Coulrophobia is the irrational fear of clowns (and yes, I realise the above picture is not going to do people who are terrified of Mr Chuckles the Clown any favours whatsoever but… I’m a bit evil like that). It’s quite a common phobia it would seem; so common, in fact, that in July 2006 at a three day music festival held at Robin Hill, Isle of Wight, organisers were forced to withdraw a request for festival goers to attend dressed as clowns because many of the revellers were terrified of them. It’s a strange phobia to suffer from, especially when you consider the innocent origins of clowning around.
Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) is considered to be the original clown (so all you people out there frightened of a bit of greasepaint and hideous fuzzy wigs, Joseph is the man to blame). Grimaldi enjoyed an exciting career in theatre and could often be seen bounding around the stage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, throwing himself about like a rag doll to the audience’s delight whilst wearing gaudy outfits and with his face painted white.
Before: Mr Grimaldi practises the art of being serious.
After: Oh, and it’s all gone horribly wrong…
Unfortunately, Grimaldi’s punishing theatrical routines crippled him and he was forced to prematurely retire from the job he loved. By 1818 he was penniless and in his final speech at a benefit performance (in which he was forced to perform seated because of his poor health), he told his audience:
“Like vaulting ambition, I have overleaped myself and pay the penalty in advanced old age. It is four years since I jumped my last jump, filched my last oyster, boiled my last sausage and set in for retirement.”
Grimaldi died in 1837 at 33 Southampton Street (now called Calshot Street), Clerkenwell at the age of 58. There is an interesting story that Grimaldi asked for his head to be removed before being buried at what is now called Grimaldi Park, Pentonville Road. No one is entirely sure why Grimaldi asked for this to be done, but seeing as his father was so terrified of being buried alive that he asked for his head to be sawn off before being buried, perhaps some of that terror rubbed off on his son and beheading before interment appeared to be the sensible thing to do…
For most people, death is pretty much the final curtain, but Joseph Grimaldi doesn’t quite see it that way and has refused to remain quiet in his grave. At the Theatre Royal people have frequently reported receiving a phantom kick up the backside when Grimaldi wants to get their attention. From actors on stage to usherettes, it would seem that no one is safe. Also, we mustn’t forget the strange, pasty white disembodied face that has also been reported hovering around the theatre. As I have no idea where Grimaldi’s head ended up, I wonder if maybe a sympathetic friend arranged for his head to be secreted somewhere in the theatre he loved so much, hence its strange spectral appearences. Who knows?
Below is a short video of ghost hunter, Chris Halton, attempting to get Joseph Grimaldi into a chatty mood:
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010