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Boy Leaves Home
By Jim Potter
Since I have online access to historical newspapers, and I had the date of Robert’s disappearance, it was easy to search for his name in McPherson newspapers published in October 1915.
Today, researchers without a paid subscription can often gain free use of the databases, such as newspapers.com or chroniclingamerica.com, at local libraries.
My first search for Robert was surprisingly easy. The day after Robert left home, a local, weekly McPherson newspaper announced in bold print, “Boy Leaves Home.” (McPherson Freeman Oct. 22, 1915, 2). The first sentence told me more than I could have expected. It said: “Robert Parks the adopted son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Parks left home Wednesday presumably to attend the Auto Polo game in the city.”
In minutes, I had discovered research gems comparable to buried treasure. To help me believe it, I said the exciting news out loud: “Robert was the adopted son of Henry and Lydia Parks of McPherson County!”
Questions popped into my head! Who were his biological parents? Was Robert an orphan? How long had Robert been a part of his new family? Did his adoptive parents have other children? Was Robert a blood relative of Henry and Lydia?
The newspaper article also informed its readers that Robert, only sixteen years old, had walked away, taking all his clothing and belongings, and had less than $1.50 with him. The clipping concluded: “Everything was congenial at home and Mr. Parks is at a loss to know why he left home.” (McPherson Freeman, Oct. 22, 1915, p2)
If Henry Parks didn’t know why Robert left home, then I was pretty sure I would never solve the mystery, but I considered possible reasons for his abrupt departure. Did he leave home because it didn’t feel like home? Was he home sick? Was he unhappy with his new parents or in search of his “real” biological parents? Then again, Robert’s disappearance might have been unrelated to his adoption. As a teenager, he might have been upset about overly strict parental rules, unfair punishment, or a thirst for adventure.
I was anxious to search for the Parks family in the US Census, but I continued reading McPherson County newspapers to see if there was any word of Robert returning home.
In an October 29th article, eight days after Robert’s flight, I learned that he had not been located. It corrected Robert’s age; he was eighteen, not sixteen, and it explained that although “quite grown up, his parents are worried.” Local law enforcement officers were requested to look for Robert and, if located, to ask him to return home. (McPherson Weekly Republican, Oct. 29, 1915, 9).
With the correction of Robert’s age, it became clear to me that even though he was featured on a reward postcard, he had not broken any law. He was a young man who had willingly left home.
Finally, even though I was eager to examine the US Census, I was more curious about the Auto Polo game that Robert could have attended the day he vanished.
The young man might have previously watched a polo game in McPherson between the British and American teams. With Robert’s interest in engines and tractors, he would have been fascinated with the speed of the Model T’s, as well as their daredevil drivers and malletmen who risked life and limb during every match.
The motorsport was exciting, especially compared to exhaustive farm labor. I asked myself, “Could Robert have joined an Auto Polo team as an apprentice mechanic?”
If I had been the McPherson County sheriff investigating Robert’s disappearance, I might have doubted Henry when he said that he and his wife had no idea why Robert had left home, but knowing the teenager’s motivation likely wouldn’t have helped me locate him.
As sheriff, I’d have checked at the passenger depot to see if a 5’4” tall boy, weighing 130 pounds, with small brown eyes, had recently departed the city. I’d have talked with the organizers of the Auto Polo match at the fairgrounds to find out if anyone recalled seeing Robert.
Finally, having observed the advertising posters around town, I’d have known that after McPherson, the next public competition between the Auto Polo teams was in Stafford, seventy miles southwest. Since I’d have already mailed reward postcards to law enforcement agencies, including Stafford County Sheriff Harve Groves, in St. John, the county seat; and his deputy, Jone Cline, of Stafford; I’d expect the lawmen to keep a lookout for the small-framed Parks boy who could have joined up with the automobile entertainers.
Until next time, happy researching and writing!
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