RIP Ben Hana aka Blanket Man aka Tarzan

17 01 2012

We are going to stop the regularly scheduled updates of my travels in New Zealand to talk about a man that lived and recently passed away in Wellington… Ben Hana.. known to most people as blanket man.  I actually heard about him before I ever saw him in person. He even had his own wikipedia page (that was created before his tragic death).

Blanket Man

Blanket Man

Being a recent transplant to Wellington, I can’t say that I had any deep and meaningful interactions with the guy,  nor did I ever actually have a chance to speak with him,  but his passing was still INCREDIBLY sad to me.

Ben apparently once had a normal life… or rather a life by societies standards we would consider normal.  He was a father, he had a family and a home.  Something changed between that time and the early 1990’s when he decided to take up residency on the streets of Wellington.  I can’t speak to personally talking to him about it, but I have read that he killed his friend in a drunk driving accident and that his family fell apart.

I used to walk past him on a daily basis.  He seemed like a peaceful but lost and troubled soul.  He seemed grateful to be acknowledged, and I made it a point to always smile and make eye contact when ever I walked past, at which point he would then give me his infamous nod.. sitting in front of courtney place, usually with an alcoholic beverage in hand and a blanket wrapped around his body. I should note that I never EVER once saw him ever ask anyone for anything.  He seemed to be content in his own little world, wrapped in a blanket, wearing a loin clothe, smoking and listening to music.

Blanket man to me symbolized the struggles and the addictions that we all deal with, some obviously harder than others, and some to our own tragic end.  His passing has created a mixed field of reactions but it also helps to show what I love about its city, its compassion.  Of course there are some that write that he “choose” to live the way he did, and that he was an “abusive and violent” old man.   I personally don’t agree with either of those statements and they take me away from my main point… the compassion of the other people around here….

Ben passed away on Sunday (it is Tuesday now) for the last two days the area on the street where he made his home has been covered in memorials… People have left flowers, empty bottles, drawn paintings, lit candles.

The start of his memorial

The start of his memorial

Every time I walk past there are at least 5 people standing there, reading what others have written or adding more themselves.  I find this incredibly touching.  I have been in Wellington for just over a month and 1/2 now, and as sad as blanket man’s passing is, it is nice to see him being fondly remembered by the people he lived around.  As one girl commented on a news article I just read – “Rest in Peace Ben, I hope your heaven is a giant warm blanket.”


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