Curator's Corner Blog

Tag Archives: Halloween

The HMFM Slender Clown

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Slender Clown here to welcome you to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

With Halloween just around the corner, the creep factor here at the museum is rising! Many times at the museum, we have received questions about whether or not we have haunted buildings on the grounds or any interesting ghost stories. Sadly, none have surfaced, but do not fear, for the Curious Curators are here! A few of us interns decided that we should simply create our own haunt here at the museum. So, this week we spotlight on some of the more haunting items in our collection. Seen here are a clown mask from the 1950s and a clown costume once used at parties in the 1920s to entertain residents at Orchard Homes Community Hall. We put these items together on our lovely mannequin with a beaver skin hat and we would now like to introduce you to Slender Clown. On some nights he can be seen around the grounds, creeping behind buildings and windows, or pop his head up (quite literally) in the curators desk. Traditionally, clowns are one of the icons associated with the circus or children’s birthday parties, though one can’t deny there’s something to be said about the mysterious, sinister notion of what lies behind the mask and the ultimate result of coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

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Recently covered on Smithsonianmag.com, this relationship is examined in an attempt to shed light on this notorious fear. Clowns as we normally think of them today come from a blend of the classic entertainer being more common from the mid 1800s onward as well as the costumed monsters of cinematic media. Titles such as Stephen King’s “It” or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” often come to mind along with other icons such as Ronald McDonald. It truly is an odd mix! In reality, clowns have even been known to exist since imperial China and as early as 2500 BCE in Egypt (McRobbie, 2013). In more recent centuries, names such as Grimaldi and Gacy only add further to the strange dichotomy. Grimaldi, being a famous entertainer in the early 1800s, had a life that was not quite that of his persona. A life of alcoholism and a series of depressing events was a sharp contrast to his stage portrayal. An even darker tale can be told of John Wayne Gacy, who was found guilty of several murders in the 1970s and also donned the face of a clown in his working hours.

Perhaps it is that disarming effect of something that should be lighthearted and funny with a more sinister intent that creates that sense of vulnerability as invoked in the media as well as those real stories which can prove all the more haunting. There is no doubt that entertainment mediums will continue to dwell on the sense of adrenaline ignited by fear and slapstick humor. Hence the reason the clown is perhaps the perfect example of that ‘trick-or-treat’ catchphrase associated with the culture of this spooky holiday.

Happy Halloween!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABe safe trick-or-treating

And be sure to stop by to see if you can spot Slender Clown………before he spots you!

Just In Time for Halloween- An Early Form of Horror Films


Like today, the later part of the 18th century had an obsession with the bizarre, unexplainable and supernatural. In the age of Romanticism and the Gothic themed novel, many were drawn to shows created by illusionis

ts and magicians to bare witness to the strange and bizarre. Such shows were often called “Phantasmagoria” shows, the Victorian era equivalent to present day horror films.

Without the modern day special effects and Hollywood magic, one had to use the technology that did exist. Athanasiun Kircher, a Jesuit priest, is credited with the invention of the “Magic Lantern”. The Magic Lantern consists of a concave mirror in front of a light source that gathers the light and projects it through a slide with an image, often hand painted, on it. The light hits the lens through the image, and enlarges the image on a screen. The biggest challenge with early form of the Magic Lantern was the lack of light technology yet in the 18th century. Candlelight provided some light, but it wasn’t until the invention of the Argand Lamp in the 1790s that a clearer image could be produced.

Multiple images could be used together to create a “moving image”. Later models of the Magic Lantern worked on a hand-operated pulley wheel that was used to turn a moveable disc that the images were connected to. Magic Lanterns also led directly to Eadeweard Muybridge’s invention of the zoopraxiscope, an invention that led to the creation of modern moving pictures.

These lanterns used light and shadows to trick and deceive the audience during Phantasmagoria shows. During these shows illusionists would use the magic lantern to trick people into thinking they had summoned up spirits, ghosts as well as revolutionary figures. A Belgium man, Etienne-Gaspard Robert was one of the most famous illusionists to use the Magic Lantern during his shows to create supernatural images of devils, phantoms and ghosts often projected on a gauze screen to make the figures appear as if they were floating. Even Kirchner’s original device was called the “lantern of freight” because of the images it conjured.