In this episode, we take a look at the time Eschaton Life Insurance employed an elite team of graffiti artists to advertise for them. What would inspire such a move? What would possess CEO and financial genius Henry Gallard to enact such an ill-fated decision? Find out all of that, and more, only here, on Liminal Criminals.
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CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
Jagermeister. Pepsi. Hilda Sorenson’s Premium Geriatric Suspenders. These are but a few brands which achieved financial success by advertising to the youth of America. By pivoting their focus towards a younger audience, they were able to grasp an untapped market and thereby reap the financial benefits. But not all of these efforts have worked in the past. And in the case of one company, the decision to attract the fickle attention of the young led to the arrest of its CEO. This is the story of one man’s failure to understand youth culture. This is the story of hubris and self-delusion. This is the story...of Henry Gallard, Eschaton Life Insurance, and their elite band of mercenary graffiti artists.
I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re listening…to Liminal Criminals.
Henry Gallard was born in 1933, in the mountain town of Ironback, Colorado. The son of a mining foreman and a schoolteacher, Gallard seemed fated to die from birth. An article about Gallard in the American Journal of Pediatrics noted that, from the moment of his delivery, the boy seemed to attract every communicable disease known to man, ranging from the measles at two weeks old, to the bubonic plague at six months old. At nine months old, he came down with a severe case of whooping cough, which lead to a bout of pneumonia that permanently damaged his lungs. His parents attempted to reinvigorate their child’s hobbled constitution by taking him on regular walks in the mountains surrounding the town. At age ten, while on one of said hikes, he and his father Gavin were attacked by a hungry grizzly. The two only survived the encounter when a rockfall from a nearby mountain crushed their assailant into a red paste. While the Gallards were able to avoid the largest of the falling stones, a fist-sized chunk of rock flew from one of the crashing boulders, striking Henry in the shin and breaking his tibia.
His parents, now considering that their attempts to toughen up their boy may prove fatal, decided that a life of academics would be more his speed, and enrolled him at the Johann Auspeitschenmeister School for Boys in the nearby town of Mason Springs. While there, Gallard’s delicate constitution and aptitude for mathematics gave him the time and inclination to advance through his coursework at a breakneck pace; by age 9, he was taking classes with children nearly twice his age. When combined with his outgoing, bordering on arrogant, personality, however, these traits made him a target for the other students. In 1944, after a vicious debate with a group of upperclassmen regarding conic sections, the 11-year-old Gallard was set upon by the elder students, viciously beaten with slide rules, and hurled from a second-story window. This happened again in 1945, after Gallard started an underground gambling ring that proved too successful for the scrawny young nerdling. After the third time this happened (in 1947 after an argument about pears), Gallard sustained a compound fracture to his arm, which he barely survived. Mercifully, Gallard was allowed to graduate early, in 1949, before he was forced to endure any additional falls from a classroom window.
In the fall of 1949, Gallard enrolled in the University of Colorado at Boulder, majoring in mathematics. Gallard was regarded as something of a party animal, known for his perennial favorite trick of leaping out of second-story windows on campus, claiming that his prior experiences had given him practice. Despite his reputation and his lax approach to his studies, his natural talents let him retain a decent GPA. However, after four happy years at Boulder, the Ironback native’s graduation was marred by tragedy. Henry Gallard graduated from college on June 2nd, 1953. Long-time residents of Colorado and the more historically-minded among our listenership may remember that, for the denizens of Boulder, June 2nd is more commonly known as The Day Dennis Came To Town.
For the next six months, the citizens of Boulder huddled indoors, doing their best to stay away from doors and windows and minimize the amount of time they spent outside, lest they attract the attention of being called Dennis. The luckiest of his victims vanished without a trace. Pieces of the unlucky littered the streets of Boulder.
