“TERRIFYING TRUE CASES OF MUNCHAUSEN BY PROXY” and more! #WeirdDarkness
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Listen to “TERRIFYING TRUE CASES OF MUNCHAUSEN BY PROXY” and more! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
IN THIS EPISODE: We’ll look at the disturbing case of Dee Dee Blanchard who suffered from a horrible mental condition that caused her to torture her daughter – and we’ll look at similar, terrifying cases of other people doing the same to those under their care and supervision. It’s the sinister truth of Munchausen by proxy. (The Disturbing Truth Behind ‘Mommy Dead and Dearest’) (Other True Cases of Munchausen by Proxy) *** It was 1909, and Bud and Temple Abernathy rode their horses, just the two of them, from Oklahoma to Santa Fe… and then made the return trip home. A 1,300-mile horseback trip. Big deal you say? That’s what life was like back then, you say? What if I told you that Bud was only 9 years old, and Temple was only five? (The Astounding Adventures of the Abernathy Boys)
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“The Disturbing Truth Behind ‘Mommy Dead and Dearest’” by Stefanie Hammond for Graveyard Shift: https://tinyurl.com/yxhgf866
“Other True Cases of Munchausen by Proxy” by Carly Carano for Unspeakable Times: https://tinyurl.com/y485ykp5
“The Astounding Adventures of the Abernathy Boys” by M.J. Alexander for 405 Magazine: https://tinyurl.com/y5c8grn9
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(Dark Archives episode from January 25, 2021)
STORY: THE DISTURBING TRUTH BEHIND “MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST”==========
The documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest tells the story of Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard, a seemingly friendly woman, who suffered from Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (MSBP) and manipulated her young daughter into believing that she was terminally ill. Her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, would ultimately conspire with her online boyfriend to murder Dee Dee in an effort to stop the torture her mother inflicted and live her life as a free young woman.
Dee Dee was not well liked by her family; in fact, her own father flushed her ashes down the toilet and said that she had gotten “what she deserved.” This documentary tells the true story of the atrocities Dee Dee committed, making it one of the most frustrating and sad documentaries ever created.
While never formally diagnosed, the details surrounding the case suggest that Dee Dee suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP). MSBP is when a caregiver, usually to a child or elderly person, makes up, exaggerates, or makes existing health conditions worse for the person receiving care in order to get attention and sympathy from others.
Her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, was the victim of this condition. It started when she was just a baby, with an alleged sleep apnea issue, and quickly snowballed out of control. The laundry list of what Dee Dee put Gypsy through is enough to make your stomach turn. She shaved Gypsy’s head to make it seem like she had cancer, made her take seizure medication that caused her teeth to rot out, had a feeding tube inserted when it was not needed, and forced her to use a wheelchair from a very early age, even though Gypsy was perfectly capable of walking. Gypsy wasn’t educated past second grade, and Dee Dee often claimed that the young woman had brain damage.
At some point, Gypsy realized that she didn’t need the wheelchair and thought that she might not be sick, but it was easier to avoid Dee Dee’s wrath and just continue the charade than to challenge her mother.
On the morning of June 14, 2015, a post appeared on Dee Dee’s Facebook page stating, “That B*tch is dead!” Friends were extremely worried about the post and tried to contact Dee Dee and Gypsy. A few hours later, another Facebook post appeared, declaring ““I f*cken SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER…HER SCREAM WAS SOOOO F*CKEN LOUD LOL.”
Alarmed friends and neighbors gathered at the home and called the police. Several hours later, after securing a search warrant, the police entered the home to find Dee Dee Blanchard’s bloody body in her bedroom. Gypsy was nowhere to be found, with her wheelchair and a wealth of questions left behind.
Gypsy met Nicholas Godejohn on a Christian dating website two years prior to the murder, and it was a troubled match from the start. Godejohn, who was six years older and living in Wisconsin, was a far cry from an altar boy. In fact, he had been arrested for an incident involving masturbation at a fast food restaurant a few years prior.
While Gypsy’s relationship with Godejohn was transformative – Dee Dee did not let Gypsy socialize, let alone date – it was a match made in toxic heaven. Godejohn took advantage of Gypsy’s vulnerable state and hastily moved their relationship into a sexual realm. The two were quickly involved in cosplaying and creating sexual fantasies, many of them involving BDSM.
Gypsy and Godejohn arranged for him to sneak into the home after Dee Dee had gone to bed. Gypsy let him into the home and hid in the bathroom while he stabbed her mother to death in the next room. Gypsy stayed in the bathroom, listening to her mother scream out for help.
