30 Oct The Sad Story Behind The Photo Of Four Children Who Had To Be Sold The 1940s
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.
Their Mother Was Pregnant When She Sold Her Kids And Later Also Sold The Unborn Baby
In this tragic picture, the four children are seen on display on their front stoop as their mother hides her face from the photojournalist. The woman, Lucille Chalifoux, was only 24 years old, but pregnant with her fifth child at the time. Lucille and her husband Ray, age 40, were facing eviction from their apartment at the time. Ray had lost his job as a coal truck driver. Faced with the prospect of being homeless – and the daunting task of feeding so many mouths – they chose to auction off their own children.
Within two years, all four of the children pictured, as well as the child she was carrying, were sold off or given to other homes.
Seven-Year-Old RaeAnn Was Sold For $2
In the middle of the process of being purchased for $2, RuthAnn recalls that her younger brother Milton was crying so hard that the couple paying for her decided to take him as well. RuthAnn remembers the situation not so much as her mother trying to take care of the children but as her needing money for superficial pleasures. The couple who paid $2 for a 7-year-old girl was John And Ruth Zoeteman, farmers who ended up using their “adopted” kids as forced labor.
There is no evidence that they paid additional cash for Milton, or how much it would have been.
The Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger ran the photo on August 5, 1948, with this caption, announcing the ages of the children and giving a bit of context yet very little background for such a tragic story.
“A big ‘For Sale’ sign in a Chicago yard mutely tells the tragic story of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux, who face eviction from their apartment. With no place to turn, the jobless coal truck driver and his wife decide to sell their four children. Mrs. Lucille Chalifoux turns her head from camera above while her children stare wonderingly. On the top step are Lana, 6, and Rae, 5. Below are Milton, 4, and Sue Ellen, 2.”
According to a story in the NY Post, the photo grabbed public attention and soon made its way around newspapers in multiple states, even as far as Texas and New York.
Some Of The Children Were Allegedly Treated As Slaves In Their New Homes
Two of the children, RaeAnn and Milton, were sold to farmers John and Ruth Zoeteman for $2. The Zoetemans changed their names to Beverly and Kenneth and took them back to their farm. On the farm, the two children were reportedly regularly chained up in the barn. They were bought for the purpose of working on the farm and were forced to slave away for long hours. Milton even recalls his new “father” calling him a slave.
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
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
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.
A Few Of The Children Reunited Much Later In Life
The Chalifoux children were scattered when they were sold at such a young age, but social media allowed a few of them to find each other much later in life. Sue Ellen Chalifoux was able to meet her sister RaeAnn in 2013. This was especially meaningful as Sue Ellen was suffering from fatal lung disease. 70-year-old RaeAnn had not seen her 67-year-old sister Sue Ellen for the first time since they were seven and four years old, respectively.
David, RaeAnn, and Milton were planning a reunion that same year. Their eldest sister, Lana, died from cancer in 1998, but they are using social media to connect with her family and learn more about her life.
The Children Have Mixed Feelings About The Mother Who Sold Them
After being sold as children, Sue Ellen Chalifouxis (left) and RaeAnn Mills finally reunited this year before Chalifouxis’ death
One of the daughters, RaeAnn Mills, later claimed that her mother was selling her and her siblings in order to get money to play bingo, and that her mother’s boyfriend didn’t like her children.
There are no legal papers to prove she was sold or adopted, but in 2013, the grown children spoke to reporters about how tragically their lives had played out for some years after being sold.
Although David, the one who hadn’t even been born when his siblings were sold, harbors the least resentment, some of the daughters with vivid memories of that day have some choice words for the woman who sold them.
“We’re all human beings,” David has said. “We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.” Sue Ellen, though, doesn’t mince words: “She needs to be in hell burning.”
Milton, who was adopted alongside RaeAnn, was pretty indifferent: “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.”