Children for Sale: desperation in the face of poverty or a cold-hearted mother?
In Indiana in 1938 things were hard. The nation was in the grips of the Great Depression; people were out of work and hopeless. You here many old timers tell stories of how they grew up poor but that they knew they were loved. That they didn’t have much but that they managed to get by. One couple. Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux were among the poor. They had four healthy children and another on the way. Mr. Chalifoux was a jobless coal truck driver, and his bride was a homemaker. They came up with an ingenious way to raise money; they posted a sign outside their house advertising that their four small children, Lana 6, Rae 5, Milton 4, and Sue Ellen 2, were for sale to the highest bidder. It took them two years, but they sold them all including the baby in her womb. A photographer traveling through the area caught a picture of the four little ones next to their For-Sale sign, their mother turning away and hiding her face.
At first, the couple’s family became indignant and tried to say that the picture was a publicity stunt, but unfortunately, it turned out to be true. I don’t have any information about what happened to Lana, but Rae and Milton were adopted by John and Ruth Zoeteman who took the children home, changed their names to Beverly and Kenneth and promptly chained them up in the barn. They were forced to work in the fields and beaten. Mr. Zoeteman referred to them as slaves, and he indeed treated them as such. David who was adopted by a strict but loving couple, (he was the unborn baby) recalls when he was old enough that he rode his bike out to the farm and unchained them. So apparently people in the community knew how they were being treated. When she was 17 Rae was raped and became pregnant; I don’t know by who, and sent to an unwed mothers’ home and forced to give the baby up for adoption. Milton, who had spent the most significant part of his life being starved and beaten reacted with violent rages and was eventually sent to a mental hospital where he stayed for many years.
I don’t know what happened to their birth father, but their mother remarried and had four more daughters. When the children she sold came to see her, she showed a total lack of love or remorse. David, who was adopted into a right home, feels empathy for her, the others who had to fight to survive do not feel the same way. (lynncinnamon.com). Myself, I think she could have worked out other options. I can’t imagine ever selling my children off like they were livestock.
I have seen reports (wordpress.com) that the 2.00 Mrs. Chalifoux received for selling Rae she used to play Bingo. So, it’s not like she was selling them so she could eat; she wanted to go out and play bingo.
Sue Ellen and Rae got to reunite briefly but only once because Sue Ellen died of cancer shortly afterward. They saw their brother Milton as well. Little is known about what happened to Lana, but it is believed that she had a good home. She has also passed away due to cancer.
When my kids were growing up, I would tell them jokingly that I was going to sell them to the gypsies. Luckily for them, I’m not much of a bingo player.