The Box of Crazy
November 4, 2013 11:20 PM   Subscribe

"So a friend of mine found this box by the trash, it is full of wonderful, crazy illustrations. Clearly something happened to this guy that was very memorable."
posted by Joakim Ziegler (55 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
The Lost Drawings Of Zampanò!
posted by mannequito at 11:40 PM on November 4, 2013 [14 favorites]

Many of these drawings appear to be of the vision described in Chapter 1 of Ezekiel.
posted by Wemmick at 11:40 PM on November 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Wemmick: "Many of these drawings appear to be of the vision described in Chapter 1 of Ezekiel."

You're right, I stupidly misremembered and thought that vision was from Revelations, hence the tag. Changed.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:45 PM on November 4, 2013

Also, the artist appears to sign most of the work as "Daniel Christiansen".
posted by mwhybark at 11:56 PM on November 4, 2013

The box looked so convenient that I was considering hoax, but if hoax, someone put a lot of work into it. Though I guess the bulk of it could be just something dug up from the basement to get that authentic 30 year old aged pencil and ink drawing look. You'd only really have to intersperse a few bits with lines about revelations and Tampa.

But I'm sure the internet will track down whichever Daniel J Christiansen it might be/have been if it's not fake. Some of them are certainly very pretty, especially the technical drawings.
posted by tavella at 11:57 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

There was a flurry of genealogical and then conspiracy theory activity on Reddit. This Business Insider article gives a nice summary (picture of Daniel Christiansen at the bottom from his obituary).
posted by Didymium at 12:28 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

But I'm sure the internet will track down whichever Daniel J Christiansen it might be/have been if it's not fake.

Full name: Daniel Samuel Christiansen
Born: November 27, 1904 in Skodsborg, Denmark (near Copenhagen) to Christian Christiansen and Karen Larsen
His mother's father's name was Lars Larsen, his widow (Daniel's grandmother) was living in/on Græsted Overdrev (farm name?) in Græsted Parish as of 1927.
His parents were Seventh Day Adventists
He achieved the equivalent of an 8th grade education.
As of 1927 he was living in Helsingør (aka Elsinore)
Speculation: He may have taken classes at the International People's College in Elsinore.
He was issued passport #2194 in Copenhagen, Denmark on January 3, 1927.
He immigrated to the US aboard the RMS Olympic, a sister ship of the Titanic, leaving Southampton, England on April 5, 1927 and arriving in NYC on April 12.
At the time he was 22 years old, a carpenter and was able to read and write both Danish and English. He had never been to the US before, and was 5' 5" tall with blonde hair and blue eyes.
His destination was the Pocono People's College in Henryville, Pennsylvania.
Pocono People's College was an experimental university that focused on adult education. It did not require its adult students to have any specific educational prerequisites to attend. The college was open from 1924 until 1929 when it closed due to lack of funding after the stock market crashed.
Daniel personally knew Dr. Sorn Mathiasen, the head of Pocono People's College (he lists him as a "friend" on his immigration papers).
Dr. Mathiasen had previously taught at the International People's College in Elsinore, Denmark (Daniel's residence prior to emigration). This is what leads me to believe Daniel may have taken classes in Elsinore as well.
When the college closed in 1929, Daniel moved to Newark, New Jersey (about 75 miles from Henryville according to google).
Daniel rented apartments on Chestnut and later Cottage Street and worked as a mechanic/laborer in an Automobile factory.
Sometime around 1935 Daniel moved to an apartment in the back of 91 Elm Street and began working as a carpenter doing furniture repair.
He lived there and did the same job until his enlistment in the military in 1942.

That's from a Reddit user called drivebyhistorian, and there's quite a bit more info available on the subreddit dedicated to the contents of the box. (Links safe to follow - this seems to be one of those quiet corners of Reddit without the usual deranged racist bellowing and MRA misogyny.)
posted by jack_mo at 12:42 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think these are the issues of OMNI magazine [1] [2] [3] referenced in the text portion.
posted by Wemmick at 12:48 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

So he was 63 in 67', just recently retired. There was time to unite god and science. 10 years later he was still trying to put the pieces together, the trip to Brazil, aliens, reefer. A hell of a thing. End.
posted by stbalbach at 1:02 AM on November 5, 2013

I was going to call BS, because his map shows Nunavut (founded 1999). But that's not Nunavut; that's the District of Keewatin, which is an archaic thing to put on a map with post-1949 borders.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:31 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Either this is the most fantastic find in the history of found things. . . or, it's a fictional account of the most fantastic find in the history of found things. (I haven't actually looked carefully enough to be sure that it presents itself as genuine. But, it lacks the obvious hallmarks of fiction.)

