A regular vendor at downtown’s Saturday Morning Market, Brady Johnson is the familiar gent natty in top hat and tails. He’s known as Mr. I Got ’Em and he sells a variety of succulent food, including turkey legs, collard greens and various produce.
Many Weekly Challenger readers may still remember the original Mr. I Got ‘Em, Elijah Moore, who came to St. Petersburg in 1912 and for decades sold peanuts all over town. He, too, wore a high hat, white apron and swallowtail coat.
He was a native of Columbia, S.C. Orphaned by age 16, Moore’s godmother got him some fancy clothes from the sheriff and the young man began selling fish around Columbia.
“People said they’d never seen a person working in a full dress suit before,” Moore told a newspaper in 1965. “It was good advertising.”
He also developed a trademark call: “Fish man, here’s the fish man, I got ’em. People took onto to it and I got a big kick out of it.”
As so many others did, Moore came to St. Petersburg for his health. “This place was real warm, took away that rheumatism,” he said.
He started out here selling fish, strawberries and vegetables door to door. He walked at first, then got a horse and wagon. Then he got a Model T and wore out three of them before opening a little store at 320 14th St. S.
He may have been most familiar pushing his little cart. He was a fixture in Williams Park, near Webb’s City, Mirror Lake and the Million-Dollar Pier. Even in the days of segregation, Moore could go most places in the city. He also walked in Festival of States parades for years.
Moore cooked his boiled and roasted peanuts himself. They often didn’t earn him much, which in his later years sometimes amounted to just $1 or $1.50 a day.
People often gave him his suits of formal wear.
He never drew Social Security, apparently never paying into the system enough through self-employment. He did draw some income from what was called in those days the State Welfare Department. Moore outlived a son who lived in New York and who had helped the peanut vendor financially.
He had no insurance to replace his store when it burned in 1962. He moved into an apartment at 368 16th Street S.
Moore celebrated his birthday on July 5, and one year, a newspaper columnist called him “St. Petersburg’s Spirit of Independence.”
Even as he aged, fell ill and experienced hospital stays, Moore pushed his cart as long as he was able. Friends continued to help, and a strong religious belief sustained him. Moore was ordained in elder in the Tenth Street Church of God.
“The Lord is keeping me here for some reason,” he once said. “If it wasn’t for the Lord, what would I do? He placed it into the people to help me, and the people helped me with joy.
Moore died March 16, 1972 at 92 years of age.