A mysterious and apparently malevolent clown has been seen lurking on the streets of Staten Island, N.Y., at night over the past week.
You don't need to travel to Staten Island to be creeped out by this clown; thanks to Facebook and Instagram, anyone in the world can get the shivers from photos of the white-faced monster.
These social media sites are where four people first posted snapshots of the clown over the past few days. In one widely circulated photo, the balloon-bearing, bald-capped buffoon is standing near a road detour sign near the Richmond Valley train station, waving at passersby; in another, he (or perhaps she) is skulking behind a tree. [What Really Scares People: Top 10 Phobias]
The "SI Clown," as the costumed creature has been dubbed, bears a striking resemblance to Pennywise, the evil clown in Stephen King's classic horror novel and film "It."
This is not the first time that a clown has been spotted in public and has unnerved locals. Last year, a mysterious clown was sighted prowling the streets of Northampton, U.K., causing both curiosity and concern. The face-painted fiend — widely dubbed The Northampton Clown — was first sighted in early September, and soon had his own Facebook page, where followers posted photographs of him at different locations throughout the city. It turned out to be a viral prank.
When such clowns are seen, there is little the police can do; it is not illegal to dress up as a clown and wander the streets at night. Unless the clown is loitering, causing mischief, harassing people or otherwise being a nuisance, there's nothing anyone can do.
Why would a person dress as a clown and freak people out? There are several possible reasons, ranging from a playful prank to a professional clown innocently returning from a kid's birthday party. Yet, according to the New York Post, the SI Clown may be a publicity stunt: It seems that the four people who originally posted photos and videos of the costumed creepster not only know one another, but also have links to the same Staten Island-based company that produces horror films. Coincidence? Could be.
But given how many people are scared of clowns, and the near certainty that images of anonymous, creepy clowns will go viral on social media sites, the SI Clown is likely a savvy publicity stunt. So far, the film company has not officially confirmed or denied being associated with the prank. However, it did say, via Twitter, "Kinda insulted by all these #SIClown accusations...we're not just a 'horror film company.' We're funny too...I swear)".
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of seven books, including "The Martians Have Landed! A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes." His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.