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Who says clowns are scary?

Who says clowns are scary?

Balloons a hit with kids in Central Park
Who says clowns are scary?
Clown Auntie Swizzle hands a monkey balloon animal to Gianna Cagnina, 4, of Schenectady.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Gianna Cagnina, 4, swiveled and smiled as she waited for her monkey in Central Park on Wednesday night.

A team of clowns was on the job — sassy Auntie Swizzle, cute 'n' clever BJ and mischievous Zippy — all were making balloon animals to celebrate International Clown Week. By 7:15 p.m., the three women in bright colors and red noses had already made about 25 butterflies, elephants and dragonflies.

"It's a dual purpose," said clown chief BJ, also known as Barb Field, 59, of Mount Vision (near Oneonta). "Purpose No. 1 is to celebrate Clown Week. The second purpose is to have fun with the other clowns and share ideas on how to twist balloons."

National Clown Week received its start in 1971, when President Richard M. Nixon proclaimed the week of Aug. 1 through 7 as prime time to send in the clowns. Nixon urged Americans to recognize contributions made by clowns in children's hospitals and charitable institutions, and for helping the disabled. The funny days have since been observed on an international basis.

Children and their parents strolled over to the clowns' balloon jam, located in Central Park's picnic area across from the playground. "It's like a music jam," BJ said, "except you jam with balloons."

"I want a face on mine," said energetic, blue-eyed blonde Gianna, who wore a pink dress with blue shoes. "And I want you to write my name on it. And I want a butterfly."

Gianna eventually wrote her own name on the brown monkey, and later received her butterfly. "She was funny, she was nice," she said of her new favorite aunt, Auntie Swizzle.

Ms. Swizzle, who wore a red tie with white polka dots, white shirt with red dots and a red vest as her chief colors — plus a blue hat with a yellow flower on top — has only been a clown for four months. But she loves the gig.

"You just have this abundance of joy inside you, it's like your heart is about to burst," said Auntie — also known as Lorice Bolde, 53, of Scotia — when she gets the chance to play with children. "Your whole body is just so happy."

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"I've always wanted to be a clown," Auntie Swizzle added. "I have a very bubbly personality." She will continue local appearances Thursday.

The pink-haired Zippy, Linda Seaman of South Colonie when she's not wearing her bright red nose, began her clown career after surviving a health issue. Acting funny and having fun, she believes, can make a difference when people are a little down and out.

"I like making people happy," said Zippy, who said she was 60-plus. "And make people realize their happiness can make them forget about the troubles they're having."

The red-and-blue-garbed BJ likes her most outrageous fashion statement — the oversized red sneakers that resemble the old Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars basketball shoes. The clown kicks were customized — instead of the traditional Converse star high on the foot, the letters "BJ" were in the circle.

BJ began her life as a comedienne in 1988, when she began mime work. She entered the clown life in 2002, and spends plenty of time cheering up people at Ellis Hospital and Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital.

"I went to school to become a teacher," she laughed. "And look what I became. I'm Dr. Merry Heart in the hospitals and I'm Professor Womboggle at parties and schools and libraries, for combined science, magic and fun."

BJ and her friends have no love for the "creepy clowns," which put weird dudes into weird makeup in 2016, part of a national craze. "They're not clowns," BJ said. "They're impostors."

The real live and lively clowns have a place in Schenectady — Electric City Clown Alley meets bi-monthly at Carman United Methodist Church on the last Wednesday of the month.

Children and parents in Central Park were glad this Wednesday clown convention took place outdoors.

"I think it's great," said Janina Mango, Gianna's mother. "We come here a lot and I've never seen any attraction. It's pretty nice."

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124, [email protected] or through Facebook.

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