Florida on a Tankful: The American Clown Museum

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, September 23, 2016, 10:21 AM EDT

Just beyond the gazebo, where Innerlake Boulevard crosses Innerlake Boulevard, and under the water tower in Lake Placid, you'll find someone filling some big shoes.

"Clowns bring smiles, love and laughter. And that's what we need in our country,” states Keith Toby Stokes.

Across from the Happy Chef Café, awaits what may be the happiest place in Highlands County.

"Everything is friendly here,” Keith said about life in Lake Placid.

The man dressed in a black and white stripped referee shirt lives to help others smile. The founder of the American Clown Museum is preserving the art of clowning.

"You can never be a clown unless you have that heart, to help others,” he said.

The 94-year-old WWII veteran created a shrine to making others happy. The museum has clown artifacts stretching from floor to ceiling.

"We hope to spread that cheer and love throughout,” he said, adding clowns are the ones who fix the broken hearted in hospitals and places where light is shutout.

"Making people laugh is exciting,” said 11-year-old Julie Ann Sweitzer. She represents the next generation of Clowns.

While Julie Ann wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up, until then, she's happy to clown around using her clown name.

"I picked 'Shutterbug' because it's a cute, fun name,” she says with a sly grin.

Julie Ann agreed to an interview while Krikitt the Clown gave her a make-up demonstration.

"Do you want something really pretty like I have on my face, or would you like to have something like a tiger face?" Krikitt asks.

Soon, Julie Ann’s face is orange and painted with stripes.

If visitors are so inspired by the experience, and want to become a clown themselves, classes are forming for school in November.

"Just one clown can make a big difference,” Julie Ann says as Keith smiles, knowing the future of clowning is safe.

Tankful on Television
You can catch new Florida on a Tankful stories each Thursday and Saturday on News 13 and Bay News 9. New editions play at the end of each hour starting at 6 a.m. Classic Florida on a Tankful stories can be found each Friday and Sunday on Bay News 9 and News 13 at the end of each hour starting at 6 a.m.

Tankful on Demand
Catch Florida on a Tankful with Scott Fais on your time, now on Bright House Local On Demand, Channel 999. Use your remote to scroll to the right to the TRAVEL category. Then scroll down to TANKFUL.

Scott Fais joins Travel Monthly
Catch our own Scott Fais as the Florida Correspondent on the On Demand travel magazine, Travel Monthly. Each month, Scott joins other travel reporters from across the United States as they showcase a wide variety of attractions, diners, parks and landmarks from across America. See Travel Monthly nationally on Time Warner Cable channel 411. And here at home on Channel 999. Or see more of Travel Monthly here, courtesy of NY1, a service of Charter Communications.