Clark County Press, Neillsville, Wisconsin

January 2, 2019, Page 10  

Contributed by "The Clark Co. Press"

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 

 

Compiled and Contributed by Dee Zimmerman1868

 

Clark County News

 

“The Day They Gave Babies Away”

(Continuation of the Eunson Story)

 

Robert always kept tabs on his brothers and sisters, who for the most part, turned out remarkably well.  They all looked very much alike; and others who knew them recognized something poignant in their love for each other, because they had nothing but that love in common. As each child grew up, he or she took on the characteristics and absorbed points of view of the foster parents.

 

Annabelle Eunson had become a great dowager, having a home in California and one in Chicago. She ruled her children with an iron hand.

 

Elizabeth taught school, then married, had two children and after her husband died, became a housemother at a girl’s school.

 

Jane never married. She taught music lessons, voice, and possessed a sweet contralto. She, of course, due to her young age, had no memory of the evening’s ride on the sled up the river’s ice to her new home when two years old. But Jane and Robert were always very close. As a boy, Dale Eunson remembered his Aunt Jane’s visits to their home in Neillsville. A fond memory was of Jane sitting at the piano singing, “In the Gloaming” and then breaking into “The Irish Washer Woman,” and his Dad would leap to his feet doing a real “Irish Jig” that made the furniture jump from the floor’s vibration.

 

(While living in Minneapolis, I had a couple of Irish girlfriends, Pat and Katie Harrigan. One evening, after having an evening out with Pat, Kate and some other friends, we were invited to the Harrigan home for a lunch.  As Pat and Kate prepared lunch, someone started playing Irish ditties on the piano with the rest of us singing along. Soon, Pa and Mom Harrigan came out of their bedroom, in their nightwear, and started dancing the “Irish Jig,” ready to join the party. A fond memory of my Scotch-Irish friends was their enjoyment of singing, storytelling and having fun. DZ)   

 

James became a successful lawyer in Wisconsin, married and had three children.  He and his brother, Robert wrote each other regularly.

 

Kirk was the only tragedy amongst the six children. “Life was too much of a struggle for him and he took to drink.” As his older brother used to say, Kirk died mysteriously when he was only 26.

 

Robert, himself, felt he needed no adoptive home at the age of 12, except what he could find in a lumbering camp. He went to work in the woods, growing up to be a very dependable man.

 

Eventually, Robert Eunson made his way to Clark County with his family. At first, he was a farmer, living on what would later be known as the Schmidt farm south of Neillsville.  Next, he moved to the Naedler farm next to Cunningham Creek and along Highway 73.

 

A short time later, Eunson left farming, relocating to a little house in the 300-block along Fifth Street in Neillsville.  The house was located along Goose Creek and on the east side of the Claude Sturdevant home.  The Sturdevant house still stands on the south side of West Fifth Street.

 

(In the early 1980s Goose Creek became hidden with a culvert system that starts at Schuster Park, enabling the creek to run its original route through the city where it eventually empties into O’Neill Creek, a couple of blocks west of the Grand Avenue bridge. DZ)

 

Eunson became a partner with Charles Crocker in a livery stable business, which was located on the northwest corner of Grand Avenue and Fifth Street. The building was later occupied by the Stelloh Implement business. At the close of the implement shop, the building was razed, providing space for the IGA Food Store, which is now the store’s parking lot area.

 

Dale Eunson, author of “The Day They Gave Babies Away,” was born August 15, 1904, in Neillsville. His mother died when he was 15 months old. At that time Robert Eunson’s household was not organized to care for the baby.  Arrangements were made that little Dale should go into the Sturdevant home. The Sturdevants were pleased with the little one being in their home from the start, eager to provide the care he needed.

 

Writing of his own childhood, Dale Eunson, while editor of the Cosmopolitan magazine, he relates how some people considered him a spoiled boy, thinking he begged Neillsville shoppers for nickels to buy candy. But that is not quite the way it was, according to Mrs. Sturdevant. She said Dale was a very winsome little child with large brown eyes and dark brown hair, and everybody took to him. Neillsville people who knew the Eunson family situation felt sympathy for the little boy whose mother had died.

 

They expressed their sympathy in a way, which Dale could understand and appreciate – they bought candy for him. Overeating candy occasionally caused Dale indigestion and tummy aches.

 

As the Sturdevants loved the little boy in their home, so he loved them.

 

Though living in the Sturdevant home as a member of the family, Dale never lacked for interest of attention from his own father. Robert Eunson was a great family man, who bestowed affection upon members of his family. He was remembered as being kind and faithful to his family members.

 

Those who knew Robert Eunson well remembered him as being exceedingly generous, a man who willingly helped others. However, he never wasted money upon himself, careful in his personal expenditures. His generosity stood in the way of any considerable accumulation of funds. His philosophy seemed to be “use money instead of hoarding it.”

 

IN 1908, Eunson went into politics and was elected sheriff of Clark County. He left the livery business and moved his family out of the little house next to Goose Creek and into the sheriff’s residence in the county jail building.

 

(Scanned 1897 Clark County Jail also with Sheriff living quarters)

 

The above Clark County Jail, a fortress-like structure of brick, concrete and steel, was built in 1897 on the southeast corner of “courthouse-square.” It served its purpose in every way for many years.  The sheriff’s residence was located on the main floor – with the main entrance facing East Fifth Street. The building is now occupied by the Clark County Historical Society Museum. (Photos courtesy of Steve Roberts and the Clark County Jail Museum.)

