Archive for Wednesday, May 3, 2006

He’s still tan after all these years

John Schneider, also known as the Tan Man, continues to catch rays in Lawrence

May 3, 2006


The Tan Man lives.

For years he was a Lawrence icon, frequently seen running around town shirtless while soaking up the sun, even during cold weather, or lounging on the grass in summer shorts near Wescoe Hall on the Kansas University campus.

"It was a lot of fun," John Schneider said as he recalled those days recently from his northern Lawrence mobile home.

Now 63, Schneider - better known as the Tan Man during the 1970s and 1980s - lives in shirted obscurity. But he still spends at least an hour every afternoon without a shirt, just standing on the sidewalk, catching the rays outside his home.

"I don't go up on campus," he said.

Schneider was a town favorite as the Tan Man, though many people who recognized him never talked with him or knew his real name. There were numerous newspaper and magazine stories written about him.

John Schneider - better known as the Tan Man during the 1970s and 1980s in Lawrence - now lives in shirted obscurity. For years he was a Lawrence icon, frequently seen running around town shirtless while soaking up the sun, even during cold weather, or lounging on the grass in summer shorts near Wescoe Hall on the Kansas University campus.

John Schneider - better known as the Tan Man during the 1970s and 1980s in Lawrence - now lives in shirted obscurity. For years he was a Lawrence icon, frequently seen running around town shirtless while soaking up the sun, even during cold weather, or lounging on the grass in summer shorts near Wescoe Hall on the Kansas University campus.

On the walls of his living room and bedroom are framed black-and-white photos from his Tan Man days, sitting in the sun, walking or running or riding a bicycle. Another photo shows Schneider sitting on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas, a place he'd just as soon forget.

In 1977, the Tan Man left Lawrence to take a job as a janitor in Corpus Christi so he could have year-round warm weather. A little more than a year later he was back in Lawrence. The shirtless act didn't impress Texans, he said.

"The police were always stopping me and interrogating me," Schneider said.

Back in Lawrence, Schneider posed in photographs with smiling young women in print ads for Pyramid Pizza when it was below The Wheel Cafe, 507 W. 14th St. Ad slogans proclaimed "I get it hot."

"I used to see him up around Wescoe Beach," said Rob Farha, a KU student in the 1980s and now owner of The Wheel. "He was well-known around campus. I won a slice of pizza in a trivia contest because I knew his real name."

John Schneider, also known as the Tan Man, displays several photos of himself taken by people over the years on the walls at his home. Schneider now lives near Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where he works the night shift - which leaves his days free to soak up some sun.

John Schneider, also known as the Tan Man, displays several photos of himself taken by people over the years on the walls at his home. Schneider now lives near Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where he works the night shift - which leaves his days free to soak up some sun.

A couple of KU students made greeting cards that featured a picture of the shirtless Tan Man on a surfboard superimposed on Potter Lake. "Don't Ski Nebraska, Surf Lawrence," the cards read.

Today, Schneider keeps a low profile working as a night janitor at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. When he's not working or out on the sidewalk getting his daily dose of sun, he spends his time watching television or movies or listening to music.

"I like the 1950s music," Schneider said, looking toward a poster of Chuck Berry on his living room wall. On another wall is an Elvis Presley clock.

A photo from Schneider's scrapbook shows him in a familiar perch outside Kansas University's Wescoe Hall.

A photo from Schneider's scrapbook shows him in a familiar perch outside Kansas University's Wescoe Hall.

Even on overcast days Schneider will still stand outside, shirtless. He said he doesn't get upset or depressed if there is no sun. "I take it in stride," he said.

Just like when he was younger, it has to get "really cold" to make him put on a shirt before going out in the sun, he said.

Schneider has no real explanation for his love of the sun, other than to simply say, "It feels really good."

The long-held rumors that he is a military veteran who developed his tolerance for sunlight and ability to withstand the cold because of a bizarre war wound are not true, he said.

A postcard from Schneider's scrapbook shows him as a mock surfer at KU's Potter Lake.

A postcard from Schneider's scrapbook shows him as a mock surfer at KU's Potter Lake.

