by Morgan Sturdevant
Clowns have amused generations of children, existing as comfort from the thrills of daring circus acts to entertainment at birthday parties. But in recent weeks, this symbol of family fun has been transformed into a source of fear and dread.
In mid-August, residents of an apartment complex in South Carolina reported that people dressed as clowns had been trying to lure children into the nearby woods, according to cnn.com. Reports of people dressed in the once-humorous costumes have since skyrocketed and sent a chill down the spines of Americans. In late September, a middle-schooler in Georgia was arrested for bringing a knife to school in what she called “protection against clowns,” according to the International Business Times.
The clown craze has sparked numerous hoaxes, terrifying people around the nation yet producing very few arrests. Reports of clown sightings, primarily around schools and colleges, have occupied law enforcement, according to cnn.com. Clowns have even taken over social media: the Twitter account @ClownSightings has 334,000 followers and has only helped to spark further paranoia.
Although the clown craze has yet to reach Westfield, students and parents have serious safety concerns. Said senior Karen Forbes: “All of my friends have been freaking out about this and thinking that their lives are in danger…. My mom doesn’t want me to go out at night because she’s so worried.”
Ms. Maureen Mazzarese, director of counseling for Westfield Public Schools, has never seen anything like this. “I think that in the past there have been things that have triggered anxiety, but not necessarily something as out-of-the-box as this,” Mazzarese said. “I just think it’s so interesting the way that it’s created anxiety all over the place.”
According to Sgt. Jeffrey Johnson, the Westfield Police Department has yet to receive calls about the clowns. Johnson’s main concern is students dressing as clowns and facing retaliation. Said Johnson: “Scaring the wrong person will turn into, in my eyes, a bigger situation.”
This epidemic’s focus on clowns is not as peculiar as it may sound. Mazzarese says that the fear of clowns is common and cites Stephen King’s 1986 novel It as a primary source of this fear. In this book, a malevolent creature dressed as a clown attacks and kills children. Though today’s clown craze is not as extreme, the negative connotation in media that comes with clowns has only heightened these fears.
Michelle Deegan, a social worker and therapist who once worked in the Westfield area, described clowns as “a very common psychological problem.” In reference to the perpetrators of these events, she said: “Doing this brings people power...through this mass hysteria and fear.” She continues: “It’s almost like the class bully is behind the mask.”