About "Diamond" Jim
“Circus people never
really stop being circus people”
Born in Hastings, Nebraska,
in 1938, “Diamond” Jim Parker first got exposed to the
circus by his father when he took him to the Shriners’ Circus
as it passed through town. He noticed how circus people loved their
animals, and it was this relationship that initially caused him to
want to join the circus. His 20-year Navy career started in 1957
which subsequently sent him to Hawaii. While in Hawaii, Parker met
up with some old circus friends he knew as a child. One of his friends,
a stilt-walker, dressed Parker up as a clown to help with their
circus’ ticket sales. This event became his first performance
as a clown.
||Diamond Jim’s circus record
was quite impressive. He made appearances with circuses ranging
from Bentley Bros. Circus, Clyde Bros. Circus, Circus Vargas, King
Bros. Circus, Rudy Bros. Circus, DeWayne Bros. Circus, Wally Yee's
Greater European Shows (Hawaii), American Continental Circus (Circus
Gatti), and Circus America (Paul Kaye) just to name a few. However,
he seemed to be most proud of having been a clown with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Bailey Circus. Also, in 1973, Jim was the assistant to
the dean (Bill Ballantine) at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Bailey Clown College.
But the last of his days were
spent working as a circus historian and as a model circus builder.
Clown shoes, clown costumes, circus magazines, and a boastful 20,000
photographs poured out of cabinets, adorned hangers, and covered
wall spaces. He had files upon files of clown and circus information,
but what was most striking when you visited him was the extent of
his miniature circus scenes. Miniature animals, circus trains, tents,
and people were placed on wooden boards with landscapes. These circus
scenes were everywhere you looked, literally consuming his space.
Parker put all his extra time and money into his model building
| While living
in Gibsonton, many of
his neighbors were also retired circus people. He was quick to comment
on how special and close the community is. Even if you don’t
know someone personally, they will take care of you if you were
once in a circus.
In a way, even though Jim Parker lived alone,
he was surrounded with memories of his family. He said the show
was his family while he was in the circus. He spent the last of
his days creating worlds that commemorated and relived his earlier
by the University of Central Florida’s Heritage Alliance in
the Zora Neale Hurston Institute for Documentary Studies, School
of Film and Digital Media and the Texts & Technology Ph.D. Program.