Grave matters for the Best Clown in the World

Joseph Grimaldi, 1778 – 1837…

It’s Halloween and so only right to feature a grave matter from my book Finding the Plot: 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die. This is the grave of Joseph Grimaldi, the great clown of the 19th century and indeed the man who invented clowns as we know them: white of face, red of mouth, slapstick of manner. His life was utterly fantastical, born near London’s West End in 1778, to parents who were performers and on stage by age four. He became a surreally brilliant, creative and anarchic performer and I have no doubt that, if he were alive today, he would still be the very best, known throughout the world. His father was a violent brute, nicknamed Grim-All-Day and lived in such fear of being buried alive that it was stipulated in his will that, after he his death, he must be beheaded (and he was). His son died aged 43, his body worn out from his amazing and punishing stage performances. His grave, below, with its happy and sad masks, is now the centrepiece of a small urban park, near King’s Cross in London. At the entrance is another memorial, two coffin-shaped forms on the ground which are made up of tiles and when you walk on them, or even dance, they play a tune called “Hot Codlins”, which was one of Joey’s hit numbers. So here you really can dance on his grave which is, surely, just the kind of thing you would do at Halloween.Grimaldi