It’s macabre! It’s unexpected! It’s Podsauce’s Odd Pod of the week, adroitly titled “The Box of Oddities.” Hosted by husband and wife Katrina and Jethro Gilligan Toth, each episode is called a box: inviting listeners to spill out its surprise contents and bizarre stories from around the world. With over nine million downloads, the hosting duo has brought their unique comedic flair to attract fans eager for curious stories since 2018.
Katrina and Jethro present stories to each other without any prior knowledge of what the other is going to tell them. So many topics are fair fodder: spontaneous combustion, odd laws, Victorian post-mortem photos, world records, con artists, murder ships, unusual conditions like The Sleeping Plague, prescriptions and treatments from olden times, missing persons, body theft (with and without skulls attached), and more.
Box 364: A Face-Full of Gas Pump Nozzles
On Podsauce, Dax recommended Box 364: “A Face-Full of Gas Pump Nozzles” about a man who went for a root canal and has been stuck in the same day ever since. Groundhog Day, much?!? After exploring his medical condition, the episode jumps to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. It’s an event where people call out to gods by piercing themselves and spitting, among other rituals. All in the name of vegetables? The festival goers then place items like gas nozzles in their cheeks. Quite a gory visual.
Can paintings be haunted? Supernatural enthusiasts think so, and Katrina and Jethro investigate this idea in Box 351: Spiritual Painting Murder. In the 1980s, a family’s country home burned to the ground in South Yorkshire, England. The residents’ home was decimated. They lost nearly everything, except for a painting of a crying boy hanging in the living room, that unbelievably remained untouched by the fire.
This popular, mass-produced painting was by obscure artist Giovanni Bragolin and it was sold in department stores from the 1950s to the 1970s. It was not the first time this painting was found as the only surviving piece from fires. And over the years, similar situations were reported and people speculated if the painting was cursed. Tabloids loved this story, and it became a legend.
Did cursed paintings cause fires?
These fires would break out spontaneously, so The Sun dug into the history of the painting and tried to track down Giovanni’s origins with little success. They only found that Giovanni painted many crying subjects over the years, many of which were street urchins’ children. The Sun begged readers to avoid the crying boy painting at all costs and get rid of any ones they had in their homes.
We learn Giovanni’s actual name was Franchot Seville or Bruno Amarillo. People thought they tracked down the subject of one of Giovanni’s paintings, Don Bonillo. This kid started a fire and accidentally killed his parents, and was coined with the nickname Diablo. Speculations believe Don was adopted by a priest and abused by the painter before dying in a car accident’s explosion later in life.
Comedian gives painting fire test
Researchers have found plenty of issues with this theory and the painter’s story. Another artist, Anna Zinkeisen, painted similar portraits, and people have reported them to be similarly cursed. In the 1980s, comedian and writer Steven Punt investigated the stories and interviewed the fire victims for his series, Punt PI. Most of the fires were traced back to standard causes — stoves left on or burning cigarettes — but Punt wanted to test the painting himself. Punt set a painting ablaze, and found out that it didn’t burn! It’s possible the paintings were made with a fire-retardant varnish and the compressed board canvases were fire-proof.
In the 2000s, modern artists remixed versions of the paintings by adding LEDs and real tear-generating features. Fans congregated online in aughts to discuss theories in fan club forums.
By 1985, readers sent their paintings to The Sun’s offices, and they were flooded! The publication held a bonfire of the crying boy paintings by River Thames. We wonder if any crying boy paintings still exist in the world today.
Live versions of “The Box of Oddities” are back in session. If you’re in NYC, Kat and Jethro will perform on October 29 and offer a livestream ticketing option for anyone unable to attend. Check out their website for tour updates.
“The Box of Oddities” unboxes new episodes semiweekly. With over 340 installments to choose from, you surely won’t get bored.