It has been brought to the attention of the police department and the district office that adults dressed as clowns have been bothering children to and from school. Please advise all students that they must stay away from strangers, especially ones dressed as clowns.
This sounds like a bad joke, but the memo was based on multiple reports of clowns harassing small children in the Boston area. A clown had tried to lure children into his black van near Franklin Park and the Mary Curley school in Jamaica Plain, and two clowns in a black van had offered Brookline children candy if they would join them for a quick ride. The children who witnessed this incident gave police a very clear description of the van, including that it had a broken headlight and no hubcaps. No van matching the description was found, however.
|A still from Killer Klowns from Outer Space.|
By early May, the sinister clowns had been seen in many Boston neighborhoods and in several neighboring towns. At least one report claimed a clown had been naked from waist down. As we say here in New England, that's wicked creepy.
Curiously the clowns were never seen by adults, only by small children. Unable to locate even one evil clown, the police finally told the public it was just children's fantasy and closed the case.
The clown craze ended in Boston, but did spread in the spring of 1981 to other cities including Providence, both Kansas Cities, Pittsburgh, Omaha, and Denver. In addition to clowns children in these cities also reported sinister men dressed like gorillas, Spiderman, and a bunny. No evil children's party entertainers of any kind were ever found.
What to make of the phantom clowns? Maybe it was just all hysteria and fantasy. When I was in grade school in the 1970s we children were repeatedly warned about getting into cars or vans with strangers. I even remember a special film was shown to students about the dangers of being abducted by roaming perverts. Parents had to sign permission slips for the movie because it was so gruesome. My parents didn't let me see it, but I remember many classmates who did were reduced to tears because it was so horrifying. If you terrify your children enough they'll naturally start seeing things.
The evil clown scare was also a precursor to the daycare sex-abuse hysteria that swept the nation a few years later. In Massachusetts, the staff at Malden's Fells Acre Daycare Center were accused of sexually abusing the children in their care. The children testified in court that an evil clown and a robot were involved in the abuse. Despite these fantastical elements, the three family members who ran Fells Acre were convicted and sent to prison, but eventually were released with reduced sentences. The testimony from the children was just considered too unreliable.
As the public later learned during the Catholic clergy sex scandal, sexual abuse of minors really had been happening in Massachusetts for decades. No clowns, robots or rabbits were involved, just trusted members of the community. The community had been so busy projecting its fears outward that it neglected to look hard at itself.