(excerpt: Twilight Language)
“All news is local.”
The Creepy Clown Epidemic is global. But all stories begin locally, and even national stories are written to reflect the local angle, as the old adage conveys.
Coverage can be national and local. What happens when even your hometown newspaper – in this case from the same publisher whose papers I delivered as a paperboy to over a hundred homes in the 1960s – catches up with the phenomenon?
DECATUR – Coulrophobia – a morbid fear of clowns – is spreading across the nation like a flu outbreak, and its symptoms are infecting people in Central Illinois.
Decatur police have received several calls from Facebook users worried about threatening messages that pop up, accompanied by pictures of clowns. These have turned out to be hoaxes but they are part of a coast-to-coast pattern of scary clown sightings and reports of clowns frightening people, most proving false but some real, that are intensifying as Halloween approaches.
“Social media causes stuff like this to just blow up and get way out of proportion,” said police Sgt. Chris Copeland. “I even heard that somewhere down in the south part of the country, and this might be another rumor floating around Facebook, someone actually got shot while wearing a clown suit.”
Copeland said people have a legal right to dress as whomever, or whatever, they want for Halloween. But he urges caution on where you wear a clown suit and how you behave, and says this might be a very good year to make another costume choice.
And he also has a word of warning for coulrophobia sufferers: don’t overreact. Copeland has seen aggressive messages on Facebook targeting clowns and threatening to wipe the smile off their faces with violence.
“I would also like to caution anyone thinking that, just because someone is wearing a clown suit, that gives reasonable cause to shoot them or kill them,” added Copeland. “That is not the case.”
Nationwide news reports on the scary clown phenomena have quoted instances of schools being locked down on reports of clowns wandering the campus. Rolling Stonemagazine featured an interview with author Loren Coleman, a Decatur native, who wrote about something he called “Phantom Clown Theory” in his 1981 [sic ~ the coining was in 1981, the book was published in 1983] Mysterious America.
Coleman is quoted as saying stories about clowns trying to lure children have persisted for years and can warp into a mass hysteria.
Professional clowns, meanwhile, are feeling the pain: both in their wallets as bookings get canceled and in fear for their own safety. One group met in Tucson, Ariz., recently to stage a costumed protest march called “Clown Lives Matter.” A flier for the event said: “The march is a peaceful way to show clowns are not psycho killers … Come out, bring the family, meet a clown and get a hug!”
Decatur Police Chief Jim Getz, watching the clown scare roll across the internet, said he’s not seen anything like this before. “As good as the social media can be for some things, it can be just as detrimental in other ways,” he said.
Clowning around isn’t so funny now by Tony Reid, Herald & Review, Decatur, Illinois, October 11, 2016.
Rolling Stone has mentioned me, at least twice, in their recent clown articles:
“‘Killer Clowns’: Inside the Terrifying Hoax Sweeping America: Clowns have been spotted lurking in woods from South Carolina to upstate New York,” By Suzanne Zuppello, September 29, 2016.
The Phantom Clowns, as they were dubbed by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman given their allusive nature, spread to Kansas City, Denver, Omaha, and Pennsylvania. Since the 1980s, clowns have made appearances across the country, usually in the weeks and months leading up to Halloween.
Coleman’s phantom clown theory is rooted in the “primal dread that so many children experience in their presence.”
In his 1981 [sic ~ 1983] book Mysterious America, cryptozoologist Loren Coleman coined the phrase “Phantom Clown Theory,” which refers to the way a few sightings of clowns ‘luring’ children into vans, cars and forests can turn into mass hysteria – even though no clowns are ever actually caught. He says that, though this phenomenon has existed for over 30 years, the recent spate has become worse because of social media.
“The initial sightings were classic Phantom Clowns,” Colman tells Rolling Stone, referring to the early reports in South Carolina. “Then, this was then diluted by ‘Stalking Clowns’: real people dressing up to scare, be seen and be photographed.” There is a real danger here – just not where one might expect. “Place this ‘Clown Sightings’ flap in the middle of an extremely violent year, with so many guns available, and you are going to have potentially dangerous events occurring,” he says. “Not for the ‘Phantom Clowns’ but for the human ‘Stalking Clowns’ who will be the targets of angry, scared citizens.”
Coleman’s prediction is becoming reality. Last week, students at both Pennsylvania State University and Nashville’s Belmont University announced campus-wide search parties for clowns after sightings were reported on both campuses. But an amusing evening turned potentially grim as students armed themselves with bats during the march. One student leader “underestimated the power of hysteria” that their marches against clowns would stir up. While those searches luckily stayed peaceful, videos from elsewhere, under the tag #ClownLivesMatter, show people encountering clowns, who appear non-threatening aside from their creepy ensemble, and beating them up. One video even shows a clown being beaten senseless with a baseball bat.
Other recent interviews and mentions of my past research include:
“How a Maine-based Bigfoot expert found himself at the center of the national clown frenzy,” by Dugan Arnett, Boston Globe, October 7, 2016.
As assistant museum director Jeff Meuse puts it, “It’s been quite a frenzy with him trying to make sure that everyone gets a little piece of Loren Coleman.”
But while the clown craze is disturbing, it’s mostly harmless and nothing new, says cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, an “investigator of human and animal mysteries” and author of 35 books.
He traced the phenomenon to Massachusetts in 1981, when children reported evil clowns attempting to lure them into vans.
The clowns were never seen by adults.
“There were no arrests, no photographs, no evidence and no abductions,” Coleman told The Post.
Soon after, the “phantom clowns,” as Coleman calls them, turned up in Providence, RI, Kansas City, Mo., Omaha, Neb., Denver, and Pittsburgh.
At the time, Coleman was working as director of the Charlestown office of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. He wrote to 400 “fellow researchers and writers,” wondering if they had heard of the “unexplained phenomenon.”
The feedback revealed there had been similar reports in local papers. “That was the mystery. How do people in different parts of the country have the same experience? There was no internet or wire stories or national stories about this phenomenon,” said Coleman, who wrote about the sightings in his book Mysterious America.
To this day, the 1981 “phantom clowns” remain a “total mystery.”
“There are long stretches where nothing happens,” Coleman said, noting minor sightings from Phoenix in 1985, and South Orange and Belleville, NJ, in 1991.
There have been other examples. If I thought the 1981 wave of Phantom Clown sightings were widespread, nothing could have prepared me for 2016’s spread of both Phantom Clowns and Stalking Clowns events.