The ‘curse of the Crying Boy‘ legend, created by the British tabloid The Sun, is alive and well online.
I discuss my research into this fake news phenomenon on the first episode in Season 3 of the Folklore Podcast, (1 January 2018), produced by Mark Norman.
A Google search on the ‘curse’ results in almost four million unique hits and the story remains the all-time most visited page on my blog.
Mass produced prints of weeping toddlers painted by a mysterious Italian artist, ‘Bragolin’ and others, sold in tens of thousands during the 1960s-70s.
The Crying Boy (TCB) acquired its supernatural ‘curse’ in September 1985 after a local evening newspaper in the mining town of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, published a story about a house blaze in which a copy of the print survived unscathed.
In his piece, reporter John Murphy from the Rotherham Star referred to a ‘family hit by a curse’ after fire fighters revealed this was the latest in a series of fires in which prints, all featuring similar images of TCB, had been found undamaged. The earliest blaze on record was in 1973.
Two days later, on 4 September 1985, national tabloid The Sun published on page 13 its own hyperbolic version headlined “BLAZING CURSE OF THE CRYING BOY – picture is a fire jinx’.
Editor Kelvin McKenzie knew the story ‘had legs’ and, for a number of months promoted a tabloid TCB campaign – inviting readers who were troubled by the curse to send their prints to The Sun for destruction. The paper was inundated with copies of the print, attributed to a number of artists. Readers came forward with their own stories of bad luck, accidents and hauntings they associated with the ‘curse’.
The Sun under McKenzie was responsible for a series of similar horrific and bizarre stories with tenuous origins that earned themselves a permanent place in pop culture.
Possibly the best-known example is Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster (1986), a story manufactured by the publicist Max Clifford to promote a tour by the entertainer (who has always denied eating the creature). Clifford was an ubiquitous source of ‘fake news’ stories for the tabloids during the ’80s and ’90s.
On Halloween 1985 the paper destroyed 2,500 copies of TCB prints, donated by Sun readers, on a makeshift pyre in Oxfordshire. This stunt appeared to exorcise the ‘curse’ it had helped to create – at least temporarily.
Since that time the legend has completed its transformation from media ‘silly season‘ story into an international online urban legend. Along the way it has acquired a complex narrative that explains who the ‘crying boy’ (sometimes a ‘gypsy boy’) actually is and why ownership of the prints can bring ill-luck.
Today copies regularly appear for sale online via Gumtree and Ebay with references to its backstory, despite restrictions on the use of supernatural claims in advertising. Since the 1990s, my research has collected versions from the USA, Brazil and Australia. My web-page on TCB is easily the most popular section of my blog. It has received more than 73,000 visits since 2012 and readers have used it to express their own personal stories and beliefs about it, for example:
“My mum has this picture but they said they heard about the curse and they hang it in a cupboard facing the wall so no one looks at it,” posted one woman.
“They believe if they try and get rid of it something bad will happen.”
I will present my updated research into TCB at several events this year including the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR) conference in Brussels and the London Fortean Society.