Clowns are a familiar part of circuses, birthday parties, and carnivals. But motels? You wouldn’t normally associate clowns with an inn, but a trip to Tonopah, Nevada would prove you wrong. Located 211 miles north of Las Vegas on I-95 is Tonopah’s sinister Clown Motel.
Tonopah is an unincorporated desert community far from the glittering lights of Sin City, with a population of about 2,627. The city traces its history back to 1900 when prospector Jim Butler discovered a cache of silver ore. Town legend says that Butler was chasing after a runaway burro that had wandered away during the night. At the light of morning, he picked up a stone to throw at the burro and discovered the rock was full of silver. Whether this legend is true is anyone’s guess, but it’s the one the town touts in visitor materials and on its website.
Soon the area attracted investors and prospectors alike, all eager to make their fortune. By 1901, the mines in Tonopah had produced nearly $750,000 in gold and silver. The town grew, adding a post office, restaurants, saloons and housing for the workers. Mining was consistent, but then the Depression hit and the town fell on hard times. In 1947, the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad closed the local train station, making it even harder for people to visit.
Today Tonopah features stargazing, historic mining trails and other attractions, but for many, the creepy Clown Motel is the No. 1 reason to visit. If you have Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, look away now, because these images may be terrifying! The friendly clown signs outside the motel may look inviting, but the theme inside the hotel is more sinister, especially when you consider the motel sits next to an abandoned graveyard! Here’s a look at what’s driving some horror fans to make their way to Tonopah.
From the moment you enter the check-in area, clowns seem to be lurking everywhere. Stuffed clowns, porcelain clowns, clown figurines, clown art, it’s all there, and it’s deliciously creepy. Especially the life-size clown resting in the waiting-area, staring holes through each and every customer with his sinister glass eyes. The cad is one of 600 clowns within the grounds of the motel.
The spooky clown motif continues as you enter your room. Clown figurines and paintings adorn the walls and entry doors. The beds seem normal enough – perfect for a nap. Or, more likely, a terrifying nightmare. Depends on the customer, we guess. In any event, the moderately priced motel has become quite an Internet sensation, attracting horror fans and those other folks who (strangely) love clowns.
The Clown Motel has even inspired a book, written by Christopher Sebella after he launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his opus. Sebella wrote I Lived in a Clown Motel based on his experiences during the 30 days he spent in the town. While there, Sebella received several unsettling clown-themed gifts: a clown mask, clown dolls, and a John Wayne Gacy book; Gacy, of course, was a serial killer obsessed with clowns. I Lived in a Clown Motel is now in its 2nd printing, and features a number of stories about his insane experience.
Like we said, the Clown Motel is located next to the town’s first cemetery, constructed in 1901. Not by accident, either. Clearly, the owners of the motel, which opened in 1990, weren’t clowning around when they decided to build their inn next to the graveyard. Or were they? The cemetery was the final resting place for victims of the 1905 pneumonia plague, along with numerous miners and even the town sheriff.
In fact, so many people died in Tonopah during those early years that by 1911, the cemetery had expanded to a larger tract of land. Gravestones recall the 14 miners who were killed in the Tonopah-Belmont fire along with all the regular folk who used to call Tonopa home. Some of them may even have been clowns. Visitors to the Clown Motel are said to enjoy their walks through the graveyard, especially at night.
Frequented by truckers, and travelers who need a place to stay on their way to Reno or Las Vegas, the Clown Motel has been crowned by many publications as the “scariest motel in America.” Since being uploaded on the creepy subreddit of Reddit, the property has attracted thrill seekers and those who just want to stay somewhere unique. Some locals are convinced the inn and cemetery are “haunted.” If you’re ever in the Las Vegas/Reno area, you might want to see for yourself.