A painting’s just a painting, right? Well, not this one. On the surface, it’s just a piece of art, but it’s got an unexpected dark history that’s been creeping people out for over four decades.

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We’ve all heard tales of creepy objects that are home to spirits, good and bad, but we tend to think of them as myths or things made up in movies. Not this one, though. What started off as an innocent painting based on a childhood photo morphed into a legend that has spread like wildfire across the Internet. From physical illness to unexplained supernatural occurrences and even untimely deaths, “The Hands Resist Him” is at the center of it all.

It Doesn’t Look Like Much—At First

When Bill Stoneham was just 5 years old, he was already living sort of a different life. His dad, who worked in advertising at the time, did a lot of traveling. To save money, all of Stoneham’s family stayed with his grandmother in her Chicago apartment. While they lived there, Stoneham recalled that he often played with one of the neighborhood girls and, on one specific occasion, his parents decided to snap a picture of the two of them in front of one of the house’s glass doors.

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Stoneham Studios

This picture became one of two pieces of inspiration Stoneham would use to create his painting.

The Other Piece Was A Poem

In 1972, Stoneham was working with an art gallery owner named Charles Feingarten. He had been commissioned by the gallery to create two paintings each month for a whopping $200 per painting. However, he was struggling to come up with an idea at the time, and his deadline was running out.

Thinking fast, he grabbed that childhood photo and the poem his wife, Roane, had just written, called “Hands Resist Him,” and got to work.

Here is the infamous piece:

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Stoneham Studios

“The hands were all of the possibilities,” Stoneham said. “You were left with the question, ‘Are these disembodied hands? Are they dismembered, floating there in space? Or are they connected to bodies?’”

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Stoneham Studios

His contract with the gallery ended two years later, and “The Hands Resist Him” was eventually bought by John Marley, an actor known for his role in The Godfather. It even got mention in the press, in the Los Angeles Times by a well-known art critic named Henry Seldis.

That’s When Things Got Dark…

Between the years of 1978 and 1984, three of the people who had close ties to the painting passed away—Seldis died in 1978, Feingarten passed in 1981, and Marley in 1984 (though it’s worth mentioning he had sold the painting prior to his passing). It wasn’t until around 26 years after the painting sold that Stoneham finally heard about its whereabouts again.

In 2000, the painting turned up on an eBay listing written by a family who had found it behind a brewery in California that had been turned into a gallery. However, it’s clear from their listing that they wish they’d never touched it.

“AT THE TIME WE WONDERED A LITTLE WHY A SEEMINGLY PERFECTLY FINE PAINTING WOULD BE DISCARDED LIKE THAT. ( TODAY WE DON’T !!! ),” their listing reads. “ONE MORNING OUR 4 AND 1/2 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER CLAIMED, THAT THE CHILDREN IN THE PICTURE WERE FIGHTING, AND COMING INTO THE ROOM DURING THE NIGHT.”

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The seller also noted that he set up a camera with motion sensors in his daughter’s room after she became fearful, hoping to prove to her that it was just a painting. What he said he saw, though, was the girl in the painting force the boy out of it.

The description definitely got people interested, as the listing received over 30,000 views and the bid jumped from $199 to $1,050 in just a month.

The People Who Viewed It Got More Than They Bargained For

Because the description of the photo was obviously pretty noteworthy, the link spread on the Internet pretty quickly. A couple days after the listing was posted, reports started flooding in from people who claimed they experienced the strange and unusual just by looking at it. One person reported feeling a random blast of hot air, like one you’d get from opening an oven, along with the garbled sounds of a demonic voice.

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According to the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, “Another reported that he became ill while viewing the painting and had to burn white sage to cleanse his house afterward. Another reported ‘blackout/mind control experiences.’”

The Painting’s Current Owner Doesn’t Show It Often

“The Hands Resist Him” was eventually purchased by a gallery owner named Kim Smith, who says that she hasn’t had any bad experiences with the painting itself. What she said was strange, though, was all of the communication she received after buying it.

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“Prayers and quotes from the scriptures from a man of faith,” she said. “Advice as how to cleanse my residence of this evil thing from a Native American Shaman in Mississippi.”

Today, the painting sits in the storage area of her gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She’s been asked to show the painting six times, once to a group of around a dozen men who stared at it in silence for 20 seconds before one of them finally said, “That’s creepy.”

Smith once even received a six-figure offer of money to just burn the painting completely, although she turned it down.

As For Stoneham?

As of 2013, Stoneham said he still received multiple messages every week about his haunted painting. He said he believes that people are so drawn to it because we’re still intrigued by mystery, even in an age where science and hard facts reign supreme.

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“And what is more mysterious than paintings?” he said. “More than any other object, paintings are a one-of-a-kind thing created by someone using their hands.”

Just hopefully not the hands in that painting.