“DON’T TRY TO STAY AWAKE!” and More Terrifying True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: In 1959, a radio DJ in New York decided to conduct a publicity stunt – and it literally drove him insane. (Sleepless In New York) *** In December 1963 two boys hit upon an idea for a school science project – stay awake for as long as possible. And it shed new light on what happens inside our tired brains. (The Boy Who Wouldn’t Sleep) *** We can fight off the sandman for a while, but after a certain point, sleeplessness leads to temporary madness and possibly even death. (Don’t Try To Stay Awake) *** The infamous cursed paintings called “The Crying Boy”. Are all of the terrifying stories associated with the painting true, or have we simply created a fascinating legend we choose to believe? (The Crying Boy Painting)
TRANSCRIPT FOR THIS EPISODE…
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STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“The Crying Boy Painting” posted at Scarely.com: http://bit.ly/2Q4G92t (Video of attempt to burn “Crying Boy” painting: http://bit.ly/2Hremp1)
“Sleepless In New York: The Radio DJ’s Publicity Stunt That Ended In Madness” by Esther Inglis-Arkell: http://bit.ly/2EbPHnw
“The Boy Who Wouldn’t Sleep” by Sarah Keating: https://bbc.in/2Hlt3Lx
“Don’t Try To Stay Awake” by Adam Hadhazy: https://bbc.in/2E6p17F
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music Library. Background music, varying by episode, provided by Alibi Music, EpidemicSound and/or AudioBlocks with paid license; Shadows Symphony (http://bit.ly/2W6N1xJ), Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ), and/or Nicolas Gasparini/Myuu (https://www.youtube.com/user/myuuji) used with permission.
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46
Find out how to escape eternal darkness at https://weirddarkness.com/eternaldarkness
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
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It’s surprising how we spend our lives. Reach your 78th birthday and according to some back-of-the-envelope calculations, you will have spent nine of those years watching television, four years driving a car, 92 days on the toilet, and 48 days having sex. But when it comes to time-consuming activities, there’s one that sits head and shoulders above them all. Live to 78, and you may have spent around 25 years asleep. In an effort to claw back some of that time it’s reasonable to ask: how long can we stay awake – and what are the consequences of going without sleep?
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
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Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
While you’re listening, you might want to check out the Weird Darkness website. At WeirdDarkness.com you can find transcripts of the episodes, paranormal and horror audiobooks I’ve narrated, streaming video of Horror Hosts and classic horror movies, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. You can also shop the Weird Darkness Store for podcast merchandise, and 100% of all profits I make from the store are donated to the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
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DON’T STAY AWAKE
Any healthy individual planning to find out what happens without sleep through personal experimentation will find it tough going. “The drive to sleep is so strong it will supersede the drive to eat,” says Erin Hanlon, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Sleep, Metabolism and Health Centre. “Your brain will just go to sleep, despite all of your conscious efforts to keep it at bay.”
Exactly why the urge to sleep is so strong remains a mystery. “The exact function of sleep is still to be elucidated,” says Hanlon. She adds, however, that there is something about sleep that seems to “reset” systems in our bodies. What’s more, studies have shown that routine, adequate sleep promotes healing, immune function, proper metabolism, and much more – which is maybe why it feels good to arise refreshed after a serious snooze.
On the flip side, insufficient slumber has been linked to greater risks of diabetes, heart issues, obesity, depression and other maladies. To avoid those latter outcomes, we are wracked with uncomfortable sensations when we burn the midnight oil: we lack energy, feel groggy, and find that our heavy eyelids press on aching eyes. As we continue to fight off sleep, our ability to concentrate and form short-term memories slackens.
If we ignore all these side effects and stay up for days on end, our minds become unhinged. We get moody, paranoid, and see things that aren’t really there. “People start to hallucinate and go a bit crazy,” says Atul Malhotra, the Director of Sleep Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. (Long-haul truckers have an evocative term for this hallucinatory phenomenon: “seeing the black dog”. When a shadowy apparition appears on the roadway, so the advice goes, it’s time to pull the lorry over.)
Many studies have documented the body’s parallel decline during sleep deprivation. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol increase in the blood, in turn elevating blood pressure. Meanwhile, heart rhythms get out of whack and the immune system falters, says Malhotra. Sleep-deprived people accordingly feel anxious and are likelier to come down with an illness.
Still, all the havoc wreaked by a bout of insomnia or a few all-nighters does not seem permanent, disappearing after solid shuteye. “If there’s any damage, it’s reversible,” says Jerome Siegel, a professor at the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.
