Weary Willie Clown

C Fi 9950

When you think of a clown, chances are you picture a white-faced person sporting a ridiculously large grin. Emmett Leo Kelly changed circus-goers’ image of a clown when he introduced the character “Weary Willie.” Instead of the stereotypic circus clown, Willie was a down-on-his-luck tramp with a good amount of stubble and a bulbous nose. Kelly studied to be a cartoonist when he was young (via mail order), and Weary Willie was a cartoon figure before Kelly brought him to life as a circus clown in 1923. His classic skit was sweeping up after a spotlight that continually moved.

Kelly joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1942 and stayed until the late 1950s. He was on site in 1944 at the Great Hartford Fire. The circus had just gotten underway when the “big top” caught on fire. Oddly, tents—including circus tents--were waterproofed at the time with a solution made up of paraffin wax dissolved in gasoline. The fire killed 167 people and injured more than 700. Kelly, as “Weary Willie,” was captured holding a water bucket in a picture that ran in papers across the country. The incident became known as “the day the clowns cried.”

In 1954, Elvira Gebhardt joined Ringling Bros. as an acrobat. Despite the 37 year age difference, Kelly and Gebhardt fell in love, married and had two children. (She was his third wife.) When the couple retired from the circus, they lived in Sarasota, a town familiar to them from spending time at the circus’ winter home. They remained in Sarasota until Kelly’s death.


Carrie head

Carrie Phillips

Originally from Springfield MO, Carrie "Scarrie" moved to Florida in 2019 and currently resides in Venice FL with her husband.

Having grown up in a house with a family of artists, she has been creating various forms of art since she can remember. She enjoys exploring all mediums and learning different techniques.

Carrie is currently working on painting a mural and preparing for an upcoming show. She looks forward to adding to the beauty of Florida and Sarasota County by getting involved with more community beautification projects.

Working on this project was an absolute blast. I enjoyed researching Sarasota's rich history and meeting the other artists.

My Mother collected Circus memorabilia and especially loved the clown, Emmett Kelly. I decided to paint Emmett Kelly for my Mom's birthday present. Emmett Kelly created the hobo character "Weary Willie" and is one of the most well known clowns.


Written By

Nanette Crist

Nanette Crist is a retired lawyer who began blogging when she moved to Florida. It was an online diary of sorts, a way to keep track of her new life. It was also a good way to share her discoveries with friends and family outside the area. Over time, Nanette realized her writing makes her experience the world differently. She keeps an eye out for interesting things to write about and then delves more deeply into them as she crafts her words. It's all about telling the story. Nanette's blog can be found at http://nanettesnewlife.blogspot.com.