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Bobo the clown's daughter is finally able to close emotional journey

Bobo the clown's daughter is finally able to close emotional journey

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LOVINGTON - After a long separation, circus clown Chester "Bobo" Barnett and his sidekick, Leonard Pearson have finally been reunited.

Barnett's daughter, Bonnie, placed Pearson's cremains next to Bobo's gravesite in Lovington's Keller Cemetery on Monday.

Bobo died 25 years ago while Pearson died in January.

It marked an end to an emotional journey for Barnett who had been in Decatur on Saturday for a book signing at Haines & Essick. The book is "Bobo's Daughter," one woman's journey to find hope, healing and the father behind the face paint.

Bobo and his wife, Dottie, Bonnie's mother, divorced early. Bonnie first met her father at the circus in Los Angeles when she was four. Bobo was one of the world's most famous clowns, performing with the Shrine Circus, Pollack Brothers Circus and on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Raised by her mother, who was the first circus girl clown, Bonnie grew up in Glendale, Calif., feeling abandoned, lonely and unwanted. She resolved to find him in her quest for love and belonging.

As she grew up, she found herself having an increasing desire to find her father. She received a degree in art and in psychology from California State University in Los Angeles and a master's degree in psychology from Pepperdine University.

She continued the search. She went to Baraboo, Wis., a circus center, and checked library clippings. She discovered that Bobo had been married three times. She discovered she had a half-brother named Delbert. At last, a relative said he heard Bobo might be going to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

For a year, she periodically called the Mayo Clinic and asked if Bobo was there.

One day the telephone operator asked: 'You mean Chester Barnett from Lovington, Illinois?'

Yes, he was in Lovington. Barnett took a train to Decatur, rented a car and drove though the snow to Lovington, 20 miles away.

Leonard Pearson opened the door. Bobo, who was 6 feet 3 and 240 pounds in his prime, had been worn away by time.

"Bonnie, is that you?" he asked. "Come on over here and give your ol' dad a hug."

For Bonnie, it was a moment etched in memory. "I knew it was not too late," she said. He was 76. He walked with two canes.

During the next two years, they exchanged telephone calls. Bobo told Bonnie: "I do love you, I do care for you." Bonnie received letters and two packages with personal memorabilia.

Bobo died Feb. 18, 1985, sitting in his favorite chair, holding a Bible that Bonnie had sent him. The cemetery headstone has a photo of Bobo.

He said he chose to live in Lovington because his manager once lived there and he got a place to stay between shows. He also explained his connection to Leonard Pearson,

"Leonard is with me because I had him in my act for a while," Bobo told he. "His mom asked me if I would look after him when she died and I promised."

Bonnie lives in Durham, N.C. She has a daughter, Christiana, who came with her on this trip, and a son, Michael. She has an outpatient therapy practice and helps at-risk children and families living below the poverty level.

Before this trip, Bonnie went to Baraboo on Oct. 1 to see her father inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. Following the ceremony, people took turns attempting to fit into Bobo's small clown car. Bobo would squeeze into the car, along with seven dogs, a skunk, a horn and a collapsible suitcase. Bobo also had a famous dog trick, balancing a dog on his finger.

This is the second printing of Bonnie's book, She had it self-published and sold 900 copies. Then, in a house fire, the books were destroyed and the printers had destroyed the manuscript.

But she found a new publisher and carried on.

"This is a 'promise I won't bore you book,' she said.|421-7981


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