About 50 people were there in the morning yesterday, huddled at the Fells Point pier at the foot of Broadway. Huddled around a minister and an old record player and a black-and-white photo of Hotts, a retired a-rab who provided an extra bit of character to Fells Point until his death two Sundays ago.
The occasion was a memorial for and celebration of Hotts, who for most of his years - numbering 91 or 81 or somewhere in between, depending on whom you talk to - could be found in Fells Point.
Hotts, whose real name was Paul Watkins Sr., was raised in the neighborhood, an uncommon occurrence, those in attendance said yesterday. "When he came up, Fells Point was mostly for people of European descent," said one woman.
Hotts was black and uneducated, in the bookish sense. But he was also smart about the world and good with people. "He just had a way of making people of all races feel special," said John Harvey, 60 and a former a-rab who grew up under Hotts' tutelage.
The memorial was a gathering of the diversity that became Hotts' world: suburban couples who shop in Fells Point, professors and filmmakers, old-timers and artists and dancers, children and others.
From about the time he was 7 years old, Hotts was an a-rab, ending up the manager of the old horse stables in the 1600 block of Aliceanna St. When he retired about 20 years ago, he became a fixture on Fells Point sidewalks and corners.
He would talk to just about everyone who would pass. He would make friends with the old and new residents as much as with the shoppers who began flooding into the area as it became a commercial success in the late 1970s.
"He was the spirit of this place," said Theresa Woltring, who fell for Hotts when he befriended her cousin, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
On the pier, and afterward in a little gathering at the Fells Point Creative Alliance's Ground Floor, in the 1700 block of Thames St., everyone had a fond remembrance or a song that honored Hotts.
"Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home," sang Jerry Lapides, 72, bringing many to tears.
On the pier were bouquets that his friends dropped into the bay and Hotts' vintage, hand-cranked, Birch record player.
The retired a-rabs on hand remembered how Hotts used to play it in the stables, trying to infuse a little happiness into a tough gig.
The Rev. Charles Savage of New Union Baptist Church spoke of meeting Hotts on the street about a decade ago.
He said Hotts - who would sometimes buy used odds and ends from local shops, then hustle them on the street for a little extra change - was quirky and soulful and incredibly giving.
If you needed something, said the minister, "such as he had it, he would give it to you."
"I'll never forget the Sundays," said Michael Tiranoff, who in the 1970s made a film about a-rabs that featured Hotts. Back then, Tiranoff was also an aspiring tap dancer, and he leaned on Hotts, well known in the community for his dancing prowess.
Tiranoff remembered Sunday mornings, when he would stop by the stable and visit Hotts in his tiny, wood-floored office. They'd sip coffee, and Hotts would tell him of the greatest moves he'd seen from greatest tappers of the 1930s.
Yesterday's memorial on the pier continued a recent tradition in Fells Point in which members of the community have gathered on a handful of occasions over the past few years to honor recently deceased friends.
The memorials have been held for some of Fells Point's favorites - bartenders, artists and Hotts - with loose connections to church or family who might not have had a service otherwise.
"These are people who our community has wrapped around, who we've loved," said Megan Hamilton, of the Fells Point Creative Alliance, who noted that records show Hotts probably never quite told the truth about his age.
He was most likely 81 instead of 91, the age many at the gathering thought he was, she said.
Hotts had mystery, she said. "It was part of the charm."