Henry Darger Room

The Realms of the Unreal: The Afterlife of America’s Strangest Artist

very day for forty-three years, Henry Darger would leave his single room apartment at 851 W. Webster Avenue on Chicago’s North Side to attend mass, then head to work as a hospital custodian. He barely spoke to anyone – his only friend had left town years before, and the occasional letter was a poor substitute. His bohemian landlord tolerated his eccentricity, and threw him birthday parties. It may not seem like much, but Darger’s early life was one of perpetual neglect; he was given up for adoption at age four, institutionalized for ‘self-abuse’ at thirteen, and escaped at sixteen. Routine and obscurity were the best he could hope for.

Or maybe he was ‘psychologically a serial killer,’ as his biographer John MacGregor calls him in his book Henry Darger: In The Realms of The Unreal – obsessed with young girls, clipping pictures of them from magazines. Perhaps also a killer; a five year old girl, Elsie Paroubek, was found strangled in a drainage ditch not long after Darger returned to Chicago, and he became unnaturally interested in the case, flying into a rage when his only picture of Paroubek was stolen. Maybe the mass he attended – as many as five times a day – wasn’t an expression of his piety, but an attempt to keep something dark inside of him from getting out.