Hook, Line, and Sinker

Liar Liar Claw

Anoth­er piece at the Hearsay show that real­ly hooked my atten­tion was A. S. Ash­ley’s Dis­mem­ber Me For­ev­er, based on the urban leg­end “The Hook.” There are many vari­a­tions on this sto­ry, but the artist was there to talk about his piece, and in his own words, it goes some­thing like this:

I’m third-gen­er­a­tion native South­ern Cal­i­forn­ian, born and raised in Pasade­na. My fam­i­ly used to own a dairy right on Col­orado. I chose the urban leg­end “The Hook” as the basis for my piece because this area is famous for its car cul­ture, and SoCal could very well have been the ori­gin of the story.

It was a clear Fri­day night, and the boy (a foot­ball play­er) was dressed to the nines. He bor­rowed his dad’s big honk­ing boat of a Cadil­lac and picked up the girl (a cheer­leader, of course), who is in her best par­ty dress, to go to a par­ty. They are hav­ing a great time at the par­ty, but after a while, the boy asks the girl if she wants to take off. The girl asks, “To go where?” To which the boy replies, “I don’t know, let’s go watch the sub­ma­rine races or some­thing.” The girl thinks about it for a bit and says, “OK,” so they hop into the Cadil­lac and take off.

The boy dri­ves around until they get to a cliff in the woods out­side of town, with no one around for miles (or so he thinks). He turns on some music on the radio and makes his move. They get busy for a only a few moments before the DJ breaks into the broad­cast with a news bul­letin — a ser­i­al killing axe mur­der­er has escaped from the local asy­lum. If you spot him, you are to imme­di­ate­ly turn around and flee, do not take any chances by inter­act­ing with him. He is a large man and eas­i­ly iden­ti­fied by his pros­thet­ic arm, which ends in a hook. The mes­sage repeats a cou­ple of times and the music starts back up.

The boy smart­ly locks all the doors, then turns the radio up and starts in again with the girl, but she push­es him away, say­ing, “What do you think you’re doing? The asy­lum is right by here.” The boy says, “It’s OK, we’re per­fect­ly safe. I locked the doors, and this is a huge Cadil­lac. We’ll know he’s here long before we’re in any dan­ger.” The girl says, “That’s not good enough, I’m still scared.” The boy says, “If he does show up, I’ll just beat him up.” The girl says, “Nope, we’re done, take me home.”

The boy thinks about push­ing his luck, but can see he’s get­ting nowhere, and frus­trat­ed, he peels off in a hur­ry and takes her home. Back at her place, the girl gets out and slams the door in huff, only to dis­cov­er to her hor­ror that there is a hook hang­ing from the door handle.

Dismember Me Forever

From the object label:

1987 Cadil­lac d’El­e­gance pas­sen­ger door, pros­thet­ic arm with hook, par­ty dress.

The Hook” is an urban leg­end about sex, fear, rejec­tion, and a slew of Freudi­an metaphors.

For me it is a sto­ry of dismemberment(s).

I want­ed to know why our vil­lain did­n’t have a hand. Was it because of a con­gen­i­tal defect, or the result of some bru­tal­ly vio­lent inci­dent that pushed him into a per­ma­nent­ly psy­chot­ic state? And what did hav­ing his pros­the­sis torn off (along with part of his arm) by a speed­ing car do for his already rosy disposition?

Have you heard the leg­end of “the Hook” before? Do you think it is sim­ply a fun-to-tell tale of a near death, or is it a social warn­ing against promis­cu­ity? Is the hook a Freudi­an phal­lic sym­bol and his failed attack a psy­chic “cas­tra­tion”, or a lit­er­ary device to sim­ply high­light the near-miss?

Stop Resisting!


This past Sun­day, I went to an art tour of Hearsay at the LosJo­Cos Gallery, host­ed by Cindy from Cart­wheel Art and Hadley from Atlas Obscu­ra. This exhib­it was all about art explor­ing urban leg­ends. The cura­tor and sev­er­al artists were there to speak to us about the pieces, too.

If you know me, you know I am fas­ci­nat­ed by the weird, so this was right up my alley. Although every piece was eye-grab­bing, one sec­tion par­tic­u­lar­ly engrossed me — Gregg Gibbs’ work sur­round­ing The Hands Resist Him.


