March 25, 2022
Clowns have gotten a bad rap in recent decades. Blame Stephen King and serial killer John Wayne Gacy for helping to transform a wholesome symbol of childhood merriment into something that haunts our nightmares. A century and a quarter ago, at the turn of the 20th century, clowns were in their heyday thanks to their starring role in traveling circuses.
In this collection of colorized photographs of vintage clowns from days gone by, we will try not to trigger anyone’s coulrophobia or fear of clowns. Instead, we want to show the evolution of clowns and how beloved they once were.
Clowns have most certainly been a fixture in entertainment since antiquity. In early Greek and Roman plays, there were often comic characters. Typically, these took on the “rustic fool” persona. Fast forward to the Middle Ages and we see “fools” and “jesters” in traveling theatrical shows. William Shakespeare included clown-like fools in many of his best-loved plays. The French “harlequin”, a clown persona that emerged in the 17th century, was less foolish and more timid. All this set the stage for the clowns we all remember from circuses.