BILLINGS, MONTANA - Montana is probably best known for its cowboys and cattle, an image that dates back to the late 1800s when Texas longhorns were herded north across the Great Plains.
Montana was not generally known for having anything to do with circuses until February, when Floyd “Creeky” Creekmore was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest performing clown.
The Montana native, 95, has spent much of his working life on ranches - a common occupation in the state. But Creekmore’s real love, since childhood, has been making people laugh.
“I was always that way, I guess, the teachers always told me I was anyway," he says. "Barnum and Bailey Circus come through Great Falls and most of the kids would go up to the circus grounds and they could get little jobs and they’d work for a ticket to get into the circus.”
But, as a 12 year old, Creekmore had bigger ambitions.
“I went and found the clowns and I got a lot of pointers from the clowns," he remembers. "And they found out that I was…had an inclination to be a clown…so, they…they really worked with me. That’s how I got really started with getting in there.”
Creekmore worked on his clowning skills through his teens and into his adult years, but he also moved on with his life - raising a family, running his own ranch and eventually becoming a carpenter. Through it all, the desire to be a clown never left him.
“It was always in my mind," he says. "I would’ve run away with the circus, I think, if I’d had a chance.”
That chance came when Floyd retired in 1981 and joined the Shriner’s International group - a fraternity best known for its work helping children with medical needs. The group's touring circus raises money for that purpose. Membership gave Creekmore, now “Creeky the Clown,” the opportunity to tour the Pacific Northwest and Canada with the Shrine Circus.
Creeky is not Montana’s only claim to circus fame. The Ringling Brothers - founders of one of the country’s longest-running circuses, the self-styled “Greatest Show on Earth” - almost set up camp in the state.
In fact, the very small community of Ringling, Montana, population 12, was named for one of the brothers.
“It was around 1914,15, and originally they were going to set up their winter camp here," says Chuck Lucas, a lifelong resident of the area. "But the local people told them that the elephants and giraffes wouldn’t stand it here in Ringling.”
The brothers gave up the idea for winter quarters in Montana’s frigid climes, according to Lucas. But they did buy 40,000 hectares in the area, built a railroad, and raised dairy cattle there for years. The story that the town actually hosted the circus animals each winter remains, but Lucas insists that’s just a myth. But the world’s oldest clown is very real.
Wearing his signature white smiley face, orange hair, enormous shoes and big red nose, Creeky the Clown has been making people laugh for 30 years. With his 96th birthday approaching, he’s slowed down a bit, but Creeky still performs when there’s a circus nearby. If there isn’t one, he’s glad to put on a show in his living room.
For as much as Creekmore loves to clown, he says there’s more to it than just being silly.
“Clowning is an art. You go out there to make people laugh," he says. "You’re an entertainer, that’s what you are, really.”
Each time Creekmore begins putting on his makeup, he transforms into Creeky the Clown - artist of laughter. He says he’s glad to be in the Guinness record book, but he’s happiest that he’s still able to clown, something he doesn’t plan to stop doing anytime soon.