For years, you couldn't have visited the corner of Forbes and Smithfield without seeing Claudelle Bazemore. The friendly, sometimes-homeless Downtown fixture camped there daily, seated in a big chair with bags full of books and newspapers and a tall stack of plastic cups nearby.
About 40 people gathered at noon today to mark Bazemore's passing at the spot where she always sat -- alongside the CVS store. The memorial site centered on a red folding chair holding two framed photographs of Bazemore, plus a third photo of her as a young boy. Candles burned nearby, and someone had set up a little table with a chessboard as a reminder of Bazemore's favorite game.
Bazemore, 60, died this past Saturday, of heart disease. Born Clyde Bazemore, the Hill District native began dressing as a woman as a teenager, and in her later years was one of Downtown's more memorable panhandlers.
"He transcended everything," Bazemore's brother, Jacquet Bazemore, told the crowd at the brief memorial celebration -- referring to Claudelle Bazemore's race, gender expression and homelessness, for starters. "Always had a good word for everybody... Pittsburgh, on this corner, will never be the same."
Jacquet Bazemore was among those who brought flowers to place at Claudelle's longtime sidewalk post. He also led the crowd in reciting the Lord's Prayer and singing "Amazing Grace."
Claudelle Bazemore was the subject of a 1988 front-page feature article in the Post-Gazette, and afterward became something of a celebrity. Michael Fuoco wrote a thoughtful article on Bazemore's death in yesteday's P-G. According to the article, Bazemore had held a number of jobs, but lost many of them when employers learned she was crossdressing.
Bazemore had become homeless after an apartment fire in 1994, according to the P-G. But though she still went Downtown daily until her final illness, Bazemore had not had to sleep there for the past several years. She died in her apartment in Garfield.
Others who spoke today included Erica Smith, who for eight years was Claudelle Bazemore's caseworker through Community Human Services. Bazemore, Smith said, "looked at the world with nonjudgmental eyes that were wide open and accepting."
I love Mel Packer!