Longtime readers of my other blog may recall that I’ve written a post or two about my father over the years, including some background about the rather… shall we say… unusual circumstances in which he was put up for adoption.
I was in my early teens when Mom told me that Dad had been adopted shortly after he was born. What?! My father was not the biological child of Grandma Tild and Grandpa August?! This was pretty interesting news all by itself, but as I was to learn, there were details about this particular adoption that made it far beyond merely “interesting”.
To summarize the story for those of you who haven’t heard it before: When my father was a two weeks old baby he was found in a hotel room in downtown Minneapolis, along with a note from his mother asking that a good home be found for him.
Imagine the effect such a story would have on a thirteen year old. To me it was like something out of a silent movie melodrama. Not exactly the baby left in a basket on a doorstep scenario, but close enough. I was excited; instantly eager to find out everything I could about my dad’s birth family, but I soon learned that Dad himself was not.
You never know what you might find out, he said. You might end up learning something you wish you hadn’t. I know who my parents are. I know who my family is. Let’s leave it at that.
And so we did. He never changed his mind; he really just never cared to know. After he died in 1979 [at the age of 54; heart failure], my mom and sister and I would sometimes talk about the adoption tale and speculate about the family we would never know. It was a way of holding on to Dad somehow. We’d imagine what kind of people Dad’s birth family might have been, and consider the possibility that we could have aunts and uncles and other relatives living right here in town, right now, all unbeknownst to us.
All the information we had about Dad’s birth family came from an article that we were told had been on the front page of a Minneapolis newspaper the day he was found, but none of us had ever actually seen that article.
The story we had always heard was that the baby was two weeks old when he was found. What was the exact date he was found? What did the article say, exactly? I wanted to see that article. At the time, this was in 1980, the Minnesota History Center hadn’t been built yet, but the main branch of the Minneapolis Public Library had the Mpls Tribune and the Mpls Journal on microfilm going all the way back to their beginnings, so that’s where I began.
All of the official documents – birth certificate, Social Security card, his military service discharge papers, etc — had Dad’s birthdate listed as May 23rd, 1925. I always wondered: how did they know that May 23rd was his birthday? How could anybody know exactly what his birthdate was? Did they just make a guesstimate?
Hmm, well, this baby looks around 2 weeks old. Let’s count back about 2 weeks and say his birthdate is….May 23rd!
Counting ahead 14 days from May 23rd would be June 6th. For leeway I decided to start with June 1st, and started with the evening paper, the Minneapolis Journal. Sure enough, when I got to Saturday June 6th, there it was in the lower right hand corner of the front page:
This was it. This was the sum total of everything we knew about my Dad’s birth family.
Or at least the total of everything we knew until March 2009.
After I found the Minneapolis Journal article, I looked through a few more days of the Journal and several days of the (morning) Minneapolis Tribune, but didn’t find anything else. The library only had microfilm for the Journal and the Tribune, so I figured we had exhausted all the possibilities. I assumed that was it; there weren’t any other articles. Still, my sister always said that she’d heard there was a newspaper article which mentioned something about all the couples who inquired at General Hospital, wanting to adopt the “deserted” baby boy. If there was such an article, what paper was it in, and when?
During the winter of 2008-2009 the spouse and I started going to the Minnesota History Center. Usually on Saturdays; usually spending most of our time in the microfilm library, which houses records of newspapers from all over the state, including all of the Minneapolis and St Paul papers. I decided once again to search for articles, beginning with Saturday June 6th 1925. I’d never considered that the St Paul papers might have something about the baby found in a Minneapolis hotel room, but I decided to take a look anyway just for the heck of it. Lo and behold — on page 2 of the (evening) St Paul Dispatch for Saturday June 6th, 1925:
“A young mother with blonde hair”??!
Baby “born May 23rd in Chicago, weighing 9 3/4 pounds”??!!
I freely admit it: I nearly fainted right there in the middle of the microfilm library. I know these are small details; small items of information in a small story of interest only to me and to a few other people, but I have to tell you: these small bits of information, these first new details we’ve only learned now, concerning a story that began 84 years ago, hit me like electric shocks coursing through my body. We went home and later that night I called my sister, telling her: please sit down before I tell you this, OK?
In subsequent visits to the Minnesota History Center we found three more articles from various Minneapolis and St. Paul papers, from June 6th and June 7th. And yes, two of those articles mentioned that hundreds of people inquired at General Hospital, wanting to adopt the “deserted” baby boy.
Next: the other newspaper articles we found ( now a total of 5.) One Minneapolis paper says the mother’s name is Matthews, not Mattson.
Matthews? Matthews?! You know, if it should turn out that I’m related to Tweety I’m going to be really upset.