Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
October 18, 2008
The World’s Largest Jack-In-The-Box has made its debut in Middletown, Connecticut. It’s impressive in scale, and owner William “Wild Bill” Ziegler is proud that nothing about it is normal. “We really feel that this is gonna be a destination for people, crazy people… that need this kind of thing in their lives,” he told the Middletown Press.
Wild Bill happily filled us in on the Jack-in-the-Box’s back story. It’s made of a motorized, 600 pound clown head that rises and falls once a minute out of the top of a 33-foot-tall silo. The jug-eared, bald, grinning head is of “Clarabell The Clown,” a sidekick on the 1950s Howdy Doody TV show. It was built for Bob Keeshan, the man who played Clarabell, and who later had a second career as Captain Kangaroo. “He toured with it,” Wild Bill said of Bob and the Head. “He did it for money.”
The clown was stained green with mold and missing the right third of its face when Wild Bill learned of it in 2003. Now it’s restored, with a fresh coat of gleaming white paint. The silo, which stands next to Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Center store, has a dungeon in the basement and viewing platforms above that allow visitors to see the mechanical workings of the Jack-in-the-Box. “It’s beautiful,” said Wild Bill. “I was in there this morning looking up at the clouds and the blue sky, and there’s nothing else like it.”
(Wild Bill is not the first visionary to oddly repurpose a silo in this part of the world. The mechanized clown head concept was suggested to him by one of his pals, Chris Hausbeck, an artist from Buffalo, New York. Chris and his assistant spent 10 weeks creating the contraption; Wild Bill provided the creative bedrock on which it stands.)
We asked Wild Bill if he had had any difficulty in clearing the giant Jack-in-the-Box with the local authorities. “That’s not the way I work,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think there are any anti-Jack-in-the-Box ordinances in Middletown.”
“They should be proud of it,” he added. “They should give me a medal!”
Wild Bill, who resembles Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies — if Dumbledore wore an oversized Uncle Sam hat and a “Bite Me” t-shirt — told us that his store also has the world’s largest “bobbing head” on the front of the building. “It’s my head, of course.”
Wild Bill's Nostalgia Center
- I-91 exit 22-S onto Hwy 9. Drive south one mile to exit 19. Turn east onto Hwy 372, then make an immediate left onto Hwy 3/Shunpike Rd. Drive south one mile, bearing left at the stoplight. Wild Bill's will be on the right, just past the gas station.