Very few legends express parental fears about leaving a child with strangers better than this one. The “dead baby found in a high chair” legend focuses on the most terrible “what if?” of all: What if the person I entrust the child to proves untrustworthy?
A young couple were catching a flight to begin a trip of several days, and they had hired a sitter to care for their baby during their absence.
When it was time to leave for the airport, the baby sitter had not arrived, so they telephoned her home and learned that she was on her way. They put the baby in its highchair, left the back door open for the sitter, and rushed to the airport.
When the sitter arrived, the wind had blown the door shut, and it had locked. She thought the parents either must have taken the baby with them or left it with someone else, so she returned home.
When the couple got back, they found their baby starved to death in its highchair.
[Collected by Dale, 1984]
A Norwegian couple, who had not had a proper holiday for years, decided to treat themselves to a long winter holiday in the sun. At last the great day dawned; everything was packed and loaded into the car — as soon as Nanny arrived they could get away. But today of all days, Nanny was late. At the last minute she phoned and told them that her car had broken down. The man said that if they came to collect her now they would miss their flight; was it too far to walk? Nanny said it wasn’t, they could leave and she’d be there in a quarter of an hour. So the wife strapped their young son into his highchair, told him Nanny wouldn’t be long, and set off for their island in the sun. During the long, hot weeks away they missed the news that the girl had been hit by a lorry and killed on her way to their house. When at last they returned, sun-bronzed and rejuvenated, they found their starved son still strapped into his chair where they had left him.
Guilt plays a big part in this cautionary tale. In a chillingly unforgettable way, the parents are punished for attempting to take a vacation from being parents. The moral of this tale is “It’s a 24/7 job; there is no time off.”
Did this happen in real life? Oh, probably not. It’s hard to conceive of parents who wouldn’t call home at least a few times just to reassure themselves that the sitter had found everything she needed and the child hadn’t come down with some typical kids’ malady or been kidnapped by marauding aliens jetting through on their way to Alpha Centauri. These days parents have a hard time sitting through a movie without calling home — should we really imagine they would go weeks without admonishing Nanny to be certain to use the blue powder and not the yellow on Junior’s bottom, never to turn out his nightlight, or to give him his purple dinosaur if he won’t settle down for the night?
In 2006 a variation on the legend found its way to us:
I heard several of my friends talking about a really sad story the other day.They talked about a man that went on tour in Iraq, leaving his wife and 2 children behind. He was quite upset by the fact that he couldn’t call them, as his platoon wasn’t near any place with phone access.
At home, the woman had put her infant son and daughter in a playpen, when she suffered a heart attack and died.
The husband found his dead wife and children several months later.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Baby Train.
New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. ISBN 0-393-31208-9 (p. 73).
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Choking Doberman.
New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. ISBN 0-393-30321-7 (p. 57).
Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good To Be True.
New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 222-223).
de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip.
Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (p. 295).