My uninformed sniff-test points to the later. It's much too polished, and too artfully distressed to be something kept in a (pitch-perfect) wooden box and discarded.

The question is, why does it matter to me that this was made by a self-aware, internet savvy art school grad, and not a forgotten outsider? None of the answers I can invent are entirely compelling. And yet, it does matter. A found object is different from a made object, even if *someone* made it in either case.
posted by eotvos at 1:39 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm suspicious too. This is setting off my horse_emeter.
posted by JHarris at 2:48 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

He was an artist and this was his life's work.
posted by h00py at 2:58 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, the first picture gave me a start. I have a box just like that, which I built back in the '80s when I was taking mechanical drawing classes. It was to put my drafting tools in. Same proportions; same handle; same latches. Not as beat up, and mine is made of luan plywood, and doesn't have the padlock hasp, but damn. I'd say he built his, too.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:10 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Of course, we share a birthday.
posted by Kitteh at 4:36 AM on November 5, 2013

Cherubim. Go figure.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:58 AM on November 5, 2013

The printing looks like handwriting rather than a font. Hard to imagine a hoaxter (or virus-spawning marketer) going to the trouble of writing all that out just for laughs/clicks.
posted by gubo at 5:02 AM on November 5, 2013

Holy shit. I've been trying to create something like this for the last year*, but this takes the cake. Real or not, it's incredible. Awesome post!

*see here
posted by Acey at 5:03 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some of those drawings are reminiscent of Spaceships of Ezekiel, but as I haven't read that since I was about ten I may be thoroughly misremembering...
posted by Devonian at 5:10 AM on November 5, 2013

Looks quite real to me. The technical drafting technique and look isn't that easy to just zip off. Amazing and beautiful.
posted by meinvt at 5:28 AM on November 5, 2013

My hunch is not a hoax, for whatever it is worth. The illustrations are amazing, but not that technically great. It doesn't have the hallmarks of someone trying to dumb down excellence [adult technician trying to draw like a kid, never looks right] and it isn't sexy enough or disturbing enough to be worthwhile if it were being authored as a fake. If it were a hoax there would be an end, and there simply isn't. The only reason someone would do this sort of work for nothing is because they were compelled to from the inside out.

Look at Henry Darger. So crazy, so beautiful, so disturbing, and SO MUCH. Other than the sheer quantity, and the unassailable chain of evidence, if someone were to spring that work and that story on the world today the world would fall all over itself yelling "hoax". But it's real. People are really compelled to do things sometimes, without regard for how Reddit will perceive it.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:29 AM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

The printing looks like handwriting rather than a font.

And very consistent handwriting, very distinctive, which is something we see a lot on letters from prisoners (I volunteer with a prison book program). They often develop their own form of handwriting that looks like it could be a font -- not always an easy font to decipher, but distinctive.

Overall this is very consistent with the kind of letters and drawings we get from prisoners. Usually we don't get anything like this volume of work, of course (they couldn't afford the postage), but the handwriting, the subject matter, and the style of the drawings feel very familiar to me. I'm assuming any prison record would have been found already by the folks at Reddit, but I wonder if he spent a lot of time in some other restricted place, like a hospital. (Possibly the VA Medical Center, per the placemat?)
posted by pie ninja at 5:35 AM on November 5, 2013

Sounds like an RPG illustration to me. (Relevant xkcd.)
posted by jiawen at 5:43 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is wonderful & amazing, no matter who made it & under what circumstances.

And yes, a lot (but not all) of the weirdest stuff is a straightforward rendering of exactly what's described in the vision of Ezekiel.
posted by edheil at 6:18 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Looks like Christiansen was not the only one to make the connection between Ezekiel and extraterrestrials: NASA engineer Josef F. Blumrich wrote something similar in 1974.
posted by Acey at 6:32 AM on November 5, 2013

This popped up on reddit a few days ago. The general consensus there was the same as here...including the same hunting down of the original owner of the box.

My gut reaction was that this person was possibly bipolar or paranoid schizophrenic with a driving need to explore the greater implications of the Ezekiel chapter.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:35 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This bit, from a page undoubtely removed from a book, is actually quite interesting in a way that has nothing to do with teh crazy:

The popularity of the nude at this period was not only aesthetic: the professional models were among the few live subjects capable of holding a pose for the required five to ten minutes. The innovation of faster photographic techniques did not, however, lessen their popularity. Such artists as Incres, Courbet, and Delacroix were quick to appreciate the value of the photographed nude. Poses ordered (and often directed) by them were done regularly by such early Parisian photographers as Nadar and Duriey. The camera could capture poses too difficult for the model to hold for long and a series of different poses could reveal unexpected possibilities. In addition, model fees could be minimized.

