Phantom Clowns

Clown E. Maginault 1910
Clown E. Maginault 1910 | Source

Clowns are part of the strange circus of anomalies that appears to surrounds us and occasionally makes itself known. Sometimes the apparition ( for that is what these seem to be) is malevolent, sometimes benevolent and sometimes the event seems pointless. And as usual no single theory that makes sense fits all the data. Nevertheless the phantom clowns keep coming back even after the circus left town. Between 1981 and 2011 there have been instances of Phantom Clowns, men in clown suits who cause panic and draw the attention of police and others then, like the Men in Black and Bigfoot, just vanish. The equivalent in the UK seems to have been the Bogus Social Workers who turned up on doorsteps after the 1987 Satanic Ritual Abuse tragic farce and demanded to examine children. There have also been instances of isolated clowns minding their own business and vanishing when approached.

The clowns of 1981

This is an abbreviated account and more can be found in the sources at the end of this note

In March 1981 teenagers in Mineral Point Wisconsin saw something described as a Vampire or Phantom. It was very tall, had a pale complexion, and a cape or overcoat. Police officer John Pepper reported seeing a “a huge person with a white-painted face”. Note that the apparition at Lourdes identified as the Blessed Virgin Mary was also tall and dressed in white: there is a tradition of tall fairies in white being seen at Lourdes. Also note that some articles in Nexus magazine ( which should be taken with a pinch of salt ) say the US authorities are collaborating with some rather unpleasant tall white aliens. Even if these tales are fantasies they may reveal underlying psychological motifs. Taken together this suggests an apparition interpreted or realised in terms of an archetype.

On May 5th 1981 in the City of Brookline, Massachusetts two men dressed as clowns tried to lure children into an older model black van with ladders on the side, broken tail-light and no hub-caps. They were seem most often near schools.

By May the 8th reports of clowns harassing children had come in from various places near Boston. Because the children reporting the clowns were mostly aged between 5 and 7 the stories were discounted officially. If the authorities did not know of the other sightings this is not unreasonable bearing in mind the panic at one school where a rumour arose that the school was about to be attacked by smurfs ( either the little blue creatures or a gang of that name) and the head teacher quelled it by saying Garfield the cat was coming to deal with the problem.

Fifty miles away in Providence, RI,psychiatric social workers counselling the city’s youth were getting reports of clown men disturbing children.

On May 15, 1981 in Kansas, around 8:30 a.m., a mother saw a yellow van approach her kids as they walked to a school bus stop. The children told their mother that “a man dressed as a clown and carrying a knife had ordered them inside. Later that day Kansas school children said a Samurai clown chased them from school and demanded they get in his van. By noon the police had received dozens of similar reports-of a clown in a yellow van. The calls persisted until 5 p.m. On May 22 Police on the Missouri side of the Missouri/Kansas border chased a knife-wielding clown in a yellow van, seen at six different elementary schools throughout the city around Kansas City.

These incidents were labeled as “group hysteria” even though firsthand reports were being filed as far away as Omaha, NE, and Denver, CO, and many were witnessed by adults or adolescents, not just children.

In June in Pittsburgh, PA, two men in clown suit, again in a van, were harassing school children. Even odder were reports of abductors dressed as Spider-Man, the Easter Bunny and gorillas.

The group hysteria allegedly causing the flap ( in widely separated locations!!) was attributed by some to the Stephen King book It featuring Pennywise the Clown. even though the first editions of King’s book were not published, until 1986. A few readers reported odd psychological experiences reading the book, but it would be unreasonable, without further evidence, to assume their fear travelled back in time and created these apparitions.

At this stage it looks like the clowns were a group panic like the African panics about magicians who could steal a man's penis by shaking hands with him ( I recall reading that victims were examined and found intact but could not perceive their penis) or the earlier pigtail chopping panics in China – where apparently some men did lose their pigtails. And the resemblance to the moral panic among social workers in the 1987 Satanic Ritual Abuse Farce should not be over looked.

Later clown flaps

The clowns came back in 1990 and 1991 but not so many.

And in 2008 they came back in Chicago, Illinois, a city with a long clown tradition: In October 2008 at WickerPark [3] a man wearing clown make-up and a wig tried to lure children into his vehicle. A week later, a similar man was seen on the West Side: he wore a “clown mask or white face paint with tear drops on the cheek” and was said to drive a “white or brown van with windows broken out.” One source claims a tendency for these clowns to drive distinctive and damaged vans: not sensible if you are an abductor wanting to avoid notice but good if you want to attract attention and distract attention from something else. One detective issued a statement saying that the clown sightings were not centralized or concentrated in one area but “multiple sightings of clowns across the city.

