Enter the Phantom Clowns!
Greeting, readers (aka innocent bystanders)! These last few weeks, I’ve been trying to get back to work on one my weirdest and most favorably-received “Exotroopers” project, with the current working title Phantom Clowns Vs. EXOTROOPERS! I have decided to try documenting the completion of this long-running project (at one point, I planned to have it done in time to cash in on last Halloween) on this new site. People tend to be intrigued by my idea of mysterious, sinister clowns as villains (or are they?…), and surprised when I tell them that the story is inspired by real reports from the world of Forteana, first brought to my attention by Loren Coleman’s classic Mysterious America. I decided the best thing to start with would be a repost of the majority of one of the most interesting of the few articles I have been able to find on the “phantom clown” phenomenon. Italics and underlining are most likely to be my own, and as likely as not for reasons obvious not even to me:
Incident at the Lakes Mall – Lauderdale Lakes, Florida
I first learned of phantom clowns from Loren Coleman’s aforementioned book (Mysterious America), and then in an article from Cemetery Dance Magazine, but it was an incident that took place not long after reading these articles about a genuine sighting that took place in The Lakes Mall, located at 3345 N. State Road 7, in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida that fully piqued my interest. It was 1985, and I was attending the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale at the time, and I knew the mall well because many of us would go there to see movies or have lunch nearby. I first heard the story from a fellow student, who related some of the strangest events to me. Apparently, a man dressed as a clown was seen walking throughout the corridors, located behind the individual stores. These corridors were used for deliveries, and for maintenance workers to get to mechanical and electrical equipment, as well as there being a restroom for the public. What the clown was doing back there is anyone’s guess, for as soon as a mall worker stopped to take a hard look at him, the strangely-dressed man simply disappeared behind a wall, and could not be found when security and the other mall workers made a search.
What makes this particular tale, as with almost every relation of phantom clown sightings, is the fact that these odd fellows were almost always seen in down-and-out, barley successful places like malls and shopping centers. The Lakes Mall, for instance, was one such indoor shopping center which had perhaps 5 or 6 stores still operating, as well as a few fast food eateries like Taco Viva and Orange Julius. Beyond these, the mall was all but barren except for a scant few shoppers and the elderly walking for exercise, or those who went to see movies at the AMC Theater. Why a clown would be there only furthered the mystery, as the mall’s business office did not hire a clown, or any entertainers for that matter.
About a week or so later, another clown sighting was reported to me by my friend Shane Robertson, who lived in the area at the time. He told me that some weird guy was seen doing cartwheels in front of a long-closed department store toward the rear of the mall. He went on to say that about 15 to 20 people saw the clown while standing in line at a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Nobody was overly startled at the vision, due largely because many of the movie goers would often dress in weird outfits as homage to the film’s cult following, so he dismissed the event. Then, 2 days later, while Shane and his girlfriend were seeing a movie at the theater’s dollar-night Monday, the same clown; dressed in white and red striped, baggy pants and a yellow-stained, ruffled shirt with fluffy red balls attached to it, was once again seen near the mall. This time, however, he was observed just standing near the dumpsters behind the east end of the building, and simply staring at the people as they were coming out of the theater’s rear exits. It was around 2:15 AM. The clown never smiled, nor said a word. He just looked at the people, who by now were a bit unnerved by the sight. My friend went on to say that one young man actually ran toward the clown, but the brightly-colored fellow quickly ducked into the adjacent woods, and disappeared into the darkness — though the strange apparition was not seen again in the mall, the whole place took on a much darker feel to it.
One Frightful Night at the Boca Raton Mall – Boca Raton, Florida
This report was sent to me from a woman who lives near the now defunct Boca Raton Mall, located near 906 North Federal Highway, just north of Palmetto Road. I lived in south Florida of many years, and can remember this old, tattered mall quite well. I saw Star Wars there in 1977, and can recall that it did indeed have a spooky feel to it even then, so I can relate to the woman’s feeling towards this shopping mall of yesteryear. Today, the Mizner Park Shopping Center now rests where the old mall once stood, where multimillion dollar stores and restaurants have taken the place of the nondescript hamburger and pretzel stands that once stood near the old AMC movie theater. The old mall came to a swift and sad end, and was replaced by false façades and fancy water fountains — but the memory of one weird night in 1984 will keep this mall’s eerie reputation alive.
According to Ms. Goodnough, it was while she and a friend were visiting the Boca Mall during an indoor sidewalk sale that her weird event took place. Because the mall was going through some hard times; especially that a new Town Center Mall in west Boca Raton had recently opened, which had far more shops and eclectic restaurants to choose from, and with a new theater with 18 screens, the old, out-dated Boca Mall had seen her day, and it showed. The old mall’s sidewalk sale was designed to be a last hurrah for local shoppers, but at least 2 of these shoppers would get a show they’d not soon forget.
The woman, named Ms. Goodnough, had related that it was close to 5:30 PM on a Tuesday night when a fierce summer thunderstorm took place, making the building literally shake with each clap of thunder, and the lightning causing the lights to occasionally flicker on and off. The women did their shopping at they’re own pace because they had a feeling that the storm would last for quite a while, and wouldn’t risk running to the car with all that lightning. So, they leisurely followed the sidewalk sale tables without a care in the world — until that is, what happened next.
As the women neared the north end of the mall, they came upon a small table with free literature on it. Just past that was a huge, darkened space, which was once the Jefferson Department Store. This store had officially closed around 1983, but the name plate above the glass doors still hung, unlit and listless. Behind the glass, a darkened interior would occasionally be lit by the flash of the lightning outside, exposing barren floors and even darker, non-functioning escalators that lead to a dusty 2nd floor. The women didn’t pay too much attention to this, until Ms. Goodnough’s friend noticed movement inside and described the weird event as follows: “My friend, Barbara stopped dead in her tracks and was looking hard inside the closed department store. She just looked, and then told me…Look at that! There’s a mime in there, or a clown or something!” Needless to say, the women were startled, but thought it was someone who had the authority to be in there, and who might have been preparing for a carnival, a parade or something like that. But, as both women just stared at the strange image, it all just seemed too bizarre, and besides, in was pouring outside, so if there was a parade, it must have been canceled. So, the women decided to walk a little closer to the glass doors to see what might be going on inside. As they did so, they noticed a tall, lanky man or possibly a teenager dressed in a clown costume and sporting a bright red wig and nose walking around the pillars in a playful manner. The clown-suited fellow watched the women as they staring at him, dancing and frolicking in the massive, darkened interior. Then, the strange man danced right up the escalator and into the pitch-black room and disappeared.
Now thoroughly confused, both women made their way to a shop owner to report the scene. Soon after that, a mall security guard arrived and spoke with both women about the event, and after they told him what they had experienced, the guard radioed another security guard, and when he arrived, they both entered the old department store, and searched high and low with their flash lights. They searched everywhere on the first floor, then climbed the escalator and searched throughout the second floor. When they returned, no one was found, and all the doors were locked, and secured with active burglar alarms — But what of the strange man in the clown suit? Ms. Goodnough and her friend left the mall in spite of the rain and lightning, as this weird occurrence was just too much for them to handle. My informant later said that she never went back to the old Boca Mall, saying that she wanted to be were there will be a lot of people around. So, she did, and continues to shop at the Town Center Mall, in west Boca Raton. Ms. Goodnough also admitted to me that she has never looked at a clown in much the same way as she once did. Not after that experience.
Strange Leaping Mime Startles Security Guard – Pompano Beach, Florida
Although I have received several email testimonies regarding phantom clowns lingering around in other Florida malls; including the Cross County Mall, in West Palm Beach and the Orange Blossom Mall in Fort Pierce, as well as around movie theaters like the Reef Cinema, the Lauderhill Cinema, the 16th Street Cinema, and the Plantation Theater, other reports, such as ‘ghostly clowns’ have also appeared around other locations. One such sighting was reported in 2001 near the barren train tracks, adjacent fields and deserted storage sheds of the now deserted Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey circus grounds just west of DeLand, Florida. This clown was occasionally observed walking near the tracks or within a fenced-in field that was once used to house elephants. But, the oddest of reports has to be the little heard account of Pompano’s leaping mime.
This particular legend comes to me from a former security supervisor named Armando Guzman, of Miami Beach. Mr. Guzman was a supervisor for the Murray Guard Security Services, now defunct in this state. During the fall of 1985, a truly weird event had caught Mr. Guzman’s attention as he was working on an upcoming week’s work schedule. According to Mr. Guzman, he received a phone call from one of his guards, who was working the 2nd shift at a newly constructed housing community just west of State Road 44, off Copens Road. The security guard was calling him to report a situation that had taken place about an hour earlier. Apparently, sheriff’s deputies were searching the area for a man dressed in a black frock coat complete with tails and black pants, a white ruffled shirt, white gloves and even a top hat. The guard continued to report that this strange man was seen snooping around an un-filled pool and barbeque pit area towards the rear of the community where the guard made his evening post. When the guard confronted the man, the oddly-dressed fellow, who now seemed to have white make-up on his face, began to flee in the opposite direction — The only problem for this weird man was a 10-foot high fence, which stood before him.
The security guard’s report was certainly strange, and warranted the supervisor’s attention, so Mr. Guzman headed over there as fast as he could. When he arrived, he found 2 patrol cars, and several deputies speaking with the guard and walking around the general area. When Mr. Guzman asked his guard where the strangely-dressed man went, the guard’s face flushed to a dull white. Though hesitant, the guard went on the tell his supervisor that the culprit, after being startled, approached the fence, looked up, and leapt over the 10-foot high fence without even touching it. Because the area where the security guard was protecting held highly expensive contractor equipment in it, the fence was topped off with extremely sharp Constantine wire. The fact that someone could jump 10 feet, or even climb such a fence in the speed in which he was said to have done is astounding for sure, but when you add this razor-sharp wiring, which rolls and winds around the fence without cutting the man to ribbons is just short of miraculous.
Although the sheriff’s deputies searched all around the neighborhood for a man wearing odd clothing similar to those worn during the 19th century, no such person was ever found, nor seen again. In the end, no one really believed the security guard, and was quickly assigned to another post from thereon in. Mr. Guzman continued to say that this guard had a good work record, and was a competent man, but the guard’s story unfortunately caused him nothing but harassment from the other guards, which finally forced him to cease employment with Murray Guard Services.
While the majority of these phantom clown sightings have been reported less, and less since the initial reports in the 1980s, researchers may still discover yet unreported cases, such as in the 2008 reports, which continue to develop in Illinois. Regardless of the disposition of these clowns, whether they are spectral in nature, or if they are simply deranged people masquerading as these funny characters remains the question — Just what are they?
This is a fascinating subject, and has intrigued me for years after reading Mysterious America so long ago. I think these things; these phantom clowns might just inhabit several aspects of a strange continuum that coexists with our known levels of understanding. The first aspect would be the corporeal, a man or woman dressed as a clown with questionable motives towards others. The second aspect might be of a paranormal nature, meaning a possible spirit-like entity or even something within the demonic categories. This may also include any number of possibilities within the Fortean enigma categories, such as the Spring-Heel Jack and the Mad Gasser, for example. And, finally, these odd personas may be a residual concept of the popular Jungian archetype ideal, such as the Trickster/Scarecrow archetype, a thing manifested via consciousness, and observed since the dawn of humankind. As bizarre as this may sound, we must at least acknowledge any possible answer, as our universe is now being observed in very different ways…No; I think we’ll be hearing more from these denizens of the uncanny.
David N. Brown