The Big Chair

Washington DC, District of Columbia (DC)

The big chair is a giant chair in Washington DC. It was made to promote a local shop and, for one 42 day period, a woman resided on top of it, a living advert.

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- © Ted Eytan

The Big Chair

In 1959, the Curtis Brothers, owners of a Anacostia furniture store, were looking for a way to stand out from the competition. A big chair, they decided, the biggest in the world, what better way to say, 'we sell furniture'!

They had a 19.5 ft chair made out of Honduras Mahogany and placed above their shop.

You would have thought this alone would be enough to draw in the punters, but the Curtis Brothers didn't stop there. The chair was missing something, and that something, they concluded, was a woman to live on it.

A Big Advert For A Big Chair

In 1960, Rebecca Kirby, a 21 year old model who went by the name of Lynn Arnold, visited the Curtis Brothers' shop on the lookout for furniture for her flat. She got a lot more than just this.

By then the Curtis Brothers had already built a 10 x 10 ft glass house on top of the big chair. They had equipped it with curtains, a bed, a wood-walled shower, a toilet and a TV. All they needed was a resident. Rebecca was the final piece of the puzzle.

Despite protests from her husband she agreed to live on the chair on the condition that her role there not be racy.

'I didn't want to do anything like stand up there naked or in a bathing suit,' she later told the Washington Post. 'They wanted a Cinderella figure; they didn't want a Marilyn Monroe. I figured I could pull this off without being called a slut.'

An agreement was reached and, on August 13th 1960, she was delivered by forklift to her new home.

A Big Chair Fairytale

For the next 42 days Rebecca lived on public display. She received her meals in a rickety dumb-waiter. She entertained customers from the 'balcony' of her glass house. Occasionally, her husband visited and she was able to hold her baby boy, just 14 months old. In return for this she recieved $1,500.

The papers of the time thought all this whimsical, a neat bit of advertsing. 'The Curtis Bros. Presents... Alice in "The Looking Glass House"', reads one headline. Some even thought it showed the area was on the up. A young first-time mother felt it necessary to spend for 42 days living inside a human zoo exhibit, without her child, in order to get ahead in the richest country in the world and yet, somehow, this was taken as a sign of progress.

The Brother's Grimm wrote happier fairytales.

The Big Chair After The Promo Campaign

After over a month in this not-so-private prison Rebecca returned to the ground. She was given her money and could finally live with her child again. It's impossible to know exactly how much the Curtis Brothers made off of her internment but it seems likely the profits were substantial.

Later, their shop was one of only few in the neighbourhood to survive the riots that followed Martin Luther King Junior's murder unscathed. During them they posted their employees outside and armed them with shotguns.

They eventually closed business for good in the mid 1970s, but the chair remained. It even had its own caretaker, John Kidwell, who patched the holes in its mahogany with cement whenever the weather caused it damage. Even he was unable to prevent its legs from rotting over time however. In 2006 the chair was taken away and replaced with a copy made out of aluminium.

This replica chair remains here today. It has lost the title of world's largest chair (to Geneva's 'Broken Chair'), but Washington's big chair is still avaliable to see on the intersection of MLK Avenue and V Street South-East.

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What you need to know

The Big Chair
1001-1199 V Street SE, Washington, DC, US
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