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The 1980s Curse of the Crying Boy Painting

Michael loves nothing better than a good conspiracy served with a side of paranormal investigation.

Learn about the supposed curse behind the Crying Boy Painting, a replica painting that was popular in the 1980s.

Learn about the supposed curse behind the Crying Boy Painting, a replica painting that was popular in the 1980s.

The Myth

The Crying Boy Painting refers to a mass-produced replica of a painting by Spanish artist Bruno Amadio. I remember vividly reading about this as a child in The Sun newspaper back in the mid-1980s.

A fireman was reported to have removed an undamaged painting from the burnt-out wreck of a house in Yorkshire. He was quoted as saying that no firefighter he knew would allow a copy of the painting in their house.

Over the coming months, more and more stories were published under similar circumstances, and The Sun even organized a mass bonfire for people who wanted to dispose of the picture. To lift the curse, it was said that one would have to reunite the crying boy and the crying girl. But what was the curse, if any, of the Crying Boy painting? Was it a haunted or possessed painting, mass hysteria, or just a joke gone too far?

An example of a painting of a crying boy.

An example of a painting of a crying boy.

Genesis of the Legend

Soon reports were coming in from all over Britain. They all had the same circumstances. A house fire and, inexplicably, an unburnt picture of a crying boy found in the wreckage. The trouble was, a lot of them were different pictures, so how did this all link together? Let's go back to the beginning.

A house fire in 1985—it started with a chip pan setting alight. It is true that the picture was unscathed by the fire, and it is also true that a fireman lent credibility to this by saying that other pictures of the boy were found unscathed in other house fires. If it weren't for this added credibility, then I doubt anything more than a small section in the local paper would have been merited, but this went national very quickly.

The strange circumstances quickly made the national news.

The strange circumstances quickly made the national news.

Stories From the People

The story was a guaranteed seller of newspapers, especially as they said that as many as 50,000 of these pictures might be hanging in Britain's working-class homes. I would not go as far as to say it was bedlam, but let's just say that there were a lot of very nervous people who suddenly wanted to be rid of the things.

More and more people were coming forward with their own stories to tell, and the newspaper was flooded with calls. It seemed that everyone knew someone affected by the "curse." One woman from London claimed to have seen the picture swinging from side to side as if haunted, while Mrs. Rose Farrington of Preston wrote in a letter published by The Sun:

"Since I bought it in 1959, my three sons and my husband have all died. I've often wondered if it had a curse."

This all fueled the fire (pardon the pun) and gave the story, to use an English press term, "legs." People began to try to dispose of the paintings themselves by setting them alight, only to find that even when deliberately set on fire, there were unharmed.

Another example of a crying boy painting.

Another example of a crying boy painting.

The Plot Thickens

Of course, the real mystery was not in the fires themselves, all of which were easily explained as chip pan fires, discarded cigarettes and electrical faults. No, the mystery was how these paintings survived when all else was so badly damaged.

Rotherham fire station officer Alan Wilkinson who had personally logged 50 'Crying Boy' fires dating back to 1973, was satisfied that of all the fires he attended, it was usually human ignorance or carelessness. He had no explanation for the survival of the pictures, however, and it was this, of course, that the press continued to jump on.

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It soon emerged that many of the fires actually had different pictures of crying boys from different artists.

The Sun Claims to Lift the Curse

The Sun was left with a dilemma of its own: what to do with 2500 copies of various paintings of crying boys that had been sent to them for disposal. Turning it once again to the newspaper's advantage, they managed to burn the lot in a massive funeral pyre on no other day than Halloween. They found that with sufficient persuasion, they could indeed be destroyed, and The Sun declared that it had alone "lifted the curse of the crying boy." What a headline it made!

The Mystery Solved?

So, why did the pictures survive the fires after all this?

As is so often the case, the reality is not so exciting. It turns out that the pictures had a slightly fire-resistant lacquer on them. Also, in the case of a fire, generally speaking, the string burnt through that held the painting up; the result was that the frame fell to the ground, and the picture face down, thus nicely protected from the heat around it.

As many of you know, I have had experiences, and I have my beliefs, but this one is just plain busted, in my opinion. At the time, though, it was indeed one hell of a story and genuinely caused widespread fear. The story keeps popping up—as with so many urban legends. This one has continued to grow on the internet, and the backstory of who the boy might have been has been added into the mix, along with mistreatment by the painter and so on.

For me, this is a great story, but nothing more. I do sincerely hope, however, that you enjoyed reading about this quite British mystery.

Incidentally, one of the firemen involved did actually refuse a framed copy of the picture as a retirement present, despite trying to remain the voice of reason during the case.


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on November 13, 2013:

Great story which I have never heard of before but I have seen quite a lot of pictures like that in local Auctions. Thanks for sharing.

paul on January 10, 2013:

my mum and dad have one of these paintings there freaky lol

Shasta Matova from USA on November 25, 2012:

I had not heard of this curse, being in America. It is quite interesting. I am glad you have solved the case!

chantelle on September 11, 2012:

Well my grandmother had a pianting of the crying boy for almost 30-40 years and there were no fires at all,i always liked the pianting and i have inherited the pianting form her... My believe is strong and about this storie...I just think it's a lode of crap...

Debby Bruck on March 15, 2012:

Hi Zak ~ Sherlock we need you. Did they have flame retardant chemicals and materials at the time? Science will find an answer. Maybe. Blessings, Debby

ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on August 09, 2011:

People are idiots. This is my theory on "curses".

Muldanianman on June 01, 2011:

I remember my great grandmother having the second picture in the hub. She used to tell me that it was a picture of me, which as a very young child, I believed. As far as I know, she never had any fires.

Michael Murchie (author) from Parts Unknown on May 24, 2011:

Thanks for reading Moot, glad you enjoyed it.

Moot on May 24, 2011:

Wonderful article. Very interesting but chilling.

Michael Murchie (author) from Parts Unknown on May 24, 2011:

Thanks for dropping by and reading !

Michele McCallister from USA on May 23, 2011:

Very interesting hub !

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