirteen of those years. Phillips’ mind was noticeably fading, beginning sometime during year nineteen. It was a very difficult thing for us to see and to have to accept. But more so did it pain us to have to make Phillips step down. He was a mentor to us all. … I think it’s high time that New Yorkers finally put the Peanut Farm myth to rest so that Chauncey Phillips might finally get some, too.” Said current chief of police, Alex Griggs, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, 2006.
Griggs’ statement was received effectively by many readers, as heartfelt and genuine. But there had remained many however, who were still not convinced. “I think it’s disgusting … that [NYPD] exploits the death of one of their own to cover up their tracks. For all that anyone knows it was [NYPD] who killed Phillips, not his [expletive] toilet bowl. … The simple fact that Peanut Farm hinges on but one simple question. The simple fact that [NYPD] refuses to answer this question. … [NYPD] had it out for Peanut Farm since day one and everyone knows it.” Said influential rapper and lifelong NY resident, Clarence Kane, as interviewed in Esquire Magazine, 2006.
Known as well by his former stage name, Rough Magic, Clarence Kane was in the peak of his music career in the mid-1990’s. He is often rumored to have been a regular guest at Peanut Farm; and Kane, likewise does not deny this. As one of the most outspoken celebrities of his time–a rapper of the gangster variety, noted by critics for his lyrical style of storytelling, many have now credited Kane with spreading the legend of Peanut Farm. In 1996, Kane had recorded what would be his last platinum-selling record, Oh, Yeaahh!!–the title of which is supposedly a direct reference to Big Red, whom by legend murdered Flying Hawaiian. In 1997, Kane was quoted (though unknowingly) with having stated the following: “I saw Big Red when he shot Hawaii. When he broke the wall, I hid the gun.” Very direct statement. And, with all relevant details considered the meaning is not ambiguous. However, just two days following Kane had updated the statement further, claiming that his words were extracted from audio without his knowledge, that it was leached directly from a recording booth inside his studio. Kane had thus neither denied or affirmed the statement’s legitimacy–he’d clarified only on that its wording is from a lyrical verse, and that, it was “[his] artistic expression but not [his] confession.” Thereby rendering the public imagination hungrier for more.