Famous clown centerpiece of veteran’s doll collection

SUN PHOTO BY TOM CHANG Walter Mitchell inherited his wife Clare Mitchell’s clown doll collection after her death in May, among them a life-size Emmett Kelly Sr.

ENGLEWOOD — When Clare Mitchell passed in May, she left her husband Walter Mitchell her cherished clown doll collection, among them a life-sized Emmett Kelly Sr.

Kelly was a famous clown, who performed for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus under the name “Weary Willie,” based on the hobos of the Great Depression. Kelly joined the troupe shortly after the United States’ entry into World War II. Willie became a staple at the circus, and often was found wandering into other performers’ acts, according to http://www.ringling.com.

Kelly’s son, Emmett Kelly Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps, adopting his own version of Willie in 1960, according http://www.emmettkellyjr.com .

While Kelly was charming circus audiences with his antics, Mitchell was off in the South Pacific fighting in the war. He said he operated a crane, usually loading bodies onto boats.

Mitchell enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942, where he served until he suffered a severe injury in 1945, when sniper fire sent him plunging 50 feet to the concrete below. He broke his back in four places and was paralyzed for nine months. He remained in the hospital for two years, long after the war had ended.

The last of three surviving brothers from the war, Mitchell carries pictures from both the Pacific and the European campaigns. Walter acquired the European pictures from Clare, whose previous husband also served during the war.

The Mitchells moved to Englewood in the 1970s, after Walter retired from the construction industry. They remained here for more than 40 years, with Walter making a living flipping homes. He also enjoyed fishing and traveling in his recreational vehicle, until declining health forced him to give up his hobbies.    Walter, 91, said he inherited 23 clowns upon Clare’s death in May.

“My wife got the Emmett Kelly (Sr.) from her sister, and she had it for a long time,” he said. “The collection is beautiful, and the clowns vary in size.”

He said he plans to keep two and sell the rest.

“There is demand for circus memorabilia,” said Larry Kellogg, a regional publicist for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for more than 30 years, who’s been collecting circus memorabilia for ore than 50 years. “Clown dolls don’t usually fall within the category.”

Kellogg writes for www. worthpoint.com, an antiques, arts and collectibles blog that specializes in pricing. He said clown dolls often are coveted by clown or doll enthusiasts.

“The highest Emmett Kelly (Sr.) doll I’ve seen sold was valued at $70,” he said.

Mitchell said if he were to go to auction, he can make a lot of money from the Kelly doll.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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