“Those were the longest six months of my life,” said Gallard in a 1992 interview with Seventh Sigma Magazine. “All there was left to do was find whatever canned food you could and wait. And when the food ran out, you didn’t know whether it’d be better to go outside and risk getting caught by that son-of-a-gun, or stay inside and starve a little bit more. And those were the good times; otherwise all that was left for you to do was sit there and just go crazy. It was awful, of course, just awful, but I can’t really complain. It was where I got all my best ideas, after all.”
Gallard’s keen mind allowed him not only to survive Dennis’ reign of terror, but also to actively profit from it. While skulking through the streets and hiding indoors in his attempts to avoid the wrath of Dennis, he observed his fellow survivors. He saw what behaviors and rituals seemed to work, and which did nothing to save them from the attention of their city’s tormentor. He would compile his knowledge, as well as that of his fellow survivors, into A Health and Safety Handbook for Incursions by Dennis, commonly referred to as the “A.H.S.H.I.D.” Gallard would later sell this book, as well as his services as a consultant to the United States Department of Defense. The DoD has credited the AHSHID and Gallard’s insights as a consultant with the mitigation of disappearances and fatalities in dozens of future Dennis-related incidents, such as the Dennising of 1955 in Fort Loud, Indiana, the Dennis-saster of 1973 in Thunder Springs, South Dakota, and the willful and malicious triggering of a level 1 Dennis Event by the Halifax Buffet Corporation in 1985.
Henry Gallard’s work as a consultant proved to be quite lucrative, earning him two point two million dollars by the time he turned thirty. Gallard invested this money into a series of businesses in the Colorado area. While the bulk of these endeavors failed, a number of Gallard’s investments proved to be extremely successful; with the young consultant investing in future corporate juggernauts such as Oxhammer Logistics, Pasternak Smelting, and nascent fast-food chain Petey’s, then still known as Petey’s Meaties.
Not only had Gallard been enriched by his time in Boulder, his personality had also changed, albeit in a more ambiguously positive manner. Rather than being a roguish extrovert skating by on raw talent, he had become a man known for his work ethic and insistence that Benzedrine was a food group. He took night classes, obtaining Masters degrees in business and actuarial science, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Or blinking. Or breathing particularly deeply. He went on to work for the now-infamous Happy Valley Financial Group, where he cultivated a reputation for his dogged determination, his razor-sharp instincts, and his perpetually-strained grin that gave his coworkers and superiors the impression that he could pounce on them and bite their ears off at any moment. He rocketed up the ranks of the company, building yet another small fortune and a vast social network of people who were only somewhat afraid of him. When asked about what motivated his metamorphisis into a single-minded titan of finance, Gallard explained, “Back in Boulder, after graduation, some of the seniors ran a tontine. It wasn’t much; at the end of the six months, the winners only got a few bucks. But it was something. The bet made them feel alive. Like Dennis wasn’t always hovering just out of sight, sizing them up. I needed to do something similar.”
In 1975, Gallard, having been made a millionaire several times over by his investments and career, founded Eschaton Life Insurance. Gallard had poached several of the top performers from Happy Valley and the public sector, populating his new company with the crème de la crème of finance, economics, and business. Eschaton was an innovator in the field, with its plans not only accounting for myriad causes of death, but also offering coverage for the policyholder mysteriously vanishing, having been taken by something that defies description and decency alike. These revolutions in the field of life insurance, coupled with the company’s well-oiled machine of worker culture, led Eschaton to quickly dominate the field. By 1980, Eschaton Life Insurance had gone public, with stakes in the company going for 15 dollars a share at its initial public offering.
Gallard still wasn’t content with the progress that Eschaton had made. He wanted to find new ways of expanding his company’s reach to untapped markets. In particular, he wanted to appeal to the youth. “We’ll know we’ve won,” said Gallard in a shareholder’s meeting, “When the kids are scared of dying all the time.” However, after extensive research and numerous failed ad campaigns, Eschaton’s marketing department wasn’t able to find a tactic that managed to make life insurance appealing to young people.
