The purpose of this blog is to share stories from the road of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown Alley. With this resource we can relive those days and have a better understanding of the transitions within Clown Alley over the years. I feel historically it's important to share these stories for future generations. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Clowns and elephants are pegs..............

Now that the costumes and makeup were coming along and we were feeling pretty confident. It was time to go to Circus World to  ride elephants, and see another side of clowning other than doing the big show. Circus World wasn't much at the time. All that was there was the building that looked like a tent, an outdoor ring, a stage inside, and of course the Imax movie. It was called that because the screen size was the maximum area your eyes could take in. I believe it was 75 feet high. Pretty impressive! If I'm not mistaken this may have been one of the first ones ever made. The film was of Ringling Brothers Circus.

 In the movie we saw the clown car routine. As I watched in amazement one clown after another came out at lightning speed. And then one clown Jim Howle , a tramp clown, came out and simply pulled a skeleton fish from a lunch box and looked at it with a frown that would make you cry.  

There were 3 resident clowns at the time  Michael Bongar, George Draughon, and Sigfrido Aguilar. They performed for us on the stage inside. Very funny guys. As we ate lunch, they sat and spoke to us about what it was like to work in that kind of environment as opposed to the circus. I remember being very impressed by them and what they had to say. Now I know why. Each one has done very well for themselves. Michael has a very successful entertainment company in New York called BongarBiz. George received a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Award to study clowns in Europe and actually got to meet Charlie Chaplain. After that he went to work for Disney and just recently retired. Sigridhas his own Clown school in Guadalajara, Mexico. Good job guys! 

Buckles and Barbara Woodcock where there with their son Benny. We watched as Buckles presented his baby elephant act and then it was time. He put them away he brought out the big girls for us to ride. It was like an elevator the way they lifted us with there front leg. As you were raised you would flip your leg over and hopefully land on their back. If you weren't careful you would go right over the other side. Although I don't remember this happening to anyone. Buckles really took time and was very careful not to hurt anyone. He really knew his stuff! My legs were quivering from having them spread across the back of a 2 ton elephant. 

While we were there we met Lou Jacobs. Watching him do his hunting dog routine was like watching a living cartoon. Each movement so precise and clear. The story was told without words, and there was no doubt what he was telling us. Unlike later Clown Colleges we only had Lou a short time. He was still a big part of the show so they wouldn't let him go for very long.

 And then my magical day was over. As we loaded the bus to go back to Venice I realized, clowns and elephants really are pegs in which to hang a circus.


  1. what was I thinking wearing my red corderoy pants that day, they split in half riding that elephant! And I will never forget Lou Jacobs yelling "Sssshhhhppagetti!" when he thought our movements weren't crisp enough. I worked for a time at Circus World and IMAX was a very new thing back then. The projector was one of less than a handful on the planet at the time. I was given a clip of IMAX film of elephant walking which I kept for years. And I remember great talks with the Circus Historian Chappie Fox, who had his office at Circus World.

  2. what was I thinking wearing my nice red corderoy pants that day? Riding the elephant split them right in two. I can still hear Lou Jacobs screaming "Ssssshhhhhhhpppaaaagetti!" when he felt our movements weren't clear and crisp enough. And that IMAX was one of less than a handful on earth at that time. I had a clip of actual IMAX film of elephants walking that I kept for years. And working at Circus World it was great to pick the brains of Chappie Fox who knew everything, names, dates and tent measurements.

  3. Yeah. There was one other clown. Her name was Amel (sic) and she and Sigfrido were married at the time. She dressed in drag as a tramp with an elaborate make-up. Sigfrido was a very talented mime and clown. He still is. I only stayed there about 3 months before moving to New York. The day I went in to resign Chappie said, 'Let me talk first. The Felds called to ask you to come on the big show.' I said, 'no.' And, my friend Jimmy Tinsman, who had been on the show and had an injury, got the spot. Thank God. Because that's how he met Tisha.