But what if sleep never can come? A rare genetic disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia provides one of the starkest pictures of the consequences of extreme sleeplessness.
Only about 40 families worldwide have FFI in their gene pools. A single defective gene causes proteins in the nervous system to misfold into “prions” that lose their normal functionality. “Prions are funny-shaped proteins that screw these people up,” says Malhotra. The prions clump in neural tissue, killing it and forming Swiss cheese-like holes in the brain (which is exactly what happens in the best-known human prion disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). One area that is particularly badly affected in people with FFI is the thalamus, a deep brain region that controls sleep. Hence the debilitating insomnia.
An afflicted individual suddenly goes days on end without rest and develops weird symptoms such as pinpoint pupils and drenching sweats. After a few weeks, the FFI victim slips into a sort of pre-sleep twilight. He or she appears to be sleepwalking and exhibits those jerky, involuntary muscle movements we sometimes have when falling asleep. Weight loss and dementia follow, and eventually, death.
Still, sleeplessness per se is not thought to be the lethal agent, because FFI leads to widespread brain damage. “I don’t think it is sleep loss that kills these individuals,” says Siegel. Similarly, the oft-used torture tactic of depriving human prisoners of sleep is not known to have summarily caused anyone to die (although they will still suffer horribly).
Along these lines, animal sleep deprivation experiments provide more evidence that a lack of sleep in its own right might not be deadly, but what prompts it may well be.
Studies by Allan Rechtschaffen at the University of Chicago in the 1980s involved placing rats on discs above a tray of water. Whenever the rat tried dozing off, as revealed by changes in measured brain waves, the disc would rotate and a wall would shove the rat towards the water, startling it back awake.
All rats died after about a month of this treatment, though for unclear reasons. Most likely, it was the stress of being awoken – on average a “thousand times a day” says Siegel – that did the rats in, wearing down their bodily systems. Among other symptoms, the rats exhibited body temperature dysregulation and lost weight despite an increased appetite.
“That’s the problem in interpreting sleep studies in humans and animals: You can’t thoroughly deprive a person or an animal of sleep without their cooperation and not impose a fair amount of stress,” says Siegel. If death occurs, “the question is, ‘is it the stress or the sleep loss?’ It’s not an easy distinction.”
All of this may well put most people off exploring the limits of our capacity to go without sleep, but the question remains: how long can we stay awake? Overall, the jury is out on just how long a human could ever stay awake, but perhaps that’s a good thing. Acknowledging the injury people might cause to themselves through intentional sleep deprivation, the Guinness Book of Records stopped keeping track of this particular superlative a decade ago. And the following stories will make it abundantly clear why.
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Back in 1959, science, charity, and publicity all came together in a particular stunt pulled by radio DJ Peter Tripp. He would stay awake for 200 hours. And it literally drove him mad.
Peter Tripp, a radio DJ, decided to stay awake for 200 hours, broadcasting his regular show at its regular time, as a publicity stunt. Officially, it was a charity drive for the March Of Dimes; Tripp would sit out in a booth in Times Square, and people could pledge money to the cause. It was also a valuable scientific opportunity — knowing that the stunt would take stimulants to stay awake, and knowing that it could be dangerous, the station contacted sleep researchers to monitor Tripp and keep him awake. Researchers took shifts, sitting with Tripp both to make sure he wasn’t in physical danger and to keep him from sleeping.
Amazingly, most of the way through the ordeal, Tripp was able to do his show fairly well. He pulled himself together to keep the DJ patter going. Outside of the show, he deteriorated. After about a hundred hours of wakefulness, Tripp was no longer able to get through simple math problems or recite the alphabet. After 120 hours, he began having hallucinations. He walked into a nearby hotel room to shower and change, and, when he opened a chest of drawers for his clothes, saw flames shooting out of the open drawer. At first he thought that the scientists had set the fire, trying to prank him or make him drop out of the contest. Then he began believing the scientists were in a conspiracy against him, and wanted to frame him for a crime. When one scientist, a stuffy dresser, came up to him, Tripp believed that the man was an undertaker come to bury him, and ran away into the street.
