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A Tattoo, a Peculiar Chair in Baltimore and the Zany Power of the Internet

Thousands cheered as people donated money, road-tripped and even cried over the chair.

By Sydney Page

*This article is reproduced courtesy The Washington Post (September 17, 2020 at 7:40 a.m. EDT)

The fish chair, found in a secondhand store in Baltimore, went viral when thousands of people wanted it united with a New York woman with a tattoo of the same chair. Jacqueline Sergent, left, and Maryann Wetzig met in Pennsylvania and each drove the chair a leg on its journey to New York. (Vicky Esten)

Thea Lenna went to her local secondhand store in Baltimore searching for light fixtures earlier this month when she happened upon a pastel-painted fish chair with a price tag of $740.

“I had never seen anything like it before,” said Lenna, 34, who found the chair Sept. 6.

She snapped a photo of the curious chair and posted it on a popular Facebook group, aptly called “Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared.”

Apart from showcasing the strange seat to a group of thrift-store enthusiasts, “I really didn’t think much of it,” Lenna said.

But when Emily DelFavero, 29, one of the 2 million members in the Facebook group, scrolled past the post, she paused in shock.

“I had that exact chair tattooed on my leg two years ago,” she said.

DelFavero posted a photo of her tattoo in the group, adding that it is emblematic of her mother, who once collected pieces by MacKenzie-Childs — the studio that designed the chair.

The group went wild.

Her post was quickly flooded with comments asserting the chair, which had been at the store for less than a month, was destined to belong to DelFavero, who lives in Syracuse, N.Y.

Emily DelFavero got the tattoo two years ago to represent happy memories of home and to honor her mother, who collected pieces by MacKenzie-Childs—the studio that designed the chair. (Emily DelFavero)

“People were begging me to make a GoFundMe and said they wanted to donate,” said DelFavero, who works as an auto mechanic. “I was thinking I would call the place and buy the chair myself; I wasn’t even looking for donations, but I realized within minutes that people really just wanted to be a part of this.”

Among those who pushed for a GoFundMe was Rosita Smith, 30.

“I started seeing people replying instantly saying Emily needs this chair,” Smith said. “No one deserves this chair as much as she does.”

The thrift store, Second Chance, agreed to lower the price from $740 to $600 when it heard the story.

Thea Lenna, left, who originally found the chair at Second Chance Inc. in Baltimore, with Jen Garrard, a member of the group who drove the first leg of the trip to York, Pa. (Pete Theodore)

“We took it off the floor right away,” said Pete Theodore, the marketing manager of the store, which is a nonprofit workforce development program, employing people with criminal backgrounds and others who need a hand.

“We really are a second chance, both for products and people,” he said.

The GoFundMe, set up by DelFavero on Sept. 7, collected enough money to buy the chair in less than 24 hours. Then came the complicated part: transporting it from Baltimore to Syracuse — about 330 miles.

“I thought, ‘Why not make another Facebook group so that people can actually follow this story and see if we can get her the chair?’” Smith said.

She created a group called From Baltimore to Emily D.,” and since its inception Sept. 7, it has amassed nearly 2,500 devoted members from as far away as Hawaii, Europe and Australia — all focused on a common goal.

Members began volunteering to drive the chair from Baltimore to Syracuse, and “a small group of us got together separately to figure out the mapping and logistics,” Smith said.

They decided the trip would have seven legs, each about an hour long, though some drove farther from home to the designated meeting spots. Drivers arranged pickup locations to pass along the chair, which measures about 22 inches wide and 41 inches high.

Once the map was made and the seven drivers were selected, the Facebook group buzzed with excitement for the moment when DelFavero would finally have the chair. The members collectively counted down through constant posts and shared photos of their own favorite chairs as they waited.

“Seeing this group of people from all over the world saying nothing but positive things, it just made me forget about everything bad we’ve all been living through,” said Smith, who is based in Canada and has been separated from her husband by the border closure. She is pregnant and has two young children.

“Being able to do something for a complete stranger, while simultaneously touching the lives of so many other people and helping them with their mental health, has been overwhelming,” she said.

As the Facebook group continued to grow, one member contacted the original designer of the chair, Victoria MacKenzie-Childs, who, alongside her husband, Richard, founded the company in 1983, though they are no longer involved in the business.

“I was touched to tears,” MacKenzie-Childs said. “I felt deeply grateful that the chair was a symbol of the story.”

Although DelFavero’s mother never owned the chair, their house in Auburn, N.Y., was filled with other MacKenzie-Childs pieces, including matching fish plates.

DelFavero recalls regularly visiting the MacKenzie-Childs studio in Aurora, N.Y., as a child with her mom and as a young adult. About four years ago, when she was visiting the studio, she first spotted a dollhouse version of the fish chair and fell in love with it, deciding she eventually wanted it tattooed on her leg. She took a photograph of it.

“The chair really resonated with me. It reminded me of my mom and my childhood,” said DelFavero, who until this week had never seen the full-size fish chair in person. “It reminded me of our dinner plates, the lemonade pitcher, the serving bowl.”

Two years ago, when she left Auburn and moved to Syracuse, DelFavero thought it would be the perfect time to get the chair tattoo as a reminder of home.

“The tattoo is an embodiment of love and happy memories,” she said. “The chair embodies everything that I love.”

The dollhouse-sized version of the fish chair that DelFavero saw at the MacKenzie-Childs studio in Aurora, N.Y. (Emily DelFavero)

The chair has taken on a new meaning for DelFavero, and for those who have become a part of the story.

“Everybody who is involved in this chair thing is invested for a different reason,” she said.

In fact, one member posted “what does this chair journey symbolize for you?” in the group, and responses poured in.

“A minute of hope for humans — a thread of untapped love for others — a sense of fun and adventure,” one member wrote.

Others contributed similar sentiments, including Jacqueline Sergent, 37, who drove the fourth leg of the journey.

“It’s such a weird, wholesome story at a time when everything is so bleak,” Sergent said.

Sergent said the pandemic-induced isolation has been mentally crippling for her, adding this experience has offered her a sense of connection that she, and many others in the group, longed for.

“We’re just a bunch of strangers on a mission to bring somebody joy,” she said.

On Sunday, she drove almost two hours from Pottstown, Pa., to Hazelton, Pa., to get the chair, then from there another hour to Lackawanna County, Pa., to meet the fifth driver.

“It was literally like meeting friends I’ve known my entire life,” she said. “We shed a few tears.”

The chair arrived at its destination on Monday. Sarah Edwards, 36, handled the final leg of the trip.

“This is my new soul sister,” Edwards said over the phone, standing beside DelFavero and the fish chair. “Pulling in here was one of the most exciting things I have ever done.”

Edwards drove from her home in Binghamton, N.Y., to DelFavero in Syracuse, and picked up custom-made fish doughnuts that a local bakery made for them, free of charge.

“It’s the toughest year that any of us have ever had, and there is nothing but happiness in this story,” Edwards said. “It doesn’t matter who you are — you just can’t help but smile that this many people just wanted to make one person happy. And we did. On to the next mission.”

DelFavero checks out the chair that came to New York from Maryland. (Sarah Edwards)

The 13-member logistics team — self-designated as the “Fellowship of the Fish Chair” — has scheduled monthly Zoom calls and is planning a get-together when pandemic conditions allow.

“When I look at the chair, I will think of every single one of these people,” DelFavero said.

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