Despite all those years in the sun, Schneider has not had skin cancer. But the sun has taken a toll on him. He gets checked regularly by a doctor and has had to have some lesions removed, he said. And he has to wear sunglasses when he's outside because of problems with his eyes.

People still recognize him - even after all these years, even when he has a shirt on, he said.

A few years ago, Lawrence resident Tim Baxter saw Schneider outside his mobile home and knew immediately who he was. It was the first time he'd seen the Tan Man in years, Baxter said.

"He's aged, just like we all have, but I knew it was the Tan Man," Baxter said. "He's kind of a local legend."


OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 1 month ago

The rumor was that skin cancer got him. I guess the tan man is like any other true legend: they never really die. Tan Man was to standing out in the sun in freezing weather with no shirt on what Mad Max was to lost causes in a post-apocalyptic Australia.

Tan Man lives on. Wherever there is injustice [among the fringe campus culture of middle-aged sun worshippers], Tan Man will be there.

Boog was around campus in the Tan Man days. If we can have a city proclaimation for "silliness", surely we can rally for a "Tan Man Day" in Lawrence. Give him a key to the city. Declare a citywide "shirtless day".

Byrne 12 years, 1 month ago

Not sure about "shirtless day," but Friday is already No Pants Day ...

SAHM2tylrnathan 12 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for the great memories! I am glad to hear that John is still soaking up the sun. The world is a better place when those Tanman vibes are happening!

Tanman Day sounds like a winner to me, and the first day of summer is perfect! If they can do it for Dada, they can do it for the Tanman!

audvisartist 12 years, 1 month ago

Hey Tan Man...

Being originally from Corpus Christi, let me apologize on the city's behalf! But ya know, it's best to keep the toplessness on the beach when you're down there. ;)

paladin 12 years, 1 month ago

He's alive! Thank you, God. A genuine Lawrence icon. There should definitely be an official Tan Man Day. I'm glad to see he finally got some sunglasses. Wonder what ever became of the Blue Lady.

audvisartist 12 years, 1 month ago

So, since there's a Tan Man and a Blue Lady, what's the story on the hippie guy that throws peace signs at everybody that's driving downtown?

Ralph Reed 12 years, 1 month ago

I'm glad to see Johnny is still kicking. I remember him from when I was a kid. He's a great person.

Congratualtions on 25 years with LHM Johnny. WooHoo.

(I've not heard of the Blue Lady for years.)

OKjayhawk 12 years, 1 month ago

I've always wondered who that hippie was! One day he walked past me and said, "God bless you!" He's always smiling and waving. Does he have a name?

audvisartist 12 years, 1 month ago

Here's a shot I took of Rob (now that I know his name) last summer...

Seems like a fun guy!

pundit 12 years, 1 month ago

Great article. Great nostalgia. Thanks LJW. This is real news.

paladin 12 years, 1 month ago

I remember they wouldn't let Tan Man in the Union and used to run him out. He violated the dress code, I guess. Ha. Ha. I used to sit and talk with the Blue Lady at Tad Hoff's table in the union. Her name was Jane something. And she would tell of living in Paris in the 20's. About working in a bookstore and being a friend of Gertrude Stein and of being one of Hemingway's girlfriends. He always told her she looked the most beautiful in blue of that shade. He broke her heart, evidently, as he did others'. She came to KU and slipped on the ice out in front of Strong Hall and was injured. Part of the settlement was that she would receive free tuition for life. She took them up on it and was here, and auditing classes, for many years. I expect, until she died. I miss her.

lunacydetector 12 years, 1 month ago

whatever happened to the Hat Lady? i don't recall the blue lady, the hat lady, yes.

i'll never forget the shirtless tan man cruising mass on a bicycle in the middle of winter. everyone thought he was a nut.

speaking of nuts, did i ever tell about my cousin getting his nipple bit off by a beaver?

lunacydetector 12 years, 1 month ago

my cousin went fishing with his buddy down in arkansas. as they were driving through one of those winding mountain roads, a beaver ran out in front of his truck and got hit. thinking they'd be smart, they went back to see if they killed it - thinking they could have it stuffed at the taxidermist's if it was in good condition. the beaver was lying motionless, so my cousin picked it up by the tail and held it up in the air. 'no blood, no guts,' -my cousin thought it was a perfect specimin. just then, the beaver woke up.

paladin 12 years, 1 month ago

I'm pretty sure the Hat Lady moved to KC and worked for the US Government. She continued wearing hats, but passed herself off as a Black woman, with the help of shoe polish and a bit of determination. I'm not making this up.