The couple hopped a bus from Gypsy Rose’s Missouri home to Wisconsin. Shortly after, the police located the two based on the IP address of the Facebook posts from Dee Dee’s account.
There were other, more obvious pieces of evidence that linked Gypsy Rose and Godejohn to the murder of Dee Dee… although they tried to hide it. Godejohn mailed the knife he used to stab Dee Dee to his home address in Wisconsin.
Police also recovered letters that Gypsy and Godejohn had written to each other, bloody clothing, over $4,000 cash, and laptops and cellphones containing correspondence between the two.
On a rare outing without Dee Dee in 2011, Gypsy Rose tried to escape from her mother. She had met an older man at a sci-fi convention she had gone to with some family friends, and planned to join the man in Arkansas. She packed up some things, snuck out of her home, and hitchhiked a ride.
Dee Dee was quickly able to track down her daughter and bring her home. As punishment for running away, Dee Dee smashed Gypsy’s phone and computer. She also threatened physical violence, but fortunately stopped short of committing the acts.
Dee Dee was an incredible scam artist. She knew how to make strangers open up their hearts (and wallets) to her and her “sick” child. The family accepted donations, created GoFundMe’s, were given trips to amusement parks, and other forms of charity due to all of Gypsy Rose’s “conditions.” The family was also given a home from Habitat for Humanity.
There seemed to be no end to what Dee Dee could get her hands on.
Where were the doctors in all of this? How could Dee Dee keep up this charade for so long without proof that Gypsy was actually sick? Dee Dee, always two steps ahead of suspicion, claimed that most of Gypsy’s medical record were lost when Hurricane Katrina hit (Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose had lived in Louisiana with Gypsy Rose’s father prior to their divorce.)
Dee Dee also had a vast knowledge of medical terminology, having gone to nursing school and worked in a hospital. She could speak intelligently about a variety of medical conditions, making her web of lies that much more believable.
Rod Blanchard, Dee Dee’s ex-husband and the father of Gypsy, had no idea that his daughter wasn’t sick. He explained that Dee Dee was always the one taking care of Gypsy and he just took her word for it. He was busy working, trying to provide for the family, and trusted Dee Dee had their child’s best interests at heart.
He has since lived to regret that decision and hopes to have a better relationship with Gypsy. Rod Blanchard divorced Dee Dee in 1991 and lives in Louisiana with his current wife.
The documentary suggests that it is Gypsy who is the real victim in this tragedy. While she went through an incredibly horrendous upbringing, could she have picked up the same masterfully manipulative tendencies that flourished within Dee Dee? She lied to the police several times, playing off of her innocence and apparent naivete.
Despite the strong evidence of at least some sociopathy, the doctor in the film, Dr. Marc Feldman, believes that Gypsy is, in fact, a victim of child abuse. Regardless of our feelings, Gypsy pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
STORY: OTHER TRUE STORIES OF MUNCHAUSEN BY PROXY==========
Dee Dee Blanchard might have had an extreme case of Munchausen by proxy, but she is by no means the only case. Here are a few more true cases of Munchausen by proxy – some sad, some horrifying, and some that could mess with your head.
***Marybeth Tinning had eight biological children and one adopted son. None of these kids lived past the age of four. Although prosecutors are convinced Tinning murdered several – if not all – of her children, she was only convicted of murdering her youngest daughter, whom she smothered with a pillow on December 20, 1985. In a parole board meeting she said she did not murder the others but that they died from sudden infant death syndrome. The only explanation she provided to the board was that she was so traumatized by the death of her other babies, she was convinced her youngest was dying too, so she killed her instead. Tinning is serving 20 years to life at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
***Beverley Allitt, better known as the Angel of Death, is one of the most notorious female serial killers of all time. Allitt trained as a nurse in England where her reputation was less than pristine. She was frequently absent as a result of a string of “illnesses,” and was once caught smearing feces on the walls of a nursing home. She later worked in the children’s ward at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire. It was during this time Allitt began abusing her patients. Once her killing spree began she took the lives of three patients in only a month, including seven-month-old Liam Taylor and 11-year old Timothy Hardwick, a cerebral palsy patient. Allitt was overlooked until two more children were murdered and another nine abused under her watch. Allitt was found guilty of murder and attempted murder. She is serving 13 life sentences – the most severe sentence ever given to a woman.
