Lake Lucina: Suicidal Clown House

by Tim Gilmore, 6/20/2013

expand your definition of ghost to include

and by the ordinary forgotten lives unmarked by tragedy

“Writing this paper on this house will be part of its history, even if only two people know about it.”

Neal Daniel concerned his Ghost Landscape Project with a very ordinary house on Columbine Drive, depressingly ordinary, a house in which his aunt and uncle had lived in the early 1980s. His aunt and uncle were getting old when Neal interviewed them. They couldn’t remember the exact address, but thought it was 6084. It was a beige ranch-style house built in the 1950s or 1960s. Columbine Drive is located in the Lake Lucina area of Greater Arlington, near Cesery Boulevard and Merrill Road, not far from the private Jacksonville University. Unfortunately, there is no 6084 and many of the houses on Columbine Drive are beige ranch-style houses built in the 1950s and 1960s. There’s a 6034, and the nearest address in number to 6084 is 6056.

Doors were always opening and closing on their own in the house. Neal’s aunt placed bricks in front of the doors as doorstops, but the doors would move and push the bricks along with them.

Her sons, Neal’s cousins, experienced some kind of paranormal phenomena in the house, she said. When the older cousin was three, his radio turned off by itself at bedtime, and the little boy saw a dark figure brush by his bed in the dark and go into the wall. In 1983, when the younger cousin was three, he frequently had nightmares about clowns. He claimed to see clowns walk through his room when no one else was around. Once, in the middle of the night, he started screaming and when his parents came into the room, he said a clown had been hovering over his bed.

“My mom told me one time she was visiting and she went to the bathroom and she was wearing a necklace that she liked, but while sitting on the toilet she had an urge to see if the necklace was still on her neck, but it was not. She looked everywhere, including the toilet, but she never found it.”

In 1981, Neal’s grandmother was visiting. While everyone else was outside the house, she was in the kitchen by herself and heard rattling. She followed the sound to a closed bedroom door and saw the doorknob turning frantically, back and forth. When she hurriedly told the rest of the family, they all went to the door and saw the handle still turning and turning. The uncle tried to open the door, but couldn’t. When he stepped back from the door, the knob became still. He tried it again and the door opened easily. Of course, no one was there.

Neighbors had told the uncle the neighborhood gossip, but he didn’t mention the scuttlebutt to his wife. For much of the time they lived on Columbine Drive, he knew the story, but she never heard it until after they had moved and left the house behind. She was perhaps the only one in the neighborhood who didn’t know the story about how the Shrine Circus clown who lived in the house in the late 1970s had hung himself in the garage.

In 1983, Neal’s aunt brought a medium to the house. The medium said she felt bad vibrations there. She gave the aunt some “herbal candles,” and told her to burn them at midnight and read certain passages aloud from the Bible. At midnight, just as she had lit the candles and was about the read the Bible verses aloud, the medium called her on the phone to see if she was following through with procedures. The ringing of the phone scared Neal’s aunt and made her scream. The haunting did not stop.

Neal’s aunt and uncle lived on Columbine Drive, but they couldn’t give him the right address. It was almost 30 years ago. The neighborhood was different then. The houses were small and plain, but people kept up the lawns and didn’t break into each other’s cars. It was a humble place then, ordinary, but not a sad and disrespectful place. His aunt and uncle can’t remember which house they lived in.

Just as no 6084 can be found on Columbine Drive, Neal could find no record of a clown who killed himself on Columbine Drive in the late 1970s. Local newspaper articles from that time are not yet available on the Internet and he was unable to located the incident on microfilm at the downtown branch of the public library. His aunt and uncle have not only forgotten their former address; they’ve also forgotten the clown’s name, though they say they once knew it.

Other local stories of suicidal ghosts include those of various people, depending on the story, who hung themselves over the auditorium or the stage in Public School Number Four by Riverside Park.

In 2005, a 17 year-old student was found dead on the sidewalk outside the gym at Nathan Bedford Forrest High School at 6:45 a.m. on a Thursday, shortly before classes started. He had shot himself on school grounds sometime in the night.

But if any Shrine Circus clown killed himself on Columbine Drive in the late 1970s, the Internet hasn’t picked it up and it’s buried in microfilm and the minds of family members, if he had any. “The late 1970s, they’re like the Dark Ages,” said one student who, to the amazement of his young professors, was born at such a juncture that he can’t remember a time without the Internet or cell phones. “I do know about the ’70s. I mean, I know about Alice Cooper singing about necrophilia and some guy getting ideas about killing John Lennon and AIDS incubating for several years before it exploded in the early 1980s and the long, long crash of the Utopian euphoria of the 1960s and Sid Vicious overdosing after he was accused of stabbing Nancy Spungen to death. I mean, shit, I ain’t stupid. The late 1970s were Devil years. Poor Jimmy Carter. Bad timing. It was the kind of time when clowns hung themselves in the garages of beige ranch-style houses. I think maybe anybody who died in the late 1970s probably was forced to stick around and haunt some place, like it was some mora-fuckin-torium on leaving this earth for the afterlife, you know what I mean?”

Once the doorbell rang and Neal’s aunt and uncle came to their front door to see a “scroungey,” long-haired young man holding a motorcycle helmet. He said he was the previous owner’s son and wanted to look around the house. They were reluctant to admit him and he said nothing else, but they often saw him driving his motorcycle by the house and looking at it. They never found out his name.

Neal Daniel is skeptical of all these stories. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, not in a paranormal sense, “not where they are actually able to open doors and touch people.” He has logical explanations for all the anecdotal evidence that the Columbine Drive house was / is haunted. He also says that children often have overactive imaginations and that coulrophobia (fear of clowns) is common among children. It’s tangentially interesting that Columbine and Clown are both characters in the Commedia dell’Arte, but there’s not much else you can do with that in Lake Lucina, Greater Arlington, Jacksonville, Florida. If you go for those kinds of coincidences, you might as well also consider that “Lucina” forms the middle of the word “hallucination.”

Neal doesn’t think a haunting necessarily has anything to do with the paranormal. He says, “The past haunts everyone, no matter how much we try to deny it,” quite a wise assertion for such a young man. He believes the past not only haunts everyone, but everything. “The past,” he says, “is always part of us, it is written into our personal history, no matter how deep you try to keep it inside.” In this case, “the house has its own past,” even though its past hasn’t [yet] been documented, even though the house doesn’t have “a physical mind of its own.”

“Writing this paper on this house will be part of its history, even if only two people know about it.”

So enters this document into the recorded history of the house, of which you too, reader, now perform your part.