New tech minimizing the wages of traditional workerd has been around for a long time.
posted by jfuller at 6:37 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Looks like Christiansen was not the only one to make the connection between Ezekiel and extraterrestrials: NASA engineer Josef F. Blumrich wrote something similar in 1974.

Yeah, speaking as someone who was an impressionable, nerdy, sci-fi reading teen in the late 70s, I was aware of Ezekiel's vision possibly being a UFO as a popular topic. Von Daniken wrote something about it, and I seem to recall there was also an episode of "In Search of..." (a show narrated by Leonard Nimoy about mysterious phenomena) about it as well. So, not that obscure for the popular media of the time.
posted by aught at 6:45 AM on November 5, 2013

I mean, at 12 or 13, I told a Sunday school teacher who asked all the kids to tell what their favorite book of the Bible was and why, "Ezekiel, because the guy saw a UFO" (and as you might imagine, got a stern look for my nerdy enthusiasm).
posted by aught at 6:51 AM on November 5, 2013

At this stage I'm erring on the side of this being genuine, but if it turns out it's a hoax then my hat is well and truly off.

Taking it at face value, it seems that Mr Christiansen experienced some kind of psychotic break in Tampa in 1967, which he wrestled with for some years (the write up is dated 1981). If that's the case then this is a tragic story of a very troubled mind.
posted by Acey at 6:59 AM on November 5, 2013

In fact, if he was born in 1904 then that would make him 77 in 1981, so maybe dementia...?
posted by Acey at 7:11 AM on November 5, 2013

Yeah, my first reaction to this is sadness.
posted by maryr at 7:49 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I, too, think that this is genuine - it appears that a bright guy had a mental, emotional, or religious breakdown, and then used his technical training as a draughtsman to illustrate either his own hallucinations or the visions of Ezekiel because he finds them compelling. I agree with martyr... if Mr Christiansen experienced a breakdown and his work barely escaped the landfill, it is more than sad.

It's amazing to look at his technical drawings and think that every single component of everything manufactured up until, say, the mid 1980s first had to be drawn, by hand, with a fairly simple set of straightedges, compasses, French curves, and so on. Locomotives? Drawn by hand. Generating stations? Drawn by hand. Airplanes? Drawn by hand. People can be pretty awesome.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:16 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why is this "crazy"?
posted by humboldt32 at 8:24 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

TramStopDan2, who posted the original series of photos on Imgur added a caption to one of the photos, "Fairly small maps, hand-drawn on a clear-ish plastic-like material."
Would that material be draughting vellum?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:25 AM on November 5, 2013

What are words for? When no-one listens anymore.
posted by h00py at 8:32 AM on November 5, 2013

Look, I'm no martyr...
posted by maryr at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd agree; with the fact that it can be sourced to an identifiable person and is consistent with their life, the chance of hoax drops down to nearly nothing. It's one thing to assemble an interesting selection from the contents of attic finds and dress them up with some additions, it's another to fake data consistency. If it's a hoax, then it's a work of high art in itself. That shit be hard, yo.
posted by tavella at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2013

15 As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16 This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17 As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. 18 Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
"Yo Zeke, we heard you like wheels, so we put wheels in your wheels", etc.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:03 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Very cool. I used to read the 'zine Kooks, and collected small bits of ephemera like this from the local nutters (I use this term lovingly, but that's a whole series of stories for another time...) I'd run into in my weird little southern town. It's part of what later attracted me to folk art and represents the beginnings of my collection of art. This though, this is Darger-level fringe (in)sanity vision stuff, here. If it's real, it's amazing. The owner should totally get in touch with the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. They're the sort of rabid academic weirdos who love stuff like this.

"Ms. Kossy? Paging Ms. Donna Kossy to the Imgur line, please. We have something that may interest you..."
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:49 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

wow, this kind of reminds me of the book described in the first chapter of Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test. you can read some of it with Amazon's search inside.
posted by changeling at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get a visceral dislike of whoever found/posted these. Like how unfair is it for the remnants of a person's life to be tossed out uncared for, to start, but that it's found by someone whose most sophisticated reaction to it is, "look at this box of crazy".

And yeah, I came in here to yell about him not knowing what vellum is.
posted by danny the boy at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

My first thought at seeing today's Google doodle was Hey, The Box of Crazy.
posted by maggieb at 12:13 PM on November 5, 2013

My first thought at seeing today's Google doodle was Hey, The Box of Crazy.

Strangely enough I had exactly the same thought.
posted by solarion at 12:28 PM on November 5, 2013

yep, that's all vellum, known commonly in the US as "tracing paper" or "onionskin". The circular rust stains are probably from where they were tacked down with a metal thumbtack.

