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113 – Beware of Bozo: The Great Phantom Clown Panic of 2016

2016. Just saying the year feels like we’re living in the future. We’re well past Back To The Future II now and we’re only 3 years away from Blade Runner territory. But he sad truth is that there’s no jetpacks, our Artificial Intelligence autocorrects our communication into incoherence, and the U.S. Presidential Election is straight out of a 90s dystopian satire.

We have more access to information than ever before in history. In fact, most people in our country carry the sum total of human knowledge in their pocket. Any fact is at our fingertips and any answer at our beck and call. So it just goes without saying that most people no longer panic about urban legends because they all get neatly debunked when we do a quick check of snopes.com… Wait. Did you say clowns are trying to lure children into the woods?! OH MY GOD. SAVE THE CHILDREN.

Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Clown in the 1990 television adaptation of Stephen King’s IT has set the gold standard for scary clowns for a generation. While Killer Klowns From Outer Space might have been  a fun and campy horror movie and Blood Harvest starred Tiny Tim and Wisconsin State Lottery beauty Lori Minnetti (my and Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts‘ parents have a strange connection to both of them!), when people think of terrifying clowns in the late 20th Century, it’s Tim Curry’s Pennywise that they’re really thinking of. And they should, he’s scary as Hell and IT was shown on free over-the-air TV back when tens of millions of people still regularly watched scripted dramas instead of just dancing and singing competitions.

Look, I know there might have been a time when clowns weren’t terrifying. That time is over. There’s a real psychological term for the fear of clowns called “coulrophobia”. This year, through the magic of the Internet and in our never-quenched desire to save our children, we’re being inundated with tales of strange and sinister clowns lurking in our cities. It’s gone from a funny story that’s shared among friends on social media networks (and we covered it first in our paranormal newsletter!) to a full-blown worldwide phantom clown panic. Indeed, what started out this summer as a stunt in Green Bay, WI (for a film called Gags The Clown, our friend Cactus Joe interviews the director in this episode as well) has spread all across the country.

This latest era of clown scares starts in 2013 in Northampton in the United Kingdom. And while that clown isn’t even doing anything scary in particular, just the fact that someone is out there in the street dressed as a clown and waving to people spooked the locals. The innocuous nature of his performance is what freaked people out, in fact The Huffington Post headline was “Northampton Clown Terrorizes English Town Just By Standing Around“.

northampton clown
‘Ello, chaps! I’m the Northanmpton Clown! Bloody scary, eh?

Then in November of 2015, in Waukesha, Wisconsin (right by my hometown and the location of a new awesome ghost tour that I wrote and Wendy guides!), a local teenager  had a similar chilling effect on the populace. Once again, this clown isn’t doing anything, just hanging around and it’s disturbing people.

waukesha clown
The Weird Clown of Waukesha

Fast forward to 2016 and Gags the Green Bay Clown starts terrorizing the frozen tundra of Titletown. This summer, the story goes viral and no longer are these formerly jocular characters just occupying our nation’s street corners, they’re now in the schoolyards.

Gags The Green Bay Clown
I’m Gags The Green Bay Clown. I love cheese, the Packers, and murder!

Clown sightings in South Carolina in August had children claiming that clowns were trying to lure them into the woods with money. You mess with children and people freak out, and boy have they ever. You know how rumors spread through a junior high school population? That’s social media.

Schools have been locked down in Illinois, Tennessee, Maryland, Ohio, New York, and Florida. And it’s not even real clown sightings that are causing this, it’s just clown-based social media threats. It’s children reporting clown sightings and adults freaking out over it. Our schools have become zero-tolerance zones for clowns and it’s all because children are making up stories, Salem-style.

john wayne gacy clown
John Wayne Gacy in his favorite getup

This isn’t America’s first great clown panic though. In April of 1981, just over a year after notorious Chicagoland serial murderer and real-life killer clown John Wayne Gacy was sentenced to death for sexually assaulting and murdering thirty-three boys and young men, reports of mysterious clowns bothering children starting popping up around Boston area schools.

In May of that year, the media picked those reports of clowns up and the police of nearby Brookline, MA even issued a warning after learning of two “clown men” looking to lure children into their white van with candy. A little later that year, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, a “phantom” was seen by dozens of teenagers, and even a police officer, John Pepper, talked about seeing “a huge person with a white-painted face”.

But here’s the thing, besides the policeman seeing the clowns in Mineral Point, none of the other clowns were ever really seen by the police. Or even a reputable adult.

In fact, cryptozoology demigod, Loren Coleman (who we’re all going to meet and party with at the 2016 Milwaukee Paranormal Conference coined the phrase, “Phantom Clown” in his book, Mysterious America. They were phantoms because there were never any arrests made for these phantom clowns actually breaking the law, or even existing outside of elementary school imaginations, perhaps inspired by images of Gacy in the evening news broadcasts that their parents watched.

But for the people who think it might be fun to dress up and join in on the phantom clown prank, well you better think again. A couple in Menasha, Wisconsin, were just arrested for child neglect for leaving their four year old at home while they went on out to scare the local populace. Indeed, this time around people aren’t taking the clown sightings lying down, in fact at Penn State University, reports of creepy clowns inspired the students to head into the streets to seek them out for a clown beatdown.

That’s the inspiration behind this week’s Sunspot song. It’s not duck season, it’s not wabbit season, it’s “Clown Season“!

Lollipop eyes,
and a painted face
hide a taste for homicide.
and It’s no surprise,
every place we look
we find a crime.

Danger in every corner,
We’ve got murder on our mind.
you might play the fool, but if you come by a school
we will eat Bozo alive.

It’s no joke,
I won’t go,
to the place
where we all float.

Turn your frown upside down
and send in the clowns,
we’re gonna burn this big top down.

You ain’t funny,
you ain’t cute,
This time
the joke’s on you,

We don’t need a reason,
for hunting season,
A Krusty krackdown,
we’re coming for the clowns.

Hey you with the nose,
that’s as far as you go,
What’s with those big shoes?
Stay away from our youth
cuz we know the truth.
It must be real, it’s on the news.

Danger in every corner,
We don’t care if it’s all in fun,
Come by a kid, you’ll be sorry you did,
The mob is out for blood.

It’s no joke,
I won’t go,
to the place
where we all float.

Turn your frown upside down
send in the clowns,
we’re gonna burn this big top down.

You ain’t funny,
you ain’t cute,
This time
the joke’s on you,

We don’t need a good reason,
now it’s hunting season,
A Krusty krackdown,
we’re coming for the clowns.

Special thanks to our good friend (and a fellow musician!) Cactus Joe for interviewing Adam Krause about Gags the Clown!

P.S. We recorded this podcast on Scott Bakula’s birthday. Hope it was a great one, Scott!

63 – Devil’s Night: Mischief, Pranks, and Terror on The Eve of Halloween

It’s a very special episode of See You On The Other Side. This Halloween will be our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! How time flies when you’re exploring the unknown while writing songs about it!

And obviously, we love Halloween, so we got zombified and joined the cast of Rockford sitcom The Deadersons  and worked on a  special music video with them!

Brains... brains... brains...
Sunspot Zombified…

For this episode, we brought our friend and my Madison Ghost Walks guide, Lisa Van Buskirk into the studio with us (last heard in our episode at the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference). Lisa and I went to go see Saint Maria Goretti when she came through Madison in mid-October. There’s a church in Madison that’s named after her and they were displaying the saint’s body. There was around 100 people waiting in line when we went around 10pm but the showing went all night and they expected around six thousand people to come visit her.

Mike and Lisa visit Saint Maria Goretti
Mike and Lisa visit Saint Maria Goretti

Her story is particularly brutal because she was a little girl who was raped and stabbed to death by her neighbor, but the crux of the story is that she would rather die than lose her virginal purity telling her attacker he shouldn’t because he’ll go to Hell and then she forgave him on her deathbed and said “I want him to be with me in paradise.” So it’s her saintly power of forgiveness and devotion to purity that made the Church want to recognize her (in 1950.)

Just a quick refresher, the Catholic Church says that anyone who makes it to Heaven is a “saint” but they recognize some people for special holiness and give them the title of “Saint”. She supposedly appeared to her attacker in prison and also people have claimed miracles from praying at the body of Saint Maria and her remains have been covered in wax and they take her on tour where people can pray with her body, who the Church now considers a relic.

Here is Saint Maria Goretti’s remains covered in wax…

Now, to the main topic of the episode… Pranks around the Halloween season just seem natural to me. I remember being read a Halloween story from a children’s book where there a group of people circled around the fire and the boys sang:

Needles and pins, needles and pins!
When Hallowe’en comes, your trouble begins.

while the girls sang:

Needles and pins, needles and pins!
When Hallowe’en comes, the fun begins.

Just saying that rhyme always scared me as a boy, and I finally found the story, by Josephine Scribner Gates, in a 1918 children’s magazine called St. Nicholas. You can read it online right here. But that just reinforced my belief that this was the season for mischief. While most of mine were stupid (toilet papering trees, saying silly things in wax crayons on people’s driveways), in other towns, pranks got real dangerous, especially in Detroit.

Yeah, looks all innocent and fun... for now.
Yeah, looks all innocent and fun… for now.

In Lisa’s other life, she’s a paramedic and firefighter and her birthday is the day before Halloween, October 30th. That’s the traditional day for Halloween pranks and in Detroit, where Lisa was born and raised, it’s known as Devil’s Night, the night you live up to the trick part of “trick or treat.” It’s known as Mischief Night in some places and Cabbage Night(?) in others, but either way it’s the same thing, “When Halloween comes, the trouble begins…” which was so eloquently stated in The Crow (a film that takes place in Detroit on Devil’s Night over two consecutive years) as “Fire it up! Fire it up! Fire it up!Fire it up!”

As the American auto industry faded around Motor City in the 1970s, more and more Detroit residents lost their jobs and more and more houses became abandoned. Well, when you’ve got plenty of houses where there’s no one living and when people were looking to cause some mayhem, they set those houses on fire. In 1984 alone, there were 800 fires set in Detroit. It became such a tradition that even Eminem’s rap group D12 wrote a song about it, it’s mentioned in Grosse Point Blank (my personal favorite John Cusack role since the wonderful Journey of Natty Gann, as well as Dan Aykroyd’s last great role), and it was the basis of an episode of Criminal Minds (not work linking to.)

After a record number of fires in 1994 (the year The Crow came out), the city started Angel’s Night, as a response to the arson and tens of thousands Detroit residents walk the streets on that Devil’s Night to keep their neighborhoods safe.

Now where does this come from? Well, a couple of things. First, there’s a Spring tradition in Europe of Walpurgis Night on April 30th. The night before the feast of a Catholic Saint (naturally), it was originally rumored to the be the night that witches meet in the German mountains and was an evening for pranks, and later, politically motivated riots (it’s the day before the Community holiday, May Day.)

But some inspiration also comes from the night before Guy Fawkes’ Day (you know the masks that the guys were wearing in V For Vendetta?) That’s a holiday based around the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot where a Catholic group tried to assassinate the King of England (you see, they’re not all as merciful and loving as Maria Goretti…) That’s in the UK on the 5th of November and the night before became a traditional day for pranks, Mischief Night, and in some places, in the country as a coming of age ceremony for thirteen year olds (a Bar Mitzvah of Terror!)

They made a Mischief Night movie in 2014 with the not-very-discerning Malcolm Mcdowell. But the most obvious inspiration is for a film called The Purgea horror flick and social satire about a future America where crime is so bad that for one night a year, everything is legal for twelve hours. That means that people can do whatever they want for one night, cause as much destruction, kill people, whatever, and it serves as kind of a population control for the poor. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly were also attached to a Devil’s Night horror-comedy, but the status of that is currently unknown.

Fire it up! Fire it up! Fire it up!

But this particular episode has a point that we get to eventually, and that Devil’s Night is the perfect example of how people turn something innocent like a prank into something horrible, like arson. It’s the mentality of a riot. Sometimes when people talk about riots, they think of Los Angeles in 1992 or Ferguson in 2014 and they are quick to put the blame on poor people or minorities or a few  destructive elements. But riots right here in Madison, Wisconsin show us that it doesn’t matter who the population is, income and ethnicity isn’t a factor, when people are in large groups and get aggravated, they will destroy things. And people will do things that they never thought they would do. Malcolm Gladwell delineated this particularly brilliantly at this year’s The New Yorker festival.

Madison was always fun on Halloween, but in the early 2000s, it was the Halloween destination, even MTV came here to document the party. But you get tens of thousands of people from all over the country coming to the party, combine that with massive amounts of alcohol, and the inhibition-destroying effects of wearing a costume (there’s even a name for being defined by your outfit, called unclothed cognition) and Madison’s main drag turns into a scene that you normally only see on the news from a Russian republic or a Middle Eastern country.

The psychology of a riot has a lot to do with seeing what other people do. Yes, you might not normally throw a beer bottle at a police officer, but watching how many other people throwing that bottle and not getting in trouble does it take for you to think that it’s okay? It’s the mob. You might not normally break a window, but if you see ten other people do it, well, then it might not seem to be such a bad idea. Throw some booze and youthful exuberance in the mix and I think you know where I’m going.

Madison Wisconsin Halloween Riots
Picture courtesy of Derek Montgomery.

That’s Devil’s Night. A night where tradition, expectation, mob mentality, peer pressure, and opportunity combine to create destruction. And it’s that disintegration of society’s boundaries that we tackle in this episode’s song, “Neanderthal“.

Virtual murder,
pixelated death,
we can kill each other,
with no regrets.
Like raping a hooker,
Or popping a cop,
Or pushing a handi,
Right out of his wheelchair.

Your thoughts become reality,
Focusing on a tragedy,
And now I’m f$%^ing my PC.

I am Neanderthal.
I am Incredible.
I am Neanderthal.
Berserker.

This liquor store’s a mammoth,
This gat’s a bone.
There’s too much information,
In this age of Stone.

Your thoughts become reality,
A self-fulfilling prophecy,
And now I’m f$%^ing my PC.

I am Neanderthal.
I am Incredible.
I am Neanderthal.
Berserker.

Your thoughts become reality,
Focusing on a tragedy,
And now I’m f$%^ing my PC.

I am Neanderthal.
I am Incredible.
I am Neanderthal.
Berserker.
Berserker.
Berserker.

53 – Dream Interpretation For Beginners: An Interview With Diane Brandon

Dreams, man. We all have them, all the time. Sometimes they’re terrifying, sometimes they’re fun, sometimes they’re just downright nasty (and not always in a bad way)… But do they mean anything? Is it just the random firings of synapses that are going through the motions as we fall asleep? A shoebox full of memories, fantasies, and mistakes that gets shaken up in the middle of the night and put on display to entertain the sleeping mind?

How about messages from our subconscious bubbling up to the top, telling us things that we normally refuse to let ourselves think? Desires sometimes best left unspoken that only express themselves in the safe private haven of the dream world.

Or is it a place where people can receive messages from the non-physical. Conversations with spiritual entities, sharing adventures with friends, memories of past lives that might only appear in your dreams.

When I interviewed Diane Brandon for this particular episode, it was because we were looking to do an episode of interpretations of some of the most popular dreams. After all, she is the author of Dream Interpretation for Beginners so we thought she’d be the perfect person to help you guys begin to make sense out of the craziness of what happens when you dream. Interpreting one’s dreams is one of the foundations of Freudian psychoanalysis and we talk a little about that in the interview, but beyond just learning to understand yourself better, Diane believes that dreams can be much more than just the internal workings of one’s own mind.

She talks of dreams as the conduit to other planes of existence, can help facilitate an out-of-body experience and leave the physical body behind, that you can communicate with your friends in dreams (indeed dream telepathy was even suggested by the good Doctor Freud himself once ), and that basically it’s a place where the paranormal can and does happen.

Diane currently lives in Durham, North Carolina, (the home of Duke University which is the home of the Rhine Research Center, which is probably the most famous parapsychological laboratory of all time) and she began her exploration of the dream world when she was in college and she began sharing (not just discussing but literally sharing) dreams with her roommate. That led her on the path to work as an integrated intuitive counselor, which, okay, what does that mean?

Intuitive counselors help people understand themselves better. Just think about all the times your body was telling you something but your mind wasn’t listening. Ever have a job you hated and would get sick a lot, not just the kind of sickness you get after partying too hard, but you would get physically ill more often than usual. But when you went on to do some other kind of work you just discovered that you weren’t getting sick anymore? Or you might find that your body acting literally allergic to a boyfriend or girlfriend that isn’t right for you. Sometimes you might be angry about something and then you eat something and you start being less angry about it? Sounds like you? Well, that’s what an intuitive counselor helps you deduce, things that your body or subconscious might be telling you (often loudly and clearly) but you’re not getting the message.

So that’s when we start talking about how you can start analyzing your dreams and trying to learn more about yourself from what messages you’re getting sent into the dream world.

Diane stresses how important it is to get into dream interpretation with intention. If you aren’t really that interested in doing it, your unconscious will know and will act accordingly, not helping you with remembering your dreams well enough to document them. Also, a voice recorder is better than a dream journal, number one because you’re not exposing yourself to light in the middle of the night, but also because it’s faster to document the dream. The more time you wait while you’re frantically writing the words down, the more of your dream disappears.

Diane stresses the significance of getting a decent amount of sleep as well as a straightforward approach to nightmares. If you have nightmares all the time, you have some unresolved issue in your life that you have to deal with. Are you watching too many horror movies that maybe you’re not mentally prepared for? Are you scared of something, are you being abused? Having nightmares constantly means that you have some mental business to take care of.

We go through several popular dreams and what they might mean from cheating to flying to nightmares, to being naked in public, teeth falling out, and taking that test unprepared, and more. So, what can they mean for you? Take a listen to the podcast and find out and get a headstart on your dream interpretation. And if you are interested in taking it to the next level, check out Diane’s book, Dream Interpretation for Beginners!

This week’s song was inspired by the discussion of the dream world being a place where spirits can meet as well as the concept of the Aboriginal Dreamtime (something that will definitely get its own topic soon!) Here is “Dreamtime” by Sunspot.

there is no distance
there is no time
there is no boundaries
as big as your mind
collective memory
of a place we haven’t been
always recreating
when the spirit moves in

I’ll see you again in the Dreamtime
I’ll see you again on the ground
we’ll follow the song lines
we’ll follow all the way down

no when
no before nor after
don’t trust what you see
no when
no before nor after
you’ll never know what it means

there is no distance
there is no time
there is no boundaries
as big as your mind
collective memory

I’ll see you again in the Dreamtime
I’ll see you again on the ground
we’ll follow the song lines
we’ll follow all the way down

0 – Make First Contact with Mike and Wendy, Your Haunted Hosts to the Weird Reality Between Paranormal Activity and Pop Culture

This is the first episode of Sunspot’s brand new podcast, See You On The Other Side, a new paranormal pop culture podcast. In it, you’ll get a little background as to why we find it fun to talk about the supernatural, paranormal, and general other-worldly topics and their relationship with the entertainment industry.

Mike and Wendy recap some of the strange things that they and their bandmate Ben have witnessed while on tour, including a terrifying post-show excursion into the haunted basement of Ballyhoo’s in Merrill, Wisconsin, visiting the haunted railroad crossing in San Antonio, Texas, brushes with orbs caught on video, suspicions of aliens, and more.

Please contact us if you have any questions or suggestions for show topics! We’d love to hear from you.

Featured Song: We Are The Darkness from the album Singularity

This song is available on iTunes and also has a video on YouTube. We hope you enjoy it!

Lyrics:

We are the impossible,
the things that should not be,
caught between Hell and Purgatory.
We are the invisible.
Waiting in the dark,
bearing the Devil’s mark.
We are the untouchable,
the kind they walk right through and never even have a clue.
We are the polluted souls.
Sloth and gluttony,
a leper colony.
The unwashed and the unholy.

Better to rule in Hell than never have a chance,
I’ve never been so glad to be forever damned.

And we will scream and we will cry,
and we will stand against the wind and watch them rail against the night.
Beware the human and his silly little game,
We are The Darkness, baby, we are not the same.

We are the undesirable,
Bleeding from the barbs carved into pariah hearts.
We are the un-nameable.
Demonic and sinful,
diabolical.
We are the abominable,
with spirits that are stained,
drunken on the blood of saints.
We are the wicked and the cursed,
doomed to fear the dawn,
an infernal spawn.
We are the whores of Babylon.

Better to rule in Hell than never have a chance,
I’ve never been so glad to be forever damned.

And we will scream and we will cry,
and we will stand against the wind and watch them rail against the night.
Calling all vampires, calling all succubi,
We are what they fear the most and we will never die.
And we will scream and we will cry,
and we will stand against the wind and watch them rail against the night.
Beware the human and his silly little game,
We are The Darkness, baby, we are not the same.

We are The Darkness, baby, we are not the same.
We are The Darkness, baby, we are not the same.
We are the ones that they will try to hold in chains,
the ones like you and me, we are a different breed.
And they’ll call us evil, the sons and daughters of Cain,
Find excuses for their hate and they will know us,
When they curse our name.
When they curse our name.
When they curse our name.
And they will know us when they curse our name.

And we will scream and we will cry,
and we will stand against the wind and watch them rail against the night.
Calling all vampires, calling all succubi,
We are what they fear the most and we will never die.
And we will scream and we will cry,
and we will stand against the wind and watch them rail against the night.
Beware the human and his silly little game,
We are the darkness, baby, we are not the same.

Links to Things We Discussed about the Band and Paranormal Pop Culture