If you are unfa­mil­iar with that piece, it is more com­mon­ly known as the “eBay Haunt­ed Paint­ing,” and is very well doc­u­ment­ed. Gregg is a very enter­tain­ing speak­er, and I am not sure where truth ends and show­man­ship begins, but here is how he lays it out:

In the 1970s, an artist named Bill Stone­ham was look­ing to make a name for him­self so he walked into the Fein­garten Gallery, the most pres­ti­gious in Los Ange­les at that time. Chuck Fein­garten, the own­er and deal­er, was so impressed with his work that he brought Stone­ham’s port­fo­lio on the spot, set him up with a stipend to pro­duce two paint­ings a month for a year, and offered him a one-man show at the end of that year.

Over the course of the year, Stone­ham pro­duced The Hands Resist Him as one of those required paint­ings. It is said that he was inspired by an old whale­bone carv­ing of a human hand with a poem etched into the palm.


The artist also said that the boy is a self-por­trait, the hands rep­re­sent the demands of oth­ers, the door a veil between worlds, and the doll a guide for pass­ing back and forth.

When it came time for the show, The Hands Resist Him was the only paint­ing to sell. This is where the strange cir­cum­stances of the paint­ing seem to begin. Sup­pos­ed­ly, the buy­er, art deal­er, and art crit­ic at the show all died with­in a year. (Accord­ing to Gibbs, though, the deal­er died almost a decade lat­er, and the art crit­ic did die with­in a year, but due to can­cer, which he already had been diag­nosed with. The buy­er, John Mar­ley, famous­ly played Jack Woltz — the man who wakes up to a horse head in his bed in The God­fa­ther, also lived for many more years.) Rumors aside, Stone­ham was so upset after the show, he quit the art scene and moved to the Bay Area to work for George Lucas, includ­ing on Howard the Duck.

After the death of Mr. Mar­ley, there is a dark peri­od where the paint­ing’s prove­nance is not clear. The sto­ry picks up again when a “pick­er” finds it in the trash by the Brew­ery Arts Com­plex and takes it home. Sup­pos­ed­ly, he dis­played it in his liv­ing room, but it upset his moth­er because at a cer­tain time of day, the light­ing made it appear as if the doll/girl pulls a gun on the boy, and he dis­tances him­self from her with­in the paint­ing. He sells it in a garage sale to the famous eBay sellers.

The eBay sell­ers, of course, claim that they felt a pres­ence around the paint­ing at night, heard the fig­ures argu­ing fol­lowed by a gun­shot, and then the boy comes out of the paint­ing. They claim not to believe in ghosts but ask for a “bless­ing” on their house after the paint­ing is removed. At this point, there are all sorts of sto­ries about peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing strange phe­nom­e­na pure­ly from the dig­i­tal pic­tures of the eBay list­ing, includ­ing print­ers catch­ing on fire when peo­ple attempt to recre­ate it, and even a woman claim­ing items on her desk would move on their own after she set the pic­ture as her desk­top background.

Gibbs claims to have gone to see the paint­ing — the eBay buy­er is an art deal­er in Grand Rapids, Michi­gan, and still has it. He said that he asked a Michi­gan para­nor­mal soci­ety to inves­ti­gate the paint­ing, but they “could not find any­thing con­clu­sive” and he did not expe­ri­ence any­thing out of the ordi­nary when he saw it. Stone­ham was con­tact­ed short­ly after the eBay sale and said that he had for­got­ten all about the piece, and it was not super­nat­ur­al to his knowledge.

Thanks to the sto­ry going viral, though, Stone­ham was com­mis­sioned to do two fol­low-up paint­ings, Resis­tance at the Threshold


and Thresh­old of Rev­e­la­tion.


Nei­ther have had any strange occur­rences attrib­uted to them. It has also inspired works by oth­ers, such as Nico­la Ver­la­to’s The Haunt­ing of the Haunt­ed Painting,


my per­son­al favorite piece from this exhibit.

What do you think is the truth? Is The Hands Resist Him real­ly haunt­ed? Is the eBay list­ing an elab­o­rate hoax and/or per­for­mance art piece of its own? I’ll have to see for myself next time I’m in Michigan.

UPDATE: I wrote about anoth­er piece at the show.