As I was on Facebook earlier this week I couldn’t help but notice an odd trending topic — "Tennessee authorities issue clown warning."
"What the heck is this about?" I wondered.
Wednesday, both high schools in Antioch, TN, were placed on a "lockout status." Lockout is when the school doors are locked to prevent or limit entry to the school from outsiders. Of course many news reporting agencies on the web and social media got the story wrong and were calling it a lockdown.
Apparently, there had been what school and police officials determined a "valid clown threat."
Valid clown threat? What kind of world are we living in?
Someone had posted a picture of a clown dressed in dirty clothing carrying four black balloons and the post stated, "Y’all not ready for us in Antioch."
My first thought was this clown needs to work on his English. My second was this is obviously some kids clowning around trying to get out of school. The picture was one I had seen before multiple times on the Internet.
What is this clown idiocy? What is this clown madness sweeping the nation?
On the day of the clown warning the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) had tweeted a clown warning also, telling people to be on the lookout for people dressed as clowns trying to lure children into the woods because they could be predators.
"Call 911 or *847," the THP tweeted.
There have also been numerous reports of mean clown-looking people driving around in white vans attempting to abduct children over the past few weeks.
It reminded me of the "beware of white suspicious vans" scare we had last summer where there were multiple reports, daily, of suspicious white vans driving around abducting women and children.
Coulrophobia — the fear of clowns is a reality for some. In fact, I know someone who fears even the traditional, nice looking clowns.
I figure a lot of this may started back with Stephen King’s book and movie, "It," or with John Wayne Gacy, the Chicago serial killer in the late ’70s, early ’80s who was a part-time clown and murdered numerous teenage boys and buried them in his crawlspace.
However, the most recent panic wave crashing across the nation and rising like the evening tide started as a stunt in Green Bay, WI.
As best as I can tell, the creepy clown phenomenon started with a news story at the beginning of August up in Green Bay, WI.
The story is multiple people were calling in complaints and concerns to the police because they were seeing a man dressed up in a dirty, disheveled clown costume walking around in the middle of the night and carrying four black balloons.
At the time police said there was nothing they could do about it because there was no law against dressing up as a clown and walking around.
That was Aug. 1 and the next day a Facebook page emerged called Gags — The Green Bay Clown. The news reports of the creepy clown went viral on the internet.
It turns out the stunt was a campaign to help make a new clown horror movie "Gags — The Green Bay Clown" sell out at the Green Bay Film Festival.
The stunt worked.
Not only has the movie premier sold out, it has sparked a creepy clown frenzy across the nation.
The "valid clown threat" that put the Antioch schools on lockout used the picture of Gags — The Green Bay Clown.
Pranksters thinking it might be funny to dress up as a creepy clown probably ought to think twice, though. It now could even be considered terrorism.
Barbourville, KY, Police Department advised people against dressing like a clown:
"Dressing as a clown and driving, walking or standing in public can create a dangerous situation for you and others," it said in a Facebook post. "Please refrain from this unnecessary activity."
Some speculate the clowns in general could be a viral campaign for ’31,’ a new horror movie directed by Rob Zombie featuring homicidal carnival workers.
In a story on WUFT.org, Gainesville, FL, Police spokesman Ben Tobias said GPD received a call around 11 p.m. Tuesday night about a man dressed as a creepy clown and hiding near the back entrance of an apartment complex, scaring people. By the time officers arrived at the complex, the clown had already disappeared.
He warned people who are thinking about pulling a clown prank.
“It’s a point of concern for us because what people think may start out as just a small prank could end up leading to other things down the line,” Tobias said. “For instance – let’s say the person that you’re trying to scare is a concealed-permit holder, and they are in fear for their life. They don’t know what’s going on, and they produce a gun and shoot someone over this. That’s something that you really have to think about if you’re deciding, ‘Is this a prank that I really want to do?’”
On the flipside, in an NPR story, Tricia Manuel, who runs a clown training camp in Minnesota, told The Associated Press that her business is hurting now.
"When people report these things it should be ‘someone dressed like a clown,’ because a real clown would never dress or do anything to scare anyone," she said. "In South Carolina, two of the clowns were afraid to go out and perform."
As far as I know, there haven’t been any sightings around Crossville.
If you’re thinking of dressing up as a creepy, ugly, mean clown, you may want to think again.
As remarkable as it is, these clown threats can’t be taken lightly. In this day and age of terrorism, shootings and school attacks, they all have to be considered serious.
Now that, to me, is scary.
Gary Nelson is a Crossville Chronicle staffwriter. His column is published each Friday. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.