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  • If youre watching local news right now, it’s hard to avoid stories like this one:

  • "A clown started chasing us up here."

  • "On Facebook they said there was killer clowns around here that were killing people."

  • We saw a man with all black on, clown mask on, and like a red wig.

  • This wave of clown panic started in late August, when police in South Carolina received reports

  • about a suspicious character dressed as a clown who was trying to get children to follow

  • them into the woods.

  • Residents reportedly took matters into their own hands and began firing shots into the woods.

  • We do know that it’s striking fear among members of our public.

  • And so we have patrols out in each of these areas and wherever we think we might anticipate that person.

  • We've added patrols to see if we can intercept the person and the activity."

  • Since then, police around the country have been inundated with complaints about clown

  • sightings, and prank calls falsely reporting sightings.

  • Residents in some communities are asking if theyre allowed to shoot clowns on site.

  • Youre under arrest for disorderly conduct."

  • "I was not scaring nobody, I promise you."

  • "Alright, how did we get a 911 call?"

  • "I just came out the door, I swear."

  • As you can hear the police officer saying, the arrests are usually made for disorderly

  • conduct, though some states also have anti-mask laws that prevent people from concealing their

  • identities in public.

  • The consequences of these copy-cat pranks are playing out in a very real way.

  • Schools in several states have been put on lockdown after threats from people posing

  • as clowns on social media and word-of-mouth reports of clown sightings.

  • On top of that, one student in Georgia was arrested for bringing a knife to school to

  • defend herself against clowns, and another in Virginia was arrested for posting a request

  • on social media for a clown to kill her teacher.

  • At Penn State, hundreds of students flooded the streets in search of clowns that had allegedly

  • been seen around campusthough police reported that there were no credible sightings

  • or threats.

  • Turns out the clown backlash may be more dangerous than the pranksters themselves.

  • At the end of September, a 16-year-old who was allegedly scaring neighborhood kids while

  • wearing a clown mask was stabbed to death after a confrontation.

  • Now, this isn’t the first time things like this have happened.

  • As recently as 2014 there was a similar clown craze in the U.S. that became a small social

  • media trend and spread to France.

  • But the roots of people dressing up as clowns as a prank are a lot older than social media.

  • In 1981 in neighborhoods around Boston, police received over 20 calls about children having

  • seen mysterious clowns.

  • Local schools panicked.

  • Police questioned a clown they believed to be the one children had seen, only to find

  • that he had just been making rounds to department stores as part of his job.

  • A few days later, police in Kansas City were flooded with an estimated 60 to 100 calls

  • about a “demon clownscaring children, armed with a knife.

  • Parents were on edge after a local parochial school sent home a note warning them about

  • a “killer clown” — but police weren’t able to find any real threat, and blamed the

  • hype on prank calls and children’s imaginations.

  • Now, all of this happened just a year after John Wayne Gacy was charged with the murders

  • of 33 people, mostly adolescents, committed over the course of the previous decade.

  • Gacy worked as a clown for charityso there was a lot of preexisting fear around

  • this image of a dangerous clown.

  • And for the next 25 years, appearances kept happening.

  • East Chicago in 1991

  • Washington DC in 1994, South Brunswick in 1997.

  • When you think about what first made people afraid of clowns, it’s tempting to pin it

  • to Gacy or movies likeIt,” “Poltergeist,” andKiller Klowns from Outer Space”.

  • But to understand how clowns gained the dark associations that they have today, you have

  • to go back to the British Regency era, back when a clown named Joseph Grimaldi was the

  • most popular entertainer in England.

  • If you look at the costumes that he wore, you can see how he invented a lot of the classic

  • clownlook as we know it today: the colorful hair, the extravagant clothes, the

  • white face makeup.

  • But Grimaldi rose to stardom at a time when what it meant to be famous in pop culture

  • was changing.

  • "An interest in celebrity culture began to emerge, you know, people were interested in

  • the personal lives of people that they saw in public. So being a public person was no longer

  • enough, people wanted to know about

  • the private individual and the secret and potentially scandalous aspects of their private

  • life."

  • And that private life had a dark side: Grimaldi suffered from depression and alcoholism.

  • When he was first starting out as a writer, Charles Dickens edited Grimaldi’s memoirs,

  • and later immortalized a version of that disturbed clown character in his first novel, the Pickwick

  • Papers.

  • The image stuck, even though entertainment went through some major changes.

  • Slapstick clown humor had always worked well in situations where you couldn’t always

  • fully see or hear what a performer was doing, like in large auditoriums or in movies without

  • sound.

  • As mainstream culture changed, clowns became darker characters.

  • Think of a wildly popular clown who's very highly visible in popular culturethere

  • isn't one, or rather there are two: There’s the Joker, who’s a sinister psychopath,

  • and there’s Krusty the Clown, who’s morally, financially, and physically bankrupt…"

  • "Oh I don't know what you're saying, it all sounds so crazy to me."

  • "So the days of Howdy Doody and others figures are unfortunately gone.”

  • “I do have some sympathy for the clowning community I mean their numbers have dwindled

  • and then they really have been reduced to a children's party performers and ... that's

  • quite a considerable demotion from the place that they've occupied in our culture really

  • for two thousand years if not longer, into ancient classical history.”

  • "We wanna encourage people who may be inclined to dress in clown outfits not to do it.

  • And to avoid doing it at all."

  • A lot of police statements have made sure to clarify that these aren’t “real clowns,”

  • theyre people dressed as clowns.

  • And while that might sound like a silly distinction, it’s actually really important for the professional

  • clowning community.

  • It does frustrate us because we work very hard at our art form, and we take it very

  • seriously.

  • It brings clowning a bad light as a profession.”

  • Traditional professional clowning is in a rough spot.

  • Membership in the World Clown Association, which is the nation’s biggest trade group

  • for clowns, reportedly dropped from about 3,500 in 2004 to 2,500 in 2014.

  • And since the latest wave of sightings, many professional clowns are afraid to make public

  • appearances.

  • Some have even canceled events out of fear for their own safety.

  • “I’m more afraid for the clown than I am for the citizens, because everybody down here

  • got guns.

  • I don’t want to be the one to ride up on you and have an encounter with you, because

  • I don't think it's gonna end well.”

  • If you want a better idea of the scale of the clown prank epidemic

  • that's going on right now, you should go over to Atlas Obscura.

  • This guy named Erik Shilling has put together this interactive map

  • that looks at all of the sightings, all of the reports, and all of the false reports that have come out in recent weeks.

  • I haven't tried to count everything on this map, but there is a lot.

If youre watching local news right now, it’s hard to avoid stories like this one:

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America’s creepy clown craze, explained

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    Kristi Yang posted on 2016/10/17
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