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About "Diamond" Jim Parker


“Circus people never really stop being circus people”

"Diamond Jim" Parker     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.
Read Articles Featuring Jim Parker's Work:  
"A Real Clown's Circus Layout"
PDF 2.3 MB - O'Gauge Railroading -
"Clown's collection keeps circus alive"
PDF 300KB - The Tampa Tribune -
"Circus collection is man's life"
PDF 850 KB - The Tampa Tribune -
"Sawdust and Salt"
PDF 410 KB - Today's Navy -
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.

Diamond Jim's Popcorn     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 passion.
    "Diamond Jim" in Circus Vargas
    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 family experiences.


    Designed 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.
Florida Humanities CouncilNational Endowment for the ArtsUniversity of Central Florida