 

Also, Eunson married again, his wife being Jesse Romaine, a former Loyal resident who owned a millinery shop on South Hewett Street. With a woman again in his home, Eunson took Dale back into the family fold.  Dale remembered and revered his stepmother in one of the novels he wrote. Departing from the Sturdevants, Dale’s absence left a void in the people’s lives.

 

Reading “The Day They Gave Babies Away” story, Mrs. Sturdevant remembered Robert Eunson repeatedly telling the story to them. They write, Dale, held to the facts as his father had related them to him and the Sturdevants.

 

Robert Eunson got the western fever while he served as sheriff. He headed for a homestead in Montana a few weeks before his term as sheriff had expired in 1910. Dale grew up in Montana and at the age of 17 moved with the family to California. Eunson married twice and had seven children; three of the children died as infants.  Robert Eunson died in 1937 or 1938.

 

Prior to the family’s move to California, Dale, his father and stepmother returned to Clark County, visiting the Sturdevants and other friends.

 

It was Dale Eunson’s great interest in music and skillfulness at the piano that encouraged him to enter a business course. The knowledge gained in the course could enable him to learn how to get enough money to purchase a grand piano of his dreams, or so he thought. He found an opportunity in publicity work for Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and later became private secretary to Rupert Hughes, the writer. Eunson wrote the short story, “Sun Dog” which was sold to Woman’s Home Companion magazine. Thereafter, Dale Eunson went to New York and became secretary to Ray Long, the editor of the Cosmopolitan magazine. Upon Long’s leaving the business, Eunson eventually gave up the position to devote himself exclusively to writing.

 

Most of Dale Eunson’s work was devoted to the short story line. However, he did write a novel “Homestead” and ghosted “Artic Adventure” for Peter Frechaen. Also, he co-authored three plays – “Guest in the House,” Public Relations” and “Leo,” the latter with his wife Katherine Albert. In addition, there were television series that he wrote for such as, “The Waltons,” “Little House On the Prairie,” and “Leave it to Beaver,” plus others.

 

Eunson’s work, “The Day They Gave Babies Away,” was the most widely acclaimed. As of the year 1947, it was in its third book printing by the publisher, Farr´ar, Straus & Co. The story was amazingly successful when first published in the Cosmopolitan, followed with a version on radio and later sold to a movie company.  The story aired in a CBS Show, “Climax” in December 1955.

 

In 1957, a movie of the story, under the title of “All Mine to Give” was produced in technicolor with leading stars Cameron Mitchell as Robert, Sr., Glynis Johns as Mamie, the mother, and Rex Thompson as Robbie.  The 1957 Eunson film later appeared on local television.

 

During World War II, Eunson returned to the Cosmopolitan as a fiction editor, Eunson was married to Katherine Albert in 1931, they had a daughter, Joan, to whom “The Day They Gave Babies Away” was addressed. The Eunson family returned to Neillsville when Joan was three years old. Visiting in the Sturdevant home brought back memories for Mrs. Sturdevant. It was a happy reunion and pleasure for her to see Dale as an adult.  Seeing Joan with big brown eyes and brown hair, was much like the baby she had once taken into her arms and home.

 

Eunson’s daughter later became a movie star known as Joan Evans, who played parts in several movies.

 

A weekend in 1983 was designated “Dale Eunson Days” in Neillsville, in honor of the nationally known author who revisited his hometown.

 

Highlight of the celebration was an open house at the Clark County Historical Society’s Jail Museum.  The local Historical Society unit sponsored the celebration and an open house. Eunson autographed his books and met people of the area.

 

Sharing some of his fond boyhood memories, he recalled and told of riding on his Flyer sled from the jail building’s front door, sliding down the winter’s snow-covered Fifth Street, through the Hewett Street and Grand Avenue intersections as far as Goose Creek. There wasn’t enough traffic at the intersections in those horse and buggy days to cause any safety problem.

 

Neillsville was prominently mentioned in his novel, “Up on the Rim.” It is a story of the hardships and experiences of a family, which moved from Neillsville to homestead “Up on the Rim,” near Billings, Montana, in 1910.

 

(Of all of Dale Eunson’s writings, the true story told to him by his father, Robert Eunson, inspired a masterpiece, “The Day They Gave Babies Away.” It is a story from the heart, the heart of a man who as a 12-year-old became a man in a day, the day he had to been assigned the task of finding homes for his younger siblings.

 

In 1856, the Eunson family landed in Eureka that is along the Fox River. Robert’s uncle had homesteaded a small plot of land with a log cabin. Being heir to the property, he came to find that the cabin had burned, destroyed.  The family was living by the village of Princeton, along the Fox River, at the time of the parent’s death. Boat construction has remained an active business in that area.

 

Many early Wisconsin settlers made the short portage from the Fox to Wisconsin River and then canoed on toward the Mississippi River. They established an important water route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River known and the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway, or sometimes referred to as the Green Bay Tributary. Unlike most Wisconsin rivers, the Fox River flows northeasterly, emptying into Green Bay.

 

The lower Fox River, Menasha to Green Bay, has a length of 39 miles. DZ)

 

In the early 1900s, references would be commonly made about Neillsville’s “Court House Park.”  The “park” encompassed one square block in the middle of the city.  The second courthouse, pictured above, was built in 1879 for $35,000.  It was replaced in 1965.

 

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