July 29, 2006
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
"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.