***Lisa Hayden-Johnson. Not only did Lisa Hayden-Johnson get the empathy and support that came with having a sick child, she also received monetary benefits. Hayden-Johnson didn’t turn down any of the lavish gifts offered to her for having “the most ill child in Britain.” After her son was born prematurely, Hayden-Johnson began forcing him into a wheelchair for his “cystic fibrosis,” feeding him through a tube in order to avoid triggering his “life-threatening allergies,” and adding glucose to his urine to convince doctors his “diabetes.” Meanwhile, she was invited to meet with royalty at a charity event for critically ill children, collected thousands in disability payments each month, and received free tickets, vacations, and charitable cash donations. That all came crashing down when doctors became suspicious of Hayden-Johnson and demanded her son receive further testing to determine the root of his various illnesses. Hayden-Johnson tried to put off the testing by saying she was sexually assaulted, but eventually it was discovered it was all a big sham. After six years of abuse and lies, Hayden-Johnson was tried and convicted of child abuse and perverting the cause of justice in October 2009. She served 39 months in prison.
***Mommy blogger Lacey Spears went to prison for murdering her five-year-old son with fatal levels of sodium. Spears was giving her son high levels of sodium through a feeding tube that caused him to become very sick. She said her son Garnett had numerous illnesses and documented his medical setbacks and progress on a blog called “Garnett’s Journey.” During this time, he was in and out of 20 different medical facilities, none of which were given information about Garnett’s other hospital visits. Then, in 2014, the sodium reached such a high level, Garnett was placed on a life flight to another hospital. Unfortunately, his brain suffered irreparable swelling and he was pronounced brain dead on January 23, 2014. Suspicions about Spears arose among the medical personnel. They launched an investigation and searched her home. Police found medicine bottles sitting behind a canister of salt, and later recovered two bags of breast milk that Spears used to feed Garnett through his feeding tube with fatal levels of sodium in them. She was found guilty of depraved-indifference murder of a child and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
***In 2008, Leslie Wilfred called her husband Chris from a Georgia hospital room with news that their twins were stillborn five months into Leslie’s pregnancy. A service was held for the twins with photos of their ultrasounds and two matching teddy bear-shaped urns. Family and friends gathered to mourn and show their support. Leslie and Chris Wilfred had four children from previous relationships, all of whom suffered from a slew of psychological and medical conditions, according to their parents. Their drama-filled history raised suspicions with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. It all came to a head after the babies’ deaths and resulted in a full-blown investigation. While filing through her computer, police discovered Wilfred had ordered the urns five days before the “death” of her children. Investigators also discovered that Wilfred had her tubes tied before marrying Chris, she was never pregnant with twins, and her other claims made about her actual children’s terminal health issues were not true. Wilfred was sentenced to eight years in prison and 30 years of probation for child abuse.
***Blanca Montano was only 21 when she was arrested for harming her two children. In February 2011, she had both kids admitted into an Arizona hospital. Soon, Montano’s son drastically improved and was released. Her newborn daughter, however, only became sicker over the course of her hospital stay. She was diagnosed with an array of rare conditions that worsened, nurses noticed, after time spent alone with Montano. Police were alerted of the hospitals suspicions, and an investigation revealed that Montano had intentionally poisoned her daughter, causing the infections in order to garner attention and sympathy. Once Montano and her child were separated, the infant’s condition improved drastically. Montano was arrested for child abuse.
***Hope Ybarra, a former chemist, was a mother of three suffering from her third bout with cancer. She blogged about her illness as well as her daughter’s terminal cystic fibrosis. So when Ybarra became pregnant with twins and subsequently lost them 5 months into the pregnancy, the family and their community were absolutely wrought with grief. It wasn’t until the police got involved that the truth began spilling out in massive, sadistic waves: Hope was clear of any and all cancer, her daughter did not suffer from cystic fibrosis, and there was never a pregnancy with twins. Ybarra had poisoned her child with pathogens, tampered with sweat tests to ensure the medical results she wanted, and even periodically drained the child’s blood. This last step caused the most bodily harm and, on one occasion, caused her daughter to go into anaphylactic shock. Hope was tried and convicted of child abuse and sentenced to eight years in prison.
