In my previous blog, one of my loyal readers mentioned a famous postcard once seen all over Turkey, known as "The Crying Boy." For some reason, I somehow missed seeing it. I decided however to make amends for this oversight by offering this copy with an accompanying background story.
David Clarke, who lectures on investigative journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, has written of the strange urban legend that has grown up around the likeness of the boy with the sad face in an article for Fortean Times, an online magazine that focuses on the bizarre and mysterious.
‘The Curse of the Crying Boy’ appeared out of the blue one morning in 1985. The Sun, at that time the most popular tabloid newspaper in the English-speaking world, published on page 13 of its 4 September edition a story headlined: “Blazing Curse of the Crying Boy”. It told how Ron and May Hall blamed a cheap painting of a toddler with tears rolling down his face for a fire which gutted their terraced council home in Rotherham, a mining town in South Yorkshire. The blaze broke out in a chip-pan in the kitchen of their home of 27 years and spread rapidly. But although the downstairs rooms of the house were badly damaged, the framed print of the Crying Boy escaped unscathed. It continued to hang there, surrounded by a scene of devastation.
Normally a chip-pan blaze would merit nothing more than a couple of paragraphs in a local newspaper. What transformed this story into a page lead in Britain’s leading tabloid was the intervention of Ron Hall’s brother Peter, a firefighter based in Rotherham. A colleague of Peter’s, station officer Alan Wilkinson, said he knew of numerous other cases where prints of the ‘Crying Boy’ had turned up, undamaged, in the ruins of homes destroyed by fires.
Accompanying the article was a photograph of a ‘Crying Boy’, with the caption: “Tears for fears… the portrait that firemen claim is cursed.” The firemen concerned had not actually used the word ‘cursed’, but nevertheless the newspaper report had helped to give the story a certain level of credibility. The paper added that an estimated 50,000 ‘Crying Boy’ prints, signed ‘G Bragolin’, had been sold in branches of British department stores, particularly in the working class areas of northern England. Examples could be seen hanging in the front rooms of family homes across the nation, and one story even suggested a quarter of a million had been sold.
Of course if there were so many copies of the painting scattered about then it is hardly much of a coincidence. I mean, it is like saying Madonna music is cursed because wherever and whenever it is played, something terrible happens. That might be redundant, I suppose.
There's also a psychological dimension to this as well. If you have suddenly lost everything you own in a fire, all your belongings reduced to a smoldering pile of black bits, you are bound to be rather shell-shocked. And then to see that the only thing untouched was a cheap painting you bought in a garage sale for a couple of quid, (I am quick with the local jargon, what?) it is only natural you would turn to the supernatural to explain it. And you might feel cursed if that's all you have left.
David Clarke wisely attributes the so-called curse as merely a ploy of tabloids to "out-hoax" one another. This was probably before "Bat Boy" (also known as "Edgar") a completely manufactured product of the The Weekly World News. (Incidentally, the story of Bat Boy was turned into an Off-Broadway musical, Bat Boy: The Musical. Songs included: “Another Dead Cow,” “Hold Me Bat Boy,” and “Let Me Walk Among You.” That's not a joke, by the way.)
But I digress. The Curse of the Crying Boy seems pretty plausible- mundane even- in comparison to the carryings-on the Bat Boy, who seemed to rear his shiny grey head in nearly every issue back in the early 1990s. Anyway, back to the curse,
On 5 September 1985, The Sun ran its follow-up, reporting that scores of “horrified readers claiming to be victims of the ‘Curse of the Crying Boy’ had flooded [the paper] with calls… they all feared they were jinxed by having the print of a tot with tears pouring down his face in their homes.” Readers were left with an overwhelming impression of a supernatural link, reinforced by the use of words like ‘curse’, ‘jinx’, ‘feared’ and ‘horrified’.
Typical of these additional stories was that told by Dora Mann, from Mitcham, Surrey, who claimed her house was gutted just six months after she bought a print of the painting. “All my paintings were destroyed – except the one of the Crying Boy,” she claimed. Sandra Kaske, of Kilburn, North Yorkshire, said that she, her sister-in-law, and a friend had all suffered disastrous fires since they acquired copies. Another family, from Nottingham, blamed the print for a blaze which had left them homeless. Brian Parks, whose wife and three children needed treatment for smoke inhalation, said he had destroyed his copy after returning from hospital to find it hanging – undamaged, of course – on the blackened wall of his living room.
As the stories accumulated, new details emerged that encouraged the idea that possession of a print put owners at risk of fire or serious injury. One woman from London claimed she had seen her print “swing from side to side” on the wall, while another from Paignton said her 11-year-old son had “caught his private parts on a hook” after she bought the picture. Mrs Rose Farrington of Preston, in a letter published by The Sun, wrote: “Since I bought it in 1959, my three sons and my husband have all died. I’ve often wondered if it had a curse.”
Another reader reported an attempt to destroy two of the prints by fire – only to find, to her horror, that they would not burn. Her claim was tested by security guard Paul Collier, who tossed one of his two prints onto a bonfire. Despite being left in the flames for an hour, it was not even scorched. “It was frightening – the fire wouldn’t even touch it,” he told The Sun. “I really believe it is jinxed. We feel doubly at risk with two of these in the house [and] we are determined to get rid of them.”
Comedian Steve Punt investigated the story of the curse for a BBC program in 2010 and made a surprising discovery. Wikipedia supplies us with the crucial findings.
The conclusion reached by the programme, following testing at the Building Research Establishment is that the prints were treated with some varnish containing fire repellant, and that the string holding the painting to the wall would be the first to perish, resulting in the painting landing face down on the floor and thus being protected.
Interesting stuff and I owe a special thanks to my friends for bringing this odd little tale of the curse of the crying boy to my full attention.