A Short History Why Clowns Became Scary

Kid’s parties are usually associated with clowns. They are there to make jokes, magic and bring smiles to sweet innocent children. Keeping us entertained is why they exist, they are made to be joyful, funny and harmless. We can see them at circuses and other parties. But because of certain serial killers and Hollywood movies, we also perceive clowns as scary. Now harmless clowns became one of the characters in horror movies, they usually are the killer. The funny looking guy that gives a sweet smile now can be a nightmare, with the smile full of hidden mysteries. How it all began?

Clowns became mainstream in early 1800’s after Joseph Grimaldi, an English actor and comedian created the traditional white faced make-up design. It became synonymous with circuses when Englishman John Bill Ricketts brought the first modern circus to the United States in 1792. Clowns then become part of American culture, being major draws for circuses like Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. There are three different types of clowns recognizes by major clown organizations. The “White Face” is the most familiar clown with its white face, red nose, exaggerated features and often dress in bright colors. “Auguste Clown” is also known as the Red Clown that uses pink or red coloration in the place of white face and “Hobo” who has a beard and white highlights around the eyes and mouth. One thing they have in common, their humor and gags. But why did clowns became scary?

The creepiest depiction of clowns comes from the real life story of John Wayne Gacy, Jr. known in the media as the Killer Clown. In the late 1970’s, Gacy was convicted of sexual assault and discovered he had killed 33 young males, burying most under his home. He was found guilty in 1980 with multiple death penalties and life sentences, executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994. Now that was pretty scary! Gacy’s victims were young men. He was performing as Pogo the Clown at charity events, parades and parties. He was really into entertaining and it stands to reason he chose it as a pastime to put him in contact with children. Gacy had a highly disturbed history; he had a drunken father who would beat them with razor strap if they misbehaved. He then learned to toughen up against the beatings and would not cry. After this tremendous news, film makers made movies about his life and his killings. Clowns then later became a character with a bad side.

Clown’s International’s membership has dropped from 1,000 clowns in the early 1980’s to nearly 100 currently. That was about 30% declining numbers in the United States and even more in the UK according to The Telegraph. Was it because of Gracy? Now we wonder, did a serial killer and horror movies ruin the clowns for everyone?

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