It is possible there was a lot of spare psychic energy floating around in 2008 and that led to these sightings. The Batman film The Dark Knight was being filmed and the actor cast as the Joker had died a few months earlier from an accidental combination of toxic prescription drugs (just like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston who according to Wikipedia also had cocaine in her body).

Other clown sightings occurred in Washington D.C. and California during the spring of 1994, and in Kansas City, Kansas and in Fitchburg, Wisconsin in 2000. Outside the US there were sightings in Oude Pekela, in the Netherlands and in Antwerp during the summer of 1987, and a major series of Phantom Clown sightings in Honduras in 1995 [5].

There were also sightings in Florida in 1984 and 1985 [5]. These seem to have been associated with shopping malls that were almost unused and did not hire any entertainers. In one case the clown disappeared behind a wall and could not be found when a search was made. In another a clown was spotted doing cartwheels outside a long closed department store while in another mall a clown was seen inside a disused department store during a thunderstorm. Clowns were also seen in in 2001 near the deserted Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey circus grounds just west of DeLand, Florida.

In September 2011 Loren Coleman noted another Phantom Clown flap starting in Illinois. I have no further data on this.

These flaps seem to have covered wide regions of the USA over a range of times. They could have resulted from the actions of a small number of deranged people - deranged because of the blatant way they acted. But strangely none were arrested. They just seemed to vanish. And no children were harmed or attacked.

Speculation

At the end of 2007 the British Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, stopped a police investigation into corruption involving the sale of Aircraft to Saudi Arabia. I have long learned that such events, taking over the front page of newspapers have been used by governments to release things they want “buried” but found nothing on that occasion.

As these clown flaps looked like similar misdirection I looked for UFO sightings around 1981 in these areas. There were indeed some sightings in Wisconsin but not close enough, as far as I can tell, to correlate with the clown flaps (January, February, March, September and none during the flap) [4]. I hesitate however to think the earlier sightings were of UFOs delivering clowns and the ones in September were of UFOs picking them up.

Even if this crazy scenario were the case ( and I am sure someone will quote me as saying it was) it would leave the question WHY???

So let me make one more totally crazy speculation: When I was a teenager in the Scouts there was something called a Wide Game where we were sent out into town or country with a set of goals to achieve. The team that achieved them first won. Perhaps these flaps are fashionable games with Earth as the playground and unknown goals. Or maybe it was their equivalent of Reality TV.

The Wrap

Phantom Clowns appeared in the USA over a period of at least 30 years. They also appeared in other parts of the world, causing panic but harming no one. Despite searches by police and others no one was caught. In this they are like other mysterious strangers and assailants. The clowns seen in shopping malls seem like a different variety of the same phenomenon. As usual insufficient data and more research is needed. If these clowns are in any sense real they need investigating and if they are a sign of collective insanity then that definitely needs investigation.

Sources and notes

[1] Spiritseekers Blog

[2] Above Top Secret

[3] This name has a symbolic link to New York City's Son of Sam killings of 1976-1977. In letters to the media, the serial killer signed himself as "The Wicked King Wicker" and allegedly shoot a Wicker Street German shepherd. Also there is the famous “Wicker Man” film. Wicker is a name with occult connotations, sounding like Wicca, and mentioned in Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminati trilogy in the law firm Earwicker Bloom and Kraft.

[4] Wisconsin UFO research

[5] PSIresearcher's blog

[6] Earlier Hub on clowns

[7] The 1987 Satanic Ritual Abuse Tragic Farce

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Comments 17 comments

d.william profile image

d.william 3 years ago from Somewhere in the south

Perhaps you are right, but i have never been exposed to anything that would cause me to fear, or distrust clowns. To me they are just amusing creatures that only serve to make one laugh.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland Author

I like your comments about base intelligence, but I think clown phobia has some interesting psychological roots


d.william profile image

d.william 3 years ago from Somewhere in the south

Interesting hub. I do not ever recall hearing anything about clown "appearances" other than as the amusement at children's parties.

I have always like clown statuettes. Oddly enough, however, when i had a booth at a flea market i had several clown pieces for sale, that several people made comments about them as signifying something evil.

That was the only time i ever heard of clowns signifying negativity - i just chalked it up to being in an area where the base intelligence was below average (as in most U.S. southern states).


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland Author

Thanks for that idea wiccansage. It sparked off a couple of ideas.


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 3 years ago

Hi Alex; If you do investigate, I would be interested. I'm was wondering if like in "It" the way energy can take form, and a group mind can influence that form, if Gace might have been the start of a domino effect, or if he himself might have been initially influenced by it early on (only being the twisted guy he was, he embraced it and embodied it).