Ken Miller 12 years, 1 month ago

What ever happened to the "Walking Guy?" We used to see him all the time walking on Iowa and Clinton Pkwy - I heard he died a few years back, but nothing more. He was even tanner than Tan Man...and ALWAYS was walking - I heard he would consistently walk to Ottawa and back. Can anyone enlighten me?

dirkleisure 12 years, 1 month ago

Walking Guy -- with the silver hair? I recall a news story about him. He was also responsible for several bizarre messages written in sidewalk chalk throughout campus, and was known to get belligerent at times.

He had a very fancy blanket. I wish I had a blanket. Blankets are warm. And liberal.

Ken Miller 12 years, 1 month ago

yeah, silver hair - looked like he could have played an aboriginal in the Crocodile Dundee movies. And yes, I heard college kids would sometimes taunt him and he would get beligerent.

fabian_zimbabwe 12 years, 1 month ago

Does anybody recall a tall, thin guy with glasses who often walked along Naismith Drive with a red T-shirt that read, "That's My Dillon's!" I remember him from the late 80s.

Jimmy 12 years, 1 month ago

And how about the Walking Lady? She always has on bootleg jeans, usually a backpack, has silvery hair in a pony tail, and walks all over. I see her almost daily.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 1 month ago

I encountered peace sign hippie dude for the first time last night. I assumed he was tripping on something.

smiles 12 years, 1 month ago

Has anyone seen, or know what I'm talking about, when I say the smiling jogging lady?? Updates are appreciated.

Ken Miller 12 years, 1 month ago

I think the J-W needs to do a series on all of the "characters" mentioned here. Despite what some may think of them, I want to pay them the highest compliment I can - that they were NEVER boring.

princess 12 years, 1 month ago

Okay, I love this story. Hey LJW you should totally make this the first in a series. Just look at all of the questions it has spawned about our other colorful locals.

We use to call the Silver Haired guy The Blanket Man because he was always carrying his with him.That was when I was in school back in the early 90's. I believe that he died in the mid 90's. Didn't know much about him. I would love to know more though. (hint, hint LJW)

The last time that I saw the That's My Dillon's guy was several years ago. He was walking down the middle of 9th Street wearing a shirt that said, "Human Target" instead of his usual attire. I have always wondered if he became the target or not.

meggers 12 years, 1 month ago


Petite woman? Smiling while she jogged, usually west of Iowa? If so, I think I know who you're talking about. She moved to Virginia quite some time ago- very sweet person.

jayhoxrock 12 years, 1 month ago

I grew up in Lawrence and remember as a kid hearing all sorts of weird tales about "The Tan Man" and why he'd ride his bike all around town without a shirt on in the dead of winter. Thanks for the article and setting the record straight. Does anyone remember the lady who use to walk around downtown in a wedding dress? It was the mid to late 70's.

princess 12 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for the article about Leo.


PYT1984 12 years, 1 month ago

She was sweet? I honestly thought she escaped from a mental institution somewhere. Quite frankly, she scared me. Always staring and grinning as she ran in place at the stop lights.

jayhoxrock 12 years, 1 month ago

Speaking of Leo, does anyone remember the documentary about him? I believe it was made through the film company associated with KU. When I first saw Leo as a small child I thought he was kind of weird but after seeing the documentary I had great compassion for that man. It's a great documentary and I would love to see it again.

PYT1984 12 years, 1 month ago

Oh and if she did move to Virginia, I hope she took her scary a$$ boyfriend with her. I used to see him at the pool in his spedo. He'd walk around in the pool with only his face in the water. Frightened a lot of little children, not to mention me.

frowns 12 years, 1 month ago

Anyone remember the guy who always wore the "Michael Jackson" red leather jacket with all the zippers?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 1 month ago

"Campus Hideaway"? I'm getting some idea how old ljreader must be. Didn't the Campus Hideaway close around 1975?

