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The Madera Tribune

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Is clown scare a hoax?

October 8, 2016

The advent of social media has made possible the spread of rumors and urban legends with a swiftness never before seen in history. One of the latest scares sweeping the country is menacing clown sightings.


Stories of circus clowns turned lethal are being reported in the news and on the Internet.


There have even been reports of clowns chasing people and brandishing weapons in Fresno and Clovis. The latest sightings are as near as Chowchilla. People in masks with knives have been spotted in and around Chowchilla High School according to website yourcentralvalley.com.


How many of these clown sightings are pranks or real threats has yet to be determined. As Halloween draws near law enforcement is requesting the public not wear clown costumes this year.
While clowns are meant to be funny and entertaining, I have always been scared of them. The smell of greasepaint, the floppy shoes and baggy clothes are terrifying. Movies and television shows depicting killer clowns have captured the public’s attention.


The first of a new two-part movie made from Stephen King’s novel “It,” is scheduled to be released in September next year. The killer clown in this story, known as Penneywise, is a shape-shifter who takes the form of whatever scares his victim the most. Speculation on the connection between these latest clown sightings and these movies has been denied by the author and the production company making the films.


On “The Simpsons,” Krusty the Clown has spent 28 seasons depicting clowns as drunk and obnoxious gamblers.


The clown most often seen in Madera played the fair here for many years. Popo the Clown, whose real name was Count deBathe, began entertaining at the Madera fair in 1955 according to a story by Madera Tribune reporter Barbara Brown. In our Sept. 29, 1965, edition she said to celebrate his 10th anniversary at the Madera fair he would hold a children’s king and queen contest. The winners were to be the boy and girl who had the most freckles, Brown wrote.


Born in 1900 in St. Louis, Mo., deBathe had a tragic life. His mother abandoned him, he was adopted by a family who then gave him to a neighbor whose name was deBathe. He became a clown when he was 9 years old and ran away from home at age 14, according to the March 23, 1973, edition of the Oakland Tribune. He was inducted into the Barnum and Bailey Circus Clown Hall of Fame that same year.


During deBathe’s early career, he played bit parts in movies before devoting his time to the circus. He traveled the world in his Popo costume entertaining as an ambassador for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. According to his obituary, Popo funded the UNICEF tours himself. He died on Sept. 2, 1981.


Early children’s television programing relied on clowns to entertain. Clarabelle the clown was a featured player on the Howdy Doody Show. Before Ronald McDonald came along, the most famous clown in the country was Bozo. He hosted an afternoon circus-themed variety show with cartoons and zoo animals. He was a WGN TV Chicago institution and played by a variety of actors including famous “Today” show weatherman Willard Scott.


The character of Bozo was licensed to other stations that produced their own versions of the show.


In Fresno, a man named Marv Harrison played Flippo Junior the Clown on a local CBS affiliate station. Channel 12 later became Channel 30, according to John Malos from the Ventura TV show “Connect With Me.” Early local programs were produced before the advent of video tape. These shows combined cartoons, afternoon movies and variety shows with groups of local children as special guests on live broadcasts. Harrison left his clown persona behind and helped to found KNXT, a Catholic radio station in Fresno.


But not all clowns are in it for the laughs. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, also known as the killer clown, assaulted and murdered 33 young men between the years 1972 and 1978. His Norwood Park home in Cook County, Illinois, was a chamber of horrors. He was executed for his crimes by lethal injection on May 10, 1994.


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Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing tamijonix@gmail.com or following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.

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