The EBay Haunted Painting

The EBay Haunted Painting

I had entirely forgotten about the oil panting "The Hands Resist Him" until someone sent me a link earlier this week.  This is something that hit big online in the early days, as brought to fame by the infamous eBay listing in 2000.  I suppose there are a lot of internet users who were too young to have noticed then!

Let's start with the painting itself.  It should be no surprise to learn that someone thought this painting was haunted and/or under the influence of demonic sources.  It is tremendously creepy.

A little boy stands on the front stoop of a building (presumably a home).  Beside him, a doll nearly his own size leans against the wall.  She clutches something in her hands.  Behind him, hands press against the glass of the door, all of them at his height or below it.  They are the hands of children - or perhaps of other dolls like the one who stands before him.

Ooh, I've given myself the willies.  Let's move on.

 "The Hands Resist Him" was painted by artist William Stoneham in 1972.  According to the artist's statement, he modeled the little boy after a picture of himself at age five in Chicago.  The doll is the boy's imaginary friend or spirit guide.  The hands represent the echoes of all the other lives which have been lived in that place in the past.  Ghosts, in other words.

The painting's odd history begins early on.  According to the artist, "Both the owner of the Gallery where 'Hands' was displayed and the Los Angeles Times art critic who reviewed my show were dead within a year of the show."

Somehow the painting ended up abandoned behind a brewery, or so claims the owners who listed it on eBay in February, 2000.  They also claimed that the painting came to life at night, that the figures in it took on a life of their own, that the boy and the doll fight with each other, and that the doll forces him out of the frame at gunpoint.

As soon as they posted their listing, the hits - and the reports of unusual effects - began pouring in.  People who viewed the auction claimed to experience myriad effects, including shortness of breath, feeling unusual drafts or blasts of hot air, dizziness, and nausea.  (All of these effects could easily be blamed on mass hysteria or panic attacks, but no matter.)

Some time after painting "The Hands Resist Him," Stoneham became a computer graphics artist living in Spokane and working for Cyan Worlds, the company behind mega-hits Myst and Riven.  Stoneham had forgotten all about "The Hands Resist Him" until he was contacted by a gallery in Michigan who were the winning bidders on the infamous eBay auction.

Stoneham was bewildered by the sudden attention his 1972 painting had received, and by his newfound notoriety on the internet.  On the up side, it led him to begin painting again, almost 20 years after he had apparently given it up in the name of getting a "real job."  Which is the best happy ending of all, if you ask me!