Grundoon Luna 12 years, 1 month ago

I got here in '75 and The Campus Hideaway was open then. It closed before 1980 I think.

meggers 12 years, 1 month ago


I think we might be talking about two different people. The person I'm referring to is indeed very sweet- of course, you probably wouldn't know that if you never said "hello" or struck up a conversation with her. And she has never seen the inside of a mental health facility, nor does she need to. I don't know about the boyfriend thing. She had a guy friend here- more of a platonic friend, really, but I don't remember her ever going to the pool, either with him or without him.

kcwarpony 12 years, 1 month ago

As a kid I always envied Tan Man. Outside enjoying the weather, watching the world go by, didn't seem to have a care in the world and I never heard an unkind word from him. Yes! We need to have a Tan Man Day!

Oh, and I'm still envious :)

God Bless You John.

cowgomoo 12 years, 1 month ago

The Tan Man and Brother Jed with Sister Cindy...sigh back in the 80's...good times...good times.

PYT1984 12 years, 1 month ago

Strike up a conversation? Say Hello? I was always in my car when I saw her. It would be a little difficult to do that. She was always very colorful, though. Pink socks, green shorts, blue shirt. Oh well, maybe we are talking about two different people.

Melissa Kounelaki 12 years, 1 month ago

Good to know Tan Man is still around! I remember Robert Gilmore (aka Simon, aka 'That's My Dillon's' Guy) from my student days at Watson Library. Back then he was much more lucid and we called him Count Bob 'cuz he checked out lots of books on vampires, werewolves and the like. I also remember Thomas David, chalking the sidewalks when it was frowned upon and sometimes being disgruntled with library policies. His daughter is a friend of mine. Though Hippie Guy (Rob, I now know) is indeed a friendly sort, I've seen him being somewhat aggressive and angry, from when I used to work downtown. Maybe it was just a bad day.
I love the characters in Lawrence! Though I think Hemp Guy is a loser, but that's JMO.

drewdun 12 years, 1 month ago

Sorry to change towns, but there are some legendary characters in Wichita, where I am from. The most famous, who virtually everyone on the east side of town knows about, is Crazy Mike, aka Sex Symbol Superstar. He has very long hair, wears cutoff jean shorts (true Daisy Dukes) knee high athletic socks, two pairs of sunglasses, and headphones everywhere (supposedly tuned to static to block out the 'voices'). He is known to cruise Rock Rd. on his moped or in his old Cadillac limo (with the steer horns on the grill) all day long. We also have The Guy On The Bike on the east side, who has perfectly styled grey hair and who rides his bike constantly. Unfortunately, he is not very friendly.

Back here in Lawrence, who is the guy in the beret who is usually standing at 9th and Tennessee flashing peace signs to everyone who passes? That guy is awesome.

smiles 12 years, 1 month ago

MJ was in Neverland the last I heard!! Wearing his red jacket and glove!!

galfromku 12 years, 1 month ago

What about the guy named Harold?.. He used to spend the entire day just pushing shopping carts in from the parking lot at Gibson's about 25 yrs ago. He used to live at Cherry Manor. He was obviously "not right" in the head.. but when I worked there in high school... he was always so nice and polite. He used to tell people he worked there... so we let him....

jocoboy 12 years, 1 month ago

Lawrence, what a great place to live - NOT. I have an idea we should ship all the whackjobs across the country to Lawrence so ya'll can take care of them!

princess 12 years, 1 month ago

Hey Smitty

Thanks for the links on Robert. That was at the end of 2004 though. Has anyone seen him around lately? I wonder if he has gone to live with his family yet.

Regardless I hope that he is doing well.

paladin 12 years, 1 month ago

In our minds, it was a better time. Safer and freer and more human and more forgiving and certainly more tolerant. These people are symbols of that time and of our youth. What's wrong with that? They were all, as far as I know, good and harmless and well-meaning and in a large sense innocent, not mean or cruel or hateful. And so were we. And, what's wrong with that?

paladin 12 years, 1 month ago

I miss Campus Hideaway for the hot chocolate and the ambience. I miss walking to the movie at the Granada or Varsity a couple times a week for cheap. I miss Alfies. Vista? I miss breakfast at Drakes. I miss all my friends. I used to work at the Stables, and I can't say I miss that. I'm sure I don't miss Ace. I also worked at the Wheel and I do miss that. And, I do miss John W. He was a good man. It was a good time. Unlimited possibilities. Unlimited hope.

