Creepy Clown Considerations

(excerpt: Twilight Language)

The Daily Mail mapped out what clown reports they had gathered, as of October 1, 2016. There are many more than these.
Thirty-five years ago, the phrase “Phantom Clowns” was added to my twilight language lexicon, when the actual “Phantom Clowns” appeared in America. I wrote about them, in depth, in Mysterious America.

For those who have been wondering about my recent silence, in the midst of these days of heightened clown sightings, a word or two.

I have been traveling for weeks now, giving talks at conferences and festivals. While my presentations have centered on cryptozoological subjects, people have often wanted to discuss the epidemic of clown appearances. I am keenly aware this is a topic of interest to many folks.

My journeys have taken me from Point Pleasant, West Virginia, to Niagara Falls, New York, and then on to Minerva, Ohio, as well as from the Berkshires of Massachusetts to upcoming events in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I have watched with much interest the explosion in the “Phantom Clowns” incidents, and the confusion by the media with the “Stalking Clowns” accounts.

I need to be in one location (home in Portland, Maine) to analyze, track, and compile what has been happening. Please be patient with me. I will get to this important work.

I have kept in reserve some contributions that I will use from a few of you, including links being sent my way.

The input has been overwhelming. For example, reportedly, there are 30 sites in Ohio alone where “clowns” of one kind or another have been “sighted.”

Vocativ’s image of a “Phantom Clown” may be a bit too cheery, compared to the luring clowns reported.

There are also accounts of a deadly school shooting, a clown-related death, and perhaps harm done to someone in a clown costume. Is there a predictive link between the clowns and school violence? I hope to capture some newsworthy items here, in the near future, and ponder their linkages.

Rolling Stone’s horrific “Phantom Clown” image is much scarier than most descriptions of the “real” ones seen.

I have also noticed that the alternative and mainstream media – Atlas Obscura, Seeker,  VocativWashington Post, New York Times, Rolling Stone, ReasonThe Conversation, Quartz, and others – have jumped in with overview “Phantom Clowns” articles, often quoting me.

I am grateful that there has been all due acknowledgment of my 1981 coining of the phrase “Phantom Clowns,” and the realization that the 1981 cases came a half-decade before Stephen King’s IT, published in 1986.

It is intriguing to read that I “came up with something called “The Phantom Clown Theory,” which attributes the proliferation of clown sightings to mass hysteria (usually sparked by incidents witnessed only by children).” Source, The Conversation, September 28, 2016.

Credit: J. D. Crowe

Also, there does seem to be a growing awareness that the “coincidence” of these clown sightings in this 2016 election year may, indeed, be synchromystic.

Phantom Clowns: All News Is Local

(excerpt: Twilight Language)

The International Cryptozoology Museum has a current exhibit on the differences between Phantom Clowns (coined by me in 1981) & Stalking Clowns.

“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.

The article is an extensive overview of a long interview with me, as well as containing a quote from a key member of the Museum’s staff.

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.”

Please see entire article.
Creepy clown trend dates back to ’80s, but this time it’s different,” by Dean Balsamini and Melkorka Licea, New York Post, October 9, 2016.
Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman (Photo credit: Jenny 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.

Channel WCSH6/NBC TV’s Katie Bavoso reports live from the Phantom Clown exhibit at the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

Phantom Clowns: Classified

In March of 1982, in Fate magazine, and then in 1983, in my book Mysterious America, I first used the term “Phantom Clowns” to talk of May 1981’s Boston, Massachusetts accounts of individuals wearing multicolored clothes who reportedly were trying to entice school children into coming along with them. The eyewitness accounts of clowns in vans bothering children were discussed for the first time comprehensively in a work of Fortean wonders.

“The story of the phantom clowns went unnoticed on a national scale until I began getting a hint we were in the midst of a major flap of a new phenomenon. Slowly, after contacting fellow researchers by phone and mail, I discovered the phantom clown enigma went beyond Boston, Kansas City, and Omaha,” I wrote in Mysterious America.

Fate found my piece such a popular article they featured it in Fate Editors’ The World’s Strangest Stories, “Phantom Clowns,” (Chicago: Clark Publishing, 1983).

While the chapter on “Phantom Clowns” appeared in the 1983 edition of Mysterious America from Faber and Faber, it was seen as too scary to include in their 1989 edition (Boston & London).  The “Phantom Clowns” chapter was actually left out.

