Jeff Knapp, Fells Point's Abe Lincoln, dies at 63

September 29, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Among the hundreds of bricks on the Fells Point promenade which bear the names of local legends, one glitters gold today.

The friends of Jeff Knapp went down to the foot of Broadway this weekend, found the brick in which his name and motto are chiseled, and washed it in gold paint to honor a character who will revel with them no more.

Herbert Jefferson Knapp III -- a ringer for Abe Lincoln or the Lord Harry, depending on the appropriate holiday -- was found dead Saturday afternoon in his Lancaster Street apartment. He was 63.

Mr. Knapp's body will be on view from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. tonight and from 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow at the Lilly and Zeiler Funeral Home, 1901 Eastern Ave. A wake is scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Whistling Oyster, 807 S. Broadway.

Mr. Knapp's children said his death was due to an apparent heart attack.

But they and his drinking buddies suspect that his heart might have fallen victim to the initials carved beneath his name in the promenade brick, the same initials he had embossed on calling cards and shaved into the back of his head just a week before he died: "V.T.N.F."

The letters stand for "Vodka Tonic No Fruit," Jeff Knapp's standard refreshment at the manifold gin mills around town where he was at home on both sides of the bar.

Outside the Cat's Eye Pub on Thames Street, where he worked as a mad-hatted barkeep through the '70s and the early '80s, a sign this weekend said: "Vodka Tonic No Fruit -- No More. We love you Jeff Knapp."

Who could not love a guy who dressed up as the patron saint of Ireland on St. Patrick's Day and sneaked into the annual parade with a battery operated car covered with plastic reptiles.

"He'd do that every year to drive the snakes out of Fells Point," said Gail Colby of Frederick, one of his three daughters.

This is a man who jumped into pools of gelatin for charity, emerging from the glop with plastic lobsters in his pants.

Who once shaved his trademark beard at a party, donned a white jumpsuit and went from Abe Lincoln to Elvis Presley in the wink of an eye.

Who put on his top hat and long coat and visited Ford's Theater in Washington on the birthday of his slightly more famous double.

Who allowed mock pallbearers to carry him through the streets of Fells Point in an open coffin before laying him atop a bar and ordering drinks over his body.

Who sent all of his friends Thanksgiving cards from Turkey, Texas.

Who once built a cemetery for dolls behind the Cat's Eye Pub where Ken and Barbie were buried after a suicide pact, GI Joe succumbed to Agent Orange and a cole slaw shredder was on hand for deceased Cabbage Patch dolls.

"There's so many stories like that," said Nancy Sochor, another daughter. "Governor Schaefer once said Dad was in the news more than he was."

Born the son of a salesman and a nurse in 1929 in Los Angeles, Mr. Knapp traveled the country with his family as a youngster during the Great Depression, teaching himself to be a magician and a hypnotist along the way.

He went to high school in Chicago, served in the Navy from 1952 to 1956 and worked at different times as a salesman of typewriters and log cabins.

Before settling for good in Baltimore in the early 1970s, he ran a diner in Cape May, N.J., called "The Link Inn," which operated under the slogan: "World's Best Chow, World's Worst Service."

After parting company a few years back with the Cat's Eye Pub -- where he staged all manner of drama inspired and deranged with sidekick Ken Orye, the tavern's late owner -- Mr. Knapp tended bar at Kisling's on Fleet Street and was a regular at the Whistling Oyster and the Birds of a Feather on Aliceanna Street.

He enjoyed crossword puzzles, the music of Neil Diamond, the Baltimore Orioles, American history, passing fads, old movies and the news of the day.

Mr. Knapp, who was divorced, is survived by a third daughter, Lisa Bufflap of Manchester; a son, Gary Knapp of Fells Point; a brother, Phillip Knapp of Phoenix; and five grandchildren.

The family suggests contributions be made to the American Heart Association.

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