Denfeld News

July 29, 2006
Duluth News Tribune

Lost and found
By Chuck Frederick

My search started with an e-mail this summer from Huntington Beach, Calif.

A Duluth native -- Carol Beck, formerly Carol Morris -- hoped to track down "a very old article." In 1947, she wrote, she was a 3-year-old living in the 200 block of 29th Avenue West, between Harrison Field and Lincoln Park, and she "became missing in Duluth... for a day and a half."

What? Missing in Duluth?

"What happened," Beck said by telephone, "was I was out playing with a couple of girlfriends from across the street and my sister was taking care of me."

Or was supposed to be. On her own, little Carol decided to break away from her friends and 13-year-old sister to visit a woman in a neighboring duplex she called "Grandma."

Her real name was Mrs.Brown, and she used to bake cookies for Carol and other neighborhood children. But on this day, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Mrs. Brown was away from home.

"I knocked on Grandma's door and there was no answer. So I decided to go upstairs to see if there was anyone home there. There wasn't," said Beck, now 61 and retired from a cable company. "When I went back downstairs the big heavy door leading outside had closed and had locked tight. And the lock was too high for me to reach. I was stuck in the hallway."

"My husband and I had gone to a funeral," explained Beck's mother, Eris Morris, now 91 and living in Westminster, Calif. Her late husband, Allyn C. Morris, was a fire captain for the Duluth department.

"We left our oldest daughter to take care of Carol," Eris Morris said. "When we got home around four or five o'clock, I started to make supper, and I told her to go get her little sister. She came back a little later and said she couldn't find her anyplace, so we started looking. And then the neighbors came out, and they started looking. And then later, all of Duluth's off-duty firemen came over and they started looking. And we all searched all night long."

"I had two brothers, too, you know, but well, they were young, so I guess I was in charge," Carol Beck's sister, Joanne Thomle, now 71 and a retired nurse in Vancouver, Wash., said in her own defense. "Evidently we didn't miss her at the time. But then my folks came home."

Fearing the worst -- and the worst, it seems, is the way stories like these always turn out -- no one slept. No one even thought of bed.

"We just prayed all night, and we drove around all night long," Eris Morris said. A detective searched the family's house, including inside the oven. At one point, "he told Al, 'I don't want to say anything in front of your wife, but this doesn't look good.'"

"My mom and dad were just frantic. She was the baby, and they were absolutely frantic," Joanne Thomle recalled.

"They dragged the creek in Lincoln Park," said Carol Beck, a mother of two who moved to California after graduating from Denfeld in 1962. "I remember I could hear them calling. They kept calling, but my voice wasn't loud enough for them to hear me calling back: 'I'm here! I'm in here!'"

My search for the "very old article" was nearly as frustrating. The story hadn't been published the Monday of Labor Day weekend in 1948, but in 1947. Beck had been 4, not 3. And she hadn't gone missing a day and a half, but for 14 hours, according to the front-page story I finally was able to track down: "Girl Found In Hallway." She was located at 8 a.m. that following Sunday morning, the paper said, when "her cries attracted the attention of her father as he was passing the house."

The newspaper's version didn't quite match the memories of Eris Morris, who lived every mother's nightmare that night: "In the morning a neighbor lady said, 'Quiet everyone. I think I can hear her.' Everyone kept still, and sure enough: 'You don't issen me! You don't issen me!' (You don't listen to me!) That was the first we knew where she was, and it was right next door. She couldn't get out, she was so tiny. And she was angry because we hadn't been able to hear her."

Neither did the news report match the way Beck recalls the rescue: "I was in that hallway from Saturday afternoon until dinner time the next day, Sunday. I don't remember crying at all or being afraid or anything. But I must have fallen asleep on the steps. In my dreams I could hear someone calling, 'Carol, Carol.' When I woke up there was a police officer tapping on the window. He saw me. He tried to get me to open the door, but I couldn't, so he went upstairs through the back and broke a window. I remember being so proud of myself because I hadn't wet my pants.

"Isn't that crazy," she said. "It's a cute story."

And now with a second happy ending: The old news clipping, successfully tracked down, is in the mail and on its way to a scrapbook in California.

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