drewdun 12 years, 1 month ago

Knew rightthinker couldn't resist turning this into politics. DOUCHEBAG. 32%.

yankeelady 12 years, 1 month ago

What a great stroll down memory lane--Campus Hideaway and the Stables were fantastic. One of the tan man legends I heard was that he was a shell shocked veteran (or to be P.C. had PTSD). This was probably '74 or so. Remeber going into Strawberry Fields and Bokonon? Lawrence still has some of the uniqueness, but it is rapidly becoming Overland Park--or as it was sometimes called "Shawnee Mission Far West."

riverdrifter 12 years, 1 month ago

I worked off and on as midnight train order clerk from 1977 to 1988 at the Santa Fe station. We got them all, the street folks, down there. One night, I don't know what year, it was a few days before Christmas and after the 15 and 16 Amtraks met at 120 am, I let several 'streeters' in the lobby since it was freezing rain and miserable out. Locked the doors and turned off the lights of the lobby. Forgot to read the lineup and a half hour later two brand new GP6-8 (I think) locomotives, brand new, with three business cars pulls up at the platform and off the rear car steps Harry Briscoe, General Manager. I about fainted. Harry comes in the office, makes a phone call (pre-cell phone days) and turns on the lobby lights. The Hat Lady sits up and indignantly barks "Kindly turn off that light." Harry looks at me, looks at her, turns off light and walks out to his train. After a few minutes the radio crackled and he ordered me to board Business Car 58, which I did. I thought I was fired. He handed me nine 10-dollar bills. I said "For?" He motioned to the lobby window and said "Them. Now get off my train!" They hi-balled and through the cogmill they went. Everybody got their $10 at first light in the morning when they left. Harry counted well. I think Hawkes, who is now retired and lives in Lawrence, was hoghead on that train that night, so long ago. I remember the Tan Man well. Rules!

Hoots 12 years, 1 month ago

I used to talk to Tan Man in South Park when I was a kid going to St. John Elementary. I have fond memories of him going way back. You'd see him all over town. I thought he was gone but am so happy to learn he is still here, alive, and a productive member of our community.

I'm all for making the first day of summer Tan Man/John Schneider day. I have thought of him on many a sunny day and wondered where he was. He is a true symbol of summer here.

seattlehawk_78 12 years, 1 month ago

Speaking of unusual characters, what's the story behind the owner of the Red Lion?

thisiknow 12 years, 1 month ago

Jane (Blue Lady) was a very special person. The colors she chose to wear were the Virgin Mary's colors. She had made a prayer to god concerning a medical problem with her daughter. The outcome was her wearing the colors. She was very interesting and years ago her and her husband used to be involved in the literary world. They knew Hemingway and alot of the best authors. She was so easy to talk to and it was a gift to have known her.

kcwarpony 12 years, 1 month ago

easy_mark, From your list I can tell we both lived in the same world! Oh, to be able to time travel...but I can't make up my mind...Alfies or Griffs for lunch?

JoshJayhawk 12 years, 1 month ago

If you all want to comment on various characters around Lawrence that's fine. But you should leave mentioning their family members (and facts about where these family members may or may not live) out. They have a right to their privacy. I doubt that any of you that have mentioned these family members have been given permission to post their names. Please respect their privacy.

geekin_topekan 12 years, 1 month ago

wednesday evenings was three tacos for a dollar at Taco Grande!!woohoo!! How about Quantrill'sFleaMarket? WarPony,remember the Four Winds?Party!!

boomer51flood 12 years, 1 month ago

when I was at KU in the late 60's and early 70's, you couldn't go to a party without seeing Tan Man--my favorite 70's TM memory was sitting in a theater in KC watching "Linda Lovelace For President" (which was filmed at least partly in Lawrence of course), and who appears on the screen but Tan Man himself--the whole audience yelled Tan Man all at once--best wishes to you John--

susancspacedog 12 years, 1 month ago

I remember Tan Man and Blue Lady very well. I would also talk to Blue Lady at the student woman, and she was fascinating. Her full name was Jane VanMeter.