In 1984, Henry Gallard got the epiphany he had been searching for. While on a trip to the headquarters of Eschaton’s English branch, in Bristol, he became taken with the street art and graffiti throughout the town. “Part of me wanted to hate it,” said Gallard, “but I loved it. It was harsh. It was ugly. It was fresh. In it, I saw the despair of young people, struggling with the specter of death. When I saw a spray-painted stencil of an English bulldog in a Beefeater’s helmet urinating onto a young single mother’s face, I knew I had found my marketing campaign.”
On the plane ride across the Atlantic, Gallard drew up a plan. His newest advertising blitz would be under-the-radar, featuring teams of graffiti artists painting imagery around cities that was intended to strike fear of the future into the hearts of young viewers, and prime to be more receptive of Eschaton’s more normal ads. To make the art’s message more striking and organic, it had to be executed without the permission of affected property owners. Upon returning to corporate headquarters in Manhattan, Gallard called up his chief of marketing, Daniel Reeves, and told him to find the youngest, most driven, and most athletic of New York City’s graphic design graduates, and offer them the job of a lifetime. When Reeves asked his boss about the legality of this campaign in a private meeting, Gallard first, reportedly, explained that this was positively harmless compared to the things that went on back at Happy Valley, and then next asked if Reeves was some kind of wuss. Reeves, who has since repeatedly and emphatically insisted that he is not a wuss, acquiesced to his boss’ demands, and set the wheels of marketing into motion.
The interview process for Eschaton’s newest team of guerrilla marketers had three phases. In the first phase, candidates were asked about their backgrounds, their strengths and weaknesses, and the top three times that they had to hide from the cops in the past. In the second phase, interviewees were asked to approach a blank wall in the Eschaton facility and tag it however they pleased. Finally, when they were finished, the company’s security staff would unleash ravenous attack dogs upon them. Those that displayed the cunning, speed, and natural inclination for parkour to avoid being mauled were hired onto the team, and given a generous salary and benefits.
Gallard insisted that the new hirees not be immediately sent out into the field, but rather given extensive training for their new jobs. Eschaton purchased a small corporate park in upstate New York for this purpose. The state-of-the-art facility featured on-call experts in the fields of graphic design, marketing, and urban survival. It boasted on-site gymnasiums and private studios to encourage employees’ physical and artistic development. It featured a free-running course that was altered each day in a manner intended to continually challenge its users while viciously punishing those who slacked off or allowed themselves to lose focus. The intensity of the course allowed Gallard to weed out participants he deemed unfit. In January, 1985, Carla Knox, a fresh graduate from NYU, was knocked off of a catwalk by a rotating bar, resulting in a fall that shattered her left leg. When she was unable to return to work three days later due to her hospitalization, she was let go. Her exit evaluation declared that she was “unprofessional,” “Not a team player,” and “a whiner.” Over time, Eschaton’s hiring process slowed, and the series of cracked skulls, broken bones, and, in two cases, minor disembowelments at its upstate training camp whittled away the unworthy, mostly in a metaphorical sense. By the middle of 1987, Eschaton Life Insurance had assembled a crack team of outlaw marketers. With them, Henry Gallard’s vision of the marketing revolution would be made manifest.
Eschaton’s advertising campaign started small, beginning in Port Larboard, New Jersey. Gallard began by picking a team of four artists for this stunt in August of 1987, selecting from his team based on their artistic ability, their athleticism, and whether or not he thought they would narc on him if caught. The four were instructed to come up with a mural that would attract the eye, connect to the hearts and minds of wayward youth, and convince the viewer that life insurance would be the only way to ensure that somebody’s loved ones would be financially prepared for the event of their death or disappearance. As a finishing touch, the team were to draw a small glyph in the lower-right of the mural as a signature. Gallard insisted that this pictogram, which was, in reality, a clumsy, angular drawing of a hand with curled fingers that Gallard had drawn on his computer’s paintbrush tool, would be the detail that would tie the entire marketing campaign together.
