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dummy babiesWashington Post, May 30, 1907. It doesn’t get much more Gothic than this, does it now? I suppose it probably behooves me to explain what “baby farming” was. Back in the golden age of “family values,” before contraception, legal abortion and the regulation of adoption, there was a black- market industry dedicated to the discreet disposal of unwanted infants. The unwilling parent or parents handed the child off to a “caregiver” along with a small payment nominally intended for the child’s upkeep. Nobody was too broken up when the child failed to thrive, and into the ground he or she went, unshriven and unmourned. Exposure typically entailed or began with the discovery of a tragic little Potter’s field, so you can see how the cops leapt to the conclusion they did. We talk a lot today about the barbarism of Chinese and Third World infanticide, but it wasn’t too long ago that similar practices were common in the West. Baby farming scandals were routine in the U.S., England and France. No doubt it happened elsewhere too, but those were the cases that got reported stateside.
As for Mr. Brown and his handcrafted neonate cadavers, who knows what was going on in his obsessive head? On the one hand, his deal strikes me as an off-label anticipation of the women who today nurture and fuss over their “reborn” baby dolls. On the other, you can look at him as a heavyweight outsider artist avant la lettre. Today he’d probably be swarmed by gallerists, grant-giving agencies and academics.


  1. How appropriate that this is from Baltimore. Today his work would probably be exhibited in the American Visionary Art Museum, which is well worth a visit if you’re ever in Baltimore.

  2. Yeah, the city of Poe, Mencken and David Simon always has something to offer. I will put that place on my touristic itinerary, thanks.

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