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Why Do Clowns Wear Red Noses?

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Love ‘em or completely terrified of them, there’s no mistaking clowns when they’ve donned their signature red noses. The feature is a classic part of the costume, but it is likely traced back to a trio of brothers in a circus family.

The Fratellinis were a family of performers; the patriarch, Gustavo, was a trapeze artist, while his sons—Paul, François, and Albert—worked as clowns. When Paul’s partner Louis died in 1909, he and his brothers became a trio, with each one taking on a unique persona: François, the elegant yet pompous clown, donned a white face; Albert—originally playing the contre-auguste, a role now referred to as just Auguste—assumed a more exaggerated face with dark brows and a red nose; and Paul took a middle road between the two, with less makeup.

The Auguste clown has since become its own kind of character; generally the joker in the act, the oddball who wears ill-fitting clothing and has exaggerated features—including a bright red nose. One of the most famous clowns in history is reported to have helped develop the Auguste character.

In the years following World War I, Lou Jacobs performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and became a career clown, entertaining for six decades. His obituary in The New York Times noted that “Mr. Jacobs's whiteface makeup with its gargantuan, goofy smile, outlandish eyebrows and plum-sized nose was the emblem for the Ringling circus, and he may have been the world's most famous living clown.” (By the way, he’s also credited with popularizing the now-iconic clown car!)

If there is any uncertainty of Jacobs’ legacy, his costume—including his red nose—was so iconic that when his image was put on a postage stamp in 1966, he became one of the first living people to be honored on the medium. (He’s often incorrectly stated as the first, but the likely actual first was the 1945 "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" stamp, where half of the six were still alive when it was issued.)

One legend surrounding the red nose dates back to before both the Fratellinis and Jacobs: As the story goes, in the 1860s, a German circus performer named Tom Belling was wearing oversized clothes and ended up being accidentally pushed into the ring of the show. (The reasoning for his attire and how he found himself in the spotlight varies from tale to tale.) One consistency is Belling falling, bloodying his nose and the crowd chanting “auguste”—German slang for “fool”—at him. Thus, the buffoon stereotype of the Auguste clown, as well as the signature red nose, was born.

While Belling’s story frames the iconic clown image as a happy accident, many regard the tale as more legend than truth. The exact origin of the clown nose is uncertain, but its role in pop culture is much more assured. Clowns and their signature red noses are as much a symbol of the circus as the tents themselves.

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Big Questions
What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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