In October 1987, the team piled into a van bound for Port Larboard, where they arrived at 3 AM. With stencils, cans of spray paint, and a colossal tarpaulin to conceal themselves, they descended upon the Port Larboard Canning Company’s administrative building, and got to work. With the eye of a Renaissance artist and the stealth of a commando unit, they completed their masterpiece, pausing at odd sounds to avoid incurring the attention of the on-site security staff. Upon completion, they removed their canvas and sprinted off into the night, reconvening with their driver as he idled at a nearby gas station. When morning broke upon New Jersey, the first of the Port Larboard Canning Company’s employees to come into work were shocked to see that the side of their two-story office building had been painted to portray a young office worker tripping and impaling himself on a pair of scissors, with the caption “IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU” emblazoned above it. At the bottom of the mural was the signature Gallard had chosen for his team.
While the graffiti artist’s mission to Port Larboard was a success, Gallard saw no reason to celebrate. He had intended this as a safe trial run in an out-of-the-way location with little chance of having a major social effect. Now that he had proof that Eschaton’s guerrilla marketing campaign could work, it was time to get bolder and more experimental.
Small teams of taggers were tasked with running through New York, LA, and Chicago, spray-painting slogans like “Will You Be Ready For The End,” “Memento Mori,” and “Live Fast, Die Young, Leave Behind the Benefits of a Sensible Life Insurance Policy to Your Loved Ones So That They Have Money To Live On For A While,” onto bridges, alleyways, and dumpsters. Other teams were given the task of creating stencil designs, intended to evoke a fear of death and the unknown. These ranged from your standard skulls and headstones, to more complex pieces, such as a series of stencils depicting people getting run over, to a design which so closely resembled the sigil used to summon Dennis that it spurred a headline in the Sun-Times, and brief, failed investigation by the Chicago Police Department. While these bits of viral marketing drummed up attention from the American public, the bulk of Gallard’s attention was on his team’s more major pieces.
In January of 1989, the facade of the MetroCare Health Clinic in Brooklyn was defaced to display a multipanel black-and-white comic of a young man being decapitated in a motorcycle accident, leaving his wife and child without an income. In August, a pop-art rendition of the Grim Reaper playing Russian Roulette with a group of college students was spray-painted onto the SchmeddTech Tower in Chicago. In December, the wall of OmniMart Stadium in Los Angeles was covered in a mural depicting a glowering face, with the words “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE” displayed in a repeating pattern behind it. On each mural, the artists left behind the same pictogram that Gallard had turned into the group’s calling card.
The combination of ominous imagery, bold tactics, and a unifying symbol sent murmurs throughout the art world and American society. What sort of collective was able to coordinate such daring acts of vandalism across three separate cities? What were they trying to communicate, other than an overwhelming sense of unease? What was that symbol, which media figures had called “The Beckoner,” supposed to mean? America was confused. It was afraid. And, best of all, it was fascinated. In 1990, to capitalize on the nation’s attention, Henry Gallard proceeded to the next step of his marketing campaign, and so instigated the ruin of his best-laid plans.
He turned the Beckoner into Eschaton Life Insurance’s logo.
Within an hour of the first press release, America was able to put two and two together. While no criminal case could be drawn up against any individual member of Eschaton’s criminal gang of marketing staff, a series of anonymous whistleblowers, primarily consisting of those mauled or maimed by Gallard’s Darwinian approach to ensuring quality work, gave those affected by Eschaton’s vandalism enough evidence to file a subpoena against the company and its executive staff. The resulting lawsuit, spearheaded by Omnimart, Schmedtecch, MetroCare, and myriad other property owners, was an open-and-shut case. Eschaton Life Insurance was ordered to pay ten million dollars to the plaintiffs.
While this amount of money was a drop in the bucket to Eschaton, a company with over 50 billion dollars’ worth of assets, the lawsuit came as a slap in the face to Gallard. It had never occurred to him that there would be consequences, even symbolic ones, for his actions.
