They’re on the auction block. A big ’4 Children For Sale – Inquire Within’ sign in a Chicago / Illinois yard mutely tells the tragic story of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux, who face eviction from their near barren flat. For long months 40 year old Ray and his wife, Lucille, 24, waged a desperate but losing battle to keep food in the mouth and a roof over their heads. With no place to turn, the jobless coal truck driver and his wife decide to sell their four children. The mother was shielding her eyes from the camera while her four small children stare wonderingly sitting huddled on steps outside. At age 67 Sue Ellen, one of children given away, shared her opinion of her birth mother: “She needs to be in Hell burning! And before I die, I want people to know the story behind the photo.” Two months later Sue Ellen died.
This photograph is the remake of an infamous historical photo originally taken on August 4, 1948, that made its way into many U.S. newspapers. Redone to put focus on the tragic case again because things haven’t changed very much. Human trafficking is still around in many countries and still numerous children are sold throughout the world. Many of them abused by child labor and kept in child slavery; not to mention sexual abuse and child prostitution.
At age 67 Sue Ellen, one of children given away, shared her opinion of her birth mother “She needs to be in Hell burning!” And before I die, I want people to know the story behind the photo. Two months later Sue Ellen died.
They’re on the auction block. A big ‘4 Children For Sale – Inquire Within’ sign in a Chicago (Illinois) yard mutely tells the tragic story of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux, who face eviction from their near barren flat. For long months 40 year old Ray and his wife, Lucille, 24, waged a desperate but losing battle to keep food in the mouth and a roof over their heads. With no place to turn, the jobless coal truck driver and his wife decide to sell their four children. The mother, pregnant with her fifth child in six years at the time of the photo, was shielding her eyes from the camera while her four small children stare wonderingly sitting huddled on steps outside. Lana, 6. Rae, 5. Milton, 4. Sue Ellen, 2 years old.
The infamous original picture was taken August 4, 1948, and published in a Chicago newspaper. The photo also appeared in newspapers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Texas, among others throughout the US. Shortly thereafter offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in.
No one knows how long the sign stood in the yard, whether it was long enough for the camera shutter to close or whether it was years. Some family members claim the mother was paid to stage the photo.
Apparently shortly thereafter the father abandoned the family. He does not return to his home because of a criminal record against him. Lucille was on public relief for several years. Within two years, the children were separated and grew up apart. The mother remarried and had four more daughters. She met with all of her sold children, except Lana, again. She hated all of them, and expressed no regret over her decision.
On Aug. 27, 1950, Rae was sold for $2 so her mother could have Bingo money and because the man her mother was dating did not want anything to do with the children. Her brother Milton was crying nearby, so the couple took him too. Both went to live with John and Ruth Zoeteman on their farm in DeMotte. Sadly, their new father was horribly abusive. Both were forced into slave labor by their new foster parents. They slept tied up in the barn.
In her late teens Rae was kidnapped, raped and got pregnant. She was sent to Michigan to a home for unwed mothers and brought the baby girl back to DeMotte, but the baby was taken from her and adopted. At 17 years old, she finally ran away from the slave labor home and never looked back. Rae reunited with her birth mother when she was 21, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Her mother expressed no remorse or regret. And she expressed no love.
Later Rae founded her own family. With the help of her son Lance, she has been using social media to reconnect with siblings and build new connections with extended kin. “I want to find family before I die” she said.
During that search, the photo surfaced. “My brother Milton sent it to my email” she said. “I got on there and said, Good God. That’s me!” She doesn’t remember the picture being taken and has no recollection of her birth father. The foster parents raised her in an abusive, loveless home. “They used to chain us up all the time. When I was a little child, we were field workers” she said.
The first day on the farm, Milton was mistreated by his adoptive father, who told Milton he expected him to serve as a slave on the farm. He was beaten, kicked, left alone for days tied up in a barn and fed only some milk and peanut butter. Milton used a corn knife to fight off the rats in the barn.
Whereas the father abused him, the mother actually liked him, and eventually sent him to live with an aunt and uncle, helping with their egg delivery business. A case worker later placed him in the care of a friend’s family. It was then he learned the Zoetemans were considered foster parents.
After attacking a police officer Milton ended up in a mental hospital diagnosed with ‘schizophrenia and having fits of rage’. He was released in 1967 at age 23. He met his birth mother only once as an adult, staying with her for a month in 1970. She threw him out when he got into a fight with her second husband. “My birth mother, she never did love me,” he said. “She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.”
David was in his mother’s womb when the photo was taken. He was born Sept. 26, 1949, as Bedford Chalifoux. He was legally adopted by Harry and Luella McDaniel, who couldn’t have children and who had custody of him since July 16, 1950 and changed his name to David McDaniel. When he was taken from his birth mother he was covered in bed bug bites and in rough shape.
David grew up in Wheatfield, a couple miles away from his siblings Rae and Milton. He frequently would sneak onto their property and untie the ropes that were applied to keep his sisters in the barn. David was a rebellious teen, despite living a pretty good life. His adoptive parents taught him good morals and values. It was a strict Christian home, but he ran away at 16 and spent 20 years in the military. On leave from the Vietnam War in 1969, he reunited with Rae and did so again in 1982.
David saw his birth mother after he became an adult. “She never apologized. Back then, it was survival. Who are we to judge? Our mother got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us.” But David doesn’t harbor bitterness. “We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”
Sue Ellen believes she was legitimately adopted by a couple with the last name Johnson. She was raised not far from her original home, growing up in Chicago’s East Side neighborhood.
Sue Ellen is 67 when they met with her sister Rae, now 70 years old. The reunion was bittersweet. It also would be their last time together. Sue Ellen, dying from lung disease, cannot swallow food or talk. She has spent hospitalized and is on a ventilator.
Too sick to talk, Sue Ellen scribbled answers on paper during an interview in May 2013. She was grateful to be reunited with Rae. “It’s fabulous. I love her” she wrote. Moments later, she shared her opinion of her birth mother “She needs to be in Hell burning!” And before she dies, she wants people to know the story behind the photo. Sue Ellen died in July 2013.
Lana, the 3rd daughter in the photo, is believed to be have been adopted similarly to David. Little is known about her upbringing because her papers were destroyed in a fire, and she died in 1998 of cancer.
All persons fictitious disclaimer: the characters appearing in the remake photograph are fictitious. Any resemblance to the real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The dog wasn’t part of the original story. But he begged, howled, barked, wagged with the tail and finally was added to the picture to make his statement on animal abuse.