There has been an outbreak of coulrophobia in Central California, but unlike the various maladies sweeping the nation—whooping cough, enterovirus, ebola—this one mostly threatens to scare people to death.
Coulrophobia is a fear of clowns and the town of Wasco and nearby Bakersfield are in its grip. It started with a solitary clown spotted late at night wandering the streets of Wasco. The clown looked suspiciously like the terrifying lead character in the 1990 television mini-series “It,” made from Stephen King’s novel.
The creepy clown was spotted multiple times just milling about in isolated locations and, as clowns often do, raised mixed emotions of bemusement and fear among local residents. And then it got weird, or weirder.
Other clowns began appearing at night, dressed in different outfits. Clowns also took to social media―Facebook, Twitter, Instagram―while local residents shared sightings and information. A rumor that “the clown” would show up at McDonald’s one night drew a large, but disappointed crowd.
The Wasco clown turned out to be part of a year-long photography project by a husband-and-wife team that spoke with KGET Channel 17 about their activities, but preferred to remain anonymous. They were not happy that the project had spawned an army of copycat clowns.
Matters took a turn toward urban myth when a child reportedly said she was chased by a clown with an ax and rumors of crimes said to be attributed to a clown abounded, although they are, as yet, unverified. One juvenile dressed as a clown was arrested last week in Bakersfield for chasing other kids without a weapon.
Saturday night there was a report that a clown with a gun was spotted, but the clown was gone when police arrived, according to the Bakersfield Californian. Clowns with machetes and baseball bats have also been reported. Bakersfield police said they have fielded more than a dozen reports over a two-week period, including a couple of calls about odd-looking homeless transients.
There is no telling how long the growing fascination with clowns in Kern County will continue, but it is almost certain to add something spooky to the usual trick-or-treating and other Halloween pranks this year.
Last year, a clown holding a teddy bear, with painted, arched eyebrows and a steady gaze freaked out residents in the British town of Northampton on a Friday the 13th and kept it up until he acknowledged, on Facebook, that folks weren’t handling it well and stopped.