When Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus recently announced its intent to shut the doors on the long-running circus, the impact reverberated through the nation.
That impact was even felt locally.
Clinton’s connection to the circus runs deep, through one of its most famous former residents.
Felix Adler, born and raised in Clinton in the late 1890s and early 1900s, went on to stardom as a clown, known affectionately as not only the “White House Clown,” but also as the “King of Clowns.”
Adler, who has been inducted in multiple halls of fame, performed in front of packed houses throughout the United States in circuses, including a decades-long run with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus.
According to a news story printed at the time of his death in 1960, Adler began “poking around” Ringling Brothers in 1909 during its visit to Clinton. Despite being just 13 years old, he fell asleep on one of the cars of the circus train, and awoke at the circus’s next stop in Davenport.
Arrangements were then made for him to join the circus in 1910 as a helper in an animal act, which later turned into being a full-time clown.
He later became “Funny Felix and His Pig,” and was not only known for utilizing his pig, but also for his signature look of having a larger back-end.
He was so well known that he appeared in movies and TV shows, including the “Greatest Show on Earth.” He spent his career with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, only to break off that relationship in 1959 due to the circus moving indoors.
He died less than a year later, 57 years ago today.
It’s sad to see long-standing traditions dissolve, such as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
However, change is constant. Adler saw it and we’ve been watching the circus business evolve dramatically during the last few decades. It’s important, though, to hold onto the memories and not forget about those who are woven into the fabric of America.
Adler was one of those men, and despite the circus’ May closure, his legacy lives on in Clinton thanks to the Felix Adler Children’s Discovery Center.