The Tennessee Children's Home Society Lot at Elmwood
April 1, 2013
Within Elmwood’s extensive archives T-#504 is short for Turley Lot Number 504. Of all the lots in Elmwood this is the only one that is forever imprinted on my mind. The mention of T-#504 brings to mind anger, disbelief, shock, curiosity, and especially sadness of the most profound degree.
The Lot Book says that this area is “Reserved for the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. For those of you not familiar with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, this was the agency run by Memphis’s infamous Georgia Tann, also known as the “Baby Thief”.
Visit T-#504 and you will see nothing but a grassy patch of ground. No markers. Yet within this plot are buried 19 children who died under the supervision of Miss Tann.
The first burial was on September 17th, 1923 and this little girl’s name as registered in the Elmwood records was Maud. The last burial, Robert, was on October 10, 1949, less than a year before the agency was formally exposed for what it was and shut down. Eight other children also have full names listed. It is known, however, that Ms. Tann commonly changed the names of the children so it will never be known if these are the actual birth names. Ten of the children are only listed as Baby Estelle, Baby Billy, Baby Herbert, and so on.
Thousands of children went through this agency and were often deceptively stolen from their legitimate parent/s and sold at a profit through Tann’s nefarious ‘adoption system’. Hundreds of children died while under her care from neglect, abuse, and improper medical care. No one knows for sure what happened to their bodies. One story, as told in Barbara Raymond’s book The Baby Thief, has it that some of the bodies were disposed of through an agreement Miss Tann had with a local mortuary to cremate the remains. It was said that she liked cremation because ‘graves left a trail’.
T-#504 is one small, sad, visible reminder of that ‘trail’. The children buried there still wait for a marker to tell the world who they were and what happened to them.