***Nurses at two separate hospitals in England started raising suspicion about an unnamed mother of four after finding two sets of DNA in her daughter’s urine samples. Although the initial test results did not find the child suffered from any kidney issues, each of her urine samples had blood in them. This raised concerns among doctors and eventually resulted in the child undergoing a painful and risky procedure to determine the status of her kidneys. The results found that nothing was wrong. Suspicious, the nurses searched the room and found a cup of blood left behind by the mother and two syringes of blood in the toilet. As it turned out, she was placing her own blood in the samples, contaminating the results – which explained the two sets of related DNA. The mother eventually pled guilty to willfully assaulting, ill-treating, and neglecting a child in a manner likely to cause suffering or injury.
***Jennifer Bush, the daughter of Kathy Bush, endured more than 40 medical procedures and 200-plus hospital visits in the early ’90s between the ages of two and eight. Her mother insisted she was seriously ill and needed to be fed through a tube. Medical personal began suspecting that Bush had tampered with her daughter’s medications and proceeded to launch a full investigation. In 1999, Kathy Bush was found guilty of child abuse and sentenced to five years in prison – three of which she served. Despite having two brothers and a father, Jennifer was placed in foster care, an experience she describes as “traumatic.” Nineteen years later, Jennifer and her family – including her mother – have been reunited. She insists that her mother never abused her.
***Julie Gregory, the daughter of Sandy Gregory-Parocai, wrote the book Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood where she depicts horrible stories of psychological and physical abuse inflicted upon her by her mother. She details memories of digging through her mother’s purse looking for her special “suckers” which turn out to be a pack of matches she is encouraged to eat. Police and psychiatric professionals investigated Gregory’s parents and their adopted children to follow up on claims made in the book. Nothing was proven. Instead, Gregory-Parocai gave her own account of Gregory’s childhood where her daughter claimed child abuse to receive lesser punishment for an offense she committed. Gregory was allegedly investigated and found innocent in that instance as well.
***Alexandria Constantinova Szeman is the child of a Munchausen syndrome sufferer. In her book, M is for Munchers, she describes the horrifying abuse she and her siblings faced. From verbal to sexual assault, Szeman and her siblings were abused until they ran away. Unlike most cases, Szeman actually recognized her mother’s strange behavior at a young age. Instead of finding some affection for her mother, like many other child victims of those suffering from Munchausen syndrome, she attempted to out her every chance she got. Unfortunately for their family, very few people did very little. Although there is no proof that the stories Szeman is telling are false, there is little evidence – like a conviction – that her stories are true either.
Coming up: It was 1909, and Bud and Temple Abernathy rode their horses, just the two of them, from Oklahoma to Santa Fe… and then made the return trip home. A 1,300-mile horseback trip. Not bad for a couple of boys only 9 years old and 5 years old respectively. That story is up next.
STORY: THE ASTOUNDING ADVENTURES OF THE ABERNATHY BOYS==========
More than a century ago, in the years between statehood and the beginning of World War I, 9-year-old Louis “Bud” Abernathy and his 5-year-old brother, Temple, hankered for adventure. Their dreams were not unusual. What was out of the ordinary was that their father said yes.
After the boys asked to ride their horses by themselves from Oklahoma to Santa Fe to see the new mansion of the governor, Jack Abernathy seriously considered their request. Their mother had died, and they were growing up fast. With every confidence in their horsemanship, he laid down some guidelines, opened a checking account for each with $100 apiece and encouraged them to saddle up.
They set out in June 1909 from Oklahoma to Santa Fe and back in a journey that was covered by not only local newspapers, but The New York Times: “Anxious to emulate the strenuous life and carry out their father’s instructions to ‘toughen up,’ Temple and Louis Abernathy, aged 5 and 8 [sic], respectively, sons of United States Marshal John Abernathy, left late today for a 1,300-mile horseback trip.”
It would be the first of six treks over four years covering more than 10,000 miles that would include meetings with mayors and governors and presidents, an offer to fly with the Wright Brothers and crowds ripping at their clothes to get a piece of them.
The brothers would become two of the best-known children in the world, inspiring an Ohio newspaper to note, “The Abernathy boys are beating all records for juvenile fame. They couldn’t have become better known if they had got themselves kidnapped and ransomed.”
Even among the rough-and-tumble characters of the Wild West, Jack Abernathy stood out. He worked as a saloon pianist in Sweetwater, Texas, at the age of 6, surviving a gun battle that left bullet holes in the piano; was a full-time range rider on the A-K-X ranch at age 9, patrolling the still-fenceless prairie with a .38 pistol because a .45 was too heavy; and, at 15, won a job as a top bronc buster and “first saddle” on the J-A Ranch. At 18, he fell in love with gray-eyed music teacher Jessie Pearl Jordan and devised an elaborate escape plan to elope on March 10, 1894, brandishing his pistol at porters trying to block their path, one step ahead of her angry family.
