Old Baby Skeleton Found In D.C. Attic
February 6, 2001 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Old Baby Skeleton Found In D.C. Attic I don't usually crosspost stuff here and on my weblog but this one was just too weird to miss:
Contractors installing duct work in an attic found a suitcase containing the skeleton of a baby who apparently died more than 20 years ago, police said. The home was built in 1928 and occupied by members of the same family until the mid-1990s. The last of three elderly sisters who lived there died in 1995 at the age of 102, and the house was sold five years ago.
posted by hanseugene (10 comments total)
"If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, toys go in the ATTIC, and skeletons go in the CLOSET!"
posted by Optamystic at 11:01 PM on February 6, 2001

Something like this happened in Columbus, OH a few years back. Contractors or the homeowners were fixing up an old home and discovered a small hidden space/room in the attic or on the 2nd floor (sorry for the fuzzy details). Inside of the space were some baby bones surrounded by a very old newspaper.

I'd try to find the headline of it, but The Columbus Dispatch has one of the worst newspaper archive systems around. They give you free access to just the past 7 days and then you have to pony up at least $4.95/day to search through the older articles.
posted by gluechunk at 11:37 PM on February 6, 2001

Such discoveries are by no means uncommon and often are not even reported on. Sometimes these infant skeletons are never found, being too well hidden in the foundations or walls, or taken away with rubble or built-over when a house is renovated or demolished. I expect that sometimes builders, who are on a tight time schedule, may be reluctant to notify authorities of such discoveries.

Australian ABC story of three baby skeletons found in house in South Australia

Or, if you cannot access it, this is the annoymizer link, albeit with popups.

A transcript from another interview regarding the same case:

"ANNE BARKER: But if forensic experts are puzzled, one person isn't. Freida Briggs, a Professor of Child Development, says she's surprised that people are so shocked at the find because the answer most likely lies in Australia's contraceptive history.

FREDA BRIGGS: People have expressed shock and horror at finding those children and what I suggest to you is that, until we had reliable contraception which was in the middle of the 1960s and until we had legal abortion which was in the early '70s, women used a variety of methods to resolve the situation of unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children.

ANNE BARKER: So you think it could have been an abortion?

FREDA BRIGGS: It could have been a late abortion. It could have been three separate late abortions with the abortionist living on the premises but that's very unlikely. It's much more likely I would think that somebody had triplets and the pregnancy was concealed. Women could conceal pregnancies at that…you know if we're talking about 50 years ago because they wore very loose clothing to disguise the pregnancy. And before legal abortion, it was not unusual for babies, unwanted babies, secret babies to be abandoned plus infanticide was much more common than it is now."

It is evident that when some people praise the past as being vastly less complicated and better for society, they are not taking into account the numerous miseries which either their race, gender, religion, sexual persuasion and/or position in society would not have exposed them to or that were, as in this case, hidden away, no doubt never to be talked about again. Not documented and rarely invoked in written historical and sociological accounts of the era.
posted by lucien at 2:20 AM on February 7, 2001

For the life of me, I can't find a link, but I know I heard this from a reputable news agency when it happened. When they tore down the old Boston Garden a few years ago, workers found, up in the rafters, the skeleton of a monkey. Consensus thought, at the time, was that it had escaped from Ringling Bros. years before, climbed to the ceiling, and died.
posted by jpoulos at 7:03 AM on February 7, 2001

There was a book written in the late '60s/ early '70s (the walls came tumblin' down) that followed this same idea, but in this case it was a baby's skeleton found in an airshaft in a sorority house that was being demolished. Art imitates life, and vice versa.

But when you think about it, this isn't so odd. It still goes on today, but with a twist. What used to be private -- infanticide and disposal of the remains -- is now public. Instead of hiding an unwanted pregnancy, having the baby at home, killing it and hiding the corpse in the attic, it's now have the baby in a ladies' room or a hotel room (or at your high school prom) and drown it in a toilet or toss it in the most convenient dumpster.

Dare I say that we've all become so accustomed to hearing about dumpster babies that when we hear of household hidden babies from years ago, we're intrigued?
posted by Dreama at 8:09 AM on February 7, 2001

Read the book Mother Nurture by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy for lots of disturbing and interesting information about how people in various cultures have handled children they didn't have the resources to care for.

From foundling homes (offering a high likelihood of death), to sending children away to an overburdened wetnurse, to "dry" nursing, to infanticide, people throughout history have made some tough and unsavory choices in order to take care of their existing children (and themselves).

Birth control is a life-saver in many, many ways.

Also consider that some of these skeletons may be of babies who were genuinely wanted but who were stillborn or unable to survive much beyond birth. Without a skilled birth attendant, infant mortality rates climb - it's nature's way.

Back in the decades before good grief counseling was readily available, mothers were often told to "just forget about" babies who died, by clueless people who didn't realize that this was a flawed approach. Hiding the body in the house and not calling attention to it with a grave is consistent with this (cruel & painful) way of handling a baby's death and ignoring a mother's grief.
posted by beth at 8:27 AM on February 7, 2001

Doh! The book is called Mother Nature, not nurture. My bad.
posted by beth at 8:28 AM on February 7, 2001

"Police estimated that the baby was 1 or 2 months old at death."

Probably one of the sisters had a baby and the poor thing died, as babies so often did in the old days. The sisters were thus saved the great difficulty of hiding or explaining a baby to the sort of nasty people who, in the name of some supposedly higher morality, acted as if having a baby was something evil.

As for
> skeleton of a monkey
That's mentioned briefly here.

posted by pracowity at 8:44 AM on February 7, 2001

"Old Baby Skeleton" -- the phrase puts me in mind of "King of the Road." for reasons I can't identify.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:29 PM on February 7, 2001

Yet more wacky human cultural practices:

The ancient Romans and Greeks used to routinely "expose" unwanted babies by just leaving them outside in the street. Anyone wandering past was free to "adopt" the baby, otherwise it would be left to die.

They thought the Celts and Germans were very strange barbarians indeed for not following this sensible practice.

posted by lagado at 2:51 PM on February 7, 2001

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