It has made this clown cry.
People have asked “Jingles” if they could take photos of her while lying on the floor with their foot near her head; others requested a picture of her while they pretended to shoot her; and then there was the one man who asked her why she hadn’t been shot yet.
Two adult males sneaked a photo of her at one recent appearance, and although she asked them not to use it in a nefarious manner, “Jingles” has no idea whether and/or how it was distributed.
It has not been a pleasant experience for Jennifer Mull Staley, a Wheeling resident who has portrayed “Jingles” and owned Beyond Balloons LLC for more than 20 years. And while none of her clients have canceled any of her appearances since clowns have come under attack throughout the United States, a few have requested that she not travel to the gig in costume. One, in fact, asked her to leave the suit, wig, and makeup at home and instead concentrate on her fabulous balloon-figure making during the gathering.
“What if a child that has met me in costume sees a picture of people trying to shoot me? That’s what I asked them to think about,” Staley said. “This is about the children for me. I have met so many kids since I got started, and now I am meeting their children.
“I’ve told these people that I am a children’s entertainer, and it’s all about positivity,” she continued. “It’s all about spreading joy, making people smile, and making sure the kids are having fun. I took an oath when I started doing this, and the oath is all about making people happy and, in no way, scaring them.”
Staley, who has cooperated with local media outlets in an effort to spread a positive message about what she does for a living, also understands some folks simply do not like clowns.
“There are definitely those people out there, and they can be males or females,” she said. “I had a 250-pound guy who came to the restaurant where I was working on a Harley, and as soon as he looked at me he, turned the other way.
“And I respect that; I really do,” Staley continued. “I don’t try to force anything on them because, again, my goal at all times is to make people happy, and that’s not going to happen with someone who doesn’t like clowns. The best I can do in that situation is to leave them alone.”
In the past month people dressed as clowns have been arrested in three countries and 12 different states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Just over a week ago three juveniles were arrested in Belmont County after inducing enough panic to force school officials to place several districts in lockdown mode. When the three males were arrested, deputies found them to be armed with knives, a hatchet, a handgun, and a green laser light. Two of the males were 19 years of age, and the third was 18.
And last week in the Woodsdale neighborhood of Wheeling a juvenile was apprehended by police officers after the male, dressed in clown-like attire, leaped out in front of officers who were driving an unmarked cruiser.
“I have no idea where this all came from, and I have tried to trace it back to something,” Staley said. “But I don’t think these people have thought it out very well because of the dangerous impact it could have on children everywhere. What kind of place would we live in if children learned to fear clowns?
“That’s why I think it’s important for responsible parents to have a talk with their kids about what they may be seeing in the news and on Facebook,” she suggested. “The kids need to realize the difference between what I do as a professional clown and what these other people are doing because they think it’s funny for some reason.”
Wheeling Police Sgt. Gust Kepreos confirmed that while the one arrest took place, there also have been reported clown sightings, including one in the Elm Grove area this past week. The city of Wheeling’s designated time for trick-or-treating is set for Oct. 31 from 6:30-7:30 p.m., and his advice for adults preparing to dress as clowns on or around Halloween is to think twice.
“With the climate the way it is right now, I would strongly suggest to come up with a different idea,” he said. “With the change with West Virginia’s concealed carry law, there’s really no telling who is carrying a weapon and who isn’t, and if someone dresses up as a clown with the intent of scaring others, they could get hurt.
“Halloween is for the kids,” Kepreos continued. “It’s not about adults scaring the kids. That’s not what it’s about at all, and if adults see that taking place, they should call the police department because we’re taking these situations very seriously. We’re not messing around with it because it’s not funny at all, and it’s against the laws in West Virginia and in the city of Wheeling. They could end up in jail if not the emergency room.”
Kepreos has squelched a plethora of rumors in his north end neighborhood on Wheeling Island, and his children are now apprehensive when it comes to clowns.
“They are freaking out so much that I plan to walk with them on Halloween night while wearing my uniform,” he said. “And once they are done trick-or-treating, I’ll continue walking around the Island to make sure no one is doing anything like trying to scare the little ones. My hope is that people just use some common sense so they can make the right decision.
“Now, if a child wants to dress as a clown for Halloween, then that’s fine, but a teenager or an adult? I strongly suggest against it,” Kepreos advised. “As a department I can tell you that we’ll be out there in full force to assist with keeping all of the children safe. That’s the first priority, and I say that as a father and as member of law enforcement.”
Staley’s business specializes in balloon designs for parties, and, of course, “Jingles” is an added bonus. She has contemplated, though, suspending her appearances as her character, one that floats from table to table at Quaker Steak & Lube at The Highlands two Mondays each month during the eatery’s Family Appreciation Night.
She remains optimistic that, after Halloween passes in a few weeks, many more people will realize what Staley has so the trend fades away.
“Of course it comes down to having integrity because if a person had integrity, they wouldn’t have the intentions that some have had recently,” she said. “And that’s where the parents come into the equation, I believe. Maybe they don’t know if their children are out there trying to scare people dressed as a clown, but if they do, I sure would hope they would have a talk with them.
“Right now there are only three professional clowns in this area, and I am sure the others have been affected just like I have,” Staley continued. “I’m sure it will fade away over time, but there’s no telling how many kids have learned not to like clowns, and that’s the saddest part of this. That’s what brings tears to my eyes.”
(Photos provided by Jennifer Staley)