All art is meant to evoke an emotion from whoever gazes upon it. Yet, there are some pieces, in this case paintings, that go beyond ordinary emotion. There are some paintings that seem to be haunted by an unnatural force, whether it be sinister or sad. Some have even claimed to have been physically harmed by allegedly haunted paintings, and in one case the catalyst of global hysteria. However, many paintings that claim to be haunted do not seem very convincing upon close scrutiny. There are some, however, which make you think twice…
“One, two, three, four, all good children get to heaven.”
A recent listing on eBay claims to have unearthed a painting with an unusual and tragic past.
Listed by the seller “antiqueoddities13” based in California, this oil painting was created by an eight year old boy called Danny who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Tragically, Danny died only a few years later, in 1985, at the age of eleven.
The mesmerizing painting is described as an abstract piece, and is reminiscent of the natural world seen through the eyes of a child. One can identify the blue of the sky, to the orange and yellow of the setting sun, to the green of the earth. Some even say that the turmoil of such a young passing can be felt within the brush strokes of the piece.
After Danny’s death, his family struggled to live with the painting. It is claimed that the piece of art speaks to all who turn their eye to it. Almost as though Danny remains attached to his creation in death.
After contacting its current owner, it was confirmed that the painting has been seen to shift on the wall at times of high activity. A medium even claims to have communicated with the spirit of the boy, stating that Danny bears no grudge against his family for parting with the piece. He only wishes that he could have lived longer.
However, the most haunting aspect of this piece is the inscription found on the back of the canvas. Written in pencil are the words: “One, two, three, four, all good children get to heaven.” It is not clear who wrote this message, but it was most likely a family member, after Danny’s passing.
“The Crying Boy”
On the 4th of September 1985, a seemingly typically sensational article was published by The Sun, a popular British tabloid newspaper. It reported on a fire which had gutted the inside of a house. Yet, among the charred remains of furniture and personal possessions, lay a painting which featured a young boy, tears streaming from his face, at its centre. The portrait had remained unscathed, even as the inferno melted the plaster from the walls around it. The homeowners, May and Ron Hall, condemned the child’s image. It was almost as though his tears proved his guilt in starting the fire. In their mind, it was a cursed painting. 1
The painting was The Crying Boy, which had been sold as part of a popular series of artistic prints by British department stores. All of the images subjects were young children, mainly boys, crying.
After The Sun’s initial article, many more stories of fires involving The Crying Boy were reported. Houses and restaurants which displayed the evocative painting went up in flames, especially in the north of England where the prints had been most widely sold.
One report revealed how one man’s home had exploded, only to leave behind The Crying Boy, and another print from the same series.
A restaurant owner reported how his establishment had suffered not one, but two infernos over the course of a year and a half. Like so many other cases, people blamed the fires on two prints from The Crying Boy series. The restaurant was severely damaged both times, but the paintings themselves were not even singed.
In one tragic fire, a pensioner was caught in the flames. When firefighters rushed to the scene, only one thing remained near to the charred corpse: The Crying Boy.
Many firefighters would confirm these stories, with some even stating that The Crying Boy was not a new phenomena. Rather, it stretched back over a decade.2
As it was estimated that up to a quarter of a million of these prints were sold in the UK alone, panic began to spread as quickly as the fires themselves.
The panic spreads
In an attempt to calm the hysteria, the South Yorkshire fire service were forced to make a public statement. Chief Divisional Officer, Mick Riley, said that as such a large number of the prints had been sold “…any connection with the fires is purely coincidental … fires are not started by pictures or coincidence, but by careless acts and omissions.” Riley went on to reveal the service’s explanation: “The reason why this picture has not always been destroyed in the fire is because it is printed on high density hardboard, which is very difficult to ignite.”3
The public was not very reassured by this statement. Especially when it was reported that the very same fire chief refused to accept a print of The Crying Boy as a gift. If there was no curse, then why fear the painting? The Sun newspaper, in due course, offered the public its solution. It commanded its readers to send their Crying Boy portraits to them, so that they could purify the paintings in a blazing bonfire meant to rid the world of its killer curse. So, just outside the city of Reading, 2,500 copies of the painting were set ablaze.
