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Phantom Clowns

Updated on April 24, 2012
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.


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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