October 10, 2016

Creepy Clowns Invade New England (Again) In October 2016

Phantom clowns. Evil clowns. Creepy clowns. Whatever you call them, they're back with a vengeance in New England this October.

The nation's first phantom clown scare took place here in the Boston area way back in the spring of 1981. Several small children in Boston and Brookline reported in April of that year that they had been approached by clowns in a van. The clowns allegedly offered the kids candy if they would get in their van, but the kids wisely refused. By May children from across Boston and neighboring cities were reporting the sinister clowns, but the police were never able to find any evidence to support the children's claims. The hysteria died down by the summer, but small children in other cities across the country did report creepy clowns later that year. The 1981 clown craze had started in Boston and spread to the other cities.

There have been other creepy clown crazes since then, but the current one is the largest that I can recall. This year's clown craze started in the summer when children in South Carolina reported clowns in the the woods behind their apartment building. It has since spread to at least 26 states.

There are some big differences between the 1981 clown scare and this one. In 1981 the clowns were reported almost exclusively by small children. Although young children started the current scare, here in New England the people reporting the clowns have tended to be older. Middle school, high school, and even college students are at the heart of this year's clown craze. I think that's because social media has played a huge part in the current hysteria. Rumors of clowns have spread on Twitter and Facebook, and tweens, teens, and young adults are heavy social media users.

The phenomena can be broken down into three components: internet rumors spread through text messaging and social media, pranksters who act out the rumors by donning clown masks, and unsubstantiated sightings. No one has actually been hurt by evil clowns. Let's face it, there probably aren't any evil clowns out there.

Here's a list of creepy clown sightings that have happened recently in New England. All of these have occurred between October 3 and October 10. It's amazing how quickly this has spread! Let's hope it ends soon before some hoaxer dressed in a clown outfit gets hurt by an angry mob. 

CONNECTICUT: On the night of Monday, October 3, the police department in Storrs was flooded with calls from concerned University of Connecticut students claiming that scary clowns had been seen on campus. The police received nearly 30 calls, but very few of the callers had actually seen the clowns themselves. They had merely heard reports they were on campus. However, a few callers did say they had seen clowns near dormitories and near the Storrs cemetery. The police investigated and did not find any clowns.

The rumors continued to spread across campus through social media, and as the night went on students left their dorms armed with hockey sticks and golf clubs to find the clowns. Police estimate that hundreds of students made their way to the Storrs cemetery to confront the rumored clowns. By 1:00 a.m. the students finally returned to campus. Similar scares happened the same night at Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart Universities, but apparently without bloodthirsty mobs forming.

From the Connecticut State Police.

In unrelated incidents six teenagers were arrested in Ansonia, Naugatuck and Prospect for making threats while posing online as clowns, but none of the threats were deemed credible. In Meriden, police investigated five reports of people dressed as clowns, including one  who swung a baseball bat at a car. 

MAINE: The first creepy clown in Maine was reported in Orono (home to a large state university), and another shortly thereafter was seen in Bath on Front Street. Those two sightings seem kind of innocuous, but things took a darker turn when students at a middle school in Naples learned on Facebook that their school was going to be attacked by evil clowns. The police later arrested the 12-year old male student who made the threat and charged him with terrorizing the school. The police also explained he had no intention of actually carrying out an attack.

Things got even hairier in Auburn, Maine. A woman was sitting on the porch of her Gamage Avenue house when an SUV stopped in front of it. The passenger window rolled down to reveal a man wearing creepy clown makeup. The woman laughed and said "I'm not afraid of clowns."

Then the clown formed a gun shape with his fingers, the woman said, and mouthed the word 'bang.'
"I picked up my 9 mm — I didn't point it at him directly," the woman said, "and said, 'Back at ya, clown.'"
The driver of the SUV decided Gamage Avenue was no longer the place for hijinks.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, reported the weird incident to police. She handled the clown encounter with finesse, she said, but once the SUV was gone, she started to feel unsettled.
There were people walking in the area when the encounter occurred, she said. There were children outside playing and she shuddered at the thought of how things might have played out if the situation had turned ugly.
"It seems like something bad is going to happen," she said.

Clowns have also been reported in Wells, Kennebunk, Gorham, and Standish. Most of these reports have been made on Twitter.

