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The love of elephants and clowns

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Elephants and clowns, oh my.

That is one thing a person may say when they walk into Carol and Don Hanson’s house in south Brainerd. The Hansons have plenty of elephants and clowns that they’ve collected over the past few decades. Carol has collected around 200 clowns and Don has collected about 100 elephants. The oldest collectible in their collection is from the 1940s.

Don’s passion with elephants began in the mid-70s when a friend gave him a ceramic pink elephant with a man figurine as a gift.

“It started from there,” said Don. “I don’t really know why I have collected them over the years, I just love elephants.”

Don purchased all of the elephants in his collection after that and they’ve come from all over the world. Elephants were purchased from New Mexico, Washington, D.C., Virginia Beach and Saint Lucia.

The largest elephant in Hanson’s collection is made from monkey pod wood and was purchased from the British East Indies. Another elephant is made out of Mount St. Helen’s volcanic ash and another from charcoal in Jamaica. Elephants in Hanson’s collection are made from other various materials, including glass and ceramic.

Carol began collecting clowns in 1996, when she served as the state president of the VFW Women’s Auxiliary. She said when someone is the state president they have a symbol that they carry through during their term, and she chose a clown.

Carol said she read an article about people who dress up as clowns and how depressed and sad they are. She said the article said that people become clowns because they want to make others happy.

“I found that interesting and so I said I want the clown to be my symbol,” said Carol.

Carol purchased some of her clowns, but many were given to her as gifts. Carol said most of her clowns were from Minnesota.

“Each clown is cute in its own way,” said Carol. “They make me smile. A lot of them are very valuable. I had them displayed on shelves, but now there are so many of them that they’re mostly packed away.”

Carol said one time when she and her niece were antique shopping in Mankato they found a clown collectible with a broken leg. Carol said she looked at it and felt bad that it was broken. Little did she know that her niece sneakily purchased the broken clown behind her back and had Carol’s daughter make up a cast for the clown figurine.

Carol said one of her clown’s “Timothy,” was purchased in San Diego and is from the Smithsonian collection. The clown is made out of pewter. She also has a variety of clowns from Precious Moments, Emmett Kelly, Norman Rockwell and Boyds.

The Hansons retired in Brainerd in 1998 to be closer to family. Both are natives of the Brainerd lakes area. Carol graduated from Washington High School in 1955; her maiden name is Nichols. Don said he went to school in Brainerd for two years and also went to Crosby, and then joined the Army in 1951.

The Hansons have been married for 56 years and have two adult daughters, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at