Monk  -  AKA Tony Cassata

...Memphis' most memorable eccentric

 

 


From Memphis Magazine 2007 by Vance Lauderdale:

Tony "Monk" Cassata may be the most famous Memphian that people here never knew.  Most people living here in the 1950s,1960s,1970s, and beyond had heard stories about the odd little fellow that everyone called Monk.  Perhaps some of you had encounters with him.  But nobody really knew much, if anything about him:  his real name, his background, where he lived.  Our own magazine actually published a profile of this fellow back in 1979, written by my pal Susan Turley, and it was one heckuva interview since Tony Cassata - yep, that was his real name - had plenty to say, all right, but not many things that actually made sense.  In fact, the story was rather cryptically titled "Who is this Man?:  The Secret Life of Memphis' Most Visible Eccentric".


"You could find him bundled in four or five wool shirts on days when the blacktop is hot as a skillet," wrote Turley.  "And you can find him bent over his walking stick, an oversized baseball cap cocked on his head, a stub of a cigar protruding from his small, furrowed face, tapping on car windows".  Monk, whom Turley said stood less than four feet tall, claimed to walk 50 miles a day, selling pencils, magnolia blossoms plucked from neighbors' trees, whatever he felt like doing.  One reader recalled first seeing him in the late 1950s:  "We called him 'Monk' because he looked like a monkey".  The name stuck.

Turley determined that Cassata was born in Italy in 1905.  Despite rumors that he lived on the streets, every night he walked home to a neat bungalow in Midtown, where he lived with his brother and sister, who didn't want their names mentioned in the magazine article.  When Cassata was  growing up, he "always  seemed a little bit different, "they told Turley.   "He's slow, 

but he's not dumb,  "said his sister.  He speaks two languages, English and Italian, so he can't be that slow".  Her explanation for her brother's layers and layers of old clothing?  "He gets cold". 

 

Turley followed Monk around for an afternoon, but the man who would spend his days standing in the middle of Poplar shouting at cars clammed up around the reporter. He supposedly was an expert on baseball, but at the end of the day, she admitted, "We really know little more about Monk than we did three hours before."

That's a shame. The fellow she called "an eccentric constant in a faddish universe" passed away some time in the early 1980s.  Or so I heard.  I couldn't find an exact date, and something tells me Monk wouldn't have cared, anyway.

Note:  Tony Cassata was struck by an automobile on October 10, 1970 and died shortly afterwards.  See Obit, below.

      Monk in 1975 ad  
 


 

Accident ... Obituary < ....  3 Center Photos:  Collection Steve McFarland  .....>

Monk -Bob Hope

 

I remember Monk very well. He walked up and down around my neighborhood (Jefferson/Cleveland) for years with his cane and ball cap. He was actually hit by a car (injuries from which he died from some weeks later) in front of my house, pretty sure it was fall of '79. I remember distinctly as the ambulance guys were helping him on the stretcher he reached out and grabbed that old ball cap. So sad. - Mark White

 
 
 
 

Yes, Anthony "Tony" Cassata was quite a character about town in Memphis for four decades from the 40's to his death in 1979. In the mid 40's to the early 50's, my father owned and operated a service station on the Northwest corner of Poplar Avenue and High Street where Carroll Street intersects. Every evening at closing time, around nine o'clock, Tony Cassata could be seen walking East on Poplar Avenue right down the middle of the street selling the next day early edition of 'The Commercial Appeal'. As always, his attire included multiple layers of clothing, a tattered tam for a hat, some brogans that had seen better days and of course, his ever present "half-chewed stogie and walking stick". Since my dad grew up with and knew the Cassata family quite well, Tony often stopped and talked to my father. Dad would offer him a soda or a snack, but Tony would never accept anything unless he was allowed to pay for it. Around this time, I was about five or six years old, but I remember people calling Tony, "Monk". So, once when I saw him, I called him "Monk" too. That innocent faux pas on my part resulted in one of the worst butt-chewings I ever received from my dad. He told me never to address Tony as "Monk" because it was disrespectful, and it upset Tony when people called him that - a lesson well learned. Afterwards until I grew up, I called Tony, Mr. Cassata, and he was always very friendly toward me after that. - Jim King

 
 
 
 
 
 