What would bring him fame, however, was his ability to jump from horseback and wrestle with wild wolves and coyotes, sticking his hand in their jaws to immobilize them, then wiring their muzzles shut and binding their legs. The skill bestowed a nickname that would follow him the rest of his life: Jack “Catch ‘Em Alive” Abernathy.
Stories of his unusual talent made their way to Pres. Teddy Roosevelt, who trekked to Frederick in 1905 to meet the 29-year-old wolf catcher, described as “not more than 5 foot 2 [inches], but he is built like an ox, and his muscles are like steel.” Abernathy’s skill so impressed the president over five days hunting in Oklahoma Territory’s Big Pasture that Roosevelt declared, “This beats anything I have seen in my life, and I have seen a good deal!”
John R. “Jack” Abernathy was born Jan. 28, 1876, in Bosque County, Texas, to Martin Van Buren Abernathy – a veteran of the Confederate Army’s Waco Rifles who fought through the Vicksburg and Atlanta campaigns before being injured and taken prisoner of war – and his wife, Kittie Williams Thompson Abernathy, widow of a Confederate soldier. In addition to caring for the four sons and two daughters from Kittie’s first marriage, the couple had five additional children; Jack was the baby.
His eldest son, Louis “Bud” Van Abernathy, named for his grandfather, was born in Bosque County on Dec. 17, 1899. Temple Reeves Abernathy, named in honor of Sam Houston’s youngest son, was born March 25, 1904, in Tipton, Oklahoma Territory.
The next year, Roosevelt appointed him U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Oklahoma. The plum job made Abernathy the top federal law enforcement official in the state, granted a salary of $5,000 plus expenses and made him the youngest U.S. Marshal in history.
As their father’s star rose, the Abernathy boys continued with elementary school and dreamt of their next big adventure.
Despite the hoopla surrounding their first trek, the Santa Fe trip had been riddled with near-disasters. Bud’s horse Sam Bass, borrowed from his father, and the Shetland pony mix named Geronimo were sure-footed. But Temple contracted diarrhea by drinking gypsum water and sprained both ankles trying to dismount. Bud was forced to lie awake one night, firing his shotgun into the darkness toward a pack of wolves that circled while his brother slept. The boys ran out of both food and water between stops, and were saved by the kindness of strangers.
The most chilling episode was a note scribbled by the point of a lead-tipped bullet on a brown paper sack, addressed to “The Marshal of Oklahoma” and delivered to the Abernathy home. “I don’t like one hair on your head, but I do like the stuff that is in these kids. We shadowed them through the worst part of New Mexico to see that they were not harmed by sheepherders, mean men, or animals.” It was signed A.Z.Y., the initials of a rustler whose friend had been killed in a shootout with Abernathy.
Jack was tickled by the note: “It just goes to show you there’s good in all men. He’d have killed me at the drop of a hat, but he was honorable to protect my innocent boys.”
As school was about to shut down for summer, the boys asked if they could go to New York City to witness the reception for Roosevelt, which was planned to welcome his return from 15 months abroad on safari in Africa and speaking in the capitals of Europe.
Jack asked how they planned to pay for their train ticket. Temple said it was all settled: Their round-trip tickets were “out in the barn eatin’ hay.” The brothers argued that a trip east, though longer, would likely have better roads and more amenities. Jack agreed and planning was under way.
Almost famous after their Santa Fe trip, by the time they set out for New York in 1910, the Abernathy Boys approached celebrity status. Easterners were fascinated by the brothers’ pluck and by the growing legend of their father. Red carpets were unrolled, bands were assembled, speeches were made. An account noted: “Kids envied them. Women adored them. Grown men pulled hair from their horses’ tails to keep as souvenirs.”
But the boys still had long, lonely stretches by themselves. The pony Geronimo foundered in Hominy, Oklahoma, and Temple was forced to leave him behind and buy a new horse: a red-and-white pinto he named Wylie Haynes. Temple’s Navajo saddle blanket was stolen at a livery in Chicago. Unimpressed kids challenged them to fight. They pressed ahead in driving rain and muddy roads, guided only by directions from one stable to the next. Bud nearly crushed his leg in a fall. Temple suffered a bronchial infection, and a doctor in New Jersey measured his temperature at 103 and ordered him to rest.
