Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Not much to be funny about."

It seems like clowns are just made to suffer.

Currently we have a box-office smash at the movies about a monster who used to pretend to be a clown to lure children into sewers, but now seems to take on clown guise because it incites fear. We have an actual horror-in-the-name TV show using clowns as a major theme for its season. And we have the poor-but-spirited Juggalos marching on Washinton to protest, among other things, their clown society of fans being considered a gang.

Clown sadness isn't new. In fact, it's a trope that goes back probably as far as clowns themselves. And the cases of Sherlock Holmes, containing all things as they do, have their own sad clown as well.

Little Jimmy Griggs of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger."

Little Jimmy Griggs worked for Ronder's Wild Beast Show, a very popular show at its peak. Its owner, Ronder, was said to rival his predecessor George Wombwell and his contemporary Lord George Sanger for wild animal showmanship. Ronder did well for "a human wild boar" as John Watson called him, but inevitably alcoholism got the better of him, and all the money from his successes could not keep good perfomers with him when the fines for animal cruelty and assaulting humans kept coming in. His employees left in droves.

Except for little Jimmy Griggs.

We're not sure just why Jimmy Griggs stayed on. Maybe he had a secret love of Ronder's ill-treated wife, or the handsome Leonardo, or just the animals themselves. Sometimes a funny fellow can get by in rough circumstances by using his sense of humor to calm an angry drunk or shine a light on the one bright spot in a dark time. But Ronder's Wild Beast Show was no place for a man to rise in his career.

Griggs was definitely cited as one of the few people holding the show together as the piggish sot Ronder went into decline. And on the night of the Abbas Parva tragedy, Jimmy Griggs was one of the first on the scene to stop the situation from getting worse.

The show's star attraction, the great lion Sahara King, had, to all appearances, escaped its cage killed Ronder and mauled Ronder's wife during their nightly feeding of the beast. Griggs led the men who drove the lion back into his cage and got Mrs. Ronder to safety . . . even though the handsome Leonardo got half-credit. (Obviously undeserved as his cowardice was later revealed.)

It was six months before Mrs. Ronder was well enough to tell her story of what happened that night, and during that time we can only assume it was the devoted Mr. Griggs who held her fortunes together, making sure she had the money to live out her life in peace once she recovered. Did the show go on? Was Sahara King put down, or did "man killer" just add to his show biz resume? Where did life take Jimmy Griggs after that night?

We will never know the fate of James Griggs, circus clown and the kind of guy who could help hold a show together. But after seeing the flaws of his co-worker Leonardo, we can only presume Griggs was a stouter fellow than he ever got full credit for, even under the pen of Dr. Watson.

I hope it went well for him. And on one good note, he's not still around to see the era of the scary clown taking over. If "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" were written today, Sahara King would probably be the star of cute kitty videos and Jimmy would probably have been the one framed for killing Ronder.

What a world, what a world.

1 comment:

  1. Brad, this is great. Just now seeing it, however. (July 9, 2021) My canonical nom is Jimmy Griggs. And I'm leading the discussion on VEIL at our next meeting. How timely!