The Stuff of Nightmares
Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Center, Middletown
Wild Bill’s closed in 2018.
If you haven’t already, Wild Bill’s you can read about my visits the store here. Oh – and don’t forget about the world’s largest Wacky Wobbler, which you can read about here. Now it’s time for the best Wild Bill attraction of all – the crazycreepycool giant jack-in-the-box!
I’m going to borrow liberally from Roadside America’s coverage of this insanity because, well, I’m A) a bit tired of writing about Wild Bill’s and B) they pretty much borrowed heavily from a Middletown Press article on it, which I can no longer access.
What is this thing? It’s a 50-foot high contraption that has a giant clown head pop out of it once a minute. It’s impressive in scale, and owner William “Wild Bill” Ziegler is proud that nothing about it is normal. “We really feel that this is gonna be a destination for people, crazy people – that need this kind of thing in their lives,” he told the Middletown Press.
It’s made of a motorized, 600 pound clown head that rises and falls once a minute out of the top of a 33-foot-tall silo. The jug-eared, bald, grinning head is of “Clarabell The Clown,” a sidekick on the 1950s Howdy Doody TV show. It was built for Bob Keeshan, the man who played Clarabell, and who later had a second career as Captain Kangaroo. “He toured with it,” Wild Bill said of Bob and the Head. “He did it for money.”
The clown was stained green with mold and missing the right third of its face when Wild Bill learned of it in 2003. Now it’s restored, with a fresh coat of gleaming white paint. The silo, which stands next to Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Center store, has a dungeon in the basement and viewing platforms above that allow visitors to see the mechanical workings of the Jack-in-the-Box. “It’s beautiful,” said Wild Bill. “I was in there this morning looking up at the clouds and the blue sky, and there’s nothing else like it.”
Unfortunately during my visit with Damian in early January, it wasn’t working. Perhaps the 10 degree day froze up the working parts, I don’t know. But I was still there. It counts.