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Thu Dec 27, 2012, 08:36 AM

The Children Who Went Up In Smoke (beyond strange)


Billboard about the Sodder children, who went missing on Christmas Eve, 1945. From www.appalachianhistory.net.

For nearly four decades, anyone driving down Route 16 near Fayetteville, West Virginia, could see a billboard bearing the grainy images of five children, all dark-haired and solemn-eyed, their names and ages—Maurice, 14; Martha 12; Louis, 9; Jennie, 8; Betty, 5—stenciled beneath, along with speculation about what happened to them. Fayetteville was and is a small town, with a main street that doesn’t run longer than a hundred yards, and rumors always played a larger role in the case than evidence; no one even agreed on whether the children were dead or alive. What everyone knew for certain was this: On the night before Christmas 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away in the Army). Around 1 a.m., a fire broke out. George and Jennie and four of their children escaped, but the other five were never seen again.

The missing Sodder children. From left: Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, Betty. Courtesy of www.mywvhome.com.

George had tried to save them, breaking a widow to re-enter the house, slicing a swath of skin from his arm. He could see nothing through the smoke and fire, which had swept through all of the downstairs rooms: living and dining room, kitchen, office, and his and Jennie’s bedroom. He took frantic stock of what he knew: 2-year-old Sylvia, whose crib was in their bedroom, was safe outside, as was 17-year-old Marion and two sons, 23-year-old John and 16-year-old George Jr., who had fled the upstairs bedroom they shared, singeing their hair on the way out. He figured Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie and Betty still had to be up there, cowering in two bedrooms on either end of the hallway, separated by a staircase that was now engulfed in flames.

He raced back outside, hoping to reach them through the upstairs windows, but the ladder he always kept propped against the house was strangely missing. An idea struck: He would drive one of his two coal trucks up to the house and climb atop it to reach the windows. But even though they’d functioned perfectly the day before, neither would start now. He ransacked his mind for another option. He tried to scoop water from a rain barrel but found it frozen solid. Five of his children were stuck somewhere inside those great, whipping ropes of smoke. He didn’t notice that his arm was slick with blood, that his voice hurt from screaming their names.

His daughter Marion sprinted to a neighbor’s home to call the Fayetteville Fire Department but couldn’t get any operator response. A neighbor who saw the blaze made a call from a nearby tavern, but again no operator responded. Exasperated, the neighbor drove into town and tracked down Fire Chief F.J. Morris, who initiated Fayetteville’s version of a fire alarm: a “phone tree” system whereby one firefighter phoned another, who phoned another. The fire department was only two and a half miles away but the crew didn’t arrive until 8 a.m., by which point the Sodders’ home had been reduced to a smoking pile of ash.
<snip>
Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2012/12/the-children-who-went-up-in-smoke/#ixzz2GG6qT7gW

Way weird!

11 replies, 3055 views

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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Children Who Went Up In Smoke (beyond strange) (Original post)
Are_grits_groceries Dec 2012 OP
dixiegrrrrl Dec 2012 #1
Ednahilda Dec 2012 #5
Little Star Dec 2012 #2
WilliamPitt Dec 2012 #3
Marrah_G Dec 2012 #4
nuxvomica Dec 2012 #6
Are_grits_groceries Dec 2012 #11
Brickbat Dec 2012 #7
Duval Dec 2012 #8
progressoid Dec 2012 #9
Are_grits_groceries Dec 2012 #10

Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 08:54 AM

1. wow. Hauting history for the family, indeed.

Our family had a "missing" relative for 50 years, the brother of my grandmother.
Growing up I heard the story of how the brother had "left home at age 16 and was never heard from again"
which would have been in the early 1900/1020.
After my grandmother's side had died out, including my mother, the missing relative was found to have died in a mental hosptial in the 1960's, but no one knew he was there.
Weird.

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Response to dixiegrrrrl (Reply #1)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 09:53 AM

5. I suspect this may be more common than we imagine.

Our family had some stories about infants who died during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and no one gave it another thought. After all, infant mortality wasn't that unusual. As a result of some serious genealogical work by my aunt, we've discovered that at least two of these babies did not die, but had been quietly adopted out because they had been illegitimate. There are other stories involving adolescents who "died", but had actually emigrated to another country; because the parents lost touch with them, the assumption was that the children were no longer living. It's hard for us to imagine living at a time when communications were so slow and so spotty that children could leave home and their parents would never hear from them again.

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Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 09:42 AM

2. That is very strange. The article sure held my attention tho. Thanks!

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Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 09:49 AM

3. Jesus

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Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 09:52 AM

4. horrifying

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Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:31 AM

6. Amazing story

The sighting at the hotel of the children with the adults of "Italian extraction" by a woman who probably didn't know the Sodders were Italian, as they had completely Anglicized their names, is very striking. I wonder why Hoover wouldn't take the case, considering it could've been a PR bonanza.
I find this story especially fascinating because aside from the fire and the mystery, that family's story sounds a lot like my Sicilian grandparents'.

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Response to nuxvomica (Reply #6)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 12:04 PM

11. Hoover wasn't interested in kids from WVA.

For whatever reason, he decided that the return wasn't worth the effort.

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Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:42 AM

7. Fascinating and heartbreaking.

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Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:46 AM

8. Creepy! n/t

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Response to Are_grits_groceries (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:51 AM

9. Of the theories given,

I would go with:
The children were kidnapped by someone they knew—someone who burst into the unlocked front door, told them about the fire, and offered to take them someplace safe.


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Response to progressoid (Reply #9)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:52 AM

10. Makes sense.

However, what happened to them after that?

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