Can you imagine being so poor that you have no choice but to consider selling your own kids?
Perhaps you’ve seen this photo from the 1940s with four children for sale:
Here’s the original caption from the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger on August 5, 1948:
“A big ‘For Sale’ sign in a Chicago yard mutely tells the tragic story of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux, who face eviction from their apartment. With no place to turn, the jobless coal truck driver and his wife decide to sell their four children. Mrs. Lucille Chalifoux turns her head from camera above while her children stare wonderingly. On the top step are Lana, 6, and Rae, 5. Below are Milton, 4, and Sue Ellen, 2.”
I don’t know about you, but when I think about a 24-year-old woman not only having to sell her children, but also posing in a photo about it, my heart pretty much splits open.
Then I see 6-year-old Lana, smiling right at the camera:
I see the older siblings, each with an arm around the other, knowing that this family will be split apart, and I feel even worse.
To be honest with you, as I dug into the history of the photo and what came after, I discovered that the story just got heavier and heavier…
For starters, Lucille, the mother, is actually pregnant in the picture:
So she winds up selling 5 kids by the end of the ordeal.
According to a 2013 article in The Northwest Indiana Times, some family members have claimed that the mother was paid to stage the photo.
If true, this might help explain the quality of the photo. It does feel at least partially staged, as opposed to a candid snapshot caught in the moment by a passing reporter.
But that doesn’t change what happened after.
After it was first printed, the photo rocketed around the country. In fact, the Times article mentions another article, published in a Chicago paper several days after the photo first appeared, claiming that many local Chicagoans were eager to help provide jobs and assistance for the family.
Nonetheless, the Chalifoux family sold off all of their children two years later.
RaeAnn was five when the picture was taken and 7 when she claims she was adopted, along with her brother Milton, by the Zoetman family:
RaeAnn’s name was changed to Beverly, and Milton became Kenneth Zoetman.
Milton is currently living in Tucson, and he says that on his first day with the Zoetmans, he was tied up, beaten, and told he would essentially be a slave on their farm.
He eventually got out once a social worker intervened, and it was revealed that the Zoetmans were merely foster parents and had never adopted him.
He later met his birth mom and even lived with her for a month in 1970, but things turned sour after a fight with her second husband.
RaeAnn still has the dress she was wearing when she was adopted, and the note she carried with her that stated she had no other belongings:
RaeAnn and Sue Ellen were reunited in the 2013 article for The Times:
When asked about her birth mother, Sue Ellen had this to say:
“She needs to be in hell burning.”
Bedford, the child who was still inside his mother when the photo was taken, was adopted in 1950 as well. His new parents changed his name to David McDaniel. He’s now in his 60s and living in Washington:
McDaniel says he would sometimes ride his bike or horse the couple of miles that separated the siblings’ new homes and check up on them.
David told the Times how he didn’t like what he found:
“They’d be tied up in the barn. They were badly abused.”
He was attempting to set up a family reunion in the fall of 2013, but two weeks after The Times printed the article about RaeAnn and Sue Ellen’s reunion, Sue Ellen passed away at the age of 67.
Lana died of cancer in 1998 before any of the siblings were able to re-connect, which left David sad he hadn’t found them sooner:
“I just wish I could turn back the hands of time 30 years and get to know my sisters. Yes, she (Sue Ellen) was my sister, but there wasn’t a bond there.”
I told you it didn’t really get much lighter after 1948.
I’m gonna go curl up in a ball for a while…
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