7-22-17 and 7-20-19
Nestled within the 102 4th Avenue Retail Center on the Baraboo Square is the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center. The museum’s Executive Director, Greg DeSanto, made this valuable resource a reality in Baraboo on May 21, 2010. He saved this museum, the artifacts were in storage for four years after it failed in Milwaukee. It originally was in Delavan, also a circus town. We met him on our visit, such a funny guy! Not surprising, since he is also a clown, along with his wife, Karen. Learn more about Greg here.
Since we were here for the Big Top Circus Parade, learning more about the history of clowns was a great addition to the day. We could tell by the festive appearance of the doorway it was going to be a fun visit!
Tours are conducted daily at 2:00 PM June through August.
From September through May we are open by appointment only.
$5.00 Children Under 12
See our tour here, conducted by Toto Johnson in 2019.
Toto began the tour by introducing the three kinds of clowns.
Inside is a large room with displays dedicated to famous clown past and almost present. Displays change often as they got donations of artifacts.
On our visit in 2017, Sandy Weber conducted the tour. He also designed the beautiful signage you see throughout the museum. He covered topics like the clown’s roles in history and pointed out the artifacts from their performance days. Most artifacts have been donated by family members of each clown.
Toto Johnson was our guide in 2019, his anecdotes really made the tour special! He had the full attention of the kids on the tour! Toto is on the museum’s Board of Directors and his enthusiasm is contagious! In the photo, he’s telling the kids about the clown car and how as a young clown in the 1980s, he had to be the first one inside the car. The highest-ranked clown stayed outside, their role was to open and close the door! They never had to even had to get in. He worked for the Ringling Brothers in 1986, after graduation. Toto attended the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1985 and a documentary was made. The video plays on a screen at the museum.
Click to enlarge.
They also had a great exhibit for Happy the Clown, Jim Williams, formerly of Circus World Museum. I saw him perform there in 1980, my first visit to Circus World Museum. He passed away in 2015 at age 71 😦
Bobo‘s tiny clown car, I don’t know how he got in, he was about 6’3″. He kept that a secret! One good guess is that he began his circus career as a contortionist and used those skills here. Clowns are indeed athletes in makeup!
A short video of Bobo Barnett getting out of his car, complete with luggage and dogs. Amazing!
His daughter, Christiana Barnett-Murphy, has a YouTube channel with more video. She also wrote a book about her experiences of being this famous clown’s daughter.
Speaking of interesting clown vehicles, the bathtub car. It was driven during the Big Top Circus parade!
An important circus secret to preventing infection to cuts is Sea Breeze. Toto told us how they kept this on hand to keep cuts from getting infected.
See Lou in the video from 1987.
Emmett Kelly performing his “Sweeping up the spotlight” gag.
Video of Mark in 1986.
One of our more recent famous clowns, Red Skelton! He had his own TV show from 1951 to 1971.
See some clips from the show here.
A moment of silence for late clown Ceslee Conkling. She passed away when her train derailed on January 13, 1994. She was 28. A little video from one of her acts.
This exhibit was expanded only the day before on July 19, 2019. Some more artifacts were just sent in for clown Jackie LeClaire. See a video of his recollections, filmed in 2013.
Be sure to make this museum one of your stops when you visit Baraboo. There is so much more than I showed you here.
Al enjoyed the tour so much, I’m afraid HE might run away and join the circus!