MASSACHUSETTS: On Monday, October 3, police were called to Merrimack College in North Andover to investigate reports of a clown carrying a pitchfork. One dorm was evacuated (a clown had been seen on the third floor) and all students were ordered to shelter in place, but police did not find any clowns. A clown was also reportedly seen lurking in the woods near campus.

Several other Massachusetts colleges also experienced clown scares around the same time. Police at Boston's Emmanuel College were flooded with calls about a clown on campus, as were police at UMass Amherst. Again, no clowns were found. Clown scares were also reported at high schools in various towns including Dedham, Walpole and Hanover.

Photo from the Auburn Police department.
Several people have been arrested in Massachusetts for making clown threats. A student in Methuen was arrested after he wore a clown mask to Methuen High School and brandished his cell phone like a gun, while a 17-year old in Rehoboth was arrested for making threats online against Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School. In Auburn, a man was arrested for disturbing the peace when he donned a clown mask and drove behind a school bus full of elementary school students. It turns out he was the father of one of the students and was playing a poorly-timed joke.

A resident of Northhampton was sent an anonymous text message that showed a clown smashing a pie onto a car. When they returned home they found pie all over the front of their vehicle. Clowns were also seen lurking near a McDonald's restaurant. In Agawam, a video of a clown standing outside an shopping plaza caused a social media frenzy until it was revealed to be a promotion for a local haunted Halloween attraction. 

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Someone wearing a clown outfit used a megaphone to scream at passing students on the UNH campus in Durham. Some students took the situation very seriously because they saw police and emergency vehicles heading onto campus, but it turns out the vehicles were actually responding to an unrelated fire alarm at a dorm. A UNH football player later posted a photo on Twitter of himself with the person he said had been doing the clowning.

Clowns were also reported near the Keene State campus (no one was found), and in the town of Berlin (again, no one was found). In Fremont, a woman claimed she saw a clown holding balloons near the side of a road, while a video reportedly showed a creepy clown in the woods behind Fremont's Ellis school. Meanwhile, administrators at Bedford's Lurgio Middle School heard rumors of evil clowns from students and decided to investigate. They found the students were simply repeating stories they had read on Twitter.

In the town of Dover, police responded to a report that someone was being chased down the street by a clown. They didn't find anything. A Dover middle school student also reported seeing a clown in the woods behind the school. Again, nothing was found.

RHODE ISLAND: New England's smallest state has had a small number of clown sightings - for now. Police in Pawtucket investigated alleged clown threats against two schools but found nothing to substantiate them. There have been rumors that clowns have been hanging around outside schools, and a story was circulating that a clown had chased someone out of Slater Park with a machete. When police investigated the machete rumor they found it had originated in a message on Pokemon Go! Ugh.
"This thing's a national phenomenon," Public Safety Commissioner Antonio Pires said of the clown reports that have surfaced in at least 26 states, including all 6 in New England. It has been particularly troubling for schoolchildren, he said. "They have a high level of anxiety over it. When you begin to see it running like wildfire, the concern is the kids' psyche."
VERMONT: Two students at Bellow Free Academy (BFA) in St. Albans received text messages from someone named "Clide Daklowns" indicating he was planning to scare students at BFA and nearby Missisquoi Valley Union Middle/High School. The police were brought in and quickly learned the messages had been sent by a student at another high school. The student claimed he was just passing along messages he received from someone else. No charges were filed.


Wade Tarzia said...

You would think that, with all those modern phones out there, we would have more photos. Perhaps that is the true test of folklore reality vs statistical nowadays :-)

Peter Muise said...

I know, right? At least we have the two photos I found online. I think there have been a few others, but let's face it: it's easier to fake an evil clown photo than a Bigfoot photo!

Campanella said...

Do you think there's some sort of atmosphere that allows stories like this to spread? For instance, why 1981 and 2016 and not some year in between? I know this could boil down to the lack of a kickstarting story in those years, but do you think there's something about the climate of this year that really has allowed these clown stories to take hold?

Peter Muise said...

Hi Campanella! I wish I had a good answer. Some pundits are saying anxiety over the election is helping to fuel this year's clown scare, but I think it's hard to actually show causation between the election and the scare. And there wouldn't have been an election in spring of 1981. I think there have been random clown sightings in recent years (I remember one in the UK a while ago) so maybe it just took a while for us to reach red alert clown scare level. You're probably onto something about a triggering story being necessary.