Mummies and clowns have been the villains of many frightening stories, but what if you were to combine the two? This century-old mummified clown corpse truly is the stuff of nightmares.
However, this is just one of the many freaky oddities found at the California Institute of Abnormalarts (CIA) in North Hollywood, California. This strange venue combines the elements of a nightclub, a haunted house, a circus sideshow and assorted offbeat entertainment.
The CIA was first opened in 1994 by Carl Crew and Robert Ferguson, a pair of morticians who decided to channel their love for the morbid and the strange into an entertainment venue. But only a few years later, it was raided by police and closed down for operating without a liquor license.
It wasn’t until they reopened the Institute in 2001 that the men decided to transform it into a truly unique experience. So they painted the interior red and yellow and remodeled the venue with a circus-sideshow theme – highlighted by weird paraphernalia that includes body parts, deformed creatures, vintage circus signs and more.
Meanwhile, the line-up of performers that entertains the Institute’s visitors is just as unconventional. Indeed, entertainers featured at the club include puppeteers, magicians, underground music bands and Freak Show of the Damned – a collective of disabled performers and midgets who swallow fire.
As one Facebook review of the Institute explained, “The CIA is a place unlike any other. Like a creature from another planet, it draws a crowd that is similarly ‘abnormal’… If you want to see a really fantastic theater that looks like a combination circus, haunted house, and Chinatown, come to the CIA!”
Despite – or perhaps because of – its uniqueness, the house of oddities certainly isn’t for everyone. “Some people just don’t get it. They can walk through the whole space as though they have blinders on,” explained Ferguson in an interview with RED Magazine.
Indeed, the owners have received their fair share of negative comments about their odd establishment. However, as Crew has said, “People don’t know what to make of us weirdos. I have actually been called that.”
But if there’s one thing that has generated continual and widespread interest in CIA, it’s the mummified clown. The reason why, of course, is that unlike some of the faux exhibits at the CIA, this is supposedly the real deal – the bona-fide body of a professional entertainer who died over a century ago.
The story goes that one day Crew received a call from a lawyer who offered to “lease a dead clown” to him. And while most people would probably have assumed this was a joke and laughed it off, Crew immediately accepted the offer.
Interestingly enough, while the retail sale of corpses no longer occurs legally, it’s not strictly illegal to have one in your possession. This is especially the case if the remains are older then 1925. Thanks to this loophole, Crew was apparently eventually able to obtain the body after four months wrestling with paperwork and parting with a good deal of money.
As it turns out, that dead clown was supposedly one Achile Chatouilleu, an American circus entertainer. According to a photocopy of his birth certificate, Chatouilleu – which translates as “French tickler” – was born in 1866 and died of kidney inflammation in 1912.
While not much is known about his life, it is said that his parents were Scottish immigrants and that his descendants currently reside on a ranch in the Yosemite area. However, because the latter seemingly wish to remain anonymous, the story is impossible to corroborate.
But here’s where things get seriously creepy. In his will, it is claimed, Chatouilleu requested that he be dressed up in his clown costume and makeup and then have his preserved corpse put on display for everyone to see.
His body was then apparently embalmed using arsenic and mercury and placed in a glass chamber – which is as toxic as it sounds. Indeed, if the glass ever breaks while you’re in the room, you would likely suffer from mercury poisoning, according to Crew.
It is this coffin that now greets visitors to Crew and Ferguson’s house of oddities. The creepy, century-old face covered in the typical red and white clown makeup looks like it hasn’t aged a day.
Of course, the question of whether the clown mummy is actually real has generated plenty of debate. But as mummification expert Christine Quigley told Salon magazine, “More likely than not it’s a preserved body. Because it would be harder to fake something like that than it would be for it to be real.”
To Quigley, the real mystery is whether this body actually belongs to someone who was a clown in real life. And in her professional opinion, that is unlikely to be the case, because, she says, “Generally I’ve found that the stories tend to be fabrications because they’re in the carnival circuit.”
It’s far more likely that the body was embalmed by a local mortician who was hoping it would eventually be claimed by a family member. But when it wasn’t, so the theory goes, a carnival purchased the corpse and created a fake backstory to entice people to spend money to see the mummy. Seemingly, this wasn’t an unusual occurrence.
Whatever the case, though, the century-old corpse looks like it would be right at home in Stephen King’s It. This 1986 horror novel was one of the first to mold the idea of clowns into something sinister. And if the recent wave of “killer clown” sightings across the United States and other Western countries is any indication, it seems as though the child-friendly image of the clown may soon be buried forever – unlike Monsieur Chatouilleu.
But this eerily preserved corpse isn’t the only clown that’s likely to send a shiver down your spine. In fact, there’s an establishment in Nevada that boasts dozens of the things. And just one look at the place is enough to give you nightmares. Enter if you dare.