During long periods of sleep deprivation, the brain begins going into REM sleep cycles while a person is still awake. Most of the time, the person will still be able to function, if only on a basic level. During the REM cycles, they will begin to dream while they are still conscious. Tripp was having normal, if unpleasant, dreams, he just wasn’t having them in bed. As time went by, the confusion took over his mind. He started staring at a clock, believing that he could see the face of a friend in it. He came to be doubtful as to whether he was Peter Tripp, or was the friend. In the last few hours, he began confiding to scientists that, although everyone believed he was Peter Tripp, he was not.
Tripp did stay awake for 200 hours, although he was drugged regularly for the last 66 hours of it. After 24-hours of monitored sleep, he emerged, apparently none the worse for wear. However, some say the experiment affected him permanently, citing the fact that, soon afterwards, he lost his job and his wife divorced him. In fact, he was one of the radio hosts indicted in the payola scandal of 1960, for acts that had been committed well before the sleep study. Given the fact that he was hiding something criminal, it’s interesting that Tripp was so paranoid about the scientists framing him for a crime. Perhaps it was his hidden anxieties coming to light, or perhaps it was regular paranoia. It makes you wonder what you would see if your nightmares became reality.
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BOY WOULDN’T SLEEP
Four years later, at the tail end of 1963 in America, the Beach Boys were playing on the radio, the Vietnam War had begun to draw in US involvement, high school kids were on their Christmas break and two teenagers were planning an experiment that would capture the nation’s attention.
It ended on 8 January 1964; 17-year-old Randy Gardner had managed to stay awake for 11 days and 25 minutes.
Bruce McAllister, one of the high school students who came up with the idea, says it stemmed from the simple need to come up with a science fair project. Teamed with the creativity and cockiness that goes with teenage years, Bruce and his friend Randy decided they wanted to beat the world record for staying awake – which at the time was held by a DJ in Honolulu, who’d managed 260 hours, or just under 11 days.
“[The] first version of it was [to explore] the effect of sleeplessness on paranormal ability,” McAllister explains. “We realised there was no way we could do that and so we decided on the effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive abilities, performance on the basketball court. Whatever we could come up with.”
They flipped a coin on who would stay awake and much to McAllister’s relief, he won the toss. But their naivety surfaced in how they planned to observe the effects on Randy.
“We were idiots, you know young idiots,” he says “and I stayed awake with him to monitor him… and after three night of sleeplessness myself I woke up tipped against the wall writing notes on the wall itself.”
The teenagers realised they needed a third person involved so they roped in another friend – Joe Marciano – to help out. Shortly after Marciano came on board, a sleep researcher called William Dement from Stanford University arrived.
Dement is now an emeritus professor – but in 1964 he was just starting his research in the still new field of sleep science. He had read about the experiment in a San Diego newspaper and immediately wanted to get involved – much to the relief of Randy’s parents.
“I was probably the only person on the planet at the time who had actually done sleep research,” Dement says “[Randy’s parents] were very worried that this might be something that would really be harmful to him. Because the question was still unresolved on whether or not if you go without sleep long enough you will die.”
Our capacity to go without sleep is something that BBC Future has explored previously. Experiments on animals, such as one which kept cats awake for 15 days at which point they died, point to whether other factors such as stress or chemicals are the cause of death, rather than lack of sleep.
Indeed, McAllister insists that those experiments involved the use of chemicals, which muddied the results. “Randy had occasional Cokes but other than that, you know, no Dexedrine, Benzedrine, the du jour stimulants in those days,” he says.
Back to San Diego and by the time William Dement arrived a few days into the experiment, Randy was upbeat and didn’t seem particularly impaired. However, as the days wore on, the experiments they did on him threw up some unexpected results.
They tested his sense of taste, smell and hearing and after a while his cognitive and sensory abilities began to be affected.
McAllister recalls Randy beginning to say: “Don’t make me smell that, I can’t stand the smell.” Surprisingly though, his basketball game got better although this could be down to the amount he was playing.
“He was physically very fit,” says Dement. “So we could always get him going by playing basketball or going bowling, things like that. If he closed his eyes he would be immediately asleep.” Night time was harder as there was nothing to do and they had a terrible time keeping him awake.
As all this was happening, attention from the media began to gain momentum and for a brief time the boys’ experiment became the third most written-about story in the American national press – after the assassination of John F Kennedy and a visit by The Beatles.
However, it was portrayed as a prank, in the same bracket as “telephone booth stuffing and goldfish swallowing”, according to McAllister. The students were very serious about it and pushed through. Eventually after 264 hours of no sleep, the world record was broken and the experiment was over.
Rather than curling up in his own bed to get some much needed rest, Randy was taken off to a naval hospital where his brain waves were monitored. McAllister describes what happened next.
