. . . Yah just gotta
know where to look for it. Or, perhaps, stumble
onto it when you're supposed to be out looking for a job. . .
For example, the story
of Jan Pol and the "Monument to Injustice". This
story and I go back together many years, back to when I was 9 years old.
It all began with a strange letter to the Editor of the former
Bridgeport (now Connecticut) Post. The writer described a bizarre
tower-like building he'd noticed just off Route 7 in New Milford,
which, upon closer inspection, appeared to be a monument to
a baby "stolen" by "Godless Nazis" from its rightful guardians.
Yet, according to the
signs posted on this building, the child, named
"Catherine", was born right in New Milford Hospital, and quite recently!
Stranger yet, there was a desiccated rubber doll nailed to a cross affixed to
the building, and many baby toys (seemingly rescued from trash heaps) grouped
in the small fenced enclosure. In fact, the entire corner where this property
was located was filled with a HUGE collection of such eccentric odds and ends!
There being nobody sensible
around to explain this situation, and
because of the relatively isolated neighborhood (though it was close to
the state road, New Milford was a great deal more rural in 1966 than it
is now), the puzzled motorist departed. He appealed publicly, via his
letter, for answers, yet I recall none ever being given in that paper.
Now, this was several
years before I started watching "Dark Shadows"
(just a fledgling soap at the time anyway) but I already had a
fascination with odd occurrences that smacked of haunted houses, and
was enamored of Poe. However, being a female, timid, too young to
drive, and lacking adventurous friends, I could not investigate this
amazing place---- it was at least 50 miles from my home! So of course,
I asked my DAD to take me there. He read the article, and though he
probably thought this was some psycho's lair, promised me, oh yes, we'd
go there---- someday.
Someday came 15 years
later, when I was out in New Milford-Kent area,
looking, ostensibly, for a job, but after putting in a couple of applications,
I usually went exploring. I visited the Schagticoke reservation, I hit a
couple of cemeteries (hoping to find the grave of the notorious
"murderess", Florence Chandler Maybrick, who lived there in peaceful
obscurity till she died at a ripe old age.)
There are a couple of
covered bridges still in use, and I intended to
cross the one at Cornwall and look for "Dudleytown", also a legendary
"haunted" abandoned village. But the red, green, and white tower
(stacked in 5 storeys; the largest one, of white-washed cinderblocks,
at the bottom---- the upper "floors" were wood-shingled) that I saw
as I entered Gaylordsville (the "gateway" section of New Milford) beckoned.
I had truly forgotten the old newspaper clipping, but the instant I saw the
now-blackened rubber doll, still nailed to its cross, and all the signs,
and the bizarre "playpen" area, I let out a WHOOP! It all came
back. . .
There was a tavern and
some other small shops on this corner, tourist
traps for the covered-bridge and autumn-leaf crowd, obviously, so I felt
safe enough to get out and explore. I had some paper and a pen, so I
copied every inscription I could find. (I later came back with a Polaroid
camera and took pictures, but they are lost at this time.) The following is the text
from the monument itself. (Which, BTW, was even larger up close; the windowless
bottom floor appeared to be about 10-12 square ft., with a forbidding-looking
heavy door concealing Lord-knows-what; the upper floors had tiny windows.
And all, surrounded by a benign chain-link fence, but with a fancy, wrought-iron
gate topped with sharp spikes! It was hard to imagine the nearly 70-yr.-old man
putting this up all by himself!)
"This building is a
memory to Catherine J. Pol. Born Sept. 14, 1961 at
3:55 PM in the New Milford Hospital. She was kidnapped Sept. 18 '61
away from freedom to the Godlessness of Hitlerism. J. Pol"
Another sign, surrounding the pathetic cross, said:
"Yes I am Catherine
Dessaureau Pol. They crucified me. From day I was
born Sept. 14-1961 I was signed that I was unfit to grow up here.
Troubled conscious Could not bear to look at this cross"
There is a good deal
in the same vein (blasting social workers who steal
"innicent one dey old infants"), and other peculiarly whimsical doggerel
(including a cheerful Christmas greeting!) on hand-painted and etched
signs (many rusting already) festooning the walls of the old barns and
sheds nearby. There was a large courtyard, fenced with bottles cemented
together, full of all sorts of junk (including an old sink and toilet!), toys, and yet
another Cross. There was a "road to nowhere" headed up a rugged hill strewn
with rusty machinery. Yet, the farmhouse itself seemed normal--- if desolate.
I hastened into the
nearest shop, and, a little overexcited,
breathlessly demanded an explanation. The shop owner, who seemed to be
about 30, told me all he knew. The whole conglomeration was built by
one Jan Pol, a Polish immigrant who had (obviously) made a living
dealing in scrap, especially during WW2. He and his wife Josephine were
One day, Jan came upon
a little girl playing in a junkyard (rather like the
similar group of Town Dump waifs in "Gasoline Alley"), learned that her parents
were destitute and had numerous other children, and were willing to let him
take that one off their hands. Little Jean was never formally adopted
by the Pols, but that fact didn't make much difference to the
authorities until, unfortunately, she turned up pregnant at age 15.
When she gave birth, the irregularities of her situation came to light.
Plus, there WAS some suspicion that Jean's foster father, who maintained
the young girl as a constant companion even on his junk-dealing trips,
had taken advantage of her trust, and was, perhaps, the REAL father of HER child.
In any case, the couple
stood ready to take her back home and raise the
baby Catherine. However, without consulting or counseling the
shattered family, the authorities sent Jean to a detention home, and
Catherine was put up for adoption, eventually living in Massachussetts.
This "betrayal" of American
"freedom" apparently unhinged Jan Pol,
though, to some of his neighbors, he WAS more sinned against than
sinning. (Including the young fellow who told me the story. Indeed, at the time,
he became a bit of a folk hero to many young people who heard of the tower, and,
like myself, made "pilgrimages" to the place.) He enlisted a friend to help him in
writing a self-defensive autobiography that was published locally, and built the
5-storey tower in full view of the state highway. He filled his yards with interesting items
as a playground for Catherine if she was ever returned. This, rather understandably,
DID prejudice his legal standing in regards to regaining custody of the girls. When Jan
died in 1979 (at age 85), his will left the entire property to the absent Catherine,
to the dismay of the long-suffering Josephine, who spent her last years (she died in 1982,
coincidentally, also at 85) in a nursing home in Prospect, CT, attempting to break the will.
This story was covered
in the Danbury News-Times, and in other local
papers at the time (ca. 1980.) It even interested writers from as far afield as Hartford.
I still have one dog-eared article from the News-Times, but alas, the person who gave it to
me, failed to provide the "continued-on" page, so my full knowledge of the case is scanty.
It has been many years now since I had occasion to visit the monument--- I later heard
that it and the farm were finally sold (to the relief of the neighbors, who were tiring of the
dilapidated buildings and the negative attention they attracted), and the tower converted
to a ceramics shop, but even that was years ago.
I have never heard anymore
about Catherine (who, if living, turned 40,
three days after 9-11) or her birth mother Jean (who would only be about
56 now.) Nobody (at least, that I've heard of) has ever cleared up the
mystery of Catherine's paternity, and probably now, never will, but the
memory of the bizarre "legacy of anger" will, doubtless, live on as a
notorious legend in that area already full of such eccentric lore.
Lorraine A. Balint