But my examination of “Phantom Clowns” was back in Mysterious America, as a chapter in the 2001 revised edition from Paraview, and the new edition of 2007, from Simon and Schuster. In 2007’s Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation’s Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures, Chapter 21’s “Phantom Clowns” was massively updated with all the new cases that occurred through the release date.
I’ve continued writing about Phantom Clowns since then, most frequently in this blog, Twilight Language, of course, and on some radio programs.
What I have noticed, during this flap of 2016, is that the definition of what is a “Phantom Clown” is being diluted by the media.
I have always strictly defined a “Phantom Clown” episode as one involving a clown-costumed individual attempting to entice or lure a child into a van, the woods, or other isolated situations. But then when the police or parents get involved, no clown can be found or captured. The apparent “vanishings” of these clowns are the “phantom” part of the Phantom Clowns scenarios.
Most of the Carolinas incidents, therefore, are classic Phantom Clowns incidents.
In Benjamin Radford’s new book, Bad Clowns (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016), he reinforces this definition.
In Radford’s Chapter 12, “Phantom Clowns,” he writes:

Most evil clowns are fictional and as such reside only in our entertainment and imaginations, leaving only a handful of real flesh-and-blood monsters that stalk our streets. We know, for example, that Stephen King’s Pennywise wasn’t real, though John Wayne Gacy’s Pogo was.
Yet there is another category of bad clowns, one that seems to exist somewhere in the twilight between the cold, clear reality of daylight and the slumbered stuff of nightmares. These bad clowns are reported to roam streets and parks in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere looking for innocent children to lure and abduct – yet seem to vanish just before police can apprehend them. Some say they are real, while others claim they are figments of imagination. They are known as phantom clowns.
Researcher Loren Coleman coined the term and described them in the pages of Fate magazine and in his book Mysterious America. ~ Benjamin Redford, Bad Clowns, page 151.

Radford is to be congratulated for clearly understanding there are different types of clown appearances. I propose a classification system so the media writing about this 2016 clown flap can begin to realize there are definitely two entirely separate variants in the clowns being reported. One kind, luckily, has not surfaced this year.
Phantom Clowns: These are the uncaught clowns who are “luring” children into the woods, vans, and cars in the reports. These are routinely unseen by parents and police. No photographs of them are presented for examination.
Killer Clowns: These are the real pedophiles who end up killing children, and murderers who kill people who use clown outfits as disguises. As Radford mentions above, John Wayne Gacy (active from 1972-1978) is the clown who performed throughout Chicago, and is his prime example. Also within Radford’s book (pages 111-126), there are other recent instances, including the West Palm Beach Killer Clown of 1990; Aurora’s Joker, James Holmes of 2012; and Las Vegas Jokers Wild, Jerad and Amanda Miller of 2014.
Stalking Clowns: A new phenomenon in recent years has been clowns “appearing in public,” without any apparent intent other than to be seen, to startle, to shock, or to surprise folks. As Radford begins his discussion about this group of clowns (pages 99-108), “there is no law against anyone dressed in a costume, jesters or otherwise, walking down the street or visiting a public public. Several of the most famous stalking clowns have appeared in Northampton, England; New York; California; and France,” (Benjamin Redford, Bad Clowns, page 99).
What I have observed is that the media, during the late summer of 2016, are confusing the “clown types.” They are mixing up their classifications of clowns. Some Stalking Clowns are being mislabeled as Phantom Clowns, or being mentioned in the same discussions of the strictly Phantom variety, to end a story.
Often, these stalking clowns carry balloons. It is almost part of their motif.
On August 2, 2016, a balloon-carrying clown stirred up people in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It wasphotographed but apparently left to go his merry way. It was a Stalking Clown.
During the current clown flap, there has been a Stalking Clown seen in Yuma, Arizona, on Monday, September 6, 2016. This is not a Phantom Clown, either. The clown-costumed individual was seen riding a bike and photographed.
There is even a nicely placed location sign in the photograph so the clown can be located correctly in time and space. The story is being run in the context of the Carolinas clown wave, of course.Source.
It is time for “Clown Classifications” to inform future analyses of this phenomenon.
(I appreciate Ben Radford’s book for reminding me to mention this in conjunction with this year’s flap.)