Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard. Many of these blog posts have been converted to podcast episodes, available at KBMF.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Always Clownin’

By Richard I. Gibson

Frank “Paneek” Panisko (1913-1999) was well known in Butte as a professional clown. Starting in 1934 he worked in several circuses, including the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus and with Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Circuses, both of which were part of the Ringling Brothers conglomerate. When in Butte he worked initially as a nipper (tool handler) in the Leonard Mine and later conducted tours there for visitors. During World War II he was a pumpman at the Leonard and was transferred to the High Ore and the central pump station there about 1945.

In 1945 Frank and his family were living at 1225½ West Broadway, a block that only had two houses. Both of them are gone now, replaced by the parking lot for the Montana Tech Residence Hall, but Frank had moved to 301 N. Crystal by about 1950. The family held on to the house there until 2003, when I bought it. Once I began to know Butte natives, I learned that my house is still called “The Clown House” to this day, recalling Frank’s games and entertainments. He operated Paneek’s Carnival Emporium at Columbia Gardens many summers.

The August 31, 1945, issue of Copper Commando, a wartime newspaper put out by the Anaconda Company, quotes Frank as saying he’s a clown because there’s “no greater reward than the smile of a child.” The photo here, from that 1945 Copper Commando, shows Frank with his children Mary Kay, Francis Edward, and Eddie Joe. (Photo probably by Al Gusdorf or Les Bishop.)

It’s an honor to be taking care of Frank’s house. I made sure that the historic plaque refers to the long tenure of the Panisko family.


  1. Hope he haunts the place too. Our place is haunted by Lavina Richards, which is cool, but she gets upset when we modernize/change things & definitely doesn't have a sense of humor...

  2. In 1964 I had spinal surgery in Spokane. Frank heard about it from my dad, Emmett Murphy, and he sent me a care package of fun things (I remember a signed Circus poster and a stuffed animal). I felt very special, and my parents never forgot his kindness toward me.