Sam the Sandown Clown: Alien, Man in Black, or Folie à Deux?

Bufora Journal cover from January/February 1978 featuring a drawing of Sam the Sandown Clown

This is a weird story, I fully admit that. But I have so many drafts about haunted locations on the Isle of Wight that I was curious if anything other than ghost sightings had happened on the island. And then I stumbled upon the bizarre story of Sam the Sandown Clown and obviously had to look more into… whatever the heck that was. And what I ended up finding wasn’t at all what I was expecting — it was much much stranger.

The Seaside Town of Sandown

The story of Sam the Sandown Clown takes place on the outskirts of Sandown, a seaside town on the southern end of the Isle of Wight. The town has a rich history stretching back to the Roman period when the area was used primarily for salt production. And up until the nineteenth-century, Sandown was exclusively used as a military site since the beaches offered easy access to invading French troops. With the arrival of the train in the 1800s, Sandown grew into the beach resort town it would become known as into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Today, Sandown is a traditional British seaside town featuring a long stretch of sandy beach, a high street filled with restaurants and shops, various attractions including a wildlife sanctuary and a dinosaur museum (the area is rich with dinosaur bones!), and a quintessential Victorian pier with a large arcade and beautiful views of the cliffs and sea.

Sandown high street. ©Curious Archive, 2019.

Sandown is everything you’d expect from a seaside town. It’s busy in the summer, quiet in the winter. Plenty of tourists come and go, often returning for the beautiful beaches and stunning views. It certainly isn’t the type of place one would expect to run into an alien robot clown… thing.

The British UFO Research Association

Before getting into the story of Sam the Sandown Clown, I want to first introduce the primary source of the event: the British UFO Research Association (or Bufora). Bufora was founded in 1964 to investigate UFO reports around the British Isles. According to their website, Bufora is a “non-cultist and scientifically evaluative organisation” and until 2005 they published the Bufora Journal where the story of Sam the Sandown Clown appeared in the January/February 1978 issue. The cover of the issue features a drawing of Sam who appears as a tall, robot-like humanoid speaking into a microphone hooked up to an audio device. The caption underneath dramatically asks: “GHOST” or SPACEMAN?. So for the sake of full transparency, this is the sole location of the original report of Sam the Sandown Clown. Take from that what you will.

“Hello and I am all colours, Sam.”

So with all that in mind, let’s move on to the story of Sam the Sandown Clown, according to Bufora Journal.

The witnesses of the following event were two children, a girl referred to as Fey, aged 7, and a boy of similar age (who wasn’t given a name, so I’m going to call him Harry) who were vacationing with their families near Lake Common in Sandown. It was a Tuesday afternoon around four o’clock in May of 1973 when the Fey and Harry heard a ‘weird wailing’ sound similar to an ambulance siren. Curious, they followed the noise across the golf course and towards a swampy area outside of the Sandown Airport until the noise suddenly stopped.

Rough location of the Sam sighting according to the description in the Bufora Journal article.

The children ventured onward in an attempt to find the source of the strange sound. They eventually came across a wooden footbridge where they had their first encounter with Sam:

… a blue gloved hand appeared from under the bridge and a strange figure emerged. The figure fumbled with a book, dropped it in the water, then splashed about to retrieve it. The two then watched the figure enter a metallic hut — similar to those used on building sites except that it had no windows. It moved along with a strange hopping motion with knees raised high.

Bufora Journal, Vol 6 No 5, January/February 1973, p. 10

At this point, I would have personally fled the scene. But Fey and Harry stuck around the area, and only wandered about 50 yards away from the bridge when the figure appeared once again. This time he was “carrying a black-knobbed microphone with a white flex attached“. Immediately, the wailing sound returned and Harry did the reasonable thing and started to run away. But the figure, perhaps realising he’d frightened the boy, ceased the screeching sound and spoke into the microphone. Fey who had at this point followed Harry a decent distance away claimed they could hear the figure talking as if he was standing directly beside them. They heard his voice ask, as if directly in their ears, ‘Hello, are you still there?

