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Portage to the Past: Unexpected delivery sets city abuzz

11:19 AM, Jul. 10, 2013  |  Comments
Rhonda Whetstone
Rhonda Whetstone
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It was a bit late for an April Fool's prank, but then who would play that kind of joke anyway?

It was Friday, April 7, 1911, and Professor Frank Hyer, 41, of the university at Stevens Point was conducting a seminar in Reedsburg. He often was out of town on business, leaving his wife, Hattie, 33, in charge of the house with their three children, Frank, 13; Herold Allan, 10; and Harriet, 6. The family lived on the corner of Division and Brawley streets.

At about 5 a.m. that morning, the Hyer dog began running around the outside of the home and barking excitedly. The animal had been left outside that night, but for the dog to bark was an unusual occurrence, and in this case, the insistent barking was even more alarming. Concerned with upsetting the neighbors, Hattie finally asked daughter Harriet to go downstairs and let in the dog. Harriet did as asked and quickly returned to tell her mother that a baby was lying on the porch.

Hattie ran to the door to find a baby girl had been placed close to the railing at the side of the porch, a few feet from the front door. Dressed in thin clothing, and instead of a blanket only a small piece of flannel wrapped around her, the infant was very cold to the touch, no doubt having been on the porch for some time, and not even left "in a basket" as was so often the case back then when a child was abandoned on someone's front steps. Since the dog had been barking for nearly an hour, it was thought that was how long the infant had been out in the freezing temperatures.

Hattie carefully wrapped and warmed the baby, and she seemed to be none the worse for her experience in the freezing night, acting bright and cheerful. The child was thought to be about 2 months old.

Who and where the mother was probably was not likely ever to be known although the Stevens Point Daily Journal reported that Police Chief Hafsoos was going to find out "who it was that induced the stork to make such an unceremonious and unexpected visit" to the Hyer residence.

Hattie was just thankful that the baby was left with them and was safe.

A few days later, Professor Hyer returned home and was introduced to the baby that had been left during his absence. Shortly after, the professor said they had not decided what to do with the little stranger but that for certain they would not be putting the child in a "foundling asylum" - a fancy term in those days for an "orphanage." He said they would not part with the child at all unless a good Christian home was found where she would be brought up in a respectable manner and given the advantages of a good education.

The Hyer children instantly became very attached to the waif and hoped to keep her in their own family. Meanwhile, the baby was thriving and happy under Hattie's care, totally oblivious to the fact the whole city was talking about her.

Search as I might, there are no further references to the foundling, but Frank and Hattie moved their family to Whitewater in Walworth County and nine years later in 1920, there is no record of a Hyer child after Harriet, so one can assume the babe's mother was located or a good family was found after all.

Author's note: If anyone has any further information on the baby, please contact me so I can do a follow-up story.

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