February 24, 2013

Court order: Walk while you whistle in Portland

After being charged with disorderly conduct, a man who loves to whistle while downtown agrees not to pursue his passion standing still.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Robert Smith is called The Whistler because of his almost daily habit of whistling loudly around downtown Portland.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Robert Smith whistles his way down Exchange Street in Portland recently. “I’m just trying to make people smile,” Smith says. But he disturbs some listeners, leading to legal troubles for Smith that he says won’t stop him from expressing himself.

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"The judge and I viewed this as a behavioral issue," she said. "(The Whistler) was aggressive. He would follow people who gave him a wrong look."


The Whistler is no stranger to many Portland residents or workers.

"I do see him a lot," said Greta Bank, an artist who leases studio space on Congress Street. "Everybody does."

Bank and her husband, Scott Peterman, a fellow artist and photography instructor at the Maine College of Art, incorporated The Whistler's likeness in a window display last fall at the Space Gallery.

The display -- "Godzilla Attacks" -- included a model of downtown Portland that was used to make a Godzilla parody film. The display was about 2 feet tall, Bank said, and The Whistler, who was depicted wearing a New York Yankees hat and his backpack, stood about 8 inches. Bank said he is nearly as much of a fixture downtown as the buildings themselves, and there is no conceptual linkage between The Whistler and Godzilla.

"I chose him because he is an archetype of what Congress Street is," Bank said. "He would walk by like every 15 to 20 minutes."

The Whistler also has an online presence, but not of his own doing.

Someone has set up a business page for The Whistler on Facebook, but it only had five likes as of last week.

A YouTube video, "'The Whistler' Haunting Downtown Portland, ME Daily," which was posted on Aug. 14, 2012, has about 850 views. The video is shot from behind as The Whistler walks along Congress Street from the bus stop at Monument Square to CVS.

Another man followed The Whistler around town to get an audio recording, which was posted to SoundCloud. At one point, the whistling is practically in the same key as the beeping of a commercial vehicle.

Some, however, have come to appreciate The Whistler.

Dr. Lisa Belisle, an East Bayside physician who became acquainted with him when she was working downtown, wrote a December 2011 blog post that she owes a "debt of gratitude" to The Whistler.

"Though I find him as annoying as many others do, I find him equally and strangely compelling," Belisle wrote. "He is, in his own way, a placeholder. He prompts me to remember that not all hear the same music I hear; or respond the same way."

In a phone interview, Belisle, who specializes in family and preventive medicine, said The Whistler is breaking down barriers that people put around themselves, forcing people to notice what is right in front of them. He is, she said, a reminder that everyone marches to the beat of their own drummer.

"The best thing you can do is have compassion for other people whose songs are not the same as yours," she said.

While Smith is well known as The Whistler, he said he doesn't do it for the fame.

"I'm doing it because of the reward it gives me," Smith said. "My goal is if someday I can walk down the streets of Portland and I can see 20 or 30 people whistling along, doing the same thing I'm doing, well then I will be a happy camper. I'll know I did something right."

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:


Twitter: @randybillings


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