The Curse of the Crying Boy

It came from the same tabloid headline factory that produced ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster‘ – and the Curse of the Crying boy continues to live online.

Tears for Fears? Sun headline which kicked off crying boy mania, 1985 (credit: News International)

Tears for Fears? Sun headline which kicked off crying boy mania, 1985 (credit: News International)

I will presenting a paper on this quintessential urban legend at the Folklore Society Conference & AGM 2013 at The School of Welsh, Cardiff University, weekend of 19-21 April 2013.

The conference theme is ‘urban folklore’ and my talk will be based upon the contents of my chapter in Bob Bartholomew and Ben Radford’s recent book The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012).

But for the uninitiated, here’s a summary: In 1985 a British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, edited by Kelvin McKenzie, published a report of a fire that badly damaged a terraced house in a South Yorkshire mining community.

A cheap mass-produced painting of a crying toddler was found by fire fighters among the remains, perfectly intact. The story claimed this was one of a series of blazes in suburban homes that displayed prints of what the press called the ‘the cursed painting of the Crying Boy.’

Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie, creator of the crying boy legend (Credit: BBC news)

Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie, creator of the crying boy legend (Credit: BBC news)

In each case the kitsch prints – attributed to a mysterious Spanish artist known as Bragolin – were left untouched by the devastation around them. Belief in the potency of the cursed painting began life as a ‘silly season’ story but within a decade it had developed a coherent narrative.

The arrival of the internet allowed the story to reach a wider audience where it merged with other legends concerning haunted artwork. Almost three decades later it continues to titillate and terrify readers around the world.

My presentation in Cardiff will examine the origins of this urban legend and the role played by the mass media and tabloid journalists in its dissemination and evolution. Read my Fortean Times article on the legend for more details.

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