All of the maps and many of the illustrations look as though they were traced from line drawings, then hand-colored.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:38 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Drawn by hand.

Yeah, I took what must've been one of the last "mechanical drawing" classes in the late 70's in high school. Totally interesting class which I never missed. There are lots of little techniques that are hooked together to make these detailed technical drawings. I would finish one and wonder at the completeness of the drawing resulting from application of many, many simple discreet steps.
posted by telstar at 12:39 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

telstar: "Yeah, I took what must've been one of the last "mechanical drawing" classes in the late 70's in high school."

I don't know about highschool, but "technical drawing" was a whole career at the vocational school I went to in the 90s, and much of it was indeed by hand (I think they only introduced computers and CAD when the students knew how to do everything by hand). It also had a reputation for being crushingly difficult.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:53 PM on November 5, 2013

Anyway, my crankiness is reduced since at least there are now lots of people looking at this stuff, and many think it's wonderful, and this man's existence is remembered a little longer.

When I went to high school in the mid 90s in NYC, (hand) drafting was a required course for all students--though we knew it was really in sentimental service to its early roots as a vocational school, and not for the vague 'spatial thinking skills' the administration would later claim.
posted by danny the boy at 2:18 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yep, 'nother high-schooler here who learned hand-drafting (parenthetical: we'd have never have expressed it that way, it was either just drafting or computer-aided drafting, now, the median has switched, I suppose) in the early 90s. My experience was that CAD desks were still expensive enough that small firms would draft by hand. When I got my first jobs in the engineering/architecture industry by the middle 90s I did a mix of both, but when I left in the early 2000s, I found my pens and templates while cleaning out my desk and laughed at them.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:26 PM on November 5, 2013

I took a technical drawing/drafting course in high school in the early 90's, it was actually the first semester of "shop" class for me.

For the final of the drafting course we had to design a relatively simple dog house, but completely and entirely. Second half of the class, the shop half, we had to actually build our creations, but we weren't told that until the first day of the second semester. I instantly regretted trying to be creative with my five sided doghouse.

I mean, technically, it was genius in that the ratio of walls to interior space was optimal. But good god some of those angles were hard enough to calculate on paper. Trying to actually forge plywood and lumber into a three dimensional recreation of them was maddening.

It did teach me something very important though. That it's one thing to design something creative/original/new/etc. But expecting someone to actually build the sucker is completely different. So you had to temper one side against the other... which as I've gotten older and had to work with both engineers and craftsmen, I'm not sure is a lesson that's still taught in schools.
posted by Blue_Villain at 2:49 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really appreciated this. I don't think it's a hoax, although I could always be wrong.

I'm a big reader of "psychoceramica," not for the lulz but from a deep wish to connect with what is happening inside people. I don't know if I believe that this man was delusional, or simply passionate, deeply mistaken, and lonely. He was certainly incredibly skilled. The internet will probably find one of his heirs sometime soon. I hope they aren't ashamed of this, but instead embrace it as part of who Mr. Christiansen was.

Sometimes, these texts are like watching a man carve his own tombstone, dig his own grave, scatter his own artifacts around him. A while back, for some reason, I found this more lucid and compelling than most psychoceramica, enough to read through all of it. Then I Googled his name, and I found his obituary online. He died in 2011. One of the guest book entries reads simply, “Bob, may you have peace.” It's not quite something you would write in just any person's guestbook. It suggests that peace was something that the deceased did not have.

I don't get that sense from Mr. Christiansen's work. There's no threat or horror in it, just a sense of wonder.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:51 PM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I took what must've been one of the last "mechanical drawing" classes in the late 70's in high school.

I was the only girl in mine in both years of junior high (early 80s) which meant that I won the tech drawing awards for females for both years. Because, um, there was only me.
posted by jessamyn at 4:36 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Drafting was my absolute favorite class in high school. And yes, I look at these drawings and they seem completely legit. I sincerely doubt this is any kind of hoax.

danny the boy, did you go to Stuy too?
posted by otherthings_ at 8:55 PM on November 5, 2013

All I can say is that the drawings of the Beast would make for a bitchin' tattoo.
posted by pandalicious at 10:54 PM on November 5, 2013

otherthings_: "danny the boy, did you go to Stuy too?"

Yessir. Class of 97. I know there are a couple of us on here, from various years.

I was one of the few people who enjoyed drafting... I liked the bag of tools that came with it, especially the bag of erasing dust, which I was sure would be proven later to be highly carcinogenic or something
posted by danny the boy at 3:41 PM on November 6, 2013

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