Sometimes ‘Clowning Around’ Pays Off

Story of the Clown Trunk

Every now and then someone walks in and inquires about an item that we didn’t really think was anything more than ‘cool.’ This week we had that happen.

The photo above shows the trunk they ‘discovered’ in the back of the store. It was filled with dolls (yes, part of the 5 truckloads George acquired about a month ago!) George was out of the shop, so we called him to see if he would sell and for what price. DONE!

Well, as we closed the deal, we inquired as to whether they collected clown items. Sort of! They were actually clowns themselves and knew the clown painted on the trunk! They were purchasing it as a prize at a fundraiser for their club, if we remember correctly.

Their ‘Thank You’ Note and a bit more detail

Here’s the e-mail they sent to us today (12/15/2022):

Good morning…This is the clown box, we purchased Tuesday…research confirmed that this is Ken Horsman former RBBB clown.  Ken passed in 2016.  The local clown alley Freestate Clown Alley #30 and the Circus Fans of America Association tent John Ringling North ll/Steve and Ryan Tent #178 held a “freeroll” (lunch/snacks and social) for the RBBB clowns in his lounge.  Spencer Horsman (son of two Ringling Clowns) now owns the Illusions Magic Bar & Lounge on S. Charles Street in Baltimore, MD.  

Spencer has been on AGT and performs all over the world.  

Thanks for the opportunity to own part of clown/circus history.  Attached are 2 pics at Illusions…pic of Ken in baseball hat right before he passed.

from Pat Stevenson’s (aka Patty Cake) e-mail (and Thom Stevenson)

Kenneth Horsman, aka Ken-Zo

Ken Horsman, aka Ken-Zo the clown, on the right in the black cap

We did a little research and we think his obituary (May 17, 2016) gives a wonderful short summary of a colorful life that brought smiles to thousands:

“A city boy, a shy, frustrated problem child, leaves town to join the circus. He becomes a clown and puts on a painted smile, unicycling around the sawdust track, juggling and coaxing smiles from children of all ages,” said a 1981 Evening Sun profile of him. “Kenny Horsman’s story is such a classic it’s hard to believe it really happened.”

“He was always an entrepreneur,” said his son, Spencer Horsman, who followed his father as a comedy magician and escape artist. “He sold apples at the Cross Street Market to buy his first suit.”

The 1981 article said Mr. Horsman had been a circus nut since a young age. His parents took him to the Civic Center each year, and he got ultimately got a job selling cotton candy when the circus was in town. “I used to hook school,” he said in the article. He said he would leave his house for school, then take a bus or hike to a spot near the airport to attend the Clyde Beatty Circus. He and other boys would “help pull ropes and set up chairs” in exchange for free passes.

The article also noted that his English teacher at Southern High School, from which he graduated in 1977, recalled that Mr. Horsman “was a self-starter.” While in school, he took a train to Washington to audition with the Ringling Bros. He was chosen to attend its Clown College in Venice, Fla., and was one out of 21 — from a class of 60 — to be offered a Ringling Bros. job.

“He became part of the crew sent ahead of the circus to talk to reporters and generate publicity and was named one of two ‘boss clowns,'” the article said. In 1981, after marrying an acrobat clown, Mary Bernadette “Bernie” Spencer, he gave up the circus life. He returned to Baltimore and bought a house on Byrd Street while still appearing at birthday parties and store openings. He also opened a magic shop, Ken-Zo’s on Light Street.

He ultimately found a new clown role as Ronald McDonald. For nearly 20 years he represented the McDonald Corp. in its Washington, Virginia and West Virginia restaurants. He also appeared at Ronald McDonald houses and other McDonald’s-sponsored events. He worked congressional parties and once took breakfast to Sen. Bob Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, who headed the Red Cross. He appeared on stage at an event with Nancy Reagan.

In 1986, he located a large storefront for sale on South Charles Street just north of the Cross Street Market. He opened Ken-Zo’s Party Place, where he sold magic paraphernalia and party supplies. He also had a room for children’s birthday parties.

“He appeared in a movie with Tom Selleck called ‘Her Alibi.’ He was cut from the film but made $30,000 in 10 days. He put the deposit on this building,” his son said.

“When people come in, it’s a happy feeling, a great feeling — like, what’s behind that door?” he said of his business in a 2005 Baltimore Sun article. “This is a very giving business. The reward of it is to make other people laugh. How many people can say they do that?

“If you can’t have fun in a store like this,” he said, “then you’re not going to find any fun anywhere.”

In 2007, Mr. Horsman renovated the South Charles Street building and renamed it the Illusions Magic Bar and Theatre. He managed the place with his son, who performs his magic and entertains guests at the popular venue.

Mr. Horsman remained at Illusions until his death.

from The Baltimore Sun by jacques kelly

Illusions Magic Bar and Theater

Illusions Magic Bar and Theater in Baltimore featuring Spencer Horsman, son of Kenneth Horsman, aka Ken-Zo, and later Ronald McDonald!
still operating in Baltimore by his son, Spencer Horsman

So you see, we never know what wonderful stories we’ll be gifted with when someone walks into our store. We hope you’ll check out the Illusions Magic Bar, sounds like fun!

And yes, remember that we’re here and we’re watchin’ for ya. Besides, we’re waiting to find out what discoveries you might make that will give us a great story.