Even before the clown calls started rolling in, it was shaping up to be a busy month for Loren Coleman.
There was the grand re-opening of his International Cryptozoology Museum, which focuses on unsubstantiated creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Not to mention his appearance at the Oct. 22 snake festival. And he still needed to pack for his trip to ParaCon, the Minnesota paranormal convention where he was slated to give a presentation on the Minnesota Iceman.
By Wednesday, however, it had all taken a backseat to what has become his daily ritual: keeping up with the flood of clown-related interview requests.
Coleman, whose research into unverified clown sightings helped coin the term “phantom clowns,” has emerged as an unlikely focal point in this strange and mesmerizing saga.
In the past two weeks alone, Coleman’s name has appeared in Rolling Stone and US Weekly. He has been inundated with interview requests from media outlets large and small, from Los Angeles to Alabama, seeking to pick his brain on the recent events.
Competition for his insights has grown so fierce, in fact, that one reporter from a major metropolitan newspaper insisted Coleman not talk to any other outlets from the same city, lest the reporter lose his exclusive.
Even for a guy whose work regularly involves Bigfoot, it’s been a weird turn of events.
“Everybody,” says Coleman, a jovial 69-year-old from Portland, Maine, “[has] jumped on the phantom clown bandwagon.”
Coleman’s foray into the world of clowns began, quite by happenstance, in the early 1980s.
Working at the time as director of the Charlestown office of the Massachusetts department of social services, he was struck by a rash of local reports detailing disturbing clown sightings in the Boston area.
Curious, he sent out 400 handwritten letters to associates across the country, asking whether they’d come across any reports of similar incidents.
Before long, his mailbox was filling with hard-copy accounts of other clown sightings, clipped from the pages of various city newspapers — in Kansas City, Omaha, Denver.
In 1982, Coleman laid out his findings in an article for Fate magazine, which deals in the strange and unknown. In it, he used the term “phantom clowns” to describe the phenomenon in which individuals — usually children — reported seeing clowns that were never photographed, caught, or confirmed. The following year, he included a chapter on clowns in his book, “Mysterious America.”
Following their moment in the limelight, however, clowns seemed to lose their luster. With a couple minor exceptions — a few reports of sightings in the mid-’80s and early ’90s out of Arizona and New Jersey, and the 1990 release of the Stephen King film “It” — the next couple decades saw the circus staple fade from the American consciousness, taking a backseat to things like zombies and vampires. (Thanks, “Twilight.”)
That changed this summer, when clowns came roaring back with a red-haired vengeance.
It started in August, when multiple reports surfaced in Greenville County, S.C., of clowns attempting to lure children into the woods.
Since then, it’s gone national. More than two dozen states have now fielded clown-related reports, with various police departments urging residents to take clown-related precautions. Things took a more serious turn this week at Merrimack College in North Andover, when the school underwent a brief lockdown after a online rumor surfaced about a weapon-wielding clown roaming the campus.
The result has been the biggest cyptozoological furor Coleman can remember since the infamous Georgia Bigfoot Hoax of 2008.
To accommodate the recent fascination, his Portland museum this week added a small clown exhibit. And at upcoming appearances in Minnesota and Milwaukee, Coleman plans to supplement his talks on the Minnesota Iceman with some clown discussion.
As assistant museum director Jeff Meuse puts it, “It’s been quite a frenzy with him trying to make sure that everyone gets a little piece of Loren Coleman.”
At the same time, he doesn’t expect the frenzy to last forever. Historically, he says, clown reports tend to dip following Halloween. Temperatures will soon fall, and the election figures to dominate November headlines.
If his line of work has taught him anything, it’s that there’s always a new phenomenon around the bend.
“I’m always prepared for the next new thing,” Coleman said this week. “It’s a very crisis-oriented field that I [work] in — it could be a new animal discovery, a new Bigfoot report, a new giant snake report. . .
“That’s just the way life is.”Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.