Most people, at least on some level, have a fear of the fun-loving entertainer known as the clown. In fact, there even exists a name for it—coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

Since the 1700s, these colorful and jest performers have made both children and adults laugh at their antics. So why is it that today so many people seem scared to death of a person dressed in a clown costume? How can this happy character strike fear so deeply into the hearts of many?

Well, there are a few good reasons…

During Halloween, we dress up and wear face paint or a mask to be someone we are not. This can be a lot of fun, especially for children. At least for a short period of time, it gives us a chance to detach from the real world. It gives us the opportunity to show the world a different persona and hide who we really are.

But sometimes a costume is not so innocent. Sometimes, seeing someone in a costume causes our heart to race and our body to be stricken with fear. We all remember seeing a costume that has caused us to react in this way. It scared us because we didn’t know who the person was or what their intentions were. Hiding behind a mask gives us the ability of being mysterious.

This is true in many aspects of life, from bank robbers to executioners. And yet most of us don’t choose to hide behind a mask, at least not a physical one. If we did, it would most likely be for evil reasons.

As people, we either fear or question the unknown—making the person behind the clown face paint either scary or intriguing. But over the years, whether it was a person hiding behind a clown costume or using it as a lure to exploit children’s curiosity, we have seen numerous stories of creepy clowns, which amplifies our fear of clowns rather than our curiosities.

In the past, a number of humans have taken advantage of their ability to hide behind a mask. Between 1972 and 1978, the Chicago area was tormented by John Wayne Gacy. This well-known serial killer murdered at least 33 teenage boys and buried them in the crawl space of his home. To make things worse, John Wayne Gacy was a professional clown known as Pogo. While adults and children were laughing at Pogo’s silly antics, they had no idea of the darkness that lay beneath his painted-on smile.

During recent years in Chicago, another man dressed as a clown lured children into his white van using balloons and candy. He quickly become known as the “Killer Clown”. Yet another case of evil hiding behind a colorful mask. And yet another reason to be afraid of clowns.

The hysteria surrounding real life accounts of killer clowns continues today. The internet has multiple news stories involving sightings of creepy clowns. Whether these clowns use the mask to hide their intentions or to induce fear, it has made people uneasy all over the world. For safety reasons, some cities have even banned clown costumes during Halloween.

Hollywood has also done its part to embed upon our minds how frightening clowns are. From Pennywise to the Joker, we have all seen the movies that play on and amplify our clown phobia. Yet, in part, this fear was formed from reality.

Unfortunately, the media coverage and Hollywood adaptations of clowns have created space for demented individuals to play out their fantasies—only creating a more hostile view of the happy-go-lucky entertainer.

If you are not afraid of clowns, I encourage you to consider the following situation: Imagine that, as a child, you went to a party in Chicago where Pogo the Clown was performing. Imagine that he gave you a balloon and candy and, later on in life, you find out that he was a serial killer. Would this not haunt you in someway? Would this not make you question the intentions that lay beyond the disguise?

With that being said, we all know that not all clowns are evil. It’s just that when you hide behind a mask, it’s difficult for a person to see who you really are. And, ultimately, we as humans fear the unknown.

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