Ali Ghan Shrine Club

This Times-News file photo shows clowns from the Ali Ghan Shrine Club marching in a parade at Grantsville.

OAKLAND - The current national paranoia about people in clown costumes isn't good and is giving legitimate clown units a black eye, according to an Oakland man who has been been clowning around since 2000.

"We don't intimidate or scare anybody," said Tom Holland, a member of the Ali Ghan Shrine Club's clown unit.

Holland said the group is backing out of a scheduled parade in Hagerstown and considering whether to participate in an upcoming Cumberland parade.

"With all this stuff going on we decided not to go to Hagerstown for a parade at night," Holland said.

Emmett Kelly and Red Skelton could never have imagined it would come to this. Bozo and Clarabell must be shaking their heads.

Some folks across the country are scared and calling local law enforcement agencies when they see a clown ... or think they see one.

For the past several weeks, clown complaints have popped up in a variety of places.

In South Carolina, there were concerns clowns were attempting to lure children.

On Monday in Kentucky, police arrested what was described as a man -- wearing a full clown mask and costume -- lurking and crouching in the woods near an apartment complex. He was charged with wearing a mask in a public place.

Paw Paw, West Virginia, Police Chief James F. Cummings decided to get ahead of the clown curve.

Cummings posted notices across town to alert folks who dress as clowns to expect to be arrested, but not before they get thumped ... by their neighbors.

Cummings got complaints from people who saw clowns, according to Town Clerk Tina Lewis. Cummings was not available for comment on Monday.

"Our thinking is that people had heard about the clowns in other areas and decided to dress up and be funny or scare someone," Lewis said. "The chief didn't want those kinds of shenanigans so he posted the notices around town at places where they would be seen such as the post office and stores."

The chief's notice is blunt and cites state law.

"It is plain stupid to do this," the notice reads. "If someone sees you dressed like this they have the right to defend themselves. It is not normal for clowns to be running around like idiots all year long.

"I will stand behind anyone who feels they need to protect themselves from these so-called clowns," the notice continues.

"So, to sum it all up, if you run around in a clown suit, you should probably expect for citizens to beat you (for their own protection), then get arrested by police," the notice concludes.

Cummings indicated on the notice that West Virginia code allows for the arrest of someone wearing a mask.

Meanwhile, Holland said the Ali Ghan clowns will parade in Kingwood, West Virginia, on Saturday for the Buckwheat Festival.

"That's a daytime parade and we feel better about that," Holland said. "But we are going to stick together as a group everywhere we go."

The club's clown van is based in Oakland, but members don makeup and costumes at home, then drive in their personal cars to reach the central gathering point.

That makes them vulnerable to sightings people can misconstrue as someone intending to do harm, according to Holland.

"That's not what we're all about," Holland said. "Sure, some kids get scared when they see us, so we don't push that. We just keep moving on and give them space."

Holland said he told other members of the clown group to give some thought about laying low for a while, although marching in the Autumn Glory Festival parade in Oakland is definitely still on the schedule.

"That's our home parade and it's during the day. We'll be there," Holland said.

There have been a couple recent clown incidents in Cumberland, according to Police Capt. Greg Leake.

On Saturday, officers encountered a man on River Avenue who was wearing a clown mask and throwing rocks onto the street.

On Sept. 20, officers were not able to locate a man who had been described as wearing a clown mask and beating a pipe against one hand at the corner of Park and Williams streets.

"I don't believe we have an issue on our hands here like I've heard about in other cities," Leake said.  

Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson said he is not aware that any of his deputies have responded to complaints about clowns.

"I don't know of any law that would make it illegal to be dressed like a clown or wear a mask," Robertson said. "If that were the case it would be impossible to have trick or treat at Halloween."

Robertson said businesses such as banks and credit unions have their own regulations that prohibit entry of masked people, for obvious reasons.

Garrett County Sheriff Rob Corley said his staff has not dealt with any clown complaints.

Mike Sawyers is a staff writer and the outdoor editor at Cumberland Times-News. Call/text him at 301-268-0630, email msawyers@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter.

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