Lawhorn’s Lawrence: A tale of an abandoned baby, a dime and a Lawrence laundromat
A dime’s worth of love goes a long way.
Not that Amy Marshall has ever known of any shortage of love in her life. She’s the adopted daughter of Ken and Winnie Knowles, and love has surrounded her since she entered their home as an infant who was just a few days old.
Amy always knew she was adopted, but she never knew anything of her biological mother. On Christmas Eve, a letter arrived in the mail that was supposed to change that. It didn’t, at least not with a name.
It was her pre-adoption birth certificate, and her mother and father’s names simply were listed as “unknown.” But there was a place on the document that caught Amy’s eye.
Her place of birth was listed as: a “laundry mat,” known back then as the Grover Bungalo Launderette at 19th and Barker in Lawrence.
It did not take Amy long to put two and two together. She had long sensed she had been abandoned. But now, at least, she knew where.
So on Christmas Eve she called the laundromat, which is still in operation but under different ownership, and left a message on its answering machine.
“I prefaced it by telling them this will probably be one of the oddest messages they’ve received in awhile,” Amy says.
Then, she e-mailed me. She was looking for a newspaper article from November 1964. I sent her a couple.
There she was on the front page of the Journal-World on Nov. 17, 1964. A big picture of a nurse — a Mrs. Gary Edwinson is how we identified the nurse back then — was holding an infant who earlier that day had been found at the laundromat. The baby was being referred to as “Madame X.”
By the next day, the newspaper reported the nurses at Lawrence Memorial quickly had tossed aside that name, and started calling her Amy.
“The baby is in excellent health, and she is a little dandy,” then-Lawrence Police Detective Dick Stanwix announced to the city. Stanwix, who died five years ago, later would become the police chief.
The articles, though, had lots of other details. A baby, likely no more than three hours old, was found laying unwrapped on a blanket on the bathroom floor of the Bungalo Launderette. Amniotic fluid was still fresh on the baby when A.T. and Jean House came to the laundromat at 6 a.m. to give the place its daily cleaning.
“I had terribly mixed emotions — I was concerned, wanted to cry,” Mrs. House told the Journal-World at the time. “But when I felt the baby, I knew I had to get her warm fast. She was awfully cold.”
It was 42 degrees outside that night, the paper reported.
“I’ve been thinking about her quite a bit these last couple of days,” Amy says of the woman who gave her a bit of needed warmth.
But there was one other detail in the articles: A dime. Police found that a dime had been placed on top of the laundromat’s pay phone. They surmised that it was left there so that whoever found the baby could call for help.
“When I read that, that’s when I lost it,” Amy says. “That is when I started bawling. It was devastating — in a good way.”
A baby, a dime and a mystery: That was the last Lawrence ever heard of Baby Amy. The parents were never found, and Amy’s case became another sealed adoption file.
And a lingering question, to some. Dr. Phillip Godwin was the physician on call at the emergency room that day. Godwin told me he remembers the case well. It was the only abandoned baby case he ever worked. He listened intently as I told him of what became of Baby Amy’s life.
“Just a couple of months ago, I was thinking of her,” Godwin said. “I wondered what ever became of that baby. This is good because that has sort of hung over me for a while.”
Brad House laughed when he heard that. Brad, at the time, was the 13-year old son of A.T. and Jean House. Just weeks ago, his younger sister was back for the holidays, and they asked the same question of each other.
“My mother would be jumping up and down with joy right now,” Brad said.
She should. Life has been good for Baby Amy. She lives in Craig, Alaska, where she works as the head librarian in the small town on Prince of Wales Island. Her adopted family took her from Lawrence to their home in Derby. She lived there until she was 7, when her father’s job caused the family to transfer to New York state. She grew up there, ended up getting two degrees — maritime history and nautical archeology — and has traveled the world as an underwater archeologist.
“It has been fun,” Amy says of everything that has happened since she first got a little warmth.
But still, there was the beginning on a cold bathroom floor.
Sure, even before the Christmas Eve letter, Amy had plenty of scenarios that floated around in her head.
“My absolute best-case scenario was that she had me in a hospital, and kissed me goodbye,” Amy says.
There is no way to know, but Amy suspects her mother was a young college student, who — for whatever reason — wanted to hide her pregnancy.
“My dad probably never knew a thing in the world that I exist,” she says.
But somebody does — maybe a couple of somebodies. Amy figures that if her mother was a young college student, there had to at least be a girlfriend who knew. Nobody goes through this completely alone.
But who knows? This is all coming from Baby Amy’s churning mind, a mind that has been turning for a long time.
“Until I became a mom, I didn’t have a clue what she could have been thinking,” Amy says.
Yes, Amy and her husband have two children, a 15-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.
“Her grandkids rock, by the way,” Amy says.
Maybe that will particularly please somebody who reads this. If Amy is right, her mother probably would be approaching 70 now — approaching an ending stage, surely with the story of a beginning still on her mind.
Would Amy want to meet her?
Not a moment’s hesitation: Yes.
She remembers how she felt when she read about that dime.
“My heart broke,” she says. “It broke on several levels. I’m sorry for that — I was sorry for that girl that it happened to.
“I would love to say thank you to her. That’s the gist of it. She had choices. The mother always has choices, and she made a great choice. I hope it got better for her. I really hope she found peace. I wouldn’t want her to go through life thinking something bad happened, because it didn’t.”
A little love, indeed, goes a long way.