A Legacy of Hospital Clowning. — Home

“I have a legacy.”, he says. He raises his hands in celebration, knowing that his work is remembered. Jonathan Perry is a former hospital clown. He is celebrating a memory he created. A picture on my phone reminds him of the legacy he started twenty-one years ago. He was one of the founding members of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. The legacy he started continues today.

Over twenty years ago, I was doing clown rounds with Jonathon at the Scottish Rite campus of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The nurses’ station where we were working has a partial globe in the ceiling. The image on the sphere was North America. As we were doing rounds that day, Jonathan, whose clown name was Dr. Schmaltz, decided to put a sticker on the globe where Atlanta would be. The sticker said, “You are here.” We created a clown routine about the sticker that day. Later we continued our clown rounds. I forgot about the sticker. Several days later, I was back in that unit, and I noticed the sticker was still there, stuck to the globe above everyone’s head as they worked. Over the next weeks, months, and yes, even years, the sticker remained there above everyone’s head. Jonathan moved to Delaware to pursue other interests.

Later I became the supervisor of that hospital. Because I was the supervisor, I worked at that location more regularly. Each time I was in that unit, I would glance above the nurse’s and doctor’s heads to see if the sticker was still there. It was there reading, “You are here.” The hospital remodeled the floors, the walls, and the railings of this unit… seven years later, the globe remained, and so did the sticker.

The sticker became a symbol of the work for me—a touchstone of how our work endures through struggles when things around us are continually changing. Eventually, after 10 years, the sticker became unstuck and fell. The “You are here.” Message was no longer on the globe, but our clown work continued. In 2012 the circus asked me to take over as Team Supervisor for Atlanta. The hospital asked us to add more days to our schedule. Later, I led the team when we started to work in our first new location at Hughes Spalding Hospital. Our team grew from 8 clowns in 2000 (one woman and seven men) to eleven clowns (5 women and 6 men). In 2016 the Big Apple Circus ended the Clown Care Unit program, forcing us to stop clowning in the hospital. Later we started our own non-for-profit organization. We are now called Humorology Atlanta!

Last year, early in 2020 (before COVID), we were doing clown rounds. We passed the unit where the sticker had been. I told this story to one of the newer clowns, Googie Uterhardt, aka Dr. Google. After I told him the story, he said, “We have to put the sticker back!” I agreed. Googie found a Post-it note and a pen. We grabbed a chair, and Googie stepped up and placed the new post-it note on the globe. We took a picture of the new “You are here.” sticker with my phone.

The Covid pandemic is the most serious challenge we have experienced in our history. The pandemic has disrupted our clown work in Atlanta. We hope that the conditions will improve and that we will return to work there soon.

However, I can proudly say that even during COVID, our clown legacy continues. In the autumn of 2019, one of our team members, Ron Anglin, helped keep the legacy going. He was fundamental in introducing our clown work to Piedmont Children’s Hospital in Columbus Georgia. They are allowing us to continue our clown work in their location, with COVID precautions, of course. The drive from Atlanta to Columbus and back to Atlanta is long. As I do this drive, I think about how many years Ron did a similar to drive from his home to Metro Atlanta hospitals. I’m grateful to Ron for his effort in keeping the legacy alive. Because of Ron’s work, we can bring a little bit of circus joy to children in the hospital during the pandemic.

Maybe we should put a “You are here” sticker in the Columbus hospital.

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