TRENTON — Why are "creepy clown" sightings on the rise in New Jersey? The Internet's getting a lot of blame ... but the last time clowns scared the state, the web was in its infancy.

There were at least six sightings of clowns in South Brunswick and Howell in 1997. The Web was just a few years old. There was no Facebook, no Twitter. Chances are, if you were online, it was through a service like AOL.

According to an August, 1997 story in the Asbury Park Press referenced by the Slate Piece, South Brunswick Police and Howell Police both had "creepy clown" sightings and, after comparing notes, they determined that their sightings were not related. The Asbury Park Press story is not available online.

Current South Brunswick Police spokesman Captain Jim Ryan, who was with the department at the time, told New Jersey 101.5 reports from the Fresh Impressions housing development turned out to be a taxi driver with tattoos on his face.

"One or two kids mistook him for a clown and called police. There was no criminal aspect," Ryan said.

He said there have not been any recent clown investigations in the Middlesex County township.

Howell Police, according to the 1997 Asbury Park Press story, arrested a "mentally disturbed" 44-year-old man from Lakewood who scared several children in the Heritage Pointe development. He was wearing what the paper described as a "mish mash of old and ill-fitting clothes that gave him the appearance of a hobo or clown" and had walked along Route 9 from a Lakewood rooming house. The woods made him feel like home, according to the story, and police said there was no criminal intent.

Philadelphia Public Schools on Sunday issued a statement after a threat specifically targeted schools in the district.

“The Philadelphia Police Department is actively investigating these social media posts and pursuing those responsible for them. The SDP Office of School Safety will continue working in concert with the PPD to ensure the safety of our children and our schools when school reopens on Wednesday after the holiday break," read the statement.

Several New Jersey schools on Friday,  including West Deptford and Toms River, issued statements about rumors of threats against their respective schools. Both districts added a security presence but concluded the schools were not in danger. Philipsburg Middle School was placed on lockdown over an Internet threat that also proved not to be credible.

New Jersey Clown Farm, a Harlloween attraction in Frenchtown, posted on its Facebook page that it's not behind the recent sightings in western New Jersey.

"We have appeared at community events such as Riverfest and Milford Alive and have recieved only positive feedback from all ages," read the statement.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said that his office has not been able to verify any threats received within the county.

"This has been going on for a time now and nothing bad has come of it. I would assume if these individuals have and kind of devious plan it would have been done. It's just a crazy fad like planking or anything else that happens in this day and age of social media," spokesman Al Della Fave said.

But why clowns?

"Either you love clowns or you hate clowns and there is a big majority of people who aren't fans of clowns," Della Fave said, who said there is a at least one simple way to avoid problems with clowns.

"You should be reminding your kids to avoid strangers anyway. If they see someone in a clown reason that's all the more reason. Take the time to have the talk and reiterate that if you're not comfortable get away from the area," Della Fave said.

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