Even so, they drove a train in St. Louis, slept in a firehouse in Cincinnati, were made deputies for the day in Dayton and were guests of honor at a Halley’s Comet viewing party in West Virginia. In Washington, the House of Representatives stopped its proceedings so members could hear of their adventures. In New Jersey, they were followed by “local armies of small boys” riding stick horses. In describing the mob scene at the boys’ hotel in Manhattan, New York Times headlines blared:
“ABERNATHY BOYS PUT BAN ON KISSING = Fearless Youngsters, Who Have Ridden Here From Oklahoma, Mobbed by Women. Surrounded by Mounted Police, They Have a Triumphal March to Their Broadway Hotel.”
The brothers – now joined by Jack, who had arrived by train – were among the VIPs allowed on one of the cutters sent out in a flotilla to greet Roosevelt. Bud and Temple rode Sam Bass and Wylie Haynes just behind his carriage and in front of the Rough Riders in the five-mile parade up Broadway and onto Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
At the end of the route, Roosevelt jumped out of his carriage and strode toward the boys with an oversized teddy bear he’d been given, draped in the flags of the world, and created a perfect ending to a perfect day: “Here, Temple, this is for you.”
Jack shipped the boys’ horses back to Oklahoma and, after a few more days of sightseeing, planned to follow by train. But Bud and Temple had a better idea: Why not buy a horseless carriage?
Jack was skeptical, but told the boys he would consider the request if they could find a small, simple automobile that they could handle themselves. He gave them one day to search.
At their last stop in Manhattan’s new auto showrooms, they discovered a small, red Brush Runabout. It featured a single cylinder, a chain drive, a fuel pump that would help with climbing hills and a price tag of $485. The salesman promised if it broke down on the way, he would pay the freight back and refund their money. Bud spent an afternoon on driving lessons, and Jack was inspired to buy a sturdier Maxwell touring car, and hire a chauffeur to drive him back home.
The boys – mostly Bud, but sometimes Temple – drove themselves. Clad in goggles and dusters, they made good time and stopped along the way to visit Niagara Falls and the Brush factory in Detroit. Their dad’s car caught fire along the way, burning the boys’ souvenirs, including the teddy bear from Roosevelt. The car was salvageable, and they motored into Oklahoma City on July 30, guests of honor at a reception at the fairgrounds sponsored by the new Oklahoma Auto Club. The trip took 23 days to travel 2,512 miles.
Promoters soon realized there was money to be made off the Abernathys’ fame.
The boys starred as themselves in a 1910 silent movie, Abernathy Kids to the Rescue, “a story of the real wild and woolly western type which will arouse your enthusiasm, which will bubble with excitement and interest.”
They were hired as spokesmen for the Brush Company for the 1911 auto show in New York, paid to sit in a booth and talk about their adventures.
Fred Thompson and Skip Dundy, who built the Hippodrome Theater and owned Luna Park on Coney Island, paid Bud and Temple to sit astride their horses on the boardwalk and talk of their adventures.
To keep the boys in the public eye, Thompson and Dundy arranged an elephant-and-donkey race from New York to Washington, ostensibly to predict the winner of the upcoming presidential race. Accompanied by animal trainers, Bud rode the 7,000-pound elephant, and Temple settled for the donkey. The race was called off in Philadelphia when the elephant was too exhausted to continue.
Not to be thwarted, promoters cooked up an even grander scheme: a $10,000 challenge for the boys to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific on horseback in 60 days. Bud, now 11, and 7-year-old Temple, would be allowed to rest on Sundays and to sit out bad weather without counting toward the 60-day total. They would be allowed one change of horses. And finally, in an odd and cruel twist, the boys would not be allowed to eat or sleep under a roof for the duration of the journey.
So it was that on the stroke of midnight Aug. 11, 1911, the boys on their horses emerged from knee-deep water in the Atlantic Ocean, carrying a flask of sea water to dump in the Pacific at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Thousands of vacationers cheered their departure.
The boys did not dawdle for receptions and parades. They slept on the ground in bedrolls and, as summer turned into fall, would burrow into haystacks for the warmth at night. Some sympathetic towns would have a table laden with food and drink set up outside, so the boys could keep their word and never have a meal indoors. Others had never heard of them, nor cared to, and chased them off their property when they tried to set up camp.
They traveled through the Rockies, over the Continental Divide and into the Great Salt Lake Desert, where they woke one morning to find their horses had disappeared. The boys spent three days searching the shadeless desert.
“I think we both suddenly realized that we could die there in the heