The Clowns in the White Van
Written by Michael Quinn
Supposedly, they were this group of people dressed as evil clowns that rode around in a van and kidnapped people and did horrible things to them. Mainly, they went after us- the catholic school kids – or at least it seemed that way. The stories about kids making narrow escapes from their van as it came skidding up and The Clowns jumped out to take the next victim were everywhere.
A dirty angry version of Bozo
Kids in blue ties, blue pants and light blue shirts (white shirts for the Gatey kids) would run up to you breathless saying they just got chased by The Clowns. But the descriptions were always poor because the kids were trying so hard to get away they would never get a good look. Were they seeing things or was this a real threat? I always pictured a dirty, angry version of Bozo as he was the most popular clown at the time.
We used to walk home from school (St. Peter’s in my case) in fear that the white van would pull up and The Clowns would jump out and attack us. There were always reports of kids getting grabbed nearby and that The Clowns were just seen “driving by Marine Park” or “that kid” just got grabbed at L and Broadway.
I actually remember my friend saying that The Clowns were seen at I St. & Marine Road and one didn’t have pants on! Are you kidding me? An evil clown with no pants?! We had a real crisis on our hands. Kids armed themselves with wiffle ball bats that had extra electrical tape around the end, sharpened Mylec street hockey sticks or a Flanagan’s bag full of chestnuts to throw just in case The Clowns attacked. I had a gold butterfly knife from Slocum’s just in case I was targeted by The Clowns.
There were even some brave souls who would arm themselves and form groups to hunt these evil clowns down. But these late 70’s versions of the “Insane Clown Posse” never made a catch as far as I know. You knew these anti-clown vigilantes were on the move when chants of, “SOUTHIE’S ON THE WARPATH –OOH! AAH! could be heard.
A Southie parent was not above propaganda
Was this really happening? Maybe some kids let their imaginations get the better of them or some enjoyed watching a younger sibling or neighbor tremble in fear. Or even more sinister….was this some sort of manufactured image of behavior control by parents, nuns and priests? I mean a Southie parent was not above propaganda to keep us in line.
I know I always walked home a little quicker, was a little more careful, a little more humble and a little more grateful to be alive knowing The Clowns would take it all away if given the chance.
I never saw them. I don’t remember any news reports about them. If they existed, I hope no one was ever hurt by them. But I do remember the fear was real among the kids in Southie and the reports lasted for about a year.
If you were a kid on the streets of Southie during their reign of terror you know that all someone had to do was yell, “The Clowns!” and we’d “book it”.
Real or not, I think many of us can remember running away screaming, “The Clowns!” more than once from any white van that looked suspicious.
I have a son now and hope he only knows clowns as happy jesters that honk their noses and throw buckets of confetti and not the kidnapping monsters of our youth.
Written by Mike Quinn