Here come the clowns! 

Once or twice — maybe three times a year — there’s a parade or performance when people of all ages are treated to the antics of grown men in outlandish get-ups. For a minute or two, they coax chuckles from parents and screams of delight from little ones. And then they move on.

But where do they go? The youngest fans might imagine some kind of “clown town.” Never do they suspect that the kooky man with wild yellow hair, patch-work coat and an endless supply of lollipops might be a clerk in the neighborhood market, a banker or a truck driver.

The great P. T. Barnum paid clowns their proper due when he said, “Clowns are pegs used to hang circuses on.”

With closings of circuses in recent years, professional clowns are a rare breed. Most are now dedicated amateurs.

Kora Klowns are a popular unit of Lewiston’s Kora Shriners, and Bangor has its Anah Shrine Clown College. The Shriners are well-known for their fundraising in support of free care at its Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Less familiar is the history of Clown Alley No. 1 in Augusta. That was an informal school for clowns associated with the Circus Society of Maine about 60 years ago. At the time, there were only three Clown Alleys in the United States — in Washington, Idaho and Maine.

Clown Alley No. 1 was just a year old in 1956 when it sponsored the Cristiani Brothers Circus in Chelsea, just outside Augusta. Lewiston Evening Journal writer Rose O’Brien told about it in a Magazine Section feature.

“Not even big Joe Haworth, advance man for the Cristiani Circus and endowed with that silver-tongued fluency that is the hallmark of all true circus men, can find adequate words to describe Maine’s Clown Alley No.1,” O’Brien wrote.

Haworth told her, “I’ve been in the circus business for 50 years! I’ve covered this country with circus after circus. I’ve met thousands and thousands of loyal friends who belong to the Circus Fans Association. But I had to come to Augusta, Maine, to meet the most active circus organization I ever encountered in my half-century of circus work!”

Clown Alley No. 1 had clubrooms on the third floor of a business building at 268½ Water St. The main room was painted in circus colors and it was a fitting location for true fans of the circus who wanted to learn what it takes to be a clown.

In keeping with time-honored circus tradition, only men got into Clown Alley. O’Brien commented that plenty of Maine ladies, circus fans to the core, were “plenty miffed” about that.

The members of Clown Alley No. 1 made their own wardrobes — in circus jargon there is no such word as “costume,” O’Brien explained.

“This wardrobe is planned carefully. Color, cut, and style are considered and a clown works hours over his wardrobe, getting the right effect,” she said.

O’Brien’s story described three types of clown makeup — European, American and Character. The European type is white face with a big red mouth. The American type is straight white face while the character clown is the hobo, the farmer, the kid, or the “fright.”

Every member of Clown Alley No. 1 must be able to get into makeup in 20 minutes. That’s professional timing.

“Pat” Patterson, “top clown” or president of the Augusta group, said he fashioned his “Sad Sam” character clown after Emmett Kelly’s world-famous “Willie.”

Patterson claimed he practiced before the mirror for many hours. In a show, he gives himself exactly five seconds to get the routine across, and then he moves on to the next audience section.

In parades, they space out about 150 to 200 feet apart, so there are performing clowns along the entire line of march.

The first public appearance of Maine’s Clown Alley No. 1 was the American Legion’s 37th annual State Convention parade on a very hot day in June 1955. It was truly a baptism of fire for Clown Alley, but they loved every minute of it. And the crowd loved them.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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