The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday March 25th

Stop Clowning Around : a history of killer clowns

It’s time to calm down about clowns. 

Maybe you never panicked in the first place, or maybe you thought twice about going out at night alone. Whatever the case, we thought with everything starting to wind down we’d take a look into the timeline of what’s been happening across the nation since August, the history of the scary clown phenomenon and what students think about this on campus.

It all started close to home in August, when Greenville, South Carolina authorities received reports of clowns lurking around an apartment complex trying to lure children into the woods, according to Buzzfeed News. Since then, sightings have exploded across the U.S., though many — especially ones from social media — haven’t been confirmed. 

Some notable sightings

A man in Kentucky was arrested for causing public alarm by dressing up as a clown — complete with mask — and hiding the woods. Another Alabama man was arrested for disorderly conduct after scaring residents by running around a parking lot dressed as a clown. In New York, a knife-wielding clown chased a teen out of a subway. And very recently, a man was arrested after he came into an Indian Trail, N.C. convenience store while wearing clown makeup.

Ohio schools were closed after a rash of clown sightings and online threats, with several students arrested for making clown-related threats on social media. Other schools have sent out warnings and notices. 

No one has been seriously hurt in any of these sightings, though a victim in a fatal stabbing in Pennsylvania was reportedly wearing a clown mask atop his head. 

For a full, comprehensive list of clown sightings and arrests, check out’s article, or Atlas Obscura’s interactive map.

History of clown panic scares

Similar clown sightings started in 1981 Boston when children reported seeing creepy clowns driving around, with similar hysteria and copycat sightings cropping up afterwards.

There’s even been a term coined for the phenomenon by cryptozoologist — someone who identifies and studies folklore figures — Loren Coleman: the phantom clown theory. According to Coleman, children are usually the origin for any of these reports, and concern for child safety leads to action being taken, which leads to the media taking notice, which then leads to copycat clowns. 

So, in short: While a fear of clowns is perfectly valid, it’s this same fear that has been fueling all the copycat clowns popping up (which have seemingly been the bulk of all of the clown-related incidents after the first). So if everyone just took a moment and stopped paying attention to clowns, all of this panic and hysteria would probably die down soon enough.

Student reactions

Emilie Scheuerle, a first-year journalism major, said she wasn’t too worried about seeing a clown.

“I’m not super scared," she said. "I think 99 percent of them are just people playing jokes, but I think it’s the uncertainty of whether they actually pose a threat is scary.”

Other students, like first-year Maddie Peloff, had similar thoughts.

“I feel like it’s hyped up. I looked it up because I didn’t understand what was happening and it all seems like a big joke to me,” Peloff said. “The articles were just like, ‘Someone saw a clown,’ and I was like, ‘OK? That’s it?’”

The thoughts of first-year economic major Phoebe Powers thoughts turned to different areas.

“The idea of it freaks me out. Everyone has a weird fear of clowns and this is playing off of it," she said. "It’s also bad for the clown industry, like parents and kids won’t want to get them now for birthday parties."

However, if any students are thinking about dressing a little funny this Halloween, they might want to reconsider. Besides being in poor taste, their potential costume might get them in trouble with the law. 

The precedent is already out there: Connecticut state police recently posted on Facebook that “Individuals dressing as clowns and engaging in threatening or alarming behavior will be immediately addressed by law enforcement.”

“I would like to see one myself to try to get answers," Powers said. "I think we’ll definitely see some on Halloween.”

On a final note, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Insane Clown Posse about this whole business:

“So there ARE no 'killer clowns' — it's just jackasses being jackasses. So everyone relax!”

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