He’s still tan after all these years
John Schneider, also known as the Tan Man, continues to catch rays in Lawrence
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”