The red noses are back.

A revival of the Emmett Kelly Clown Festival over three days concluded Saturday, bringing good crowds to Houston for activities that spilled out into the downtown business district for the first time since 2008.

A volunteer committee brought together by the City of Houston expressed satisfaction after rainy weather was dodged for the most part and crowds filled the streets.

The festival honors Emmett Kelly Sr., who rose to fame as the world’s best-known clown and the star of movies and TV. One of those films, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” was shown Friday night at the Melba Performing Arts Center on Grand Avenue. Chris Berry, a clown historian, guided movie-goers through the background of the movie that looks at circus life. It won best picture in 1953.

The previous evening, a dinner was hosted at the Houston Storm Shelter at First and Pine streets. Berry and Stasia Kelly, the daughter of Emmett Kelly Sr. who created the famous “Weary Willie,” the sad-faced hobo, spoke. Kelly Sr. was born in Sedan, Kan., and the family moved to farm east of Houston when he was 6. He attended school at Ozark and his first paid performance brought him back to the Old Settlers Reunion.

Berry and Kelly visited the family farm while here. Later known as the Pfister farm, the property was the scene of a 1956 dinner that featured Kelly Sr. as part of a dedication of a park in his honor. In October 1975, he returned for a ceremony naming a park along U.S. 63 in his honor. Kelly died in 1979. The first Kelly Festival was held in 1988.

On Saturday, vendors starting filling downtown Houston as the first activity of the day — a 5K run/walk started. Musical entertainment performed throughout the day from a stage at Pine Street and Grand Avenue. A walking parade featured some of the same clowns who traveled to Houston for past festivals. Late in the afternoon, many of them, were excited by the outcome and spoke of how the festival could grow through their affiliations with other clown organizations. They pledged to help.

Many are well connected: Berry is the vice president of the Circus Historical Society and Jackie Newton, a Missouri resident, is the president-elect of the World Clown Association. Others have deep connections into the clown world, including Curt and Diana Patty of the St. Louis area, who are well-known as Handy Andy and Blossom.

Food trucks also reported great business. The Red Rooster from Licking reported lines from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. “We couldn’t see the end (of the line),” it reported.


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