Wandering down the culture-soaked sidewalks of Austin’s legendary Sixth Street, it’s hard to imagine that for longer than most college students have been alive, Carl “Crazy Carl” Hickerson stood on the corner, wearing only a bikini, selling flowers to passers-by.
“I’m usually the craziest thing that happens on Sixth Street,” Crazy Carl said.
Before he was a local celebrity known best for spinning carnations on Sixth Street and his infamous “man boobs,” Hickerson was a UT-Austin student and manager for the Longhorn swim team. After riding out his college experience between 1962 and 1971, Carl had a brief stint as a nude model in Europe and began his legacy selling flowers when he returned to Austin.
“In 1981, I was selling flowers in the daytime,” Hickerson said. “I would go down there with my trombone and play on the street corner.”
Hickerson’s other talents included spinning flowers in the palm of his hand and capturing the attention of tourists and locals alike with his antics.
Hickerson attributed his rise to fame in part to reverse psychology. Known for blatantly ignoring people on the street interested in his spectacle, Hickerson said he had to keep an eye on his flowers to ensure they weren’t stolen.
While Hickerson hoped he would only have to sell flowers until connecting with old friends and finding a job, he said the business grew out of control.
“After only a couple weeks of (selling flowers), I couldn’t go anywhere in Austin without somebody saying, ‘Hey! You’re the guy who spins flowers!’” Hickerson said.
Early into his tenure on Sixth Street, Hickerson set up his flower cart outside of renowned entertainment bar, Esther’s Follies.
Two years later, the bar hired him and utilized his talents in their evening shows, introducing himself formally as “Crazy Carl.” Hickerson took the moniker to heart, later legally changing his name to Crazy Carl Hickerson, as reflected on his driver’s license.
Although he retired years ago, Hickerson retains a residence in Austin with his partner of almost 27 years, Charlotte Ferris. Ferris said they met in 1977 while Carl was selling his famous flowers on Sixth Street.
“When I met him in, he was a total, complete wild man,” Ferris said. “He had already greatly developed his fascinating theories about the world and society, politics, and he had already had a lot of his really good ideas.”
Ferris said she was drawn to Carl’s “craziness” despite being raised in a conservative home. She admits that she was much more interested in his political ideas and behavior than how he looked, referring to the long blonde hair and skimpy clothing he is notorious for sporting while selling flowers.
Hickerson brought his ideas about politics and society to the public, running for Congress more than 10 times, most recently in 2017 against Lamar Smith. Carl’s first campaign slogan in 1977 shocked Austinites, as he dubbed himself “Crazy Carl: The politician who will put your foot in his mouth.”
Carl continues to draw attention from the citizens of Austin without flowers or a political campaign, as he is passionate about decorating what he calls “Art Cars,” with media such as collage and sculpture. Ferris said Hickerson’s mother was a big influence in his life, teaching him about artistic expression.
Beginning his journey to local stardom, Hickerson’s life is one riddled with flowers, music, meeting famous fans such as Barbara Jordan and flashing his infamous “man boobs,” but Hickerson admitted retirement has been hard, as he is used to being in the public eye.
Despite all of the “weirdness” that Austin is renowned for, Crazy Carl retains that he is still the craziest person the city has ever seen.