Long-time West Bank figures are remembered

A memorial for Marsha Harvey, a violinist and wanderer in the West Bank community, and her partner Chester was held at Palmer’s Bar on Thursday.

A rare photo of West Bank icon, Marsha Harvey and her partner, Chester, sits on a table at Palmer's Bar on Thursday, July 19. Harvey, who was well known for playing violin on the Washington Avenue Bridge and frequenting the Hard Time's Cafe on West Bank, was found dead in her home underneath the Tenth Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend.

Tony Saunders

A rare photo of West Bank icon, Marsha Harvey and her partner, Chester, sits on a table at Palmer’s Bar on Thursday, July 19. Harvey, who was well known for playing violin on the Washington Avenue Bridge and frequenting the Hard Time’s Cafe on West Bank, was found dead in her home underneath the Tenth Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend.

J.D. Duggan

Walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge, University of Minnesota students could often hear the faint sounds of a violin echoing off West Bank campus buildings. 

But earlier this summer, the music stopped. Marsha Harvey, a violinist, busker and recognizable presence on campus responsible for the music, died in her encampment on Memorial Day. West Bank residents and friends gathered Thursday to remember Marsha, along with her partner Chester, and celebrate their lives and influence. 

Marsha’s friends remember her as a unique person. She could often be seen and heard playing her violin around West Bank or in her home under the 10th Avenue Bridge. Chester, another notable West Bank figure who sported a scruffy beard and decorated top hat, preceded Marsha in death in 2015. He was regularly found playing accordion around the neighborhood or scribbling cartoons at the Hard Times Cafe.

Palmers Bar held the memorial to commemorate the pair, hosted in-part by Hard Times. Tables were littered with Chester’s comics, while his recognizable top hat sat on the wall. Marsha’s violin rested near a decades-old photograph of the couple.

“I think everybody in the neighborhood knew Chester and Marsha just because they were iconic,” said Janet Curiel, a friend of Marsha’s and longtime Hard Times patron. “They were friendly in a way, not always, but sometimes… [Marsha] was this really talented person and… different from the mainstream, just very unique.” 

Two abandoned vehicles sit at their home under the bridge along with decorations, sheet music and scattered artwork. Trees and shrubs seclude their home from the surrounding community.

“She had actually fixed it up in a most artistic way with trails and paths and flowers and things that she had gotten in different places,” Curiel said. “[Marsha] had really turned the outdoor space into this beautiful living space… so they had their independence, they lived as they chose.”

The couple lived together for decades in their home under the bridge. Marsha was a licensed nurse in her former life and helped to take care of Chester in times of poor health, said Chester’s longtime friend John Frederick. 

Marsha was a private woman who faced emotional ups and downs, while Chester had been a colorful, well-known figure in the area since the 1970s, Frederick said.

David Markle, a longtime resident of West Bank, shared a story of inviting Chester and his then-girlfriend to a West Bank Community Development Corporation Christmas party. 

“They showed up, which was, I think, quite disconcerting to the… the board people,” Markle said. 

As the party came to a close, the couple began filling bags with food and beer to the surprise of the board members.

“They had plenty to eat and drink over Christmas,” Markle said.

Chester was often spotted wading into Cedar Lake up to his neck, fully-clothed, on hot summer days.

“He’d do things like that,” Frederick said. “Chester is such a picturesque person.”

Multiple West Bank residents brandished jewelry Marsha made them at the memorial, which showcased Chester and Marsha’s various artworks.

“What I loved about Marsha is that she really cared about other people and it didn’t always show,” Curiel said.