A lot of clown dolls on a stand. Clown dolls in the background on different bookshelves.
Some of the clown dolls in the clown doll collection at the Klown Doll Museum in Plainview, Nebraskan. Photo courtesy of the Klown Doll Museum.

With a $1 offer for a building planned to be torn down, a history and collection of red noses and big shoes were born.

The Klown Doll Museum in Plainview opened in 1987, according to Corrine Janovec, president of the Klown Doll Museum. Today it’s home to over 8,000 clown dolls.

The museum’s name was inspired by the Plainview Klown Band, which formed in the early 1950s, and would travel from town to town. Band members thought a clown theme could bring tourism to the community, Janovec said. 

The museum, which is run by volunteers and a board, is funded by donations, especially by high school alumni, Janovec said. About 400 to 500 people visit the museum in a season, she said.

Janovec said she is from Plainview and has worked at the museum since the 1980s. She said she has loved it ever since. 

“It’s just fun to see that people come in,” she said. “You meet a lot of interesting people. It’s amazing.” 

Janovec said the museum all started with Plainview’s Chamber of Commerce secretary, Teresa Peterson. Someone gifted Peterson a clown, and she put it in the window of the office which led to another person giving her another clown, she said. 

“It started growing and growing,” Janovec said.

Maddie Vanderbilt was a professional clown from Yankton, South Dakota, and Janovec said Vanderbilt wanted to retire and got in touch with Lee Warneke, who was a newspaper editor at the time because he was always very involved in his community. 

Janovec said Vanderbilt told Lee she had some clown dolls and needed a place for them. However, Janovec said ‘some clowns’ ended up being closer to around 3,000 of them.  

Janyce Warneke, secretary of the board, said her husband, Lee Warneke, passed away in 2014, and he volunteered at the museum for about 20 years. 

“He just was involved in everything in town, and the Klown Doll Museum was one of them,” she said. “He had his fingers in a lot of pies.”

The museum building went through many transformations before becoming the Klown Doll Museum. Janovec said it started out as a gas station, then a liquor store. It eventually became a pizza place until it caught on fire, leading the inside of the building to be gutted.

The city was going to tear the building down, but Warneke offered to buy it for a dollar and the city accepted the offer, Janovec said. 

An addition was added in 1975 to help accommodate more dolls, but Janovec said the museum volunteers plan on expanding the building again since there isn’t enough room for all the clowns. All the clowns are donated, she said. Janyce said the museum has a lot of clowns in storage currently due to the lack of space to accommodate them. 

Janyce said donations of dolls often come from people’s parents passing away or moving into a retirement home. 

“Here comes 20-pound dolls or 200-pound dolls because they don’t want to throw them away and yet, the heirs don’t want them either,” she said. 

Throughout the years, Planview has had carnival days and Klown Days. Plainview’s Annual Klown Festival occurs the first weekend in June and it includes an alumni reunion at the high school, a picnic for everyone in town, parades, entertainment and fireworks at night, Janovec said. 

Although the museum doesn’t sell any clowns, Janovec said it sells other merchandise like t-shirts, coloring books and pins, she said. The museum is free for everyone, but she said donations are always appreciated. 

Visitors can choose to listen to a recorded guided tour of the museum during their visit that points out different kinds of dolls, Janovec said. She said there is a showcase of dolls that was used by a nun who was a child psychologist and used the clown dolls to help communicate with kids. The dolls are incredibly diverse, she said, with one’s head actually being a bowling bowl to another doll being made out of onyx. 

“You can make a clown out of anything and there’s just anything and everything that they’re made out of,” she said. “I think the volume of the different kinds of clowns. We’ve all had clowns in our lifetimes, but they’re so diversified. It’s just amazing to see how diversified the use of the word ‘clown’ can be.”

Although there is quite a variety of clowns, Janovec said the museum does not have any ‘scary’ clowns.

“We don’t have any Chucky’s or anything like that,” she said. “That’s where we draw the line.”

Janyce said the museum only has ‘happy’ clowns. She said she believes the reputation of clowns has been affected by scary movies, which makes some people leery of them.

“It’s a happy place,” she said. “Don’t need to be afraid to come visit because they will put a smile on your face.”

Janovec said she knows some people are scared of any and all clowns.

“We do have people who stay in the car because they absolutely will not come in where there’s clowns are that afraid of them, but they’re few and far between for that,” Janovec said. “And some people that said they don’t like clowns, once they leave have usually changed their mind.”

Janovec said the museum means a lot to the community. 

“It’s an identity thing,” she said. “Some people say ‘well, we don’t want Plainview to be known as a clown capital.’ So what do you want it to be known as and they never give me an answer.”

Janyce said every small town needs to have something unique about it, and clowns are that for Plainview.

“The idea of the clown is something that’s unique to Plainview and unique in Nebraska,” she said. “It just makes Plainview special.”

Hello! I'm Carly Jahn and I'm a senior journalism major and I'm minoring in criminal justice at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Besides reporting for Nebraska News Service, I also work as a news editor at The Daily Nebraskan. I'm interested in investigative journalism and giving people a platform to share their voice.