“So he sleeps for 14 hours – we’re not surprised – [and] he wakes up, in fact, because he has to go to the bathroom. His first night his percentage of REM state sleep, which was at that point associated with dream-state sleep – it isn’t anymore – skyrocketed. Then the next night it dropped in percentage points until finally days later it returned to normal.
“And then he got up and went to high school… it was amazing,” Dement adds.
Randy’s results from the hospital were sent off to Arizona to be studied. McAllister says the results concluded that “his brain had been catnapping the entire time… parts of it would be asleep parts of it would be awake.”
For him it makes sense in the context of human evolution. “He wasn’t the first human being – or pre-human being – to have to stay awake for more than one night and that the human brain might evolve so that it could catnap – parts of it could catnap and restore – while parts of it were awake – made total sense. And that would explain why worse things didn’t happen,” he says.
A number of people tried to break Gardner’s record for the longest time anyone had stayed awake in the following years – but the Guinness Book of Records stopped certifying attempts, believing it could be dangerous to people’s health.
Randy seemed to show no ill effects from his 11 days awake – although he later reported suffering from years of unbearable insomnia. At a press conference outside his parents’ home after the experiment had ended, the teenagers fielded questions from a huge crowd that had gathered.
The boy who hadn’t slept for 11 days somehow managed to be philosophical about his endeavour.
“It’s just mind over matter,” he said.
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When Weird Darkness returns…
The infamous cursed paintings called “The Crying Boy”. Are all of the terrifying stories associated with the painting true, or have we simply created a fascinating legend we choose to believe? That story is up next.
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In the 1950’s, a man named Giovanni Bragolin or Bruno Amadio came out with a series of paintings depicting a boy crying. They seem like ordinary paintings but the paranormal community and those associated with them know different. These paintings have, reportedly, been associated with at least 5 houses being destroyed by fires. The coincidences of each case make this story truly disturbing.
65 different paintings were created in inspiration of World War II. These series of paintings are known now as the Crying Boy.
In each variation, different children have downcast expressions with tears in their eyes, a strange subject to say the least.
Tourists visiting post-war Venice were the first to see these paintings. The children depicted carried downcast expressions as a result of the bloodshed from World War II.
Soon after achieving popularity in Italy, the paintings were mass produced and further increased in popularity in England.
It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that this painting would become a legend forever. Now, we know it as one of the most terrifying paintings in existence.
It started in the UK in 1985 where a newspaper posted a story called “Blazing Curse of the Crying Boy”.
In this newspaper, they described a terrifying fire that caused a family to leave their home. It was deciphered that the fire was caused by a chip pan catching fire as it overheated.
It, then, caught the rest of the house on fire and destroyed all of their belongings expect for one item…
The Crying Boy Painting still sat in its regular spot; undamaged by the wrath of the fire. After this strange event, the family explained that the painting was haunted and cursed.
From there, the local newspaper pushed the story out and took the world by storm. More stories soon followed.
Stories of fires decimating houses and causing injuries sprouted from the article. In each case, the painting was the only object that remained intact after the fires. From here, the crying boy paintings were considered cursed.
A firefighter, who had been to 15 houses where fires had demolished the property noticed a peculiar finding.
In each house fire, one item remained intact… Again, it was the Crying Boy Painting that escaped the wrath of the flames.
This story further pushed people in the UK to gravitate towards the supernatural. It was deemed that this painting was cursed and that it caused families to lose their homes.
At this point, every house fire was blamed on the crying boy painting. Was the blame justified? One firefighter believed so…
Alan Wilkinson, a local firefighter in the area, noted that there had been over 50 fires in connection to the painting.
While this has never been proven, there are 5 confirmed cases that a newspaper documented.
‘The Sun’, the newspaper that released the story, went on to cite 5 events where house fires had been prevalent in connection with the painting:
1. Nottingham, England – A family lost their home to a vicious fire and narrowly escaped death.
2. Surrey, England – 6 months after purchasing the painting, a woman lost her home in a fire.
3. Kilburn, England – Two sisters experienced paranormal activity in connection with the painting. The biggest of those events being the multiple fires that had broken out in their home. Also, one of the sisters described the painting swaying back and forth on its own.
4. Norfolk, London – A restaurant was destroyed by a fire. In the fire were the ashes of several paintings except for the intact crying boy painting.
5. Isle of Wight, England – a woman tried to burn the painting when she heard of the stories and reported that the painting would not burn.
