Self-Taught & Outsider Art

Henry Darger

Biographical & Developmental Chronology

A Darger Glossary:


In the Realms of the Unreal (“Realms” for short): Darger’s massive novel, chronicling the conflict between the good, Catholic nation of Abbiennia and evil, atheistic Glandelinia

Vivian Girls: seven angelic blonde Abbiennian princesses, the Vivian sisters are the heroines of the “Realms”

Blengiglomenian Creature (“Blengins” for short): enormous dragon-like winged monsters who love children and viciously destroy their foes, Blengins appear in two guises. In the novel and in Darger’s early drawings, they have reptilian bodies, although some incorporate human heads and other body parts. In Darger’s later drawings, Blengins look like human children with wings, tails and horns.

Annie Aronburg: leader of the child-slave rebellion that marks the start of the Glandico-Abbiennnian war, Annie Aronburg is murdered early in the novel. Darger’s (real) loss of a photo ostensibly depicting Aronburg, and the need to avenge her (fictional) death are among the prime motivating factors (referred to as the “Aronburg Mystery”) for the war.

Gemini Lodge: A society for the protection of children, supposedly started by Darger and his friend William Schloeder; it is not clear if the Gemini Lodge existed in reality, or only in Darger’s mind; members of the Gemine figure in both the “Realms” and the related drawings, fighting on the side of Abbiennia.


Note: Most of the dates contained herein are based on the information in John MacGregor’s massive study, Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal. Dates derived from Michael Bonesteel’s book, Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings, are cited as such.


1892, April 12: Darger born in Chicago

1896, April 1: Mother dies in childbirth; baby sister is immediately sent away for adoption; for the next few years, Henry continues to live with his father, attending Catholic school and Old Saint Patrick’s Church

1900: Darger’s father, no longer able to care for him, places him with the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy (known as the Newsboys’ Home, because residents sell papers); Darger attends the (secular) Skinner Elementary School

1904: Disciplinary problems cause Darger to be sent to the (Protestant) Lincoln Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, in Lincoln Illinois; the asylum accommodates 1,200 inmates and a staff of 500

1908: Father dies at age 69

1909: Flees asylum; begins work as janitor at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago; hospital provides lodging at a men’s residence; according to Darger’s 1916 manuscript, “Predictions and Threats” (see below), the first draft of the “Realms” is stolen from his room here in 1910

1910, ’11 or ’12 (?): Begins writing “Realms”; the ms. will eventually comprise seven hardbound and eight unbound volumes (total: 15,145 typed pp.)

1910: Founds Gemini Lodge with William Schloeder and possibly one other member; lodge is active until 1916

1911: 50th anniversary of start of Civil War, and starting date of the war in the “Realms”; a 5-year-old child named Elsie Paroubek (possibly the prototype for Annie Aronburg) disappears on April 8

1912, July: Darger loses photo of Annie Aronburg

1916: Starts typing “Realms”; writes “Predictions & Threats,” cataloguing his losses from 1910-16, and threatening revenge if God fails to right these wrongs

1917: Drafted into US Army; honorably discharged after three months and resumes work at St. Joseph’s; most of the extant ms. of “Realms” probably written after this time

1918 or earlier: Begins modifying photographs and news clippings with paint and pencil; earliest works are figural; generals (one of which is dated 1918) are first independent works of art; begins doing battle scenes, also using collaged clippings, around this time; Bonesteel claims that at least one battle scene, due to its World War I source, can be dated to 1915

1920s: Creates images of flags, Blengins and portraits of Vivian Girls [Bonesteel]

1922: Leaves St. Joseph’s and gets job as dishwasher at Grant Hospital; lodges with Anschutz family; most of ms. and first artworks done here, during the 1920s

1928: Leaves Grant Hospital and returns to St. Joseph’s

1929: Creates “Battle of Calverinia,” his largest collaged battle scene; other similar battle scenes probably also date from the late 1920s

1920s or ‘30s: Creates first narrative works on single 19” x 24” sheets; little nudity through 1930s [Bonesteel]

1932: Moves to 851 Webster Avenue; first seven volumes of ms. bound; remaining volumes may or may not have been written subsequently; drawings of Blengins must have been done before this time; turns increasing attention to art hereafter

1939: Begins writing “Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House,” a sequel to “Realms” (8,500 handwritten pages); may have worked on this into the 1950s [Bonesteel]; “Sacred Heart” drawing, one of the key illustrations for “Crazy House,” is done in the early 1940s

1930s and ‘40s: Executes most of his battle scenes [Bonesteel]

1940s: Starts creating scroll-length drawings; by mid-decade, he is doing works up to 70” in length; during this period, the Vivian Girls no longer wear their purple and yellow uniforms, and there is more nudity [Bonesteel]

1940s—‘60s: Creates most of his mature artworks; probably does little or no writing during this period

Mid 1940s: Schloeder (Darger’s only known friend) moves to San Antonio

1944: Earliest documented use of photographic enlargements

1947: Leaves St. Joseph’s and gets job rolling bandages at Alexian Brothers’ Hospital; seems to get along better with priests here than he did with the nuns who ran St. Joseph’s

1949: News reports of a local serial killer may have inspired Darger’s most gruesome drawings, which were probably done around this time

1950s and ‘60s: Creates largest works, often with no or little violence; Blengins, largely absent in 1930s and ‘40s, now reappear in a new incarnation: with children’s bodies

1954: Starts diary recording progress of artwork; each drawing takes about three months, though it is not clear if Darger worked on several pieces at once

1956: Nathan Lerner buys Webster Avenue rooming house.

1957: Begins weather journal, which will eventually comprise six volumes

1959: Schloeder dies

1963: Darger retires

1965: Last entry in art diary

1967, December 31: Final entry in weather journal

1968: On March 24, starts diary (which will eventually comprise two volumes) recording daily activities; also starts autobiography (206 pp. of “factual” information and 4,878 pp. regarding a violent twister, “Sweetie Pie” [total 5,085 pp.]); probably works on the autobiography and “Sweetie Pie” narrative for the rest of his life

1969: Hit by a car

1971: Writes final diary entry January 1; has eye operation

1972, November: Enters St. Augustine’s Home for the Aged

1973, April 13: Dies after giving contents of his room to his landlord, Nathan Lerner