I hate clowns. I don't know of anyone who likes clowns. I think if there were a measure down-ballot of this year's presidential election to banish any and all clowns, it would pass unanimously across our great United States of America.
Which is why the rash of clown sightings across the South has me so terrified. There is no reason for reasonable people to don masks or make-up and then...well, we'll get into it.
The first sightings I read about occurred in Greenville, South Carolina back in late August, and the rumor going around had to do with them being some kind of weird, demented ad campaign for the remake of Stephen King's It.
Here is a bone-chilling paragraph from a New York Times article about the sightings:
At the edge of dark, dark woods in South Carolina, children have been telling adults that a group of clowns have been trying to lure them into the cluster of trees. They say the clowns live deep in the woods, near a house by a pond.
I can't think of anything more horrifying than clowns luring children anywhere. Even if it were one of those 80s-style satanic, put-your-parents-in-jail-for-molestation situations, the idea that kids could come up with the clown scenario somehow makes it even more frightening.
Here is more commentary on the issue:
Several children said that clowns were offering them money to follow them into the woods, close to the house by the pond. (The police say they have found no evidence of clown paraphernalia at the house.)
A woman walking home late one night said she had seen a “large-figured” clown waving at her from under a streetlight, the police said.
Mother Mary help us.
Police patrols in Greenville followed leads on the case, going so far as to investigate the house where clowns were purportedly trying to lead children, but they found no "clown paraphernalia" to speak of at the abandoned residence. An NPR article adds that "not even a prankster in a clown suit" has been questioned or even seen by the police.
It's almost impossible to know how much of this whole situation is truth and how much is fiction. Very few of the sightings have any concrete physical evidence to support them. According to Laura Wagner in The Atlantic regarding the South Carolina sightings, "No police officer investigating the claims has seen a single clown, Ryan Flood, a spokesman for the Greenvile County Sheriff's Office, told The Atlantic."
Even with the South Carolina sightings, details seem to be too oddly specific for there to be nothing happening at all...unless the citizens of Greenville are gaslighting their neighbors and the local constables. An article in The Atlantic goes into depth about this very point:
"...A resident said her son told her on August 19 that he had seen clowns in the woods. Those clowns, the boy told his mother, were “whispering and making strange noises.” The woman went to the area and, the officer wrote, she “observed several clowns in the woods flashing green laser lights.” The clowns then ran away, she told the officer.
The woman, identified by local television station WYFF as Donna Arnold, told the station that she initially thought her son was lying.
“And then the next day, there was like 30 kids that came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Donna, Ms. Donna, there's clowns in the woods,’” she told WYFF. “My child was with me, so I knew they had to see something. There was more than one kid that seen them, so I feel confident that he was telling the truth.”
I hate to bring up the molestation scandal of the 1980s, in which children roundly accused their parents of heinous sexual assault, rape, and satanic rituals, only to recant their testimony as some bizarre elementary school witch hunt sometime later.
And if some of it is true, then we have to deal with the idea that some people think the clown dress-up is either hilarious or menacing, and I don't like the prospect of either.
If it is a hoax, it's a good one, fueled by good ole domestic paranoia. But it appears that at least some of it is true. Since the spread of this very bizarre story, other sightings, indeed, have been confirmed elsewhere.
From the NPR article: "On Friday, police arrested a man 'dressed as a clown lurking in a wooded area' in the small town of Middlesboro [Kentucky]...Jonathan Martin, 20, 'was charged with wearing a mask in a public place and disorderly conduct after police found him 'crouching among trees by an apartment complex.'"
The whole situation in Kentucky culminated with the hilariously-written Facebook post from the police department in nearby Barbourville regarding private individuals' manipulating society's widespread coulrophobia.
"Dressing as a clown and driving, walking, or standing in public can create a dangerous situation for you and others. Please refrain from this unnecessary activity."
To wit, people in "Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and now, Pennsylvania have reported scary or suspicious encounters with people dressed like clowns."
The list obviously now includes Kentucky and Illinois -- which had a string of incidents last year, I believe -- and, now, Tennessee, my adoptive homeland. You can find the bizarre "Chattanooga Klown" Facebook page, which could be a hoax or somebody's idea of a (well-timed) joke, and several other articles about people seeing homemade Pennywises.
But it's not all just jokes and weird internet meme-y stuff that's behind all of this. A 64-year-old man named George Hoppe was arrested in Coffee County, TN, stating that he "was the clown who has been threatening children." He purportedly also called the police station and threatened a dispatcher: "Hoppe, who lives in Manchester, reportedly called back [after the initial call] and said he would cut her children's ears off and commit 'lewd' acts."
Here is another startling report, this time in Jackson, TN:
Tuesday, Sept. 27, Dyersburg Intermediate School went on lockdown Tuesday afternoon when teachers spotted a clown near the playground, according to Dyersburg police.
School officials posted on Facebook that an unknown adult was seen in the outside treeline by the school around 12:30. Students were brought back into the school and there was no contact between the individual and anyone at the school, according to the post.Anyway, this whole situation speaks to a horrifying predisposition human beings have toward creating mayhem and mischief that in which the point or the joke can't bee seen at first glance.
From the New York Times article:
The pranksters, viral marketers and criminals may be taking advantage of a cultural fear of clowns, with examples including Mr. King’s “It,” and John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer who dressed as a clown. But Steven Schlozman, a child psychiatrist who teaches a course on the psychology of horror films at Harvard University, suggests that something more primal could be at work.
We are monsters. That's kind of the long and the short of it. Hopefully, the trend of dressing up as Bozo will dissipate before someone gets killed, but we aren't always granted that sort of comfort, now are we?