'The UnXplained: Mysterious Curses': Urban legend around 'Crying Boy' prints show how we 'manifest' curses
While some curses shown on the 'Mysterious Curses' episode have long histories -- for instance the 'Friday the 13th' legend stretching back into the 14th-century folklore about the Knights Templar -- we also have "modern" curses. These have gained traction in recent times and show that no matter what age we live in, tales of the supernatural and superstition only need a bit of encouragement to take root.
The genesis of the "curse" around the 'Crying Boy' mass-produced prints, which made their way into many homes in the 80s, is an excellent example of how a modern urban legend develops. It also shows how we "manifest" curses around certain objects.
Eerie paintings have often been the subject of gothic horror literature from the famous Wilde classic, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', to the 'The Mezzotint', a ghost story by MR James. According to folklorist David Clarke, this meant that the idea of "cursed paintings" already existed in the popular consciousness for a long time.
When one reporter, John Murphy, covered a fire that burned down a house and only left a mass-produced print 'Crying Boy' unharmed, he was intrigued. But it was only after he spoke to a firefighter on the scene that he stumbled on the "curse". According to this firefighter, he had been to several fires in the area, including that of a relative, who all had this "Crying Boy" print. In all of the cases, the houses had burnt down but left the print intact.
When Murphy published the story in The Sun, the newspaper followed it up with a phone campaign asking people if they had had any bad luck or fires after buying the 'Crying Boy' print. This is when the "curse" became viral and established itself as a modern urban legend.
The antecedents of the mass-produced print, however, is far less dramatic. A classically trained Italian painter Bruno Amadio created a series of prints of crying children to be sold to tourists. It was his interpretation of the "Big Eyed" child art made popular by painter Margaret Keane in the 60s and 70s. He wasn't particularly proud of these prints that he made to earn some money. So he used a pseudonym, "Giovanni Bragolin", for them.
When people first investigated the paintings, no one knew any painter called "Bragolin", so rumors began that the "models" for the mysterious painter were orphans who had subsequently died when their orphanage had caught fire. This added another layer to the story of the cursed art print. People believed that the souls of the children were trapped in the prints and the only way they could free themselves was to burn everything in their surroundings.
Later, paranormal investigators found that the prints were mounted on fire retardant wood that prevented them from burning up. It is of course possible that the mass-produced print was popular and hung in many homes at the time when Murphy wrote his first article. So it was quite likely that some of the homes that burnt down during the period had this print because it was so popular. Once The Sun ran its phone campaign, people started associating the print with the fiery curse.
According to folklorist Clarke, this is how many modern legends take root. Once an idea is planted by a story or an image through news media or social media, people start providing more "evidence", saying they have had the same kind of experiences, adding to the mythos. In this way, people actively "manifest" the curse, seeing a pattern in coincidence. However, as William Shatner warns us, it is probably not a good idea to buy a 'Crying Boy' print, just to test that theory.
'The UnXplained: Mysterious Curses' aired on July 25 at 9 pm on the History channel.