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October 1998 Seattle Magazine www.seattlemag. com

Weathering Heights

When he isn't wearing his thinking cap,
inventor Larry Dobson wears stilts

His clothes are a loose-fitting hodgepodge of purples, blues and greens. His closely cropped hair is still thick, but speckled with gray, and a beard pops out of his chin like an upside-down rhino horn. Larry Dobson is 57, but looks not a day over 40, and in this midmorning getup he resembles more the part of his passion than his profession.

At home in Clinton, on Whidbey Island, Dobson is an inventor who specializes in sustainable energy and combustion. He has been building and testing prototypes for a quarter century--out-of-this-world concepts like the one he's working on for Pyro Industries in Burlington, Washington: how to heat poultry houses by burning the litter from their chickenhearted inhabitants.

But when his thinking cap is removed, Dobson's passion soars--11 feet above the ground. He loads up his red hatchback with props, masks and accessories and performs at festivals and celebrations throughout the Northwest as an exotic stilt walker. Transforming himself into a wizard or an alien, a bat monster or a sun god, Dobson is head and shoulders above the crowd.

"Ever since I was a kid, I've had this obsession with strapping on stilts," says Dobson, who says his first high-rise experience, around age six, was initiated by his father, who built his first stilts. "I don't remember much, but I look ecstatic in a picture I found where I'm proudly posing on traditional wooden stilts. I used to wear them to play basketball with the neighbors.

"Now it's just a good balance to my 'head work,' because by the end of the day I'm dizzy. Stilt-walking puts me in another realm of life. It's a bizarre, artistic way to relate to people. My firebird costume has a 15-foot wingspan and my bug suit gives me an antenna that's 19 feet high. From a distance I am quite a spectacle."

A stilt walker for hire, Dobson takes his Tall Characters Unlimited show around the region, performing in handmade costumes on custom-built stilts. With his background in children's theater (Dobson was part of a 1970s local trio, the Pied Piper Players), he struts and dances at smaller gatherings, such as family reunions and company picnics, and at some of Seattle's largest, including Nordstrom's Grand Opening Celebration and Fremont's Summer Solstice Parade and October Trolloween festival.

Born in Seattle, Dobson grew up in Lake Forest Park "when it was a watershed," he says, "and I could walk all day without hitting civilization." Soon after moving to Whidbey Island, his private passion turned public. At a Fourth of July parade in 1971, Dobson showed up as Uncle Sam on wooden stilts, wearing shoes and pants made by a local cobbler and seamstress.

Today, Dobson's stilts are made of lightweight aluminum, designed with an apparatus that allows him to swivel at the hips, turning his body without having to pick up his feet. Giant clown shoes do the walking, while Dobson's feet rest in straps 5 feet above the ground. His costume covers the stilts, making him appear to be 11 feet tall. Part of a national network of stilt walkers, he even has his own Web site (www.stiltman.com), and teaches the craft on stilts that he supplies.

"Everyone should try it once," says Dobson. "It's surprisingly easy if you begin on shorter stilts. The trick is you must be an 11-foot-tall person, comfortable in your larger body, with your feet on the ground below. It's like learning to walk again, feeling where your feet go when you move them and how gravity aligns you as a taller person. But many people are afraid of falling. That's the question I'm asked all the time: 'What happens when you fall?"'

Dobson claims he's not afraid to take a tumble. Twenty-five years in the business have brought him an air of confidence. But, he says, that doesn't mean it's never happened.

"During [Seattle's] Torchlight Parade in 1991, I dropped behind and tried to catch up, but I tripped in the middle of the intersection," he says. "I landed pretty hard, and before I knew it, they had stopped the parade and a Medic One guy was over me. I said I was all right, but they put me in the ambulance with my stilts sticking out the back."


October 1998 Seattle Magazine www.seattlemag. com

How I Torched in the Torchlight Parade!

Hometown Hero article in Whidbey Record



Innocent clown is detained in bank robbery

December 24, 1997, by Jim Larsen
South Whidbey Record editor

The clown did not rob the bank.

But it took Snohomish County police a while to figure that out, during which time South Whidbey's most famous clown was face down with his red nose scraping the pavement and his hands cuffed behind his back.

Deano the Clown, who has entertained South Whidbey kids for about 20 years, felt some sympathy for the cop who was frisking him and checking his pockets outside of the US Bank branch at Smokey Point near Arlington.

Deano had just come from a clown engagement and was in full costume.

"I've got 35 pockets," said Deano, a Langley resident who goes by his real name of Dean Petrich when not in clown costume. As Deano lay on the ground with 20 or 30 other police offers (sic) looking on, the cop pulled out the contents of Deano's pockets: Balloons, balloons and more balloons, juggling things, magic tricks, puppets and lots more. "He got pretty tired emptying my pockets," Deano laughed from his home on Tuesday morning.

