I’m observing a sort of Law-and-Crime week, in honor of our Mystery and More Book Fair, which we are not holding this March, as has been our wont. We’re going to roll all those books into the big fair in July, so you’ll see twice as much Mystery, Science Fiction, Westerns, Military Fiction and Romance as usual. Why? We wonted to.
So, this week, in lieu of the display of magnifying glasses, and the 8x10 glossies of Chicago politicians, and the fabled Penny Jar, you get crime-themed blogs instead! With luck like that, you should go buy a lottery ticket while you’re on a roll.
This time around, I thought I would mention the Creepiest Item ever donated to the Book Fair. Those of you who didn’t care for Monday’s column should switch to YouTube and watch the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics again. Come back Friday.
You develop a heightened sense of hearing in this job, which can detect, through other noises, the sound of somebody sliding cardboard boxes onto the loading dock. I reached the door in time to see a couple getting into their car, having left four boxes and a bundle wrapped in newspaper.
“Do you want a receipt?” I called.
“No, no,” said the man, “Don’t bother!” And pulled his door shut.
But the woman, apparently struck by conscience, pointed to the canvas bundle and said, “You might want to just throw that away.” She got into the car and it sped off.
Well, what would you have done? I snatched up the paper-covered bundle and brought it inside at once. It was light and rectangular, in my opinion quite the wrong shape for a bomb or a recently deceased in-law. But the outer layer of newspaper was labeled “Caution” and “Danger”. The second layer also said “Danger” and “Caution”. The third layer said “Danger”, “Caution”, and “Gacy.”
Under the third layer was a painting, clearly signed “John Gacy, Cook County Jail, 1986”.
Well, anyone who remembers the loathsomely and supremely self-centered Gacy will recall the fuss about him selling his paintings from jail. This couple had evidently decided to get this one out of their house by donating it to a deserving charity. I don’t know what brought their fancy to light upon us, but here it was, a bit of Chicago memorabilia. What a pity, I thought, that it hadn’t arrived in time for the Mystery and More Book Fair: one could hardly have anything more appropriate.
Oh, did I say this was the Creepiest Item ever donated? Add another superlative: the Most Unsellable. The Newberry Library does not especially want its name linked with the most famous predator ever to lurk in Bughouse Square, so displaying it at the Book Fair was ruled out early on. And eBay, a center for tasteful and refined commerce, will not let you make money off of any serial killer or mass murderer of too recent date. So though I could have sold it anonymously there, I am forbidden to do so.
I hear violins playing in the background of my sad, sad tale, but I can make it sadder yet. The joke is that this painting is almost certainly NOT by the Killer Clown. It is not in his style. It uses a bolder, brasher palette than the colors he favored. And the signature is very questionable. John Wayne Gacy loved the media attention he got because of those first two names, and every other painting of his I’ve been able to see is signed John Wayne Gacy, or John W. Gacy, or J.W.Gacy. I have not seen a single painting signed by him that ignores the middle name. (And if you think looking at a lot of his artwork is a whee, it actually ranks below hauling banana boxes full of Condensed Books.)
So, aside from the attitude of the donors, there is nothing to suggest that this Gacy painting really IS a Gacy painting. Maybe it was his first painting and he hadn’t got the hang of it yet. Maybe he did this one as a joke, before he realized there was money in it. Maybe you could do fingerprint analysis on it and find out. And maybe I will just go buy myself a lottery ticket, because the odds are nearly as good. Best indications are that I am giving shelf space to a unsellable forgery.
But I still keep a layer of newspaper wrapped around it. I may not know much about art but I know what I don’t like.