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland Author

Hi wiccansage.

I think this has little or nothing to do with Gacy though since taking DMT tends to result in hallucinations of clowns clowns may be an archetype and that influenced him.

Alternatively the clown outfit may just have appealed to hime and let him get closer to victims.

I must remember to investigate this.


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 3 years ago

Interesting. Do you think any of this had any influence from or connection with the serial "killer clown" John Wayne Gace arrested the end of December 1978? Through 79-80 he was very prevalent in the news as police searched for bodies, and his trial began in 1980. Also reminds me a bit of Stephen King's It, in which an evil presence takes the form of a clown.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

This is scary stuff Alex! I would add James Holmes to this group and I am sure you would get tons of hits. Now I know why I don't like clowns!


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland Author

@maryhoneybee: I am more scared of the clowns we elect and continue to elect to govern us.

I think, as an initial hypothesis, that many of these clowns are part of the same phenomenon as Bigfoot and UFOs.


maryhoneybee profile image

maryhoneybee 4 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

Wow. As if clowns weren't creepy and spooky enough! Phantom clowns are about the last thing I'd ever want to witness. I'd never heard of these sightings before--so strange. I would say it was just a bunch of weirdos, but the fact there were so many incidents around the same time and there were no arrests makes me wonder...

Thanks for the hub! I'm scared of clowns even more now, haha.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland Author

Thanks for the comment Seeker7. Yes, Hysteria is sometimes too convenient an explanation.

On the other hand when expectations are roused perceptions can go astray, like seeing a signpost in the distance as a ghost or hikers in cagoules as aliens. And people can infect each other's perceptions.

So as far as phantom clowns are concerned I have an opern mind and am free to speculate.

I did not know that the qualities of hallucinations are different from those of paranormal experience.

Another explanation often put forward is drunkenness. One correspondent to a magazine I read discounted this sort of explanation by saying that if he was drunk he could talk all night to a dismebodied skeleton and think nothing was odd.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

This was fascinating and for me very creepy. There's not a lot I'm scared of, but clowns definitely are! They creep me out big time! Stephen King's book 'It' was awesome and it's interesting how these incidents happened before and yet were attributed to it?

Hysteria???LOL! Do you know, I honestly do think that this word is banded about so much to explain unknown quantities in life and yet it explains absoultely nothing! If it doesn't have a natural cause, if it's kind of cooky or weird, if it makes intelligent people look dumb because they can't figure out what is going on, then let's just put it down to 'hysteria' and we can forget the whole thing. It's the same when 'hallucination' is banded about to explain phenomena such as ghosts, spirits etc. Even in medicine, doctors are hard pushed to explain exactly what an hallucination is. If you read accounts of hallucinations - or hear it from patients, which I have done many times as a nurse - the person experiencing them, often explains the episode in very different perception and presentation qualities than those experienced during paranormal phenomena. It always strikes me as well that many halluciantions are bizarre and non-sensical, whereas the observation of a spirit or ghost seems, in many cases, to be ordinary and normal until the realisation dawns that something is not quite right.

Anyway, sorry for rambling on - fascinating hubs always get me started!! I really loved this wonderful hub of yours, voted up + shared!


jennzie profile image

jennzie 4 years ago from Lower Bucks County, PA

Very interesting read. I wasn't too aware of phantom clown sightings before reading this.

When I was a kid I had this creepy-ass clown statue in my room. I always felt that it was staring at me and feared that I would see it move or even jump at me.

So glad that thing is gone now. Or at least I think it is..


mericks28 profile image

mericks28 4 years ago from Duluth, MN

clowns scare the living shit out of me. Perhaps this is not an irrational fear after all, and stems from some of this.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland Author

Thanks CR Rookwood: The fool is a fascinating card, perhaps the deepest one in the Tarot.

It is also interesting that while the Tarot seems to have arisen for playing games, a lot of symbolism, including Alchemical, can be seen in the trumps.


msorensson profile image

msorensson 4 years ago

Wow..cool..Let us see what DD has to say about it..Thanks


CR Rookwood profile image

CR Rookwood 4 years ago from Moonlight Maine

Wow, this is fascinating. I had never heard of it before, but it fits well with my favorite UFO theory, so that's kind of interesting too. Fascinating how the clown flap predated the Stephen King book, even though it was later attributed to it. Clowns have always had this dark side, I mean, they've always been kinda creepy. I'm thinking too of "The Fool" which is number 0 in the Tarot. He's smiling, clownish, but about to step off a cliff.

So cool. Thumbs up all across.

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