Weird History
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The Tragic Story Behind The Photo Of Four Children Who Had To Be Sold To Escape Poverty In The 1940s

Updated October 18, 2018 720.6k views10 items

America in the 1940s was a tumultuous place to live. World War II raged through the first half of the decade, finally ending in 1945 and leaving its mark on the country for decades. During the war, food and supplies were rationed, and, though the end of the war marked an economic boom in America, not everyone felt its effects. Recovery, in some instances, took years, and the Cold War turned international relations frosty when the Soviet Union asserted itself.

A photo of children for sale, taken in August of 1948, perfectly encapsulates the experience of those still down on their luck years after the war. The idea of any mother selling her children, let alone selling them with a sign posted in her front yard, feels preposterous by today's standards. But this 1948 image of children for sale is no joke, and the kids pictured did, in fact, find themselves sold off to strangers at the behest of their own parents. 

Sadder still, the children for sale in the Chicago area went on to experience further hardship in their new homes. This 1948 image is truly one of those examples of film capturing an incredibly low moment that history won't let us forget. 

  • Media Buzz Helped Spur People To Donate To The Family, But No One Knows Where The Money Went

    According to the NY Post, several days after the sad photo and its caption ran in a newspaper called the Chicago Heights Star, "A Chicago Heights woman offered to open her home to the children and that offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in." However, it's unclear where the financial assistance was distributed, and whether it merely held the family together for another few years. Reportedly, it was another two years before the children were entirely sold off.

  • Family Members Accused The Mother Of Being Paid To Stage The Photo

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite the legendary status of this photograph, to this day it is unknown how long the sign was posted, offering up the children for sale. As one writer noted, it might have been there just long enough for the photo to be taken, but it might have stood for years. Either way, some of the family members claimed the mother was just trying to drum up publicity by staging the photo.

    In the days of reality TV when it seems many others are trying to do the same, it almost makes sense that perhaps Lucille Chalifoux was turning desperate times into desperate, inane actions.

  • Their Birth Mother Went On To Have Four More Children – And She Kept Them

    The youngest child, David, whose birth name was Bedford Chalifoux, was given away at two years of age. When his adoptive family, the McDaniels, received him, he had bed bug bites all over his body. They raised him in a strictly religious fashion, but their proximity to his siblings RaeAnn and Milton allowed him to visit them at the farm on which they lived. He remembers untying them in the barn. 

    Years later, David reunited with his birth mother. Upon seeing him, she told him he looked just like his father but offered no apologies. He also met the four daughters she had during a later marriage: children which she kept. 

  • Some Of Kids Ended Up Leading Tragically Horrific Lives

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    At 17, after years of alleged torturous slavery in her new home, RaeAnn was kidnapped from her adoptive home and raped. She became pregnant from that rape, and her adopted family was mortified and sent her off to a home for unwed mothers. The child was taken from her and put up for adoption. At that point, she left the Zoetemans and never returned. Now, she has an adult son with whom she lives and describes his mother's life as being "like a horror story."

    Milton, the younger brother who was adopted along with RaeAnn, reportedly reacted to his beatings, starvation, and abuse through rages that became increasingly violent as he grew older. According to one writer, "A judge deemed him a menace to society, and de spent a number of years in a mental hospital after being forced to choose between that and a reformatory."

    David McDaniel, the son who was yet unborn when the photo was taken, ran away from his adopted home at age 16. He joined the military, which helped him clean up his act and move away from the rebellious teen years he claimed he had before he ran away.