To make matters worse was the public’s response. With the mysterious graffiti artists’ affiliations and intentions revealed, the American people lost interest. The art community, after toying with the idea of appreciating Eschaton’s artwork ironically, decided instead to eschew the pieces and their artists entirely. Gallard’s marketing stunt had failed.
Henry Gallard, a leading figure in life insurance, finance, and business in general, had a reasonable and measured response to this catastrophe. He sat in his office, opened his pharmaceuticals drawer, and began popping and snorting stimulants until he, in his words, “could see the blinding white coming for us all.” He then grabbed two cans of spray paint from his desk and, after huffing from both of them, bolted from his office, down the emergency exit stairwell, and burst onto the second floor. With a raving battlecry of “You’ll never understand me, you fucking philistines! Never!” he hurled himself out of the window, landing with catlike agility on the sidewalk below. Jittery, covered in paint, and actively bleeding from the myriad cuts he sustained from the asphalt and broken glass, he began to spray-paint any available surface with shaky, linear drawings akin to the signature he assigned to his team.
When the cops finally arrived on the scene, having been informed that a “crazy old guy was laughing and drawing on the sidewalk,” they came upon Gallard, his soiled clothes and manic expression making him look unrecognizable. This lack of recognition may have been what drove the NYPD to take a more aggressive stance against the elderly CEO. While they were successful in wrangling him, Gallard fought like a man possessed, gnawing off the ear of one Officer Giorgio Lanza.
In November of 1991, the criminal courts found Henry Gallard guilty on all counts of vandalism, assault of an officer, and a little-known crime called “first degree yammering.”
While Gallard only served two years of a four year sentence, his stint in prison left him a broken man. Upon release in 1993, he publicly announced his retirement, sold the bulk of his possessions, and moved to a ranch at an undisclosed location in New Mexico. His role in the company that he birthed had come to an end.
What has happened since then?
Eschaton Life Insurance prospered after Gallard’s departure. The Board of Directors appointed former VP Trent Harkin to the position of CEO, where he remains to this day. Eschaton has continually vied for being the top life insurance company in the United States, Canada, and the Isle of Man.
Carla Knox, who was fired from her position at Eschaton for not recovering sufficiently quickly from her shattered leg, worked as a freelancer for a few years before starting Capsid, a graphic design firm specializing in viral marketing.
The former members of Eschaton’s guerilla marketing team, by and large, were unable to find work after their time with the company. Being potential perpetrators of a non-white-collar crime was a stain on their resume, and their status as sellouts meant that the New York art world would not take them back. The close-knit members of the team responded to their plight by forming the artists’ collective M. N. Ant, specializing in what they called, “Corporate transcendentalism.” Their latest work, “Shoulders to the Wheel,” is slated to open in select cities this fall.
Henry Gallard quickly adjusted to his time in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. After going to rehab and doing a few interviews with the media, he lived quietly, taking learn-by-mail cooking courses and learning to paint. He died in 2006 in a stir-frying accident.
This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: In their eyes, they had no other options.
Liminal Criminals was originally a true crime podcast by Liminal Studios. It was originally researched, written and created by Sam Putnam. It is edited for broadcast and distribution with the generous support of the Chthonic Riviera government and Deeps Self-Preservation League. Up next, it’ll be an hour of whatever instrumental CDs I have lying around, followed by the morning edition of Studio Community Worldwide Radio.
Also, Krysta, if you’re listening, can you confirm that Dennis hasn’t been a problem for the last twenty years or so? I think this episode was the first time I thought about that thing since we came here.
Liminal Criminals is a fictional podcast by SCWR productions. It is written and edited by Sam Putnam. It is cowritten by Krysta Golden. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis.
Folow us on Twitter at “liminal cast,” or like us on Facebook. Rate and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice. Tell a friend about us. Check under your bed; there are no monsters down there, and that’s a problem. All links are in the show notes