In This Place: March 5, 2014
Changelings: The Lost and Found Column
The theme for this week’s column was serendipitous; my first archive search revealed a story of local troopers in 1932, called out to help find the Lindberg baby, and that got me thinking about children lost closer to home.
In folklore, a “changeling” is an inhuman creature substituted for a human child, stolen by fairies or evil spirits. In earlier western cultures, children with developmental anomalies, autism or deformities could be deemed changelings, a designation that could be a death sentence. I did stumble on a few local cases where children met with changeling-like fates, or at best, bizarre childcare arrangements.
Julian Burroughs, the only child of John Burroughs, was a changeling of sorts: John brought him home to his wife Ursula as a foundling baby they should raise. Later Ursula would learn that Julian was actually John’s son by a maid. By then, the changeling was their true child.
I could not find many runaways, a word that is more often applied to horses or locomotives, but most old-timey human runaways seemed to have the same silly motives as the impulsive mini-Houdinis of today.
On a happier note, there were also fairytales coming true with foundlings turned millionaires, and some humbler ones afforded idyllic summers in the Catskills.
Every parent has a heart-stopping tale of a child lost for hours, even days. Bonnie Walker once recounted how her son Andrew, then nine, skied down the wrong side of Plattekill and resourcefully asked to call home at a neighborly-looking cabin; Deb Bauer frantically searched for hours one day for her daughter Catherine, who was playing hide-and-seek in the back of the same truck her father was desperately driving around, looking for her.
Throughout the News, these stories usually have happy endings. In a weekly paper, when news traveled slowly, children were usually found before their disappearance could be reported. I’ll start this week’s column with an exception and leave you hanging until the end for its outcome. No jumping ahead!
January 3, 1941
New Kingston Lad Disappears
Glenford Brownell, 19, of New Kingston, who is employed by Julius Ploutz on a farm at Roxbury, left on Tuesday saying that he would be home in time that night to milk.
He did not come back and his parents are not able to find a trace of him. The disappearance was reported to the troopers yesterday and an alarm went out on the teletype. Mrs. Brownell, his mother, is just out of bed after a severe illness and is greatly worried over the lad’s disappearance.
The Lindberg baby search, which consumed the nation, never reached any resolution. Local participation shows the extent to which everyone, everywhere, wanted to help.
March 4, 1932
Local Troopers Examine Autos for Stolen Baby
The kidnaping of the 19 months old son of Col. Charles Lindberg took on a local interest when the possibility was suggested that the kidnapers might seek a way out by the various routes that lead through this section.
All the members of Troop C at Sidney were called out early to help in the nation-wide search for the lost child.
Troopers on horses, motorcycles and in automobiles were stationed on every highway. “Search every car; make no exceptions,” was the terse command of Lieutenant J. J. Mont- gomery.
Sleepy-eyed troopers stayed doggedly at their posts, stopping every automobile and questioning minutely the occupants. Not content to let the matter drop with the questioning, the troopers searched the cars thoroughly and demanded driving licenses and certificates of registration.
Fortunately most child disappearances have equally childish motives, as in, “I hid because I was going to get in trouble . . .”
June 7, 1912
Thought Child was Lost
The three-year-old daughter of LeRoy Jenkins created considerable excitement Sunday when she suddenly disappeared. A search was instituted and the story spread that the little girl had fallen in the mill pond. She was found however under a bed where she had crawled after she had blackened her face with stove polish. — Union Grove cor.
Then there’s the “I’m mad and I’m outta here!” theme:
February 25, 1938
Boy Wanted to See World for Few Days
His week-end “vacation” trip halted by Earl Shout, Margaretville-Oneonta bus driver, John King, 11-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh L. King of Hobart, was returned to his home safe and sound after a two-day search by relatives, Boy Scouts and state police.
The boy left Saturday, taking his savings of $22 after writing a note saying “Good-bye, Mother, I am leaving home.”
The boy spent Saturday night in a Grand Gorge hotel and Sunday boarded a bus for Margaretville. The bus driver became suspicious when he noticed that the lad was evidently confused.
A reprimand by his father for teasing his sister was thought to have been the cause of the boy’s departure.
After his disappearance the village was searched and a broadcast was sent out. During all this excitement, John was peacefully sleeping in the nearby village.
It was thought that John might have planned to visit relatives and do some sight-seeing in Kingston.
Mary DiSalvo spent her summers in Halcottsville and always brought some orphans from the city with her in a 1940s version of the “Fresh Air Fund.” One of them learned the hard way to be a little more grateful. And how much did a taxi from Kingston to Halcottsville cost, anyway?
August 9, 1946
Boy Runs Away
The family at the Mrs. Mary DiSalvo home was worried last Thursday morning when it was found that one of the foundling boys who stay with her had not been home for the night.
An intensive search failed to locate the boy. At one o’clock a member of the state police reported that the boy had been picked up in Kingston by the city police.
Mrs. DiSalvo dispatched a taxi to bring the boy back home. He arrived about 7, hungrier and wiser. He was glad to get home again. No reason can be assigned for the lad’s behavior.
Now to explore some truly lost children. Do you believe the “gypsies” did it? If so, why would they kidnap a child just to kill her?
May 8, 1903
Skeleton of Lost Child Found
The strange disappearance four years ago of 5-year-old Lucy Conklin from her home in the mountains near Guymard, was solved when her skeleton was discovered by Benjamin Henlon, the village blacksmith, while strolling through the woods with his 8-year-old son. An examination of the remains disclosed what appears to be two bullet holes in the child’s skull. At the time of the child’s disappearance she was in the company of her mother gathering huckleberries. It was then believed that gypsies, who were in the neighborhood, had kidnapped the child.
