Circus Clowns and Masks: 13 Images from the Stacks

This post was written in collaboration with Beth Fortson.

We are approaching the end of October and fall is in full bloom.  Trees are changing colors, pumpkin-flavored foods are on the shelves, and people are swapping their short-sleeves for winter coats.  But amidst this lovely season, a more frightening day is lurking around the corner. This day, of course, is Halloween.

The Still Picture Branch has many images of cute animals, lovely families, and festive celebrations.  This post, however,  highlights some of our more peculiar records; photos that are a little less gleeful, and a bit more ghoulish.

The first group of photographs comes from the Works Progress Administration’s, Federal Theatre Project (FTP).  Founded in 1935, this New Deal program intended to improve unemployment in the entertainment industry.  Actors, dancers, writers, and costume designers all benefited from the FTP.  As you’ll see below, another group of performers benefited as well. Clowns. The WPA Federal Theatre Circus Unit in New York City employed 65 well-loved clowns.

Of course, those were not the only hidden faces we found within our Hollinger boxes! In addition to clowns, two of the images below show individuals wearing hand-carved masks that were used to drive out evil spirits and winter weather. The masks continue to be used during traditional Carnival celebrations that take place in southern Bavaria signaling the arrival of spring.

The next group of photos comes from the Paris Bureau of the New York Times.  This series covers a considerable amount of political, military, and cultural events in the first half of the 20th century.  It is one of our most widely used series, and possibly one of our spookiest.

With their origins as pranksters, clowns attempt to be silly and fun, but today many folks see clowns as odd, dark, or downright scary. So, which side of the fence are you on? Do you have a soft spot for clowns or do they make your skin crawl? Let us know in the comments!

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