Leonard L. St. Clair (1912-1980), nicknamed "Stoney", was a circus performer and tattoo artist born in West Virginia. His father had been a coal miner since he quit school at age 14. As a child, Stoney was crippled by rheumatic fever and confined to a wheelchair. His father used up the family savings, eventually losing their home, to keep Stoney in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

In the hospital, Stoney drew incessantly. Most of what he drew were scenes of the circus, animals, performers, circus wagons. He was inspired by an uncle in the circus and he was determined to follow in his footsteps, despite the few prospects a crippled boy had in that business. A German woman named Gretchen took Stoney under her wing and taught him the secrets of her act…sword swallowing.

Three square meals a day and $75 a week – Stoney was in heaven. Then one day when the circus was in Norfolk, VA, some of his circus colleagues took 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 left town, the artist gave him some tattoo equipment and Stoney set up shop behind the elephant barn.

The circus wintered in Tampa, FL for years. Around 1944, Stoney called it quits and settled in the city, opening a tattoo parlor on Fortune St. He was a fixture in Tampa for decades, and many older Tampans still bear his work. When, in 1970, our state legislature essentially outlawed tattooing by making it illegal for anyone except a doctor, Stoney set off for New Orleans, LA, and then Columbus, OH, where he died. A documentary film and book, called Stoney Knows How, records his life and his work.

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