Clowning around: Are they coming for you?

Clowning around: Are they coming for you?

What could be more ambiguous than a person behaving non-verbally – dressed in a clown costume – wearing a fixed, painted smile under a pair of cold, dead eyes… wielding a knife?

Twisty the killer clown (John Carroll) from “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

WASHINGTON, October 13, 2016 — Back in May of 1981, Sargent Jim Treece of the Kansas City Police Department was inundated with panicked calls. “It’s been close to a hysteria situation,” he told the Associated Press.

The terrified callers said school children “told of seeing an elusive demon clown reportedly armed with a knife or machete.”

“Whether it’s a joke to these children or whether they think they’re seeing a clown, we just don’t know,” said Treece, “We have to alert the citizenry, yet try to keep from generating a panic situation.”

That was wishful thinking.

According to the “Encyclopedia of Urban Legends,” Jan Harold Brunvand notes, “The first documented outbreak of phantom-clown stories was from 1981… The scare that year raged from New England through the Midwest and described clowns in a variety of disguises who were supposedly driving vans of many colors and wielding swords, knives, or guns.”

And reports of phantom clowns stalking America’s teeming cities and tranquil hamlets seem to be on the increase as we move closer to Halloween.

Last August, the CBS affiliate WSPA of Greenville, South Carolina, reported that “a woman said her son had seen ‘clowns in the woods’… There were also claims from some children that several clowns had been seen in the woods trying to persuade them to follow them with large amounts of money… but a deputy wrote in the Aug. 21 police report that he followed a trail through the woods… and found no evidence related to the clown sightings.”

In little Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, this kind of terrifying clown-foolery is no stranger to its 9,590 inhabitants.

A blurry photo of a suspect dressed as a clown that chased two kids through the streets of a small Georgia town.
A blurry photo of a suspect dressed as a clown that chased two kids through the streets of a small town in Georgia.

Lieutenant Steve Blevins of the Oglethorpe P.D. told the Northwest Georgia News that a “person dressed as a creepy clown and wielding what appeared to be a knife” chased a young brother and sister from the parking lot of a convenience store to the apartment where they live.

“Things like this are already out there on the national news and on social media, so we surely don’t want the public to think we’re trying to conceal these types of things,” said Blevins. “Some people might not take it too serious, but we do. If you’re out terrorizing people you’re going to go to jail.”

But for some, it’s better to rage against the red-nosed menaces in oversized shoes than to curse the darkness – where, of course, they lurk.

At ihateclowns.com, its founder declares:

“I do not fear clowns. Really. I don’t. They are just not nice people. They scare little kids, they cause neurosis in some adults, they have big floppy feet, they try to fit too many of their kind in a car, I could go on and on.”

He says he’d like to form “an alliance of rational people” to join him in his “irrational hatred of these ‘merry-makers.’”

A 2015 study titled “On the Nature of Creepiness,” by the Department of Psychology at Knox College in Illinois, reported:

“Unusual, nonverbal behavior and characteristics associated with unpredictability were…predictors of creepiness… The results are consistent with the hypothesis that being ‘creeped out’ is an evolved adaptive emotional response to ambiguity.”

And what could be more ambiguous than a person behaving non-verbally – dressed in a clown costume – wearing a fixed, painted smile under a pair of cold, dead eyes… wielding a knife?

It most assuredly inspires the kind of fear that riveted little six-year-old George Denbrough when he found himself in the grip of Pennywise the demonic clown.

Tim Curry plays Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the miniseries based on Stephen King’s “IT.”
Tim Curry plays Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the miniseries based on Stephen King’s novel “IT.”

“George saw the clown’s face change,” goes the story in Stephen King’s novel “IT.” “What he saw then was terrible enough to make his worst imaginings of the thing in the cellar look like sweet dreams; what he saw destroyed his sanity in one clawing stroke.”

And very soon – the last day of this month to be exact – they’ll walk right up the front stairs to your happy home and ring the doorbell.

The U.S. has seen an unsettling increase in clown sightings.
The U.S. has seen an unsettling increase in creepy clown sightings.
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