If the idea of sleeping with dozens of clowns watching you sleep is comforting to you, there’s only one place that can make that dream a reality. Deep in the desert near Death Valley sits an eyesore of an inn, with bright and colorful signs proclaiming it “The Clown Motel,” but here, it goes beyond a simple interest in clowns and crosses over into the bizarre. Each room filled to the brim with clown figures, full sized mannequins, and artwork of various folks in clown makeup, even celebrities aren’t safe from clownification. This place is a good example of “too much of a good thing.” Unless you’re afraid of clowns, in which case, maybe skip these accommodations this time.
The “World Famous Clown Motel,” knows exactly what it is. It’s not just an ode to the face painted carnival performers, it’s also a place for people to get spooked and have a truly unique experience.
Dozens of thrill seekers have stayed the night in this hotel, the vintage vibes from the antique signs adding a little bit more mystery to the strange attraction. However, this hotel has a dark secret just outside of the property. The Clown Motel sits a few meters from the Tonopah Cemetery, where hundreds of people were buried in the 1900s era. But the ghosts of the cemetery are restless and occasionally find their way to the nearby hotel.
The cemetery was started in 1901 but closed just 10 years later when the rough and tumble town of Tonopah had filled the space– No vacancy in the cemetery as the plot of land holds history from the once bustling boom town that grew around the discovery of gold in the nearby mountains. Dozens of graves sit as testament to men who died in mining accidents, shootouts, and a mysterious bout of illness known as the Tonopah Plague. George ‘Devil’ Davis’ grave sits in the cemetery as well, the first African American resident of Tonopah– He was murdered by his wife, who only did hard time for a year before her release owing to the abusive conditions in her relationship with George.
The most important grave in the cemetery is a more unassuming tin headstone, with the name Clarence H. David written on the plaque. This man’s death is the reason for the Clown Hotel’s founding as two of Clarence’ children decided to build a motel on the plot of land next to his final resting place so they could be closer to their dad. His grave stands as another reminder, that of the second Belmont Mine Fire in 1942, following a similar accident in 1911 where the mine claimed the lives of 17 miners from the toxic fumes in the mine. Clarence just happened to have a clown collection with over 150 pieces before his death. Leroy and Leona, his son and daughter, would begin the construction of the Clown Motel in 1985. The two siblings felt that clowns were a delightful and jolly decor choice for their remote hotel. It would gain a following from those who found clowns creepy, and that’s the clientele the roadside motel has serviced for its entire life.
The hotel was purchased in 2019 by an entrepreneur and clown enthusiast that asked for donations of clowns to grow the total number of clowns in the hotel up to over 3000. It was his insistence that added “World Famous,” to the motel’s sign, bringing in still more visitors to the creepy and unnerving hotel.
While the motel itself is not believed to be haunted, that much can’t be said for the 300+ silent neighbors in the Tonopah Cemetery. If ghosts can wander, many of them end up visiting the hotel for more than restful accommodations and clown memorabilia. Ghost enthusiasts have always flocked to the hotel for its unique location and subject matter, but the real ghosts come out at night. The travel channel show, Ghost Adventures, recorded an episode inside its walls and captured compelling evidence of a haunting. The group observed a dark figure that wasn’t just a clown mannequin. One clown was observed moving its hand of its own accord and a spirit box captured the words “Hello, It turned on.”
Visitors to the hotel say they experience a feeling of unrest in the rooms filled to the brim with clowns. Many have recorded having their belongings moved when they weren’t in the room, figures peeking around corners and doorways, and whispered voices in the night that set their teeth on edge. It’s estimated that four of the rooms in the hotel have particularly strong paranormal activity, so the proprietors commissioned large paintings of horror icons reimagined as clowns. Want to sleep with a clown version of Michael Myers on the wall next to your bed? You’re in luck!
The World Famous Clown Motel is open for business and attracts thrill seekers, clown enthusiasts (do those exist?) and paranormal investigators. Next to the hotel sits the silent 1901 cemetery, with more than a few specters showing themselves to those brave enough to enter the cemetery after dark. If you’re heading there for a weekend getaway, don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.