It was an interesting time in an interesting place

dejady 12 years, 1 month ago

Wow! Great old establishments, interesting people. Tan man was one of a kind. He used to go to "The Harbour" downtown every night for a coke and a bag of chips---on the house! My kids knew "Phil"--he sat in the park next to Watkins Museum---where I used to go to pay the bills for my mom when I was a kid. I think it was was a "City Hall" of sorts. "Teller's" used to be our bank (1st Nat'l.). Leo Buerman sat outside of "Varsity Velvet", the ice cream shop next to the bank. That man must have eaten more ice cream than anyone in town. My dad always bought him a cone when we went in. I'm sure he wasn't the only one who did that. Remember the original "Strawberry Fields"? One of the first hippie shops in town. Now it's the conservative "Fields Store". How about "Rock Chalk Cafe", "Sandys"," Allens Drive In" the "A&W" on 6th, the " Jayhawk Plunge" pool behind it, the "Sanctuary", "Mothers", Fathers, the "Voo Doo Hut" and "Ducks" on Mass. St. I could go on and on.......By the way--Bill McCain owned the "Red Lion" and you had better known what you wanted when you walked in....or be booted out. It was safest to order "the special". Signs around the cafe said "eat and get out--you are taking someone else's seat" How about Vern Miller and unrest on campus and at LHS? "Shooting the square, and sneaking into the "Sunset Drive In". The "Salad Bowl" and the "Big Eat" and sadly, Viet Nam. Like I said---Wow!

jashu 12 years, 1 month ago

Campus Hideway was still open in the very early 80's.

Does anyone remember Jessie who used to hang out at OFF THE WALL HALL? Older gentleman who could lift his head.

jayhawk8085 12 years, 1 month ago

easy mark,

Opera Man - his name was John Alexander. He used to ride the bus to class, was short, had major greasy longish hair, dressed somewhat like dracula occasionally, was very pasty white, would talk to himself and was no doubt a genius.

I graduated in 1980. I came back in about '98 and was went to the Riverfront when it was still a mall, and there he was... it was truly a thrill to see a legend!

Scott Fisher 12 years, 1 month ago

1989 - 2001 Lawrence Resident (then moved to NJ with my wife) -- The LJ World is STILL our "local paper"!

Honestly, I always thought "The Walking Man" was "The Tan Man." Always heard Robert Gilmore ("That's My Dillons") called "The Bird Man" because he CONSTANTLY fed the birds and talked as he walked (i.e to the birds because noone else was with with him). I actually had a booth at Quantrill's Flea Market where I sold mostly sports cards to put myself through school. Pyramid Pizza, Yellow Sub and (sadly) Mr. Goodcents (I know it was a chain), Plum Tree/Panda Garden (still haven't found a decent Chinese restaurant in NJ), Sonic (another non-East-Coast chain), and Hereford House. (Not to mention the real-estate prices -- I MISS LAWRENCE!) Anyone remember Captain Ron singing Margaritaville at Duffy's in the Ramada??? What's he doing these days?

blabylon 12 years, 1 month ago

How many of you whippersnappers remember "Carols Patio" at the south end of the bridge? Great 2am cheesburgers! How about the Thunderbird nightclub at 23rd and Iowa? How about the Jayhawk Plunge with it's 30' slide? "Tony's Pizza" downtown that cut their round pizzas into small squares? The Old Pool Hall downtown across from the OTHER old poolhall downtown? What were the names? The original soda fountain in the small front corner of the Eldridge Hotel? By the way, "Rightthinker is such an oxyMORON...!

jashu 12 years, 1 month ago

Chinese Restaurant - House of Hupei She would always say Hupei - You pay!

jashu 12 years, 1 month ago

How about Bill Dan? Dann? He would always run advertised advertorials in the Journal-World.

CJConard 10 years, 7 months ago

Yes, I remember CJ and I know what he did when he left Lawrence. (wink wink)

I landed in Berkeley and ran a private school campus for a few years. Then was recruited by another private school near San Diego. Moved to Escondido, CA and have been living there since 1991. Am now working as the General Operations Director for an Autism services company in San Diego. (11/07)

Thanks for remembering me, I'm honored you did.


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