Creepy Clown Sightings and a National Circus of Coulrophobia

Panic has gripped the nation in the last couple months as creepy clown sightings are threatening our country. No, I’m not talking about the ones running for office. Actual reports of creepy clowns lurking in the shadows have been pouring in since late August. Explanations of this clown phenomenon include Halloween pranks, rumors, hoaxes and marketing stunts that have gone viral. Some people have further escalated things by turning this hysteria into a social media fad and a means of intimidation. Some of the general public is overreacting, which feeds the flames for more incidences while some claim this to be a war on Halloween.


Some of the first clown sightings were reported to authorities in Greenville County, South Carolina. According to Vocativ, one woman spotted a clown sporting a blinking nose at 2:30AM. He waved. Reports such as this began making the news simply because it would creep people out. However, one of the more alarming reports involved a child and his brother claiming to have heard clowns whispering from the nearby woods and banging on their apartment door. More children began coming forward, claiming the clowns “who live in a house by a pond deep in the woods” attempted to lure them with money. Though officials took these reports seriously, according to RollingStone, they could not find any substantial evidence of suspicious activity.

Though they may be meant as harmless pranks when children become involved, lines are being crossed and cause for alarm is justified – that is, assuming these rumors are true. Looking through multiple publication articles that touch on the same clown complaints, I have yet to see any names of those citizens reporting these incidences. In fact, The New York Times stated, “In these cases, people who reported clown sightings refused to give their names to the police.” Oddly enough, Vocativ pointed out that no clown posing as a real threat has even been photographed. This furthers my personal skepticism since everyone, including kids, seems to have cell phone cameras nowadays.

As clown sightings began to spread throughout the southeast, some videos have made appearances on social media. RollingStone stated that Marion County, Florida resident Caden Parmelee took a quick video of an evil looking clown approaching his car before cutting out when the car sped off. This video went viral and others began popping up on social media. However, people looking to join in on this fad could easily orchestrate these videos for attention and to simply add to this clown-crazed trend.


The same RollingStone article spoke of one clown who had no such intention. North Carolina resident Holly Brown said the local complaints were about her 12-year-old autistic son who donned his clown costume a month early out of excitement for Halloween. Due to the viral case of coulrophobia, her son will not be allowed to wear his costume until October 31st.

Though it is unfortunate that this overreaction to rumors and hoaxes gone viral has caused a mother to take away the excitement of Halloween from her son, Brown does have reason to be concerned. RollingStone’s article continues to explain that officials are more concerned about fear-driven people with conceal-carry permits and others who intend on acting as vigilantes against clowns.

One connection many publications seem to be missing is that the clown sightings and complaints did not begin in late August this year. On August 4th, USA Today reported on a creepy clown sighting in Green Bay, Wisconsin. First seen on August 1st at 2:00AM, this clown freaked residents out by his appearance alone as he simply walked around downtown. Though they received several complaints, the local police did not act because the clown, nicknamed Gags, showed no signs of being armed or dangerous.


“This person is not breaking the law,” said Captain Kevin Warych of the Green Bay Police Department. “He can walk in a clown costume anywhere he wants.”

With the help of social media and the alarmed residents, Gags went viral online and a fan Facebook page appeared a day after the creepy clown’s public debut. In The New York Times’ article, C.J. Guza, who was revealed to be the man dressed as the Green Bay clown, stated that some people viewed Gags as a creepy spectacle of entertainment while others chose to react by pulling their firearms. It has also been revealed that Gags walked the streets late at night as part of a marketing stunt for a short independent horror film by filmmaker Adam Krause.

Despite Gags’ time in the spotlight in preparation for the film’s release, most people do not seem to make this creepy clown connection. Though some individuals in isolated incidents may have taken things a little too far, neither Gags, Guzan nor Krause should be blamed. The New York Times explored the psychological aspect of the recent clown sightings with child psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Steven Schlozman. The professional, who also teaches a course on the psychology of horror films, stated that true horror reveals itself when people overreact and respond out of fear.

Another professional who has spoken to media outlets, including CNN and Vocativ, is folklorist Benjamin Radford, who just happened to recently release a nonfictional book entitled Bad Clowns. Vocativ reminds us that this is not the first time creepy clowns have terrorized the nation. In 1981, two years after serial killer Pogo the Clown (John Wayne Gacy) was captured, reports of individuals dressed as clowns in the months and weeks leading to Halloween began making the news. However, no credible evidence could be produced.


“It is important to understand that there are no reports of any children actually being harmed or abducted by these clowns – despite police searches no evidence was found of their existence,” Radford said. “It’s mostly fueled by children sightings, schoolyard rumors, and fearful parent warnings. These are essentially folklore entities, similar to boogeymen and Slenderman.”

Despite the recent clown hysteria, Radford looks at things from a more logical perspective and does not see too much cause for alarm. The author points out that most criminals and killers want to blend in with their surroundings and remain unnoticed and forgettable by blending in with their surroundings. Wearing flashy circus attire and creepy makeup does not exactly accomplish this goal. Even Gacy, the original real-life killer clown, was not crazy enough to wear his clown costume while abducting his victims.

Perhaps these rumors loosely spawned from the idea of Gags the Clown in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Maybe the recent Rob Zombie film 31 encouraged events. Despite the indirect influence, one thing is for sure. The remake to Stephen King’s It is scheduled for release next September. After these clown sightings get put to bed for the season after Halloween, which will likely be the case, I will not be surprised to see a revival of the creepy clown hysteria next year with 2016 being long forgotten.


In response to the panic stricken public:

Unfortunately, we are a country that is fed fear driven news and propaganda on a daily basis. The people who are simply unnerved by individuals dressing in creepy clown costumes and getting into the seasonal spirit should just relax. Panic-stricken individuals need to realize that this is the season of Halloween when it is more acceptable to go outside social norms. As long as there are no actual aggressive signs of violent threats, these people are well within their rights in this free country. Feeding the flames by overreacting to something you deem creepy not only escalates the clown hysteria, but it does not give you the right to direct threats of violent retaliation where there is no real threat. If your children are your primary concern, educate them to stay away from strangers with questionable intent.

In response to the copycats:

Regardless of intent, if any extreme stories hitting the news hold even a grain of truth, one thing remains rooted in fact. Whether you are dressed as a creepy clown, a political clown, a fictional character or in everyday attire, throwing out threats on social media or aggressively terrorizing people and actively posing as a direct threat is out of line. Today’s world is more openly connected, now more than ever. Dress up, be creepy, have fun and celebrate this time of year where most social norms can be thrown aside. However, recognize that there are boundaries. Do not spoil the Halloween season for everyone else by involving children in uncalled for pranks. Recognize that your costume does not hide your intent. Wearing attire that attracts attention while wielding any sort of real weapon is taken seriously, as are any online threats.

It’s Halloween season, folks. Let’s all have fun and be safe.

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