The curse of the “crying boy” painting first came to light in 1985. English tabloid The Sun ran an article about a Rotherham house fire caused by a frypan. Despite the entire downstairs of the home being burned, the couple’s print of “The Crying Boy” remained untouched. The homeowner’s brother, Peter Hall, a firefighter, said that he had found a number of “Crying Boy” prints, also unscathed, in the ruins of other fires that he had extinguished. This sparked a firestorm of “me too” stories, all claiming that they had suffered disastrous fires since purchasing the painting, leaving “The Crying Boy” unharmed.
“The Crying Boy” was actually one in a series of kitschy, mass-produced art that was popular among the working class communities of England. The painting was signed by G. Bragolin, a pseudonym used by a Spanish painter named Bruno Amadio, also known as Franchot Seville. Other “crying boy” paintings created by Scottish artist Anna Zinkeisen around the same time were also considered cursed. The curse was gender-neutral: some of the paintings featured crying girls.
The stories of the Crying Boy paintings were all the same: a fire would break out in a home – almost always an explainable accident, like kitchen fire or bad wiring – and the Crying Boy paintings remained on charred walls, completely unharmed by the fire. Rotherham fire station officer Alan Wilkinson claimed that he had personally logged 50 incidents of Crying Boys unharmed in otherwise disastrous fires. Though Wilkinson didn’t believe there was any thing supernatural about these occurrences, his wife thought that the paintings were saved by the “tears of the child.” Eventually, the stories of fire morphed into general feelings of evil, like the painting moving on its own or causing injuries. Some said that placing a “crying girl” painting beside the “crying boy” would negate the evil.
According to an unsourced, unsubstantiated story by writer Tom Slemen, Bragolin claimed the subject was an orphaned street urchin he met in Madrid. A priest recognized the boy as Don Bonillo, who watched his parents burn in a house fire. The priest recommended the artist stay away from the child, as everywhere he went, mysterious fires seemed to follow. Bragolin allegedly adopted the boy, but when a mysterious fire destroyed Bragolin’s studio, the boy was accused of arson and he ran away. Seven years later a car exploded in an accident, the driver burned beyond recognition. His driver’s license, found in the glove compartment, read Don Bonillo.
The Sun was happy to keep the panic alive – it sold more papers. When the hysteria started to die down, The Sun offered to destroy the paintings, suggesting that will end the curse. The Sun offices were soon filled, floor-to-ceiling, with crying boy paintings. Many of The Sun staff thought that editor Kelvin MacKenzie didn’t really believe the story, but when someone tried to hang “The Crying Boy” in the offices, MacKenzie turned white and demanded that the painting be removed, citing it as “bad luck.” The paper eventually set up a makeshift pyre and burned over 2,500 on Halloween of that year, claiming that the curse was lifted.
But can a curse ever be truly lifted…?