Clowns out front; visible behind the sign is the haunted cemetery.
Clowns out front; visible behind the sign is the haunted cemetery.

World Famous Clown Motel

Field review by the editors.

Tonopah, Nevada

Spending the night in Tonopah's World Famous Clown Motel could qualify as a test of courage. Not because of any shortcoming in the accommodations, but because of the clowns. Big clowns, small clowns, hobo clowns, circus clowns, happy clowns, evil clowns. There are clowns on the doors, thousands of clown dolls and ceramics in the lobby, clown paintings on the walls of the rooms. And if your lodging is on the second floor, you can look out from the balcony and see why the motel is so dark and quiet at night.

A big smile for tired travelers.
A big smile for tired travelers.

It's the cemetery.

That's right; the World Famous Clown Motel stands next to Tonopah's dusty, unlit cemetery, abandoned for over a hundred years, packed with the graves of the pioneers of this desert boom-and-bust town who died unpleasantly from murder, mine disasters, and a mysterious plague that turned its victims' livers black.

Clarence H. David is buried in the cemetery -- you can visit his wood and tin headstone -- and he's the reason the World Famous Clown Motel exists. Seventy-four years after he died in the Belmont Mine Fire of 1911, his elderly son and daughter, Leroy and Leona, built the Clown Motel next door, because they wanted to be near their dad. The clowns (a mere 150 at the time) came from a collection that they'd purchased in Las Vegas. Leroy and Leona thought that the clowns would give the motel a jolly theme. They were oblivious to the weirdness of it being next to a graveyard.

The last thing you see when you close your eyes at night.
The last thing you see when you close your eyes at night.

Tourists, however, were not. The motel gradually developed a following among travelers who enjoyed clowns -- not because clowns were delightful, but because they were terrifying. The adjacent boneyard merely increased the motel's appeal to this special audience, and gave them a place to go after dark.

In 2019 Vijay Mehar bought the Clown Motel at the urging of his brother, Hame Anand, a clown enthusiast who understood the property's eerie allure. "I told my brother, 'Most businesses struggle because people don't know about it,'" Hame said. "'This motel, people know. All we have to do is polish it. Showcase it to the world.'"

Grand Marshal of Clowndom welcomes lodgers to the lobby.
Grand Marshal of Clowndom welcomes lodgers to the lobby.

Vijay renovated the building while Hame focused on eye appeal and marketing (It was Hame who added "World Famous" to the name). After moving in and becoming the face of the motel, Hame encouraged the public to donate clowns to its collection. It now totals over 3,000. He also learned that four of the motel's 31 rooms were haunted, although it's generally agreed that every part of the World Famous Clown Motel is visited by ghosts wandering over from the cemetery. Clarence H. David and his fellow hardscrabble specters must be amazed that people pay to spend the night in a clown-filled building next to their graves.

A fraction of the motel's clown collection, most of them donated by visitors.
A fraction of the motel's clown collection, most of them donated by visitors.

The motel's previous owner dismissed its reports of ghosts, believing that such talk would hurt business. Vijay and Hame saw things differently. Hame felt that the four notoriously haunted rooms, despite their already unsettling clown art, weren't nightmarish enough. So he commissioned wall-size paintings, each featuring a character from a different horror film. The last thing that guests see in these rooms before closing their eyes at night are: Pennywise from It, Michael Myers from Halloween, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th. The possessed Regan (as a clown) from The Exorcist in Room 111 is particularly menacing.

Tonopah Cemetery.
Plenty of plague and mine disaster victims here.

Fear of clowns, or the dead, or dead clowns, means that the World Famous Clown Motel isn't for everyone, which Hame respects; he's even set aside a few clown-free rooms for the fainthearted. "Some people don't want to come in; they sit in the car," he said. "But the people who stay? They have fun." For an extra fee, guests can rent an EMF ghost-hunting meter at the front desk to detect posthumous paranormal activity. A stroll in the cemetery -- carefully, to avoid tripping over the rocks that outline the graves -- is now a routine part of most overnight visits.

Tonopah is so isolated that its nearest civic neighbor, Las Vegas, is over 200 miles away, and its biggest employer is a weapons testing range. Yet travelers routinely make the long detour to Tonopah just so they can spend a night in the World Famous Clown Motel. Hame understands this bewitchery, because he feels it himself. "My soul lives here," he told us. "It's like this motel wanted me. Hundred percent, this was meant to be."

World Famous Clown Motel

Address:
521 N. Main St., Tonopah, NV
Directions:
North end of town, on the west side of US-6/US-95.
Phone:
775-277-3046
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Big Bill Murphy, Hero MinerBig Bill Murphy, Hero Miner, Tonopah, NV - < 1 mi.
Giant Rock Pick AxGiant Rock Pick Ax, Tonopah, NV - < 1 mi.
The Yellow RoadThe Yellow Road, Tonopah, NV - 2 mi.
In the region:
Building Covered with Road Signs, Goldfield, NV - 25 mi.

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