St. Patrick's Day always involves cheery faces, shamrocks, usually more than a few people dressed in green and if you're lucky, some people even dress up as leprechauns.
Jess Buzzutto was one of those of lucky leprechauns. At 5 feet tall, dressed from head to toe in green, he was known as "The Leprechaun of Yonkers." Buzzutto died in 2012 at 70 years old, but before then he explained to StoryCorps how he became a town favorite.
"I saw this guy with a hat. It was a green felt hat. And I looked at it and I said, 'I want that,' " Buzzutto said. "Then one day I grew my beard and my mustache and all of sudden behind me I keep hearing, 'Leprechaun, leprechaun' and I started to enjoy it."
Buzzutto said he then started to emphasize and embrace the leprechaun culture more, and would walk down the street when he would get greetings such as "Top of the morning to ya," questions including "Where's your pot of gold?" and even some pleas for things that money can't buy: "Hey Mr. Leprechaun, give me some luck."
For the people that would ask him if he was a real leprechaun, Buzzutto would reply: "I'm the realest leprechaun you're ever going to see in your life, man."
While Buzzutto said he enjoyed being a leprechaun to those who saw him decked out in green, he also said embracing the character had given him "a warped view of the world."
"Everybody is happy when they see a leprechaun," Buzzutto said.
For Buzzutto this was the case even at a place that most people dread going to: the DMV.
As he stood in line one day, he said he noticed the person behind the counter was giving everyone a hard time. When he reached the front and gave her his paperwork, she just replied with, "This is wrong. Next!" but didn't tell him what was wrong. Buzzutto went home to take another look at what might have been wrong. He returned the next day and the same woman took the paperwork and again said it was wrong, but then she looked up.
"She got a big smile on her face," Buzzutto said. "She said, 'No, no, that's all right,' and she corrected what was wrong. I got outside and I scratched my head and when my hand hit my hat, I said, 'That's what happened — she saw the leprechaun and she changed 180 degrees."
Call that leprechaun's luck, but Buzzutto said he didn't get the same reaction from people when he didn't wear green.
"Every couple of years I'll go out without a hat and I'll dig way down in the bottom of my closet and find something that isn't green and wear it out just to see the different reactions from people," Buzzutto said. "All of a sudden people don't want to meet your eye, don't want to talk to you, because I'm so small that they're afraid that they're going to insult me if I catch them looking at me."
It wasn't the same when he was in character.
"But when I become the leprechaun they look and they say, 'Well that guy doesn't mind being looked at, I mean, he couldn't possibly if he dresses like that,' " he says.
Last week, Buzzutto's sister, Eileen Logiudice, and his niece, Tori Medina, sat down with StoryCorps to share their memories of Buzzutto and his lasting impact in Yonkers.
Logiudice says she has a lot of his clothes, like T-shirts and polos, all of which are green.
"I remember a lady came up to me and she said 'Are you the leprechaun's sister?' " Logiudice says.
When Logiudice asked the woman how she knew, the woman said she just looked like Buzzutto. It wasn't until then, she said, that she realized just how popular he was.
His niece, Medina, remembers seeing so many people at his funeral — including Yonkers' mayor.
During his life Buzzutto said an important lesson he learned was to not "take today too seriously."
"Things may look very bleak right now but they'll be turned around," he said. "It's just a matter of holding on until they do. I never planned on being a leprechaun. People don't even know what a leprechaun is. Neither do I, tell you the truth. But when something good is dumped in your lap, you take it."
Not taking each day too seriously may have been one of the lessons Buzzutto learned in his life, but for Medina, his life served lessons for her.
"You know, the thing I really learned about life from him was basically: love thy neighbor," Medina says. "I think he made me kinder person."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by John White and Chanda Khatso.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. And on this St. Patrick's Day, many people in New York will be thinking of Jess Buzzutto. He was known as The Leprechaun of Yonkers. He was 5 feet tall, always wore green from head to toe. Buzzutto died in 2012. But two years earlier, he came to StoryCorps with his sister, Eileen, and his niece, Tori.
JESS BUZZUTTO: I saw this guy with a hat. It was a green felt hat. And I looked at it. And I said, I want that. And then one day, I grew my beard and mustache. And all of a sudden behind me I keep hearing leprechaun, leprechaun. And I started to enjoy it. So I started to emphasize the leprechaunishness (ph).
Now, as I go down the street, I get top of the morning to you. Where's your pot of gold? Hey, Mr. Leprechaun, give me some luck. And as I tell people that ask me if I'm a real leprechaun, I'm the realest leprechaun you're ever going to see in your life, man.
EILEEN LOGIUDICE: How has it changed your life?
BUZZUTTO: It's given me a warped view of the world because everybody is happy when they see a leprechaun. One day, I went down to the DMV, and I stood on line. And I saw this person behind the counter giving everybody a hard time. And I gave her my paperwork. She looked at it and said this is wrong, next. I said what's wrong with it? Next. So I went home. And I figured out what might have been wrong with it. And I came back the next day. And she takes the paperwork, says that's wrong. But she looked up at me. And she got a big smile on her face, said, oh, no, that's all right. And she corrected what was wrong. And I got outside. And I scratched my head. And when my hand hit my hat, I said that's what happened. She saw the leprechaun. And she changed 180 degrees.
Every couple of years I'll out without a hat and I'll dig way down to the bottom of my closet and find something that isn't green and wear it out just to see the different reactions from people. And all of a sudden, people don't want to meet your eye, don't want to talk to you because I'm so small that they're afraid they're going to insult me if I catch them looking at me. But when I become the leprechaun, they look. And they say, well, that guy doesn't mind being looked at. I mean, he couldn't possibly if he dresses like that.
LOGIUDICE: What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?
BUZZUTTO: Don't take today too seriously. Things may look very bleak right now but they'll be turned around. It's just a matter of holding on till they do. I never planned on being a leprechaun. People don't even know what a leprechaun is, neither do I, to tell you the truth. But when something good is dumped in your lap, you take it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LOGIUDICE: My name is Eileen Logiudice.
TORI MEDINA: My name is Tori Medina.
How do you keep his memory alive?
LOGIUDICE: Well, I have a lot of his clothes. I wear his T-shirts, his polo shirts. They're all green, you know. And I remember a lady came up to me. And she said are you the leprechaun's sister? And I said yeah, how do you know that? She said you look just like him. But I really never realized how popular he was until he died. At the funeral...
MEDINA: There were so many people there. I remember the mayor came. You know, and the thing I really learned about life from him was basically love thy neighbor. I think he made me a kinder person.
LOGIUDICE: It's a wonderful tribute. He was a great guy.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: That was Eileen Logiudice and Tori Medina remembering Jess Buzzutto, The Leprechaun of Yonkers. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.