Continuing to run away would have been the correct response, but Fey and Harry decided the voice sounded friendly and approached the figure so they could converse properly. The closer they walked to the figure the more confusing his appearance became:

He was nearly seven feet tall and had no neck — for his head appeared to be wedged straight onto his shoulders. He wore a yellow, pointed hat, which interlocked with the red collar of a green tunic. A round, black knob was affixed to the top of his hat and ‘wooden’ antennae were attached either side. The face had triangular markings for eyes, a brown square of a nose and motionless yellow lips. Other round markings were on his paper-white cheeks and a fringe of red hair fell onto his forehead. ‘Wooden slats’ protruded from his sleeves and from below his white trousers.

Bufora Journal, Vol 6 No 5, January/February 1973, p. 11

Fey and Harry’s conversation with the figure was… strange. As they approached with hesitation, the figure pulled out a notebook and wrote in large letters “Hello, and I am all colours Sam.” Fey read the confusing message out loud and the two children continued to move closer. They realised then, after Sam initiated verbal conversation, that his lips did not move when he spoke which made his voice difficult to understand.

Sam asked the children questions and they asked questions in return. They asked about his ripped clothes and Sam replied that they were the only clothes he owned. On the unnatural whiteness of his skin, the children asked if Sam was really a man, which he replied ‘No.‘ They enquired further if he was a ghost and Sam replied ‘… Well not really, but I am in an odd sort of way.’ The children asked ‘What are you then?’ and Sam replied with a vague ‘You Know‘ without elaborating further. Apparently Sam also stated that he had no name (despite introducing himself as Sam) and drew a sketch of what another ‘like him’ looked like, implying that there were other ‘Sam’s’ around. Sam confided that humans frightened him and that he was afraid of being attacked, but if he was, he said he wouldn’t fight back.

A sketch of Sam’s windowless metal shack, from Bufora Journal, Vol 6 No 5, January/February 1973, p. 11

Continuing the theme of ‘prelude to a missing persons case’, Fey and Harry accepted Sam’s invitation to enter his windowless metal hut, accessed by crawling through a small flap. Upon entering Sam “removed his hat to reveal round, white ears and sparse brown hair.” The children described the interior of the shack as containing two levels, the ground floor being “‘wall-papered’ in blue-green and covered with a pattern of dials“, an electric heater, and wooden furniture they described as ‘simple’. The first floor had less headroom than the ground floor with metallic flooring. Sam hinted that he also had a ‘camp’ on the mainland but didn’t say where.

When discussing his diet, Sam said he ate berries that he collected during the late afternoon. The location of his scavenging wasn’t disclosed. He also said that after cleaning, the water from the nearby river was safe to drink. Sam then demonstrated how he ate berries, which was strange, to say the least:

Before eating a berry, he performed an odd ‘conjuring trick.’ He placed the berry in his ear, thrust his head forward and caused the berry to disappear and reappear at one of his odd eyes: repeating the process, the berry travelled to his mouth. (A possible explanation could be that he was wearing some kind of protective mask and analysing the berry to check it wasn’t poisonous).

Bufora Journal, Vol 6 No 5, January/February 1973, p. 12

After thirty more minutes of conversation, Fey and Harry bid Sam farewell and retreated back across the golf coarse. They told the first man they saw that they had seen a ghost, but he didn’t believe them. According to Bufora, the children were truly convinced they had encountered either a ghost or someone dressed up in a particularly odd costume. Either way, they were very much under the impression that their experience was genuine. Or so they claim.

On 2 June 1973, three weeks after their conversation with Sam, Fey confided in her father, referred to as Mr Y, about her strange encounter. He commented on the detailed description of his daughter’s experience, which he was able to briefly verify with Harry, and how upset she was when he suggested it wasn’t entirely truthful. Mr Y thought an explanation of Sam could be ‘make-believe’ or a ‘shared-hallucination’ or a person dressed up to scare children. However, he felt a particular detail Fey gave about Sam (having three fingers and toes on each hand and foot) was decidedly too difficult for someone to convincingly fake. There was also the important detail that Mr Y had his own bizarre experience that made him take his daughter’s tale more seriously.