But the erroneous arrest wasn't entirely a laughing matter for the clown. Yesterday morning KIRO TV began broadcasting film of Deano's detention by police, which included his being grabbed, forced to the ground, handcuffed, and held in a patrol car. The newscaster didn't use his name, but Deano said "everyone in Seattle knows who Deano the Clown is."

Deano got into the predicament simply by walking into the wrong bank at the wrong time. He had done a clown gig in Arlington and had a number of checks to deposit that he accumulated during the busy holiday season when he works seven days a week. His home US Bank is in Freeland, but he stopped at Smokey Point to save time.

While Deano was carefully filling out his deposit slips, someone else was robbing the bank.

"I didn't realize it," Deano said. But when he finished with his paperwork and approached a teller, he noticed "she was very nervous." He also found it strange that "they were closing the bank," even though it was only 1:20 in the afternoon.

"Being a clown I started joking," he said, but nobody laughed, so he decided to leave and take his deposit elsewhere. He heard the door lock as he left the bank.

Stepping outside, he finally realized something was seriously amiss. Someone yelled, "Hey you, over there!" and he saw a cop pointing a gun at him. "Walk forward five steps!" the officer ordered. As Deano complied, he says "20 to 30 policemen all behind cars --but I wasn't scared, because I hadn't done anything wrong."

After the time-consuming search during which Deano and the frisking officer "got to know each other quite well," the police seemed to realize they had the wrong clown, Deano said. So they handed him a form to fill out before letting him go.

That's when Deano made his only mistake. He said he was cold and asked for a warmer place to fill out the form. They put him in a patrol car, which locked automatically. He was stuck in there for 90 minutes as "one very obnoxious man with a camera" filmed him. That apparently is the film that ended up on television. The report of the clown frisk even made National Public Radio.

Before Deano was allowed to leave, he was taken inside the bank to wash is face so police could compare it to his driver's license picture.

"Sure enough, it was me," he said. The entire episode took 3 1/2 hours out of his day.

Police are still looking for the bank robber, who gave a note to the teller asking for money. He is described in his early 40s, about 5 foot 8, wearing a green shirt, dark cap and dark-rimmed glasses. Deano recognized him as one of the few customers in the bank. "I saw him coming out -- he walked right past me." He said.

By the time police arrived, Deano was the only customer still in the bank. Snohomish county Sheriffs Office spokesperson Jan Jorgensen said officers couldn't be blamed for suspecting the man in the clown suit was the bank robber.

"It's so bizarre that a clown walks in at the same time as a real robber," she said. "It's unfortunate it happened, but it's a normal reaction." Proving that nobody can talk about the story without bringing up a clown joke, Jorgensen added, "At least he had a smile on his face the whole time."




----- HIGH JACK -------



I'll tell you a tall tale.

Believe me, it's true!

'bout a giant named "High Jack"

and the deeds he did do.

He towered above folks

Eleven feet tall,

Defying all gravity,

Refusing to fall.

Some humans loved him,

Wished they were so tall.

Others wickedly longed for

Brave High Jack to fall.

They thought it a sin

To ever get so high,

With head in the clouds,

Yet shoes you can't tie!

So they plotted and schemed

With the powers in charge

To sully the fine name

Of High Jack so large.

Then spirits of evil,

Who push humans down,

Joined in the plot

To topple this clown.

How devious and vile

The plot did become.

It even involved

High Jack's very good chum.

He was Deano the clown,

Full of humor and mirth,

Softening hard hearts,

Spreading joy o'er the earth.

He too the evil ones

Wanted to stop.

So they addled the brain

Of one particular cop

Who happened to work

In a bank on the way

That Deano the clown took

That one fateful day.


Unto the bank

Deano perchanced to stray

Just as a robber

Was getting away.

All eyes were on Deano.

All cameras too.

The cop said, "I've got him!"

But he hadn't a clue.

While they tormented Deano

The real thug did flee.

But the story was now told

On national TV.

Reporters just loved it.

The story was rich.

But Deano was not,

And there's yet one more hitch.

Remember old High Jack,

Deano's good bud'?

They even were able to

Drag his name through the mud!

South Whidbey Record,

An impeccable source,

Told the story of Deano,

With a photo, of course.

The robbery suspect

(and pictures don't lie)

was none other than High Jack,

In fact, it was I !

So that's how our hero

Was tainted with sin.

But never loose hope.

In the end we will win!

Stand tall in your mission

To transform the earth,

To fill it with wonder

And high times and mirth.

'Cause when you're expanded

your dreams become real,

and those who are timid

will rise with your zeal.

And High Jack will steal

Only cares and your woes.

And we'll all be high for Real,

Unless you step on my toes!

By Larry Dobson




Here’s Deano riding his unicycle
between my legs.

Deano's Home Page

Waktal_Deano at Isaquah fair