Yet, despite their best efforts, The Sun did not banish the curse. In fact, fires related to The Crying Boy were now being reported as far away as Brazil. On top of that, wild rumours of the artist having sold his soul to the devil were starting to be circulated. Bizarrely, it was even alleged that a Brazilian TV show had interviewed the man, who confessed to having sold his soul in order to be in league with Satan.4
Back in England, the origin of the original portraits were rumoured to have a different story: the crying boys were actually portraits of orphan children, who went on to perish after their orphanage caught fire. Their tortured souls, risen from the embers of the orphanage, attached themselves to their painted likenesses. Other stories tell of how the artist used to abuse his family and practice black magic, thus imbuing the portraits with his evil.5 Such were the breadth of the lurid tales being circulated across South America and Europe. In every language imaginable, there were reports of The Crying Boy’s curse.
However, a more rational explanation has been proposed. The infamous prints were simply made using fire-resistance materials. Certainly, the newspaper’s crusade against The Crying Boy had revealed that whilst difficult to burn, it is not impossible. As for the artist, although elusive he is most likely not the soul-selling occultist of legend, but rather Giovanni Bragolin of Padua. The portrait of The Crying Boy, it is thought, began life humbly enough, as a token piece of art for tourists whilst Bragolin was living in Venice.6
However, whilst the origins of the painting may not be as dark as some have suggested, The Crying Boy phenomena is extremely widespread. It is odd how so many fires seem to never be quite hot enough to even singe the prints. In addition, many have formed deep, often inexplicable, attachments to these images – sometimes to the degree of obsession. Every country and language report these fires, and everywhere the faces of the tearful children seem to exude an unshakeable, eerie quality that haunts the mind.
“Pogo the Clown”
In the early 1970s John Wayne Gacy was regarded as an upstanding citizen. To all who encountered him, Gacy seemed normal: a loving husband, the proud manager of three Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, and vice president of the regional United States Junior Chamber, a government initiative which focused on community service and education. He further contributed to his community by dressing up as a clown to perform at events to help raise money for local charities. His alter ego was called “Pogo the Clown”. Sick children in hospitals were known to have received visits from “Pogo”. Yet, beneath the floorboards of his house, were 33 raped and tortured teenage boys’ bodies.
On death row, John Wayne Gacy spent the last 14 years of his life oil painting.
Now known by the appellation the “Killer Clown”, Gacy poured out the darkness which lurked in his soul onto the canvasses which filled his lonely hours. All one needs to do is look at these paintings in order to feel their horror. Such an awful presence is said to emanate from these pieces, that some purchased Gacy’s paintings with the express intention of experiencing the murderous artists’ thoughts. By no means masterpieces, Gacy’s artwork evoked a bizarre mixture of repulsion and intrigue within those who sought to own them. Yet, not everyone appreciated their alleged artistic qualities. In 1994, to coincide with Gacy’s execution by lethal injection, 300 people travelled to Napperville, Illinois, to watch 25 of his painting burn upon a pyre. Amongst the audience were some of the family members of Gacy’s victims.
However, not all of the nefarious paintings were destroyed. There is one painting in particular that is claimed to have absorbed Gacy’s murderous instinct.
After the Killer Clown’s execution in 1994, the Pogo the Clown painting passed hands several times. By now the very fabric of the canvas had seemingly absorbed Gacy’s murderous spirit. None of its owners could stand to possess the artwork for too long. Singer, Nikki Stone, purchased Gacy’s painting for $3,000 in 2001. Soon afterwards, Stone would attribute a series of tragedies to the piece’s dark aura. His dog died and his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Increasingly worried about the painting’s affect on his life, Stone arranged to have it stored at a friend’s house, whose neighbour suddenly died in a car crash. A second friend then offered to look after the piece. Yet, the haunting glare of Gacy’s Pogo haunted the man until he attempted suicide. Stone had no choice but to sell the painting. Speaking to the Boston Herald in 2005, Stone admitted that even after owning it for several years he had never hung the eerie painting.
“I just want to get rid of it.” 7
Shawn McCarron, another of Stone’s friends entrusted with the painting, also revealed that: “People do ask to see it. They get a chill through their body. I’ve had people say, ‘Oh my God, put that back in the box.’ ” 8
Another famous owner of the piece was the actor, Johnny Depp. Yet, the painting repulsed him so much, that he developed a pathological fear of clowns. He could no longer bring himself to look upon the haunting image of Pogo, and so it changed hands once again.
Only time will tell what future horrors this painting will inspire.