Turtleman’s America

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By Ken Begley


“They say I’m crazy but you can’t help but like me.”
- Ernie Brown Jr.
My son works at Wendy’s in Springfield. Will was working the drive-thru at about seven o’clock last Saturday night when he walked away from the window for a minute.
Suddenly, Will’s co-worker Jake yelled out that Ernie Brown was in the drive-thru. Will ran back to the window to see Ernie Brown, Jr. pulling up in his pickup truck with his dog, Lolly.
It turned into a wild frenzy with all the employees running up to the checkout window to shake his hand and get an autograph. Then the customers in the lobby came running back to the window to do likewise. Ernie continued to sign autographs and talk with people while they got the thrill of a lifetime meeting a true national celebrity and sensation.
This likable individual creates pandemonium by fans whenever and where ever he shows up.
Now, you might be asking right now, “Who the heck is Ernie Brown, Jr.?”  That’s not the name he’s known as.
He’s more famously known as “The Turtle Man” from his hit cable television show of Animal Planet’s “Call of the Wild Man.”
The show is in its second season and features former Washington County resident Ernie Brown Jr. as the star.
“Call of the Wild Man” set a record with some 1.6 million viewers for just one of their shows.  The program revolves around Mr. Brown and his “Team Turtle” (Neal James, David Brady, Jake Ison, and his dog Lolly).  They take a lighthearted approach at trapping nuisance animals and releasing them back into the wild around Central Kentucky. But it is Mr. Brown individually battling against these critters that has captured the heart and imagination of the country.
As I said, Mr. Brown originally had his origins in Washington County.
I understand his family was members of St. Dominic Church for a while many years ago.  He and his sister, Lola, attended CCD classes there for a time as well. CCD is where kids that don’t attend Catholic school get the basics of their faith. Later he ended up in Marion County.
Who knew that one day this young kid sitting in one of their classes would zoom to the top of the entertainment industry?
Does that not blow your mind?
But apparently it wasn’t just luck by which Mr. Brown made his rise to fame with his own television show, in addition to being written about by every newspaper and magazine. He  has been on the “The Today Show” with NBC.  One night Jay Leno interviewed him on the “Tonight Show” and he sat between Jay and Eddie Murphy. Murphy kept cutting up with him as they showed clips of his show.
The story is unbelievable and could only happen in America.
It seems that as a young kid, Mr. Brown told his family that he wanted to be famous after seeing magazines with pictures of people on the cover. They told him he would have to find a talent that people would want to see. I’m sure, like most parents, they thought that would be the end of the story.
But it wasn’t.
Mr. Brown’s greatest passion was the wilderness. He had an uncle that taught him how to hunt great big snapping turtles in ponds at the age of seven.  He did develop one heck of a talent by catching hundreds of turtles over the years.  He once caught a 55-pound giant turtle. He worked part-time jobs at getting rid of nuisance animals like snakes, raccoons, etc., for folks, but turtles were his specialty.
Over the years, Mr. Brown worked several different full-time jobs, including milking and construction, but all the time he developed a persona known as the “Turtle Man.” He would attend as many festivals that he could where he worked up a side show act.  Mr. Brown would show turtles that he caught and had a real storytelling ability. Frequently he earned just enough money for the gas to attend these festivals.
He shows up today wearing camouflage clothes and a leather cowboy hat decorated with claws from those snapping turtles.  Mr. Brown has had a lot of his teeth knocked out in accidents over the years. So apparently when you meet him, you won’t forget him.
People began writing in newspapers about “The Turtle Man,” and he became a local celebrity of sorts.
His big break came when the KET show “Kentucky Afield” did a piece on him that appeared locally in 2008. In the show he would jump into a moss covered pond head first and proceed to pull out, by hand, a huge number of snapping turtles.
KET took the scenes from the show and put them on You Tube.
It went viral with over 4.5 million people opening it up to watch the video.
A reality show producer from Animal Planet went looking for Mr. Brown and finally found him at a festival in Mount Pleasant, W. Va. in 2011, where he was signed to a contract.
The rest, as they say, is history as he begins his second season in the highly-rated “Call of the Wild Man.”
Now some people might say that Mr. Brown plays into the stereotype of Kentuckians being a bunch of hillbillies and that that isn’t good for our image.
I’d say those people are wrong.
Because here are a few more facts about the Mr. Brown.
He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t do drugs and he doesn’t smoke.
He’s always smiling and is unceasingly friendly to everyone that he meets, despite all the fame that he has received.
He’s particularly worshiped by small children. Mr. Brown, with his buddies in “Team Turtle,” have visited numerous extremely ill children suffering from life threatening illnesses.
You know why these young kids are so attached to him, don’t you?
Because in a scary world these young kids take comfort in watching a seemingly fearless man that will take on the unknown with his bare hands.  He does it aided by nothing but a “high” on life reinforced with a smile and a laugh.  When young children are struggling with their own problems, and particularly deadly illnesses, then you can understand why they would want to be just like him. A few of us adults would like to be like that, as well.
You know folks, it don’t get no better than that.
That’s why everywhere Mr. Brown goes he gets mobbed.  You don’t meet many people that can handle fame as well as he and “Team Turtle” has.
I think I’ll take Mr. Brown’s publicity for Kentucky over what the slick fake stars in Hollywood generate for California any day of the week.