“The story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”, or 15.000 pages discovered by chance by Nathan Lerner, the owners of a Chicago room where a lonely man spent part of his life.
Henry Darger was born in April 1892 at 350 W. 24th Street, in Cook Country, where Chicago it’s located.
When he was four, his mother died of puerperal fever after giving birth to a daughter, who was given up for adoption; Henry Darger never knew his sister.
His father was kind and reassuring to him and they lived together until 1900. In that year, the crippled and impoverished Darger Sr. was taken to St. Augustine’s Catholic Mission home and his son placed in a Catholic boys’ home.
Darger Sr. died in 1905, and his son was institutionalized in the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in Lincoln, Illinois, with the diagnosis, according to Stephen Prokopoff, that “little Henry’s heart is not in the right place.” According to John MacGregor, the diagnosis was actually “self-abuse,” a euphemism for masturbation. The Lincoln asylum’s practices included forced labor and severe punishments, which Darger would later seemingly incorporate into his writing.
When he was 17, and still living at the asylum, his father died, precipitating a number of attempts to run away from the institution between 1908 and 1909. On his first attempt, he was caught and returned. His second attempt resulted in him giving himself up to the police and returning again. His third and final try was successful and he arrived at his godmother’s residence in Chicago some time afterward.
Darger had a couple of boyhood chums when he was at the asylum, but as an adult he had only one true friend: a Luxembourg immigrant by the name of William Schloeder. Darger and Schloeder would go together to the Riverview amusement park at Belmont and Western Avenues. When Schloeder relocated to Texas and died shortly thereafter, in 1959, Darger took it very hard.
In 1917, Darger was drafted into the army and sent to Camp Logan, Texas. It was not a situation he was comfortable with and was honorably discharged a short time later for eye trouble. The only military actions he was truly interested in pursuing were the ones in his imagination. He had been fascinated with the American Civil War since his early youth used it as a model of sorts for his Realms saga, as well as bringing in many aspects of World War I, which was being waged during the first years he was writing his novel.
In 1922 Darger left his residence at St. Joseph Hospital and was hired as a dishwasher at the Grant Hospital. In 1930 Darger moved to a room on the second floor of a building in Chicago.


“The story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”, ovvero 15000 pagine trovate per caso da Nathan Lerner, proprietario di una stanza di Chicago in cui un uomo solo ha passato parte della sua vita.
Henry Darger è nato ad aprile, nel 1892, al numero 350 della 24° strada, nella Contea di Cook, in larga parte urbanizzata da Chicago e dalla sua area metropolitana.
Quattro anni dopo sua madre morì per un’infezione dopo aver dato alla luce una bimba, che non conobbe mai suo fratello perché venne subito adottata.
Henry Senior, il padre, fu sempre molto disponibile con Henry Junior. I due vissero insieme fino al 1900 fino a quando l’anziano fu portato in un ospizio della Missione Cattolica, e suo figlio in un ricovero cattolico per ragazzi.
Nel 1905 il padre morì. Nello stesso anno Henry venne trasferito al Lincoln Asylum per infermità mentale. La prima diagnosi della sua malattia diceva che “il cuore di Henry era nel posto sbagliato”, mentre la seconda sosteneva si trattasse di masturbazione. Il manicomio di Lincoln era noto per abusi sessuali, severe punizioni e lavori forzati, tutti elementi sublimati nella monumentale opera di Darger.
Dopo due tentativi di fuga falliti, nel 1909 Henry riuscì a scappare e a rifugiarsi a Chicago, dove trovò un umile impiego all’ospedale cattolico di St. Joseph, Burling e Dickens, lavoro che gli permise di vivere per i successivi cinquant’anni.
L’unico suo vero amico fu William Schloeder, un immigrato del Lussemburgo con il quale andava spesso al parco divertimenti di Riverview. Schloeder si trasferì in Texas e, poco dopo, nel 1959, morì: una notizia che colpì amaramente Darger.
Nel 1917 Henry ebbe una breve esperienza nell’esercito e venne mandato a Camp Logan, Texas. Un problema all’occhio riuscì a farlo esonerare dal servizio, che assolutamente non metteva a suo agio il giovane Henry. Le uniche azioni militari che era intenzionato a proseguire erano quelle derivate dalla sua immaginazione. La guerra civile americana lo aveva sempre affascinato e divenne la base del suo romanzo.
Nel 1922 Darger lasciò la sua residenza all’ospedale di St. Joseph e venne assunto come lavapiatti all’ospedale di Grant. Nel 1930 Darger si trasferì in una camera al secondo piano di un palazzo a nord di Chicago.

Henry Darger, 172 At Jennie Richee. Storm continues. Lightning shelter but no one is injured, 1910-1970, © American Folk Art Museum

