Space & Innovation

Scary Clowns Plague California Towns

Scary, mysterious clowns have been spotted stalking two California towns. And it's not the first time. Continue reading →

Residents in the California towns of Bakersfield and Wasco have recently been plagued by stalking, scary clowns.

The clowns have appeared over the past few weeks, often at night. Sometimes people saw the clowns, staring at them silently from a street corner or darkened parking lot. Often, however, the clowns were photographed in front of various city landmarks, the images shared on social media. While most of the clowns held nothing more sinister than a creepy scowl and a handful of balloons, some have been seen photographed wielding large weapons such as machetes or baseball bats.

Some people were scared, some were amused, and some called the cops. But no one so far has been threatened or hurt.

VIDEO: Why Fear Is Fun

So who or what is behind the mask? A news report on the local KernGoldenEmpire.com site stated that the Wasco clown photos were part of a photography project:

"An interview with the Wasco clown, who requested to remain anonymous, revealed that the social media postings are part of a year-long photography project conducted by his wife. The couple will be posting the pictures from their photo shoot every day this month.... The photographed clown and his wife said they did not expect to start a trend, and did not mean to cause any harm."

It's a weird situation, but it's not the first time this has happened. Over the years a handful of mysterious clowns have appeared in cities around the world with the apparent intent to frighten and unnerve the public. It's a tricky situation because when a clown trods on private property, that's potentially a trespassing crime that may result in authorities being called - and the clown identified, his or her motives determined and possibly arrested. Clowns appearing in public, such as those in Wasco and Bakersfield, are another matter. There's no law against anyone in a costume (clown or otherwise) walking down the street or visiting a public park. Or creepily staring at you as you drive by with your terrified kids hiding in the back seat.

Scary Stalking Clowns It's likely that the California clowns got their inspiration from other stalking clowns that appeared in Northampton, England, and Staten Island.

A mysterious and sinister clown prowled the streets of Northampton, U.K., in October 2013, causing both curiosity and concern. He didn't attack anyone, but merely wandered around acting creepy, though he wasn't camera-shy and would sometimes pose for bewildered bystanders. He also posted photographs of himself in front of various landmarks. Soon he had his own Facebook page called "Spot Northampton's Clown," featuring photos of the clown at different locations throughout the city. The Northampton Clown was eventually unmasked as young filmmaker named Alex Powell, who pulled off the stunt with the help of two friends.

VIDEO: Trypophobia: Why Holes Are SO Scary

Less than six months after the Northampton Clown scare faded, a mysterious and apparently malevolent clown began lurking on the roads of the New York City borough of Staten Island. Apparently taking a cue from the Northampton Clown's social media savvy, the clown began appearing on Facebook and Instagram, where four people first posted snapshots of the clown in early March 2014.

The "SI Clown," as it was soon dubbed, bore a striking resemblance to Stephen King's evil clown Pennywise from his hit novel "It," leading to a cheeky March 28 tweet from the horror king: "Pennywise spotted on Staten Island. Do I get royalties? #SIClown."

Like the Northampton Clown, the mystery eventually unraveled when some enterprising investigators realized that the four people who originally posted photos of the clown were not random Long Island citizens. Instead, they all had professional links to the same Staten Island-based horror film production company. It was a clever, if short-lived, publicity stunt, and they eventually admitted it, even releasing a tongue-in-cheek short film on YouTube explaining how they "caught" the SI Clown.

However innocent the original Wasco clown's intentions may (or may not) be, anyone dressing as a clown should be careful. In all these cases the real concern are copycats. Once one person starts doing this sort of thing on social media, the idea can spread like wildfire. Anyone who is amused by the stunt, or just wants a piece of the fun or attention can dress up as a clown and join the act.

This can create a confusing and potentially dangerous situation, especially if some of the clowns turn to violence or vandalism. As ABC News reported:

"Police say the clowns weren't generally engaging in criminal activity. There was only one arrest, of a juvenile, last week in Bakersfield. He was allegedly chasing other juveniles while dressed as a clown, and told police he was doing it because of a hoax he had seen online."

Given all the concerns about police overreaction these days, copycat clowns may be wise to keep their acts clean and lawful. Many in the public claim to hate or fear clowns, and if one of the face-painted fiends should happen to get pepper sprayed or hit with a Taser, the result would likely be cheers instead of outrage.

Hoaxes have long been a part of history, from the ancient Greeks to modern day. In celebration of April Fool's Day, count down with us some of the greatest moments of trickery known to man.

The Trojan Horse

Whether you believe the tale Virgil tells in "The Aenied" is fact or fiction, the Trojan Horse still stands as one of the greatest hoaxes known to history, real or literary. Legend has it that the Greeks, in a longstanding war against the Trojans, built a giant (and hollow) wooden horse and presented it to their rivals. After the Trojans willingly brought the peace offering into their fortified city, an army of Greeks burst out of the statue and effectively crushed the opposition, using what’s now considered to be one of the oldest tricks in the book.

"The War of the Worlds" Broadcast

On Halloween night, 1938, a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ 1898 science fiction novel "The War of the Worlds" had people convinced that aliens were invading the United States. The broadcast was orchestrated by the famous Orson Welles (pictured above, answering questions from the press the following day). Much of the show was in an “emergency bulletin” format. Those who tuned in mid-broadcast didn't recognize that they had stumbled upon a fictional show and instead thought they had tuned in just in time to hear emergency announcements that aliens were invading. Welles claimed he hadn't foreseen the hysteria. The event is still commemorated to this day in Grover’s Mill, N.J. (home to the “invasion”) by a stone monument.

The Piltdown Man

The Piltdown Man is literally the definition of hoax. In 1912, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward unearthed a strange set of fossils in Sussex, England. These fragments would be pieced together to form the "Piltdown Man" skull and were famously hailed as proof of the "missing link" between humans and apes, according to the British Natural History Museum, which uses the incident as a prime example of "bad science." It would take 40 years, and the invention of better scientific dating, for the skull to be revealed as a fake. To this day, no one (or no group of individuals) has been identified as the mastermind behind the Piltdown Man hoax, although there have been theories.

U-505

In the midst of WWII, on June 4, 1944, the U.S. Navy captured the German submarine U-505 and kept it and its surviving crew members a secret. The Allied forces hoped to use the materials and code books found aboard the sub against the Nazis without the opposition knowing they had an upper hand. And it worked. U-505 was towed to Bermuda. The 58 Nazi soldiers captured during the raid were kept in relative isolation and not allowed to send letters from their imprisonment. The German army considered them dead, even sending notice to their families, according to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where the submarine currently is on exhibit to the public. The survivors were eventually released at the end of the war.

Balloon Boy

Perhaps once of history's most recent hoaxes, the plight of a young boy, Falcon Heene, supposedly launched (accidentally of course) into the Colorado skies in his family's UFO-like balloon, captured widespread media attention on Oct. 15, 2009. Heene would later be found safe and sound, hiding in his family's home. In a news interview the next day, young Falcon Heene would also accidentally mention it "was for the show," revealing the hoax. His parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, admitted to orchestrating the entire incident for the publicity. They were fined and had to serve jail time.