Only Allowed to Whistle When Walking: The Quirky Story of the Portland Whistler

Believe it or not, whistling can get you arrested. Robert Smith, better known as The Whistler, in the city of Portland, was actually thrown in jail for disturbing people with his constant whistling and has now been ordered by a judge to only whistle when walking, so he doesn’t annoy businesses and passers-by in any one area.

“It came from God — that’s where it came from,” Robert Smith says about the origins of his passion for whistling. “God is showing me what I’m doing is OK. He shows me every day with laughter.” He’s referring to the reactions of people who seem amused by his constant whistling. But, unfortunately for him, laughter is not the only reaction triggered by his almost daily habit. Businesses around Portland have been filing complaints about The Whistler’s behavior, and when they just kept piling up, the Police Department finally picked him up ant even took him to court for disorderly conduct for “loud whistling.” “It just got to the point last summer where the complaints just mounted,” said Trish McAllister, the city’s neighborhood prosecutor. “He’s so loud!” Apparently, Smith’s steady monotone notes are so strong they can be heard a block away.



Photo: Tanya Zivkovic

There’s actually a story behind the character known as The Whistler of Portland. The 32-year-old says he spent a whole year walking around singing, when he came to Portland. Then one day, while listening to a rock song laying in his headphones, he started whistling the tune. “I thought, you know, that sounds pretty cool,” Smith said. “I get more self-worth out of whistling.” And he’s been doing it every day, weather-permitting. He’s well known in downtown Portland and he shows up in online blog posts, videos and photos, but apart from fame, his whistling habit has also gotten Smith in some trouble over the past year. In May of last year, he was summoned for disorderly conduct after a business complained. Two months later, he was arrested for whistling in front of a local Starbucks cafe. Records show he pleaded guilty to the charge of disorderly conduct and agreed to only whistle while walking, so he doesn’t disturb businesses and passers-by in any one place. However, this chain of unfortunate events didn’t make the Whistler give up on his passion. “You can arrest me a thousand times, and the day I walk out of this jail, I’ll be whistling out the door,” he told the police.


There has been a lot of speculation surrounding The Whistler of Portland and his strange habit. Some have even suggested it might be related to drug dealing, but there’s no proof of such thing. I’ve heard that drug (dealing) thing. It doesn’t faze me one bit,” Smith said. “They just want an answer to what I do every day. They want to put an answer to something they have no answer to. All I’m doing is expressing myself freely. People who express themselves freely should be held in the highest regard, not the lowest regard.” And Maine ACLU spokeswoman Rachel Healy seems to agree with him. “In general, merely being annoying isn’t enough to constitute disorderly conduct,” she says. “Unless it’s meant to incite chaos or violence, whistling in public is usually not a crime — and punishing someone for it could raise real First Amendment concerns.”


“I’m doing it because of the reward it gives me,” The Whistler recently said. “My goal is if someday I can walk down the streets of Portland and I can see 20 or 30 people whistling along, doing the same thing I’m doing, well then I will be a happy camper. I’ll know I did something right.” It might be one person’s dream but there are many others who can barely stand hearing his loud whistling, let alone that of 30 other people.

Source: Portland Press Herald

Posted in News, Videos        Tags: , , ,