Becoming Clifford

Clifford at the Indiana State Museum during Celebration Crossing.

Clifford at the Indiana State Museum during Celebration Crossing.

As part of the museum’s 2008 Celebration Crossing exhibit, I was in costume four times roaming the halls as Clifford. Hidden inside a suit where you are completely anonymous, the kid in me was set loose—maybe it was all that adoration coming my way.

At the first sighting for most kids, there was instant recognition and shouts of “Look Mom, it’s Clifford!” Many immediately came running for a hug. Sometimes it was a group-hug of four, five or more and cries of “Take a picture.” Some were shy, but gazed adoringly from a distance. Parents often urged closer contact with talk of watching Clifford on TV and “now he’s right here!” Most could be coaxed closer with the offer of “high-fives” and non-aggressive doggie behavior like happy clapping of paws when a timid one made first touch. If a small child buried his head in Clifford’s chest, the parents cooed with “Oh, that’s so sweet.”

School-age children were the most vocal. Some said, “I have all your books” or “I love you Clifford!” Others caught a glimpse of hairy arm or peered into the big eye peep holes loudly announcing, “I see a face in there.” But many more gleefully ran on yelling, “I got a hug from Clifford.” A frequent question was “Where’s Emily?” to which Clifford could only shrug with upturned paws.

Teen responses ranged from cool aloofness to challenges like “My dog’s bigger than your dog!” A boy playfully invited me outside to settle the score. Girls more often would feign a swoon into Clifford’s arms with “I loved you Clifford.” The grown-up, too cool teens were a challenge to Clifford and his prowess as suitor. If no small ones were present and seeking his attention, he would pursue the cool ones, male or female, tap them on the shoulder and insist on a high-five usually leading to success and even a hug to everyone’s laughter.

Most adult reactions were in response to the children and Clifford, but a few were startling comments directed at his doggishness. Not surprisingly, the most frequent were about fire plugs and directions to the one nearest. One woman spoke of dog breath and another made an indecent proposal of meeting her later!

But the most fun for Clifford were the infants, those old enough to fix a gaze, but not yet speaking. They generally were not frightened. They just watched in fascination often with a puzzled expression. Playing peek-a-boo or blowing kisses would usually bring a smile to the delight of parents and the satisfaction of Clifford. Those were the times the sweat-soaked guy inside the scratchy suit forgot his creature discomforts and reveled in the moment.

Donovan Miller is a volunteer at the Indiana State Museum.