Monk died on October 10th, 1979.  He never married..  At his death, he was 74 year old.    The 1924 Memphis Directory has Tony Cassata listed at 569 Exchange Av, along with his father, Joseph.  The 1930 Directory has Tony Cassata listed at 569 Exchange, with his parents, Joseph and Pauline, and siblings Mary, Peter, and Thomas.  -  Maureen Thoni White

 

1924 Memphis Directory

1930 Memphis Directory

 
 
 
 

Remember Monk?  He was that familiar sight seen wandering the streets of midtown for well over 3 decades probably beginning in the 1940’s.  My family remembers seeing him many times in various places, even once at the Mid-South Fair.  I remember most seeing Monk walking down the middle of Poplar Avenue waving his cane and shouting at passing vehicles or tapping on car windows.  He was dubbed “monkey man" that was later shortened to “Monk.”  This was due to not only his looks and height, but by the way he walked all stooped over.  At just under 4 feet tall, Monk still stood out in a crowd with his walking stick, oversized baseball cap cocked on his head and wearing several layered wool shirts, even in the summer.  He always had a large cigar stub hanging from his mouth.  My Dad commented that he never remembered seeing him smoking it.  He also said you better not call him Monk to his face, or the independent ole cuss would use his cane on you.  - Dave French, 1969

 
 

My memory of Monk was seeing him wear a Central High sweater over all the heavy clothes he wore.  The sweater had the big "H" on it.  - Steve Wright, 1966

 
 

I didn't know any better and called him 'Monk' to his face, and I never got beat up !  Maybe he only got mad when he thought somebody was teasing him. I don't know; I didn't know him that well.

Does anyone remember that tiny liquor store that used to be in the alley directly behind the Peabody Hotel?  They had a gallery of pictures of famous people who had been there.  One was of Monk posing with Victor Mature, the tall, hunky actor of the 40's and 50's (who can forget Samson and Delilah?).  There was this handsome guy with his arm around little Monk, ball cap and cigar in place.
  - Eddie Cooper, 1959

 
 

Yeah, I remember Monk.  Some friends lived across the street from him in the late 70s.  He trusted them and they talked him into sitting down with me and a tape recorder.  I guess I thought I was going to learn the secret of life or something but no, - Tony Monk was just kind of out there.  LOL!

I believe that one of the earlier posters (above) has monk confused with "High School Henry", another Memphis character.  Henry was the guy who wore the old central high sweater and was always hanging around ball games at the fairgrounds.

Also the date of Monks death is quite well known as it was front page news...my parents sent me the clipping from the CA.  Monk was hit by a car which in some backward way, I guess, was a kind of fitting way for him to go out.
  - Gary Harrison, 1972

 
 
 
 

His name was Tony Cassata.   He was Jewish from an extremely wealthy family and yes he was seen mostly on Madison Avenue where he was hit by a car in the winter (don't know the year) and killed.  He would be at Walgreen's after school (Tech) and the students would harass him and call him "Monk".  "My name is Tony!" he would say in anger.  He never gave anyone eye contact.  He was both loved and hated.  I was afraid of him because he was so wretched.  - Barbara Rogers

 
 

I remember the first time I saw Monk. He was walking up Madison Ave toward town. He really looked scary. Later on I got a chance to speak to him. He was a little rough but very polite, if you treated him politely. I remember the day he died. I really felt a loss not only myself but for the City Of Memphis. Monk was quite a character. Hope to see him again.  - Ray Duncan 1968

 
 

I have a memory of “Monk” patrolling the exterior wall on the alley at Crump Stadium.   I assumed he was there to prevent free loaders from scaling the wall and entering football games without a ticket.  .  Lynn Wheeler, 2012

 
 

I happen to be remembering Tony today and came across your webpage. Tony hated to be called "Monk". He knew people were making fun of him. He lived down the street from me on the 200 block of North Willett just off of Poplar Ave when I was a teenager in the 70's. I said hi Monk to him one day and he told me his name was Tony not to call him Monk. I never did again. He was very different but that was ok. Every day Tony would walk down the street and up each driveway he came too. I was very sad to hear he was hit by a car which killed him. He was a Memphis legend. Rest in Peace Tony!   - Lisa Pemberton, 2012

Do you have memories of Monk?  <gene.gill@verizon.net>

       

Your help in updating any information on this page is appreciated. If you have more information, new or vintage photos, please contact Gene Gill.  Thanks to Dave French and Maureen Thoni White for finding additional information and photos.

 

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