Here’s a case that to our modern eyes suggests more class differences than child abuse; if a mother is working in the fields all day, how does she ensure the safety of her infant? Is this a case of malice or ignorance? And what do their subhuman accommodations say about the humanity of their employer?
July 17, 1902
With a Stone on its Body: Strange Case Reported in New Kingston
The people of New Kingston were thrown into a high state of excitement on Tuesday by an incident that suggests a total lack of mother love if not of crime.
Working for A. Yaple, is a man named Kuglemann and his wife. They have an Infant child about 6 months old. The couple live in a hut on the farm that Is said to be bare of the common comfort of life. They do their cooking in the open air.
The woman has been in the habit of going into the field and doing a man’s work, such as driving horses to plow, etc.
On Tuesday Mrs. D. H. Gray of Deposit, who is visiting her father, W. W. DuMond, was greatly distressed by the continued crying of a little child.
After listening to the pitiful wail, she started to investigate the matter.
She went to the shanty and found it empty. Going in the direction from which the sound came she found the baby. Clothed only in a light slip, it lay on the bare ground under a ledge, and on its body lay a flat stone of about the dimensions of a washboard.
Mrs. Gray rescued the child and took it home, where it was washed, fed, dressed and otherwise kindly cared for, after which the mother was notified to come and get her offspring.
It was some time before she responded, and when she did arrive she had the effrontery to accuse Mrs. Gray of trying to kidnap the child.
Dr. Reed was summoned, but as the child was not seriously injured there was nothing for him to do.
There are a number of theories as to how the child, which is said to be a bright and winsome little one, came to be in such a strange predicament, and all seem to point to the desire on the part of some one to get rid of it. It is to be hoped that the authorities will thoroughly investigate the matter.
Now to the fairytale, a “real life” Little Orphan Annie, which also has its dark side . . .
October 29, 1915
Helen Gould Adopts Son
A little waif which was left on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been adopted from St. Christopher’s Home by Mr. and Mrs. Finley Shepard. The little fellow was on a visit at Mrs. Shepard’s Fifth Avenue home when she was doing good to the Home inmates and was taken down with the chicken pox. Mr. and Mrs. Shepard fell in love with the little fellow and have legally adopted him.
The Shepard Heir
[by Clarke Sanford]
One of the most Interesting of items of the past week is that of the foundling, left by his parents and for want of a better name put down on the records as “John Doe, No, 104,” who now has been adopted by Finley J. Shepard and his wife, Helen Gould Shepard. Rechristened Finley Jay Gould Shepard, the boy of four, long continued search for whose parents proved unavailing, will be heir to the Gould millions. It is seldom indeed that an abandoned child receives so bright a smile of fortune.
Unfortunately for one’s faith in human nature, the adoption has revealed another fact less pleasing. Letters began pouring in to Helen Gould Shepard from persons who claimed to be the parents of the boy. Up to Saturday no less than four score of these alleged parents had revealed themselves, and when the returns are all in, the boy will have hundreds if not thousands of those self-confessed parents.
The Shepards spent over $50,000 before adopting the child on fruitless investigation as to his parentage. And now, so great is the power of newspaper publicity, there are parents and to spare, though among so many claimants the real mother or father has about as much chance of being found as would the proverbial needle in a haystack. And in reality he or she ought not to be. The present rush of claimants is merely a rush to capitalize the infant’s wonderful good fortune; and there is little difference between the swindler who falsely makes claim and the actual parent who abandoned his offspring but is now willing to reveal himself.
Some adoptees have a reversal of fortunes; one only hopes that this Daughter of Fate was so well situated that her lost inheritance would have made little difference to her happiness.
February 1, 1924
Leona Yates, Adopted by Rochester Couple, to Inherit Estate If She Can Be Found
State-wide search has been instituted for the 15-year-old daughter of the late Franklin Yates, who committed suicide when pressed by State Troopers after he had shot one of the troopers. The mother of the child, while employed in Binghamton, consented that the child be adopted by a family residing in Rochester. Since then, all trace of the daughter has been lost.
Since the death of Yates’ mother, the administratrix of her estate has been seeking the granddaughter, but no trace of her has been found. It is thought that the Rochester residence was fictitious and that the foster parents sought to keep the mother in ignorance that the daughter might never learn her real parentage.
All’s well that ends well . . .
January 10, 1941
Brownell Found Visiting Friends in Gloversville
State troopers located Glenford Brownell, 19-year-old farm worker, at Gloversville Thursday evening, Jan. 2, after a two-day search during which much alarm was felt, as it was feared he had come to harm.
Mr. Brownell had left the [farm] New Year’s eve to visit his parents at New Kingston. He attended a dance near Fleischmanns with a friend and announced his intention of return- ing to the farm to help with the morning milking. When he did not return, and his parents did not know his whereabouts, the troopers were summoned.
It was discovered that he had suddenly decided to take a short vacation at Gloversville, and was surprised to learn that anyone had worried about him.
I’ll leave you with this thought: Jay Gould’s father, convinced that his son “would never make a farmer” traded his dairy farm (a property on West Settlement now home to the Piaseks) with Hamilton Burhans, who had a hardware store where the new Roxbury General has just opened. Jay didn’t last long there. With his surveyor’s knowledge, he took off for Albany at age 15 and never looked back. He gets the prize for most famous Catskills runaway.