Mr Y’s Isle of Wight UFO Saga

Three years earlier on Tuesday 20 October 1970 Mr Y was driving towards St Helens on the Isle of Wight on his way from Shanklin to Ryde to visit a friend. To his right, Mr Y suddenly saw a “large multi-lit ‘aircraft'” flying low over the marshlands along the River Yar. He pulled over to observe the craft and noted that “a wide ring of seven or more lights could be seen, each of them a large and clearly-defined sphere, ‘like a bright red cherry’ and interspersed with a turquoise and a white light: no sound could be[sic] heard.” Mr Y resumed driving and the object continued to fly parallel to him, eventually flying around 300 yards behind his car while rotating slowly. After stopping his car again, Mr Y got out and started to signal at the craft with his torch (the article doesn’t specify what he was signalling or what his goal was).

The Eastern Yar River near Bembridge Harbour. ©Curious Archive, 2021.

The aircraft continued to follow him and when he reached his destination his friend also witnessed the object “playing ‘hide and seek’ between the tree-tops“. Upon leaving his friend’s house, the aircraft was gone. Following the incident Mr Y would occasionally see “single balls of red light in the sky which would hang stationary or follow him along as though checking his movement.”

Two years later on 1 March 1972 between 9-10pm, Mr Y was sitting on the cliffside at Compton Bay “having been driven there by an unexpected tidal surge seemingly caused, in part at least, by some form of droning underwater craft.” From his location on the cliffside, Mr Y spotted two yellow lights approximately 40 feet away “peering up at me like the eyes of some horrible sea monster” not far below the surface of the water. After observing the phenomenon the tide eventually went back out freeing Mr Y who was able to get back to his car and drive home.

Compton Bay, Isle of Wight, the location of Mr Y’s sighting of the ‘underwater craft’. ©Curious Archive, 2021.

So when Mr Y’s daughter Fey had her own strange encounter a year later with Sam the Sandown Clown, he sympathised with his daughter’s distress and considered how it could relate to his own experience. He also had his doubts that his daughter was lying, telling Bufora:

I get the impression that Fay was somehow taken into a bubble of alien reality created by this strange personage… he told them he had just made the hut. Also, Fay told me that while they were talking to this ‘ghost’, two workmen nearby were repairing a post. They paid no attention to the weird charade — as though they could not see it.

Bufora Journal, Vol 6 No 5, January/February 1973, p. 12

And when Mr Y visited the location of Sam’s homestead, the creature’s metal hut was no where to be found, likely confirming Mr Y’s own suspicion that his daughter was taken into a ‘bubble of alien reality’. Was there any connection between Sam and the UFO sightings made by Mr Y? He seems to suggest that their might have been.

Drawing of Mr Y stuck on the cliff’s at Compton Bay observing the yellow ‘eyes’ watching him from the water. From Bufora Journal, Vol 6 No 5, January/February 1973, p. 9

So what actually happened?

It goes without saying the the story surround Sam the Sandown Clown is a strange one. I don’t necessarily believe either Fay or her father, but it’ll be fun to unpack their stories nonetheless. There are a few possibilities to explain what Sam was, if he existed at all:

Sam as an Alien: Since Sam’s story appeared in a UFO journal, this is the most straightforward way of classifying Sam. This also seems to be what Mr Y is implying by tying Fey’s interaction with Sam to his own UFO sightings.

Sam as a Ghost: Fey and Harry were convinced Sam was some sort of wandering spectre. When the children asked Sam if he was a ghost, Sam seems to consider the possibility with his cryptic response “well, not really, but I am in an odd sort of way.

Sam as a Human: Not to make the story dark, but Sam’s interest in the children and inviting them into his weird swampy shack certainly sounds like a kidnapping attempt (or worse). But the fact that the children didn’t mention being held captive or feeling threatened makes me think this wasn’t necessarily an encounter with malicious intent. If Sam was a human his strange appearance and mannerisms could very well have been linked to drug or alcohol abuse, mental health, or similar reasons. Children are likely able to conjure up bizarre descriptions of people that appear ‘odd’ to them.

Sam as a Shared Hallucination: I admit calling Fey and Harry’s encounter a folie à deux (also known as ‘shared psychosis’ or ‘shared delusional disorder’) might be a bit hyperbolic. We don’t know anything at all about these children, including their relationship to one another, their family lives, or if they were even locals on the island. But if something traumatising did occur to the children involving an adult male that day, the character of Sam might have been created as a coping mechanism.