Firefighters in the UK went on to mention that they refuse to keep any of these paintings in their homes because of its negative history.
This further tarnished the reputation of the paintings and the artist who came up with them.
Those who have come into contact with the painting report strange occurrences. Even after 1985, when the story grew to heightened popularity, many have reported events in conjunction with the painting
Many people have reported losing their homes to fires and claim that it was after owning the painting. Others have described paranormal activity occurring in their homes such as:
- Feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, and sadness upon studying the painting for lengths of time.
- The painting moving on its own.
- Thoughts of suicide and despair.
- Multiple reports of unfortunate events occurring after the painting came into possession.
Are these reports purely internet urban legends? Or could there actually be a curse surrounding the painting and those that display it in their homes?
There are many theories on why these paintings might be cursed…
Due to the amounts of fires associated with the painting, that alone has been enough for many to deem paranormal. What could be the source of this energy?
One theory states that the boy depicted in the painting was the son of a family of witches. As the theory states, the mother of the boy cursed the paintings as she didn’t like how her son was depicted.
Another theory is that the child depicted in the artwork died in a tragedy and was trapped inside the paintings.
The last and most popular theory is that the child caused a fire in the studio that the artist used to create the infamous paintings.
In this theory, the child’s family had also perished in a fire. As the child grew up misfortune followed him at every turn.
The story of the child depicted in the paintings ended when he was, supposedly, killed in a car crash when the car burst into flames.
As the internet grew and this story came to light, many believe this is the cause of the hauntings and misfortunes families have experienced.
A man named Steve Punt created a video in 2010 where he tested the legend on whether the painting would burn or not.
In each case reported by ‘The Sun’, the picture remained intact when the families’ house burnt down.
However, ‘The Sun’ also contradicted themselves when they offered a solution to the insanity that occurred as a result of them pushing out that newspaper.
Their solution was to meet up with anyone who had a painting and they burned them all on Halloween night, 1985.
That is definitely a strange statement considering they reported that the paintings would not burn. Steve Punt tested that theory in his video.
Sure enough, in the video you will see that the painting does not fully burn. Only the corners catch fire but the face of the crying boy remains unharmed. Could there be truth to this legend?
It is likely that the painting is coated in fire retardant liquid. That is another popular theory circulating with the painting.
The manufacturer that made thousands of copies most likely made it standard to have fire resistant properties.
If this is the case, then how did ‘The Sun’ manage to incinerate thousands of copies of the painting on Halloween night? It is likely that we will never know and it will just continue to be a legend.
The crying boy painting was something that terrified people in a time where the internet wasn’t prevalent and people could very easily be misled.
Even with the internet growing in popularity, this story has blown up into the mainstream from events that took place a while ago.
While many elements of this legend can be explained rationally, there are elements that could fall into the realm of the paranormal.
Such as, the sheer number of fires that have happened while this painting belonged to people and the activity surrounding this artifact.
Even after the strange events captured in the mid 80’s, people have explored the phenomenon of this painting and have experienced strange events themselves.
Such as the feelings that emanate from the painting when studying it for lengths of time.
What happens when people own the painting is even more sinister… The fires that have destroyed their belongings and caused injuries in their wake.
Others have even reported experiencing poltergeist activity. Such as the painting moving on its own and hearing faint voices coming from rooms where it is displayed.
Paranormal investigators have explored this painting for years and have experienced strange phenomenon.
To this day, you can still buy the painting for your home. Now, would I recommend this? I choose the path of being safe rather than sorry but that is ultimately up to you.
However, you can find many listings around the internet – Many of which are very affordable.
Going to Etsy, I found many sellers offering different versions of the paintings. It is a bit more difficult to find his most famous painting, but I am sure it is available somewhere online.
Invaluable, a popular auction site, has many variations of the painting in their catalogue.
Throughout the years, many paranormal investigators and paranormal enthusiasts have purchased the painting for their homes as well.
This is one of the most interesting paintings in the world. Beyond the destructive activity that has been reported and the accounts of paranormal activity, the paintings themselves are strange.
The subject of children crying in art is something that Giovanni Bragolin invented and has captivated people since its inception in the 1950’s.
This is the art that made this artist popular – even after it was considered a curse to own the painting. This haunted artifact is one that continues to captivate and stump paranormal investigators to this day.
Is this painting truly cursed? We may never know… Unless, you own it and experience the activity for yourself.
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Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” at WeirdDarkness.com and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.