Darger had other unusual habits. He attended Catholic mass three or four times a day at St. Vincent DePaul Church; he avoided talking to people; his room was piled knee-deep in old discarded honey containers and Pepto-Bismol bottles, as well as materials that he foraged from trash-hunts through the back alleys of Chicago: old bundled-up newspapers and magazines, which he read voraciously, balls of twine, and numerous pairs of broken eye glasses. He kept a large stash of bricks under his mattress, presumably in case he was attacked. Leg pains forced him to leave his job and retire in 1963. It was at some point after this that he began writing The History of My Life. After documenting his memories for some 200 pages, he then launched into a fictitious story about a tornado named “Sweetie Pie” that occupied the remaining 5,000 pages.
Darger was struck by automobile in 1969 and suffered an injury to his left leg and hip. This, in addition to previous problems with his legs, made it even more difficult for him to climb the stairs.
In 1972, he asked his new landlord, Nathan Lerner, to arrange for him to move to a nursing home, since he could no longer negotiate the stairs. He was admitted late that year to the St. Augustine’s Home, the same nursing home in which his father passed away.
Shortly after Darger moved out, Lerner asked one of his tenants, David Berglund, to help clear out Darger’s belongings from the room he had occupied. After hauling away two truckloads of trash, Berglund came upon Darger’s artwork and writings. He told Lerner — an artist himself who immediately recognized its importance — and as they began to examine it, their awe and amazement grew.
Darger had been keeping a diary of day-to-day activities from March 28, 1968 through Jan. 1, 1972. The last page of his diary is dated a little over a year before he died. When Berglund visited Darger at the nursing home shortly before his death and mentioned the discovery of his artwork, Darger was jolted out of his reverie long enough to say, “Too late now.”
Darger died the day after his 81st birthday in 1973.
In the Realms of the Unreal is a 15,145-page work bound in fifteen immense, densely typed volumes created over six decades. Darger illustrated his stories using a technique of traced images cut from magazines and catalogues, arranged in large panoramic landscapes and painted in watercolours, some as large as 30 feet wide and painted on both sides. He wrote himself into the narrative as the children’s protector. The large part of the book,” The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”, follows the adventures of the daughters of Robert Vivian, seven princesses of the Christian nation of Abbieannia who assist a daring rebellion against the child slavery imposed by John Manley and the Glandelinians. Children take up arms in their own defense and are often slain in battle or viciously tortured by the Glandelinian overlords. The elaborate mythology includes the setting of a large planet, around which Earth orbits as a moon (where most people are Christian and mostly Catholic), and a species called the “Blengigomeneans”, gigantic winged beings with curved horns who occasionally take human or part-human form, even disguising themselves as children. They are usually benevolent, but some Blengins are extremely suspicious of all humans, due to Glandelinian atrocities.

Le sue abitudini erano insolite: frequentava la messa tre o quattro volte al giorno nella chiesa di St. Vincent De Paul; evitava di parlare con la gente; la sua stanza era un accumulo di contentori, bottiglie di Pepto-Bismol, riviste e giornali racimolati per strada – che leggeva varacemente -, gomitoli, una numerosa quantità di occhiali rotti. Sotto il suo letto sono stati trovati dei mattoni, presumibilmente utilizzati nel caso lo avessero attaccato.
Il dolore alle gambe lo costrinse a smettere di lavorare. Era il 1963 e lui incominciò a scrivere “The History of My Life”. Dopo aver documentato i suoi ricordi per circa 200 pagine, ha poi raccontato una storia fittizia sul tornado “Sweetie Pie”, occupando 5000 pagine.
Darger venne investito da un’automobile nel 1969 e questo gli provocò degli infortuni all’anca sinistra: oltre ai problemi precedenti alle gambe, questo fatto gli rese difficile salire le scale. Nel 1972 Darger chiese al nuovo padrone di casa, Nathan Lerner, di potersi trasferire in una casa di cura: è stato dunque ammesso alla casa di St. Augustine, lo stesso posto in cui suo padre aveva vissuto gli ultimi anni della sua vita.
Poco dopo, Lerner chiese aiuto all’inquilino David Berglund per sistemare la stanza lasciata da Darger: dopo aver eliminato una gran quantità di rifiuti, Berglund scoprì le opere e gli scritti di Henry. Avvertendo Lerner – anche lui artista che ha subito riconosciuto l’importanza di tali lavori – hanno incominciato insieme ad esaminarne le pagine.
Darger aveva tenuto un diario delle attività quotidiane dal 28 marzo 1968 al 1 gennaio 1972. L’ultima pagina del suo diario è datata poco più di un anno prima della sua morte. Quando Berglund visitò Darger alla casa di cura, poco prima della sua morte, gli accennò alla scoperta della sua opera, ma Henry non disse altro che “troppo tardi”.
Darger è morto il giorno dopo il suo 81° compleanno, nel 1973.
In the Realms of the Unreal è un’opera di 15.145 pagine realizzata in quindici volumi e portata avanti per sei decadi. Darger ha tagliato immagini dalle riviste e le ha disposte su grandi paesaggi dipinti ad acquarello, di dimensioni enormi e coperti su entrambi i lati.
The Story of the Vivian Girls ipotizza un grande pianeta intorno al quale la Terra orbita come fosse una luna, e dove la popolazione è cristiana, principalmente cattolica. La storia è incentrata sulle avventure delle figlie di Robert Vivian, sette sorelle principesse della nazione cristiana di Abbiennia, che partecipano ad una eroica ribellione contro un regime di sfruttamento schiavistico dei bambini imposto dai “Glandeliniani”. Questi ultimi somigliano a soldati Confederati della Guerra civile americana. I bambini si ribellano con le armi, venendo spesso uccisi in battaglia, torturati dai capi Glandeliniani. Questa mitologia, assai elaborata, include anche una specie chiamata “Blengigomeniani”, esseri alati con corna ricurve che prendono occasionalmente forma umana o semiumana e che sono spesso, ma non sempre, benevoli verso le principesse.

Henry Darger (1892-1973). “At Calmanrina murdering naked little girls”. Crayon, aquarelle et collage sur papier, 1910-1970.
Henry Darger, 3 At Jennie Richee are persued down stream. Puzzle, try and find them, but they’re in picture, 1910-1970, © American Folk Art Museum