The Story Behind The Picture
This picture was taken August 4, 1948, and published in a Chicago newspaper. After the picture appeared in papers throughout the US, offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in.
The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, was shielding her eyes from the camera, not sobbing as I first thought, according to the newspaper reports from the time, but then how do we really know. She was 24, married to an unemployed man 16 years older, and pregnant with her fifth child in six years at the time of the photo. Who’s to judge her true feelings?
What Happened Next
No one knows how long the sign stood in the yard. Apparently shortly thereafter the father abandoned the family, and records show he had a criminal record. Lucille went on governmental assistance. A fifth child, David, was born in 1949.
The story line is not complete, but David was either removed from the home or relinquished in July 1950. He was covered in bed bug bites and in rough shape. He was adopted by a loving by strict home and ran away at 16, spent 20 years in the military, and has been a truck driver ever since.
Rae says that she was “sold for $2 [in Aug. 1950] so her mother could have bingo money and because the man her mother was dating did not want anything to do with the children.” Milton was standing nearby crying, so the family took him too. Sadly, their new father was horribly abusive. Rae ran away at 17. Milton was removed from the home due to abuse (unclear at what age) and eventually ended up in a mental hospital diagnosed with “schizophrenia and having fits of rage”. He was released in 1967 at age 23. He eventually married, moved to Arizona, and is now divorced.
No one knows what happened to Lana, other than she died of cancer in 1998. SueEllen was adopted, but I’ve not been able to find out any additional information other than she had two sons. She told her children that she was sold by her mother.
What The Kids Have To Say
Pictures tell a story, and this picture tells a mighty sad story– a story that left a lasting impact. The scars run deep… something always worth remembering when we speak of adoption dissolutions and disruptions.
SueEllen: Dying of lung disease said, “[My mother] needs to be in hell burning.”
Milton: “My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.”
David: “[Our mother] got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us. … We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”
On Aug. 27, 1950, Rae was sold for $2 so her mother could have Bingo money and because the man her mother was dating did not want anything to do with the children. Her brother Milton was crying nearby, so the couple took him too. Both went to live with John and Ruth Zoeteman on their farm in DeMotte. Sadly, their new father was horribly abusive. Both were forced into slave labor by their new foster parents. They slept tied up in the barn.
In her late teens Rae was kidnapped, raped and got pregnant. She was sent to Michigan to a home for unwed mothers and brought the baby girl back to DeMotte, but the baby was taken from her and adopted. At 17 years old, she finally ran away from the slave labor home and never looked back. Rae reunited with her birth mother when she was 21, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Her mother expressed no remorse or regret. And she expressed no love.
Later Rae founded her own family. With the help of her son Lance, she has been using social media to reconnect with siblings and build new connections with extended kin. “I want to find family before I die” she said.
During that search, the photo surfaced. “My brother Milton sent it to my email” she said. “I got on there and said, Good God. That’s me!” She doesn’t remember the picture being taken and has no recollection of her birth father. The foster parents raised her in an abusive, loveless home. “They used to chain us up all the time. When I was a little child, we were field workers” she said
The first day on the farm, Milton was mistreated by his adoptive father, who told Milton he expected him to serve as a slave on the farm. He was beaten, kicked, left alone for days tied up in a barn and fed only some milk and peanut butter. Milton used a corn knife to fight off the rats in the barn.
Whereas the father abused him, the mother actually liked him, and eventually sent him to live with an aunt and uncle, helping with their egg delivery business. A case worker later placed him in the care of a friend’s family. It was then he learned the Zoetemans were considered foster parents.
After attacking a police officer Milton ended up in a mental hospital diagnosed with ‘schizophrenia and having fits of rage’. He was released in 1967 at age 23. He met his birth mother only once as an adult, staying with her for a month in 1970. She threw him out when he got into a fight with her second husband. “My birth mother, she never did love me,” he said. “She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.”
David was in his mother’s womb when the photo was taken. He was born Sept. 26, 1949, as Bedford Chalifoux. He was legally adopted by Harry and Luella McDaniel, who couldn’t have children and who had custody of him since July 16, 1950 and changed his name to David McDaniel. When he was taken from his birth mother he was covered in bed bug bites and in rough shape.
David grew up in Wheatfield, a couple miles away from his siblings Rae and Milton. He frequently would sneak onto their property and untie the ropes that were applied to keep his sisters in the barn. Daniel was a rebellious teen, despite living a pretty good life. His adoptive parents taught him good morals and values. It was a strict Christian home, but he ran away at 16 and spent 20 years in the military. On leave from the Vietnam War in 1969, he reunited with Rae and did so again in 1982.
Daniel saw his birth mother after he became an adult. “She never apologized. Back then, it was survival. Who are we to judge? Our mother got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us.” But David doesn’t harbor bitterness. “We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”
Sue Ellen believes she was legitimately adopted by a couple with the last name Johnson. She was raised not far from her original home, growing up in Chicago’s East Side neighborhood.
Sue Ellen is 67 when they met with her sister Rae, now 70 years old. The reunion was bittersweet. It also would be their last time together. Sue Ellen, dying from lung disease, cannot swallow food or talk. She has spent hospitalized and is on a ventilator.
Too sick to talk, Sue Ellen scribbled answers on paper during an interview in May 2013. She was grateful to be reunited with Rae. “It’s fabulous. I love her” she wrote. Moments later, she shared her opinion of her birth mother “She needs to be in Hell burning!” And before she dies, she wants people to know the story behind the photo. Sue Ellen died in July 2013
Lana, the 3rd daughter in the photo, is believed to be have been adopted similarly to David. Little is known about her upbringing because her papers were destroyed in a fire, and she died in 1998 of cancer