By JIM ZBICK
Heading into the new year, Tamaqua Courier readers knew that times were tough for many families in the region.
That was evident in the tone of the children's letters to Santa Claus which the newspaper had received for Christmas. Instead of toys, many children were asking for family necessities, such as food and clothing.
Just how desperate conditions were again surfaced in mid-January when a Tamaqua mother, with no means of support, offered her baby up for sale.
The sad case unfolded after a newspaper carrier returned from his delivery route to the Courier office and placed a quarter on the front desk. He said a woman on Market Street had given it to him in order to advertise her baby – a 3-month-old infant – for sale.
The Courier desk reporter was floored.
"Sell her baby? She must have been fooling you. What's her name?" he asked in disbelief.
"She said I should tell you to send the people to Mrs. Henry Welker, 323 Market Street," the carrier replied, "and she was in earnest too."
A few days later, the woman showed up in person at the office and affirmed that she was serious about selling her baby. She explained that after her husband had left her, she was without any means of support. She also said that if she had a job, there was no one to care for the baby.
The reporter explained to her that many would consider it heartless to want to sell the child.
She stated that she would be satisfied if someone would adopt it and give it a good home.
The advertisement stated:
FOR SALE – A baby. Apply at 323 Market Street."
"Here is a case for the charitably disposed people of Tamaqua to deal with," the writer explained. "The baby is a bright, pretty little one."
Five days later the Courier reported the baby ad brought some responses.
"It isn't often that a baby is offered for sale, for they are a rare commodity, not being listed among saleable articles, but when Mrs. Henry Welker offered to sell her 3-month-old girl there were quite a number of prospective purchasers," the writer stated.
Welker reportedly sold the baby for $10 to Mrs. William Herron of town. Two women from Shenandoah also came to town, hoping to adopt the child, but were told it had been given to Mrs. Herron.
The baby, however, had trouble adjusting to the Herron household.
"The latter took the babe home but the child cried incessantly and they were compelled to return it next morning," the Courier stated.
The story ended well, however, as the child and mother were able to remain together after another home offered them refuge. This allowed the child to have daycare while Mrs. Welker worked.
"Mrs. Welker soon found "a good home for both herself and her child where it will be cared for while she goes out working," the Courier reported.
There were a number of other child cases making news at the time, however, that didn't end as happily.
"Never before in one term have as many children been arraigned before the (Schuylkill County) court on charges of larceny," the Courier reported on Jan. 6.
Nine defendants were charged with stealing from Lehigh Valley Railroad freight cars at Shenandoah. Two boys and a girl were charged with taking three 50-pound sacks of flour. The boys were sent to the Catholic Protectory at Norristown and the girl was sent home.
Four boys – ages 9-13 – were also caught stealing a keg of beer from the LVRR cars and going on a drinking binge in a winter shanty.
Also in Schuylkill Court, Mrs. Libby Rogers of Shenandoah was sentenced to two years in prison for being "the brains" behind a shoplifting ring involving young girls who stole from stores in Shenandoah and Pottsville.
"She reaped several hundred dollars worth of shoes, dress goods, clothing, etc.," the Courier stated, "and the loot was found at her home and returned to the storekeepers by the state police."
A man named Robert Mitkus, who posed as her husband and participated in the shoplifting ring, received 18 months in prison. Three of the children were sent to the House of Good Shepherd in Reading.
Several child stories outside the region were both heroic and inspirational. In New York, 6-year old Louis Brown lost his life in a fire when he stayed by the side of his 4-year-old sister, shielding her from the smoke and flames.
A fireman searching through the burning building found the two children unconscious and clasped in each other's arms under a bed. The boy had wrapped his jacket around the little girl's head to protect her. Tucking her head down on his breast and locking her arms around his waist, the girl survived the ordeal but suffered serious injuries.
In New York, Bertha Reinan, 14, was shot twice while trying to shield her mother from her stepfather.
The mother and daughter were returning home when they were confronted by the estranged husband, George Benz, a salesman. After some angry words, Benz aimed a revolver at his wife but before he shot, the girl sprang in front of her mother, shouting "Go away, and don't bother momma!"
A moment later, the shots rang out and the girl, shielding her mother, fell dead.