THE ICON: Sam Cortese
THE LEGACY: Young Sam Cortese didn’t have a choice, really. After losing his legs in a childhood streetcar accident — and then being kicked out of school after third grade because of his disability — he had to work. So that’s what he did, as a New Orleans street vendor hawking fruit and vegetables in the summer, and coal in the winter. Noticing how quickly his customers snapped up the sticks of chewing candy he occasionally sold — made by his mother using a recipe from her native Sicily — he decided in 1915 to change business strategies, ditching the veggies and selling the candy for a nickel a stick from his iconic red-and-white horse-drawn wagon. The Roman Candy Man was born, a sweet-as-can-be tradition that continues today to serve up a taste of old New Orleans.
THE ARTIST: Connie Kittok, WhereYart.net
THE INSPIRATION: “This is one of the last people places in the country. We formed our own culture, and street peddlers were our ambassadors, roving from township to township. The city vibrated to their chants. And they’re all gone — except that candy man.” — New Orleans broadcaster and historian Mel Leavitt, in 1986