The Tragedy of the Nova Scotia ButterBox Babies

The Tragedy of the Nova Scotia ButterBox Babies

Shivering in the snow near Chester Basin, N.S. a mother stood above the unmarked grave and watched the two men dig. For hours they scooped the soil with trowels, creating a two-foot trench in the ground. In the gray half-light of a December dusk, they handed the old lady the bones. The fragments were paper-thin, stained dark brown by the earth. The biggest piece, about 1-inch round, only remotely resembled eyes and a whiff of curly black hair. a baby’s skull. Gently, the archaeologist placed the remains in plastic bags, along with shreds of wood from the coffin, and a button. The mother didn’t cry. She didn’t say a word. But as friends clustered around her for support Violet Eisenhauer wondered, as she had wondered for more than half a century.

Just who, was buried in the butterbox on the hill beneath the birch tree? Are the remains those of a baby? Her baby girl? The grave was opened more than a year ago, and still no one knows for sure. Scientists couldn’t extract enough DNA to test against Violet’s blood. The uncertainty has given the 78-year-old mother new hope. Nearly 60 years after giving birth, she is determined to find the dark-haired daughter she nursed for 14 days. Now, more than ever, she is convinced that all those nagging suspicions, all those awful rumors, must have been true. “My baby is alive. She didn’t die,” Violet says. “She was stolen.”

Faith Lu Tanya was born July 7, 1940. She was 8 pounds, 6 ounces, with deep brownBut what her mother remembers most are her daughter’s hands: They had strange unbroken lifelines that curved down her tiny palms. “She was all rosy, not wrinkled like other babies,” says Violet, who named the child on a whim, after two of the girls she befriended at the maternity home.

“Everyone said she was the prettiest baby there.” – When Violet became pregnant, the Ideal Maternity Home in Nova Scotia was the obvious place to go. Although mainly a refuge for unmarried mothers, it was considered one of the biggest, most modern maternity facilities in Canada. For Violet, who was married, the home was also convenient, located in the nearby town of East Chester, one of a string of picturesque fishing towns that dot Nova Scotia’s south shore. But even by the time Faith was born, the home and its owners, Lila and William Young, were being investigated by child welfare officials.

There were rumors of a baby-selling business that drew prospective parents from all over Canada and the United States, of fees amounting to thousands of dollars. Babies who couldn’t be placed for adoption were said to have died of neglect. They were buried in 22-inch pine boxes, the kind that held the butter in the home’s weekly grocery order.

Eventually the charges would close the home. But that was years later, long after the summer morning when Violet was told a few hours before she was due to go home that her 2-week-old daughter had died. The baby had become ill during the night, Mrs. Young said, had turned black and stopped breathing. The body wasn’t fit to be seen.

“I didn’t think to question it,” Violet says. “Why should I think anyone would take my baby?” But others were suspicious. One mother told Violet that a couple had come to the home in search of a baby girl. Faith Lu Tanya was the only girl in the nursery at the time. And there were lingering doubts about the body that no one saw. Violet doesn’t remember the funeral. She was too sick to go. But in her mind, she can still hear her father and husband arguing that night, threatening to dig up the grave themselves.

“I don’t care if the baby is as black as coal tar,” her father cried. “I want to see for myself.” ‘ Her mother pleaded with them to leave things be. The baby is gone, she said. Digging up the grave would only land them both in jail. Violet was too numb to care. She never had another child. She never stopped mourning for the one she lost. When her husband, Sterling, was alive, they rarely talked about their daughter. Times were lean, money was tight and getting on with living was all a young couple could do. So they forgot.

The 1992 book, “Butterbox Babies: Baby sales was written by Bette Cahill.The scandalous story of the Ideal Maternity Home created a sensation. It was written by Bette along with hundreds of people connected with the home. She found a woman who had lined butterbox coffins with satin, and a man who said he buried dozens of babies in a field about 12 miles from the home. She found “survivors” in New York and New Jersey. She talked to a mother who was told her baby had died, only to be reunited with her daughter years later. She talked to Violet and wrote about Faith in a chapter titled, “Stolen Baby.” Today Cahill says she believes Faith was sold into adoption.

The advertisements offered “charming babies for adoption … free of social disease.” From the late 1920s to the late 1940s, as many as 80 infants filled the cribs of the Ideal Maternity Home. Prospective parents flocked from all over Canada and the United States to a remote seaside village in Nova Scotia to pick one. In an age when contraception and abortion were illegal in Canada and the stigma of having a child out of wedlock was enormous, the home sold secrecy to unmarried mothers. For couples wanting a child, the home offered quick, easy adoptions with few questions. Owners Lila and William Young built a niche market among prominent families in New York and New Jersey, in particular. Some, couples said they paid thousands of dollars to the home’s lawyers. Others made substantial donations to the home, although officials who spent years trying to shut it down, had difficulty tracing exact figures.

Adoptive parents were reluctant to admit paying for a baby. Each birth mother was charged a $25 delivery fee, plus several dollars a day for room and board. For another $300 she was told she could leave the newborn for adoption if it was white and, according to the contract not “birthmarked, crippled or deformed. Up to 1,500 children are believed to have been adopted from the home over two decades. The revenue for the home is said to have been $60,000, for the Youngs in the mid-40s, excluding the baby sales. They approximately sold 700 children, and even if the average cost for one was $5000, they made a total of $3.5 million.

There are no numbers for those who died, but suspected neglect was long an issue with Canadian health and welfare officials. “My chief concern at the moment is this wretched Ideal Maternity Home,” Nora Lea, acting executive director of the Canadian Welfare Council, wrote in 1945. “I wish a tidal wave would come in from the Atlantic and engulf it” The problem was not that the home was operating outside the law, but that there were no laws to control it. Legislation overhauled the adoption and welfare system by requiring stricter licensing of maternity homes, tougher monitoring of adoptive parents and tighter control of immigration. The Ideal Maternity Home closed in 1948. ,

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About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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