They were standing Saturday morning on High Street in Chestertown, watching the annual holiday parade march by, when the big fluffy snowman came their way. Lilly, 9, and Maddie, 11, dutifully posed as Grandma snapped a photo — one of the last taken of Frosty as a free man.
Within minutes, two police officers had the so-called jolly, happy soul face down on the sidewalk in front of the Compleat Bookseller, raising a ruckus as his hands were cuffed behind his back. The round, white head lay forlornly at his feet, top hat and carrot nose still in place.
The image was "very unsettling" for the girls, Zellers said Monday. "They'll be talking about this parade for a long time."
While the Frosty of holiday lore has only a brief run-in with a traffic cop (who famously hollers "stop"), the Frosty of Chestertown, 52-year-old Kevin Michael Walsh, has a history of tangling with police. Saturday's arrest — which came, authorities said, after Walsh "made a kicking motion" toward a police dog and struck an officer with his costume head while removing it — is his fifth this year.
Walsh, who has performed as Frosty off and on for the past decade, was convicted of "telephone misuse" for calling police in April and pretending to be part of a CNN news crew hoping to arrange interviews. He was also found guilty of disorderly conduct for standing outside the Town Hall in May banging pots and pans because he couldn't get inside to talk with Rep. Andy Harris, who was in the area for a community meeting. (Walsh has been banned from entering the Town Hall since March.)
Each time, he received a suspended jail sentence and probation. But he's facing serious time if convicted on the new charges, which include three counts of second-degree assault and one count of resisting arrest. In all, he could receive a maximum of 33 years in prison, and he could still be charged with violating probation.
"He likes to agitate police," said Deputy Police Chief William H. Dwyer Jr. "He's just a town nuisance."
Walsh, who says he once ran a watch business, admitted to dealing with depression now and again and said he had a stroke three years ago that nearly killed him. But he said he's not crazy; he's a political activist exercising his right to free speech in a small town where officials don't like being challenged.
"They're making it a situation," he said of police. "This has just gotten to be stupid, the whole thing."
Walsh's arrest has made newspapers coast to coast and worldwide, with details of the takedown appearing in the Daily Dispatch (South Africa), the Irish Independent and The Timaru Herald of New Zealand. Walsh was interviewed on Fox news, and the Police Department has gotten calls from CNN (the real one) and The Smoking Gun website.
Zellers' son-in-law has taken to Facebook with the incident, she said, slinging Frosty "one-liners" like snowballs. So far, Walsh has been accused in various media of having a meltdown, being a Grinch and raining on the Chestertown parade.
"It was too bad, because I think it kind of ruined the parade," Zellers said.
The show began about 10 a.m. Patrolman First Class James H. Walker was stationed on the corner of Spring and High streets with Henzo, his police dog. About 10:15, Walsh came by and spotted the duo. He made a beeline for Walker.
"I said, 'Well, that's not right to have a dog at the parade,'" Walsh admits. "I don't think a children's parade should have police dogs."
A police report claims he made a "kicking motion" toward the dog, but Walsh said he was just trying to stay balanced in the costume, which made it difficult to see. He said his piece, then moved along as Walker put the dog in his vehicle.
The officer caught up to him, however, according to police records, and "removed" Walsh from the parade to offer safety advice about the wisdom of antagonizing a police dog. But the snowman kept talking.
What happened next is cut from the police report, but Deputy Chief Dwyer filled in the blanks. He said Walsh was "cussing" and "verbally abusive" toward Walker, and went to remove his Frosty head, hitting the officer with it in the process.
Walker took Walsh down and called for backup, leading to the scene now fixed in the memories of Zellers' granddaughters. Walsh is also accused of using his body to shove the second officer as they walked to the patrol car.
He said he spent three hours in the suit, handcuffed to a wall, before someone made him take it off so it could be returned to the costume shop. He was released on his own recognizance that afternoon.
And by Monday, he'd come to a realization: "I've got to get a lawyer, before I melt," he said.