Sam as a Prank: Children get bored. When children get bored they make up stories to entertain themselves. I did it, I’m sure you did it. Children have such vivid and wonderful imaginations, so this could have been a childish prank that Fey’s father took seriously because of his own prior experience.

I’d also like to offer into the limited but wacky conversation of Sam the Sandown Clown, the question —

Were Fey and Harry visited by a Man in Black?

This is absurd and I’m only throwing the idea out there because this story can’t get any weirder than it already is. To put it simply, Men in Black are often put into two categories: the first is FBI-like agents in black suits with stern expressions and a ‘we mean business’ attitude, the second is a similarly dressed human with strange mannerisms and something off-putting about their appearance. Both types have been ‘reported’ to show up if a person has witnessed or is investigating UFOs. Now Fey herself wasn’t said to have witnessed a UFO, but her father had apparently been dealing with them following him around for the past few years. Could Sam have been there to ask Fey questions about her father?

To compare Sam to an infamous Man in Black sighting, we can look back to 11 September 1976 when a Man in Black supposedly visited Dr Herbert Hopkins, family physician, in his home in Maine, USA. At the time of the visit, Hopkins was conducting research on a UFO incident. In 1978 he reflected on the incident and Man in Black on NBC radio:

This character was as bald as an egg. He didn’t even have eyebrows or eyelashes. It looked like he had smooth, plastic skin — like a doll except that it was a dead-white color… His lips were a brilliant ruby red, and he spoke in an expressionless, monotone, scanning speech. He constructed no phrases and sentences — just a sequence of words evenly spaced. His voice was completely passive with no inflection or intonation, as if you were hearing it from a machine that could talk…. Then I could see that his mouth was a perfectly straight slit. Apparently, he did not have what we call lips, so the lipstick was put on as a decoy — his mouth was more like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Sound somewhat familiar? Whether we believe anyone in this crazy story, it is interesting how the strange appearance and way of speaking are so similar between Fey’s encounter with Sam and Hopkins’ experience with the Man in Black. While not exactly the same, especially with the clothing, there is enough there to raise a few eyebrows.

It’s also worth highlighting that most of the conversation between Sam and the children wasn’t disclosed, including whatever was discussed during the half hour visit in his shack (other than his weird berry trick). Could he have been enquiring about what her father had seen? This is, of course, entirely speculative and based on nothing but my own enjoyment of these stories, so take from it what you will.

Sam the Underappreciated Cryptid

When I first started working on this post a few days ago, I was under the impression there wasn’t a whole lot to say about Sam. It seemed like a pretty straight forward story and fun inclusion on Curious Archive. I really didn’t think it would turn into this crazy rabbit hole I’ve fallen down. And the more I wrote about Sam the more I realised he’s a really underappreciated member of the British cryptid family. But compared to more popular creatures such as Gef the Talking Mongoose, Sam didn’t receive news coverage, wasn’t studied by famous paranormal investigator, and was only witnessed by two unknown children. And unlike Gef, Sam only appeared one time and when Fey’s father went back to investigate, Sam and his shack were gone.

There is so little written on Sam that before I found the Bufora article, I was convinced he was the product of an internet creepypasta, similar to Slenderman. But reading the original article provides tons of fodder for mapping it within the context of similar paranormal incidents. It’s complete nonsense, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t obsessed with it. Sam isn’t entirely unknown, however. He does have a small following online from others who have stumbled upon his story over recent years. And Googling his name brings up a few podcasts, along with kitschy t-shirts for sale, and a handful of Reddit posts. So there are a few others out there equally charmed by Sandown’s own (much less-threatening) Pennywise. While I personally don’t believe any of this actually happened, aliens and creepy clowns are certainly a fun addition to the paranormal mythology of the Isle of Wight.

And if it really did happen, at least Fey and Harry’s run in with an interdimensional-being disguised as a clown went a little better than the incident involving a group of children in Derry, Maine.

If you want to read the original account of Sam the Sandown Clown from the Bufora Journal you can do so here.

And click here to read more paranormal stories about the Isle of Wight on Curious Archive!

Ashley

Ashley is a history and ghost story enthusiast with a BA and MA in Art History. Originally from Canada, Ashley has lived in Buckinghamshire for the past four years and enjoys writing about curious histories and locations around the British Isles.