Walter Chandler was just 4-years old in 1935 when Hannibal – during the depths of the Great Depression - staged a monumental celebration marking the 100th anniversary of famed author Mark Twain’s birth.
An estimated 100,000 people either took part in or witnessed events during the year-long Hannibal celebration.
Walter Chandler, the 4-year-old son of Anna May Snyder Chandler – who was a long-time and highly respected piano teacher in Hannibal – performed on the piano during the 1935 centennial quilt show, staged at 113 N. Third St.
The tot was oblivious to the stress of performing before an audience; actually he was a self-professed “showoff.” His musical demeanor continues today, as an octogenarian, apparent when he entertains friends and colleagues with flair and self-confidence.
On Tuesday, Aug. 11, he sat down at the keyboard – as he has done untold thousands of times – this time to entertain residents of Beth-Haven Nursing Home in Hannibal.
Without the aid of printed music, he performed songs of his lifetime to the attentive residents, who circled around in their wheelchairs in order to hear tunes familiar to their generation.
He is an obvious credit to his mother’s dedication to music instruction.
Walt Chandler grew up in the Hope and Chestnut Streets area south of Broadway, a working-class neighborhood where people knew, and watched out for each other.
He served time stateside in the Army during the Korean Conflict, and during that same decade his father, David, took over management of Snyder Grocery Store at 2514 Chestnut, from his ailing father in law, Pink M. Snyder. The Chandler family would claim this as their address for many years to come, and would continue operating the neighborhood grocery store into mid 1950s.
He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia, in 1954, majoring in chemistry and horticulture, then returned to his hometown.
Mr. and Mrs. H.M. Greene lived at 2417 Broadway, five houses from Walt’s grandfather’s house. “I delivered (groceries) to them from early on,” he said.
Mrs. Greene – mother of Hannibal doctors Harry and Don - was from Boston, and wanted aged cheese. In order to accommodate his good customer, Pink M. Snyder learned the technique for aging cheese.
A process he learned by working with his grandfather, Walt said you start with an individual “daisy wheel” of cheese, which measures 6 7/8 inches around. In order to acquire cheese in this form, his grandfather had to buy a minimum order of four daisy wheels, weighing about 40 pounds.
Mrs. Greene told Mr. Snyder that if he would age the cheese for her, she would buy it all.
“He stacked the cases by the furnace in the dark, covered them with gunny sacks, without refrigeration, and hosed the cheese down every other day – for two years,” Walt said.
The cheese would have a black crust about 3 inches thick when ready. “Old Mrs. Greene would come to the store, smack her lips and eat a quarter pound at a time,” Walt said. “We had a lot of money tied up in that cheese.”
Between Walt, his mother and her students, there was always music in the Chandler household.
“George Smith grew up five houses from me. He was enamored with Anna May’s playing. He’d sit on the curb and listen,” Walt said.
The week his mother died - in 1984 - she had 79 students. She earned the reputation quoted by Hannibal musician Albert Haug: "If they took from Anna May, they play."
One favorite musical memory Walt shared with the Courier-Post journalist Bev Darr in 2011 involves playing a Russian song, "Otcha Chornya." He was playing for an art show opening at the Hannibal Arts Council and two people requested this song. He was surprised with the request, but he knew the song because he had learned it when he was 5 years old.
"I played it and they sang it in Russian," which attracted a lot of attention at the arts event. "It's a miracle I remembered it. It's a national treasure (in Russia)."
To see the house that served as a neighborhood grocery, and where the cheese was aged, click here
To see a video piano performance by Walt Chandler, click here