A fury of clown sightings in the Carolinas have people on edge, officials in New Jersey on alert and others speculating as to the reason for the sudden creepiness. Even a horror author is offering an opinion.
Residents of Greenville, S.C., began reporting suspicious activity after seeing clowns standing along the roadside without reason, hanging around businesses and even approaching children with offers of money and candy as a lure into wooded areas. Reports spread to North Carolina when a Winston-Salem man reported a clown tapping on his home window, alleging he chased the clown. He was arrested after police determined the report was false.
A Greensboro, N.C., man said he chased a clown with a machete after seeing the clown coming out of a wooded area. An emergency dispatcher calmed the man down. No one, neither man nor clown, was injured in the incident. More clown sightings were reported in Georgia in September.
The reason for fear is understandable. It reminds us the best horror comes from a comfortable place. It happens when we least expect it, and sometimes from the ones we trust the most. Horror author Stephen King utilized these elements when he wrote the book “It” In the 1980s. The book was made into a mini-series and immortalized Pennywise the Clown, a demonic entity that preyed on small children.
King said in a recent interview that clown sightings – like what was occurring in the Carolinas – would unhinge him.
“If I saw a clown lurking under a lonely bridge (or peering up at me from a sewer grate with or without balloons), I’d be scared too,” King said in an interview with a Bangor, Maine, newspaper.
Today’s adults may also remember the case of John Wayne Gacy, who dressed as Pogo the clown and sexually assaulted and killed 35 young boys in the Chicago area. Before being arrested, Gacy was quoted as saying, “You know, clowns can get away with murder.” Gacy wasn’t that lucky. He was imprisoned and later executed. Gacy would wile away time during his incarceration by painting pictures of clowns, some were self-portraits of Pogo!
The history of clowns may surprise you. There’s nothing fun or whimsical about it. Clowns have always possessed a darker side that dates back thousands of years. Chinese, Native Americans, Egyptians, Europeans and a host of multifaceted cultures have tolerated, and largely accepted, the imp-like qualities personified by what would otherwise be defined as comedic. Anyone suffering from bouts of coulrophobia, an excessive fear of clowns, will confirm one thing to be true: all clowns are creepy.
Clowns didn’t start as we know them to be today. They didn’t begin costumed in bright colors with unnatural hair and red noses that honked. Clowns originally started as a comedic mocking of a town drunkard or idiot. It was common for them to wear rouge to complete the impression. Not until the most famous of all clowns, Joseph Grimaldi, did all clowns wear garish costumes, heavy make-up and colorful wigs. Grimaldi himself was a study in tragedy. His father was abusive, his wife died during childbirth, his son died of alcoholism and his own variety of violent slapstick left him physically disabled. If there were ever any foreshadowing, one might note the first four letters of his surname spells g-r-i-m.
Clowns can easily be associated with murder and mayhem. Following where Grimaldi left off in the clown world, Jean Gaspard-Deburau was accused of killing a young boy with a walking stick. Then, there was the Gacy case. Clowns were often portrayed as ghastly killers or tragic characters in literature and theater. The 1892 Italian opera, Pagliacci, centers around a clown killing his wife onstage. The Charles Dickens novel, Pickwick Papers published in 1836, had an unemployed, drunken clown as its primary character.
Clowns were considered a positive character in modern America overall, thanks to 1950s television that brought wholesome images via children’s programming. Clarabell and Bozo were household names generating tons of sponsors for their respective networks. Circuses, like the Ringling Brothers-Barnum Bailey Circus, showed clowns to be harmless and fun.
However, it didn’t take long for creative television and screenwriters to alter those iconic characters. The 1960’s spawned the already popular Batman comic book into technicolor episodes starring Caesar Romero as the Joker.
The 1970s saw the proliferation of fast food included food produced under Golden Arches with Ronald McDonald as the pitchman. Although Ronald was always smiling, there remained something pretentious about selling Happy Meals with the help from sidekicks Grimace and Hamburgler. The 1980s not only had King writing about clowns, but also saw horror movies like Poltergeist and Killer Clowns From Outer Space. Homey D. Clown, a 1990s character played by Damon Wayans, was portrayed as an African-American ex-con that would hit adoring kids in the head with a sock and a tennis ball!
Maybe the good clowns get a bad rap. It’s always fun to see two, then three, then four or five or six clowns get out of a little bitty car only to be chased by the ring leader. But it’s most enjoyable when the spectator is in charge of what they are seeing, unlike South Carolina residents who have fallen victim to random sightings. Popping up like jack-in-the-boxes in a quiet sanctuary, these agents of the damned should never be befriended.
For many the rule is that all clowns are and forever will be creepy!