THE CRYING BOY CURSE MYTH
THE CRYING BOY CURSE HOAX
The Crying Boy (TCB) is a mass-produced painting and exists in several forms. The subject is a boy ranging in age from 4 to 10 years old. His clothing and the painting style differ depending on what period the artist has set him in. The jinx story seems to have been started by "The Sun" (a British tabloid i.e. cheap newspaper) in 1985 and went from strength to strength with all sorts of reasons (the boy was a Romany whose family placed the curse, the boy was an orphan, the boy himself had died in a fire etc). One version of the myth is that the original TCB picture was a portrait painted by a Spanish artist and that the subject was an orphan. The artist's studio burnt down and the boy himself was later killed in a car crash. Psychics claimed the boy's spirit was trapped in the painting and that the curse extends to all the many different versions of the painting! The curse apparently only affects those who are aware that the painting is cursed - hardly surprising since any subsequent misfortune will get blamed on the painting.
On 4 September 1985 "The Sun" ran a story reporting that TCBs were jinxed. Yorkshire fireman Peter Hall was quoted as saying that unscathed copies of TCB were frequently found at the scenes of fires. He and his colleagues were serious enough about this to vow never to allow the painting into their own homes. Peter’s own brother and sister-in-law, Ron and May Hall (Swallownest, South Yorkshire), had ignored this warning: fire damaged his kitchen and living-room, but the TCB in the living-room wall unscathed. The jinxed painting was destroyed by his family. The blaze was actually caused by a chip-pan. The print survived unscathed. The Sun wrote that an estimated 50,000 "Crying Boy" prints, signed "G Bragolin", had been sold around the UK. They were particularly popular in working class households (the Sun's readership demographic).
The following issue (5 Sept 1985) reported a flood of calls and letters about the TCB jinx. It reported several cases. Dora Mann (Mitcham, Surrey) whose house was completely gutted by fire only 6 months after buying a TCB. All of her paintings were destroyed, except for TCB. Sandra Craske (Kilburn), her sister-in-law, and a friend had all had bought TCB and all had suffered fires soon after. Ms Craske had even seen the jinxed painting swing from side to side! Linda Fleming (Leeds) and Jane McCutcheon (Nottingham) both had fires where TCB survived unharmed. Most of the fires attributed to the curse of TCB were investigated by the fire service and found to be due to carelessly discarded cigarettes, overheated chip-pans and faulty electric heaters/appliances.
Janet Wyatt (Wroxall, Isle of Wight) heard about the jinx and tried to burn her two copies of TCB, but they would not catch fire. Rather than conclude that fire-retardant materials or physical location enabled TCB prints to survive, there was a continued rash of reports about TCBs linked to fires and surviving the fires. The dates given are report dates, not incident dates. Most people were reporting events which had happened previously and had probably forgotten about the real causes of the fires e.g. unattended cookers, dropped cigarettes etc. What they did remember is that they had suffered a fire and that they had owned a TCB painting. For example, students in a shared house (location not given) had a cellar fire in July 1984 - well before the story in the Sun - which destroyed everything in the cellar of their house except TCB.
"The Sun", 9th Sept 1985: Brian Parks (Boughtor, Notts) destroyed his TCB after a fire hospitalised his wife and 2 children and left them homeless - the painting was undamaged on the blackened wall of his living room. On the same date, both the Sun and "The Daily Star" reported that Grace Murray (Oxford) was hospitalised at Stoke Mandeville with severe burns after a house fire, but her TCB was almost undamaged. The Daily Star is a tabloid appealing to the same audience as the Sun.
"The Sun", 21st Oct 1985: The Parillo Pizza Palace, Great Yarmouth, destroyed by fire, but TCB was undamaged. The newspaper invited readers to send in their ‘cursed’ TCB paintings for destruction. By now, TCB stories had been picked up by local papers and by individuals keen to get their 5 minutes of fame. Not to be outdone by the Sun and the Star, another tabloid, the "Daily Mail", 24th Oct 1985, reported that Kevin Godber's family (Herringthorpe, South Yorks) were made homeless by a fire which left TCB unscathed, while pictures on either side of it were destroyed. The following day, "The Sun", 25th Oct 1985 : An explosion destroys the Amos's home (Heswall, Merseyside). Two TCBs paintings (living-room and dining room) were retrieved unharmed. Mr Amos destroys the jinxed paintings.
Local papers were also picking up curse of TCB. "Shropshire Star", 26th October 1985: Fred Trower's home in Telford was damaged by fire. Mr Trower, an ex-fireman, refused to believe TCB curse and kept his TCB in the hallway where it would remain "unless there was a second fire". "Western Morning News", same date reported that 6 months after restaurant owner George Beer (Holsworthy) installed two TCBs, the premises were severely damaged by separate fires 12 months apart. On both occasions, the prints were not even singed. Mr Beer did not believe in the jinx and kept the paintings. Linking TCB to fires 6 months and 18 months later is stretching belief to snapping point!
"The Sun", 26th October 1985 carried a follow-up report on collection of TCBs for burning, thus fuelling (pardon the pun) TCB curse stories. By this time, its jinx story was building up quite a following. Also a summary of improbable incidents. A male stripper’s fire-eating act went wrong after he taunted his wife’s TCB. A woman blamed the death of her husband and 3 sons on TCB. Dr Peter Baldry of City University, London, cited saying there was no reason why TCB pictures shouldn’t burn. Roy Vickery, secretary of the Folklore Society, speculated whether the artist had mistreated his model resulting a vengeful curse (no mention of whether all artists had mistreated the models for all versions of TCB though!).
"Portsmouth News", 30th October 1985: Stella Brown (Portsmouth) burns her 2 TCBs. She blamed them for a long run of bad luck and family health problems. Her son tripped over while fetching water to put the fire out. A day later in the "West Briton", 31st October 1985: Richard Reynolds & wife (Falmouth) hear of the curse. They dump their two TCBs on a bonfire being made for Guy Fawkes’ night (5th Nov). They had twice given those TCBs away to friends, only to have the paintings returned.
"The Sun", 31st October 1985 carried yet another follow-up report, keeping the story going. "Thousands" of TCBs were burned under supervision of the fire brigade. This ritual burning was later transformed (by the process of urban legend, faulty memory or a reporter giving the story a new lease of life) into the story that the warehouse where the paintings were being kept had suffered a fire which destroyed the paintings. The Sun also carried further reports of TCB jinx. Sandra Jane Moore's home had been flooded after she'd drawn punk hair on her friend’s TCB. Mrs Woodward (Forest Hill) blamed TCB for death of her son, daughter, husband and mother.
"The Guardian", 1st November 1985: The Guardian, one of Britain's broadsheet (quality) newspapers, carried an entertaining account of The Sun’s TCB bonfire. It wrote that Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie was a believer in the TCB curse and that he "went bananas" when a prankster hung a TCB in his office. The Guardian's account notes the refusal of several fire brigades to join in the burning.
"The Sun", 12th November 1985 reported that Malcolm Vaughn (Churchdown, Gloucestershire) destroyed a neighbour's TCB and later, his own living-room caught fire. On 24th February 1986, "The Sun" reported that 61-year-old William Armitage (Weston-super-Mare, Avon) died in a house fire in which the room was gutted, but an unscathed TCB was found on the floor near the pensioner’s body. A fireman was quoted as saying it was "odd".
Other reports during the period included security guard Paul Collier who threw his 2 TCB prints onto a bonfire, but after 1 hour they were not even scorched. A Paignton woman claimed her 11-year-old son had caught his genitals on a hook after she bought the print while Rose Farrington (Preston) had lost her husband and 3 sons since buying the painting in 1959. Rotherham fireman Alan Wilkinson (posibly a colleague of Peter Hall?) claimed to have logged 50 TCB fires since 1973. Though he didn't believe in a jinx or curse, he had no logical or satisfactory explanation of TCB surviving serious house fires.
By now, TCB curse tales were entering modern folklore. "The Daily Mirror" Letters page on 5th March 1986 advised a frightened old lady who owned TCB to ignore the jinx stories. It advised that the succession of disaster claims were coincidence, but apparently refrained from saying "and people wanting to get in on the act". A few days later a columnist for the "Western Morning News", 11th March 1986, wrote of his neighbour’s son's anxiety after slipping while holding a knife and accidentally slashing the mother’s TCB.
After 6 months, the myth mutated and it was reported that TCB would reward those who were kind to the painting. "The Sun", 20 March 1986, wrote how Bob Cherry (Glasgow) claimed his rescued TCB brought him nothing but good luck. One day when his old car broke-down in a lay-by, he noticed a TCB propped up by a dustbin. He put the picture in his car and the vehicle started first time and had given him no problems ever since (give it time, Bob!) Within a week of rescuing TCB from the dustbin, he had won £20 at bingo, £4 on the football pools and £11 on a fruit machine.
By then, after 6 months, TCB curse stories should be dying a natural death. But ... as with many such stories, it had taken on a life of its own as part of urban legend. TCB curse stories had spread from Britain to be reported abroad. The Sun's curse story had become accepted as fact. It is now claimed that a match held to the front of the painting will not ignite it, but a match held to the back will set it alight. A medium claims the spirit of the boy is trapped in the painting and it starts fires in an attempt to burn the painting and free itself. Others claim the painting is haunted or attracts poltergeist activity. Stories of the artist's and subject's misfortune had attached themselves to the painting. If all the many versions of the motif are cursed, does this mean anyone who draws a picture of a crying male child will automatically have a cursed picture?
By the 1990s, the myth was fuelled by the internet and TCB, along with another artist's work "The Hands Resist Him" were mentioned on websites such as Snopes and Wikipedia as cursed paintings. Various people have claimed TCB story pre-dates The Sun's account, with one correspondent claiming it was well-circulated in Denmark at least 10 years before The Sun's 1985 story. A variation on the myth is that there will be no trouble with TCB if it is displayed alongside its Crying Girl companion painting. Other versions, however say that the damage will be worse. In 2002, a British reality TV series investigating supposed hauntings went to Wigan, Lancs, to investigate the supposedly cursed painting. Cafe owners Eddie and Marian Brockley, had recently suffered a disastrous fire that local media had linked to "one of the last surviving copies" of TCB. Typically, TCB (a Zinkeisen version) had survived the conflagration unscathed. The Don Bonillo story was repeated and the painting was eventually burnt using petrol, though it proved hard to ignite.
In 2006, Rodrigo Faria (Brazil) wrote that Giovanni Bragolin's paintings were associated with terror and illness and that all 28 paintings represented dead children. it was also reported in Brazil that Bragolin had made an pact with the devil in order to sell his paintings. In 2007, the myth got another airing in England. The Sheffield Star featured the cursed of TCB. The newspaper claimed the myth had returned following a series of fires at Stan Jones' home Rotherham (the location being quite a coincidence), the 3rd of which gutted the house (and was in fact due to an untended grill).
So if someone tells you your painting of a crying boy is haunted, cursed or jinxed you can blame it all on the very recent curse of the British tabloid press!
The Sun newspaper has been responsible for all manner of enduring tales. Some years later, it carried a letter from a person who spotted Eddie Stobart haulage vehicles (one individual's variant of train spotting which could be indulged while on motorways). Haulage is not normally a glamorous business, but the letter provoked a rash of letters about Eddie Stobart lorries and Eddie Stobart spotters. Then came an article on the company itself and the lorries it uses. Plus articles about people who spot other haulage trucks. There is now an Eddie Stobart spotter's club, they visit the company to view new vehicles, Eddie Stobart truck-spotting is a recognised pastime, Eddie Stobart became a household name and the company remains one of the highest profile haulage firms in the country!
About The Painting
There are various versions of TCB and as the "flap" continued, it emerged that the jinxed paintings had at least 5 different versions, by a variety of artists. The picture that survived the myth-starting fire in Rotherham was signed by G Bragolin, whom The Sun claimed to be an Italian artist. Giovanni Bragolin was one of the pseudonyms of Spanish painter Bruno Amadio; another of his pseudonyms was Franchot Seville. He could not be traced by art historians due to the lack of a "a coherent biography". Another TCB print involved in the jinx story was by by Scottish artist Anna Zinkeisen (died 1976) and were part of a series of paintings called "Childhood". Some TCB paintings had a companion Crying Girl or a painting of a boy and girl holding flowers. About the only thing the various prints had in common was that they were cheap, mass-produced paintings sold by department stores in the 1960s and 1970s and popular in working class homes .... where they hung uneventfully until 1985, or so it seems. Quite why people wanted to adorn their homes with paintings of crying children remains a mystery.
Soon a myth attached itself to the painting: An old Spanish portrait artist named Franchot Seville (a pseudonym of B Amadio/G Bragolin), lived in Madrid. The subject of the paintings was a sad-looking, silent street urchin wandering Madrid Seville painted the boy whom a Catholic priest later identified as Don Bonillo, a runaway child whose parents had died in a blaze. According to the priest, wherever the boy went there were unexplained fires, leading to the child being nicknamed "Diablo". When Seville's studio was destroyed by fire, the artist was financially ruined and accused the little boy of arson. Bonillo, innocent of deliberte arson, ran away in tears. From that point, the paintings were cursed, an across Europe they were associated with unexplained fires. The jinx attached itself to Seville and all his paintings were considered cursed. Then, in just outside Barcelona in 1976, a car exploded in a fireball after crashing into a wall. The driver was burnt beyond recognition, but his driving licence survived and identified him as 19-year-old Don Bonillo. Thus the circle of destruction was complete, although the paintings remained cursed. This "research" was attributed to George Mallory of Devon - retired schoolmaster and a researcher into occult matters ... except George Mallory does not appear to exist any more than Don Bonillo did.