A call about a clown allegedly living in some Albemarle County woods came into the Emergency Communications Center on September 29 around 4pm. They’re here.
And one local clown—however mischievous she may be—says these incidents are giving her and her cheery friends a bad rap.
The widespread clown craze originated in Greenville County, South Carolina, where reports of disturbing jesters trying to lure children into the woods were documented by the local police department. Though investigators never found any evidence to substantiate those claims, similar sightings have since been reported in more than two dozen states, including Virginia.
Spawned by a recent report to university police, a mob of James Madison University students calling themselves the “clown patrol” took to the Harrisonburg campus October 4 to go “clown hunting,” they said. Videos and photos of the students carrying baseball bats and pepper spray surfaced online, but the following morning, JMU administration released a statement that said the clown sighting was a hoax.
Likewise, the majority of malicious clown sightings have never been verified. And the Albemarle police patrol officer dispatched to the wooded area in which a clown was allegedly spotted found nary a rubber nose nor an oversized shoe.
“That’s such a stereotype,” says Terra Glick, a 29-year-old Charlottesville resident with a clowning habit. “I have five or six different pairs of clown shoes. One of them has curly toes like the old Harlequin style, and I have neon hot pink shoes that are cutesy and cowboy boots that are silly, but no big shoes because that’s so ’80s and horrible.”
Glick began clowning with The Gesundheit Institute in high school when her dad, a well-known clown who lives across the mountain in Rockingham County, encouraged her and some of her friends to dress up in silly clothes and visit a local nursing home with him.
Gesundheit was founded by Patch Adams, with whom Glick’s father, John, went to medical school.
“Patch has a son my age,” she says. “We grew up being friends and playing together. We kind of got into clowning at the same time because of our dads clowning together. So now there’s this second wave of the children of hippies who are into clowning. We’re all kind of a clown family.”
For a group that aims to bring joy and silliness to those around them, the recent creepy clown sightings have everyone on edge, she says.
“I think of it like clown terrorism,” Glick says, comparing it to the narrative of a few misguided Muslims tainting the reputation of the majority of innocent people who share the same religion. “The clown who’s scary and trying to hurt people, they’re doing bad things in the name of my religion.”
Glick admits that, though her aesthetic is “a 5-year-old dressing up like a princess” covered in glitter and with a big red nose, her clowning isn’t all innocent.
“I like to get into trouble,” she says. “But it’s mainly the kind of trouble where I get to flirt with policemen when I’m dressed as a clown, or kiss old men on the cheek.”
She invites those who are interested in experiencing real clown culture to go on an international humanitarian trip with her organization, which defines clowning as “spontaneous improvisational play.”
“The clown life’s all about adventure,” says Glick. “I think everybody should break out of their shell every once in awhile and do something crazy—and why not play dress-up and put a nose on, too?”