Stoney St. Clair

Leonard L. St. Clair (1912-1980), nicknamed “Stoney”, was a circus performer and tattoo artist born in West Virginia. As a child, Stoney was crippled by rheumatic fever and confined to a wheelchair. His father, a coal miner, used up the family savings, eventually losing the family’s home, to keep young Stoney at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. While in the hospital Stoney drew incessantly.

Later in his life, Stoney found his calling in the circus as a sword swallower and referred to his career as being a “circi” (in the same fashion as one who works the carnivals being called a “carney”). One day when the circus was in Norfolk, VA some of his circus colleagues brought him to a tattoo parlor. Stoney refused to get a tattoo but when he saw the tattoo artist at work he was convinced he could do the same thing.. and better. Over the next several days Stoney befriended the artist and watched him work. When the circus was about to leave town the artist gave Stoney some tattoo equipment and he set up shop behind the elephant barn. The circus wintered in Tampa, FL and Stoney eventually settled in the city, opening a tattoo parlor where he was a fixture for decades. Many of the older residents still bear his work. Stoney moved on to New Orleans and eventually Columbus, OH where he passed away.