Why The Fear of Clowns?
Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns.
From early on, clowns were portrayed as very disturbed men. Joseph was a famous 19th century clown in England. Joseph Grimaldi had a lengthy career as an entertaining clown with an dark side as a result of a deteriorating relationship with theatrical management.
Grimaldi’s wife Maria and her unborn child died during childbirth on October 18, 1800. As a result, Grimaldi worked on stage excessively to deal with his ongoing grief. While playing in The Great Devil the following spring, he accidentally injured himself on stage by shooting himself in the foot. He was confined to bed for five weeks. His mother became so concerned at her son’s fragile and grief-stricken state that she employed a dancer by the name of Mary Bristow, to care for him full-time. Grimaldi and Bristow fell in love and married on December 24, 1801. They later had a son who was named Joseph Samuel. As the years passed, the family relationship was strained and remained that way due to Joseph Samuel’s growing alcoholism, run-ins with the law and his eventual time spent in a debtor’s prison. He died at the age of 30 under suspicious circumstances.
Grimaldi sustained numerous injuries over the years and his health was rapidly declining. He finally retired in 1823 and he became an alcoholic and was depressed. He outlived his wife and son and died at home in 1837 at the age of 58.
After he died in 1837, Charles Dickens was asked to edit the clown’s memoirs and the subsequent publications, spread Grimaldi’s story everywhere. It is believed that Dickens drew the first scary clown images through the memoirs and created a figure who was destroying himself in order to make the audience laugh. The notion that there might be something dark and troubled under make-up is a fear that has lasted for many years.
About the same time in France, Jean-Gaspard Deburau’s mime-style character, Pierrot was becoming very popular. The clown had a white face, red lips and black eyebrows and was loved by audiences until his evil side was revealed. In 1836, Deburau beat a boy to death after the boy shouted an insult at him in the street. Deburau used a walking stick to kill the child.
Originally clowns were used to provide a form of comic relief to dangerous circus acts held at equestrian shows held in a circular arena. They needed to make themselves more visible and started to use very bright colors, crazy behavior and big gestures. While clowns were for children’s entertainment, the creep factor remained and made one wonder who was under that makeup.
The circus arrived in America in the late 19th century and grew into a three ringed traveling show that moved from town to town by train. Next came television with clowns such as Bozo, Clararbell and Ronald McDonald.
The Experts Say
- The fear of clowns starts during childhood when children learn to differentiate between strangers and non-strangers.
- According to statistics, all adults grow out of their fear of painted clown faces with the exception of 2 percent of the population.
- Often clowns become aggressive in attempts to make someone laugh.
- Clowns are here to stay.
- The dark and frightening clown remains dominant and persists in many ways.
The legacy of frightening clowns has continued over the years with the likes of these individuals. Some were high profile media cases that brought horror eerily close to us and right into our homes.
- John Wayne Gacy, seriel killer who dressed up as Pogo the Clown.
- Amon Paul Carlock Jr., police officer, pedophile, who dressed up as Klutzo the Clown and entertained children through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.
- West Pam Beach Killer Clown, never identified, murdered Marlene Warren in 1990 after she opened her front door to a clown holding flowers and silver balloons. Marlene was shot once in the face. Her case has never been solved.
California, October, 2014
- Bozo the Clown
- Red Skelton
- Lucille Ball
- Ronald McDonald
- Charlie Rivel
- Otto Griebling
- The Fratellinis
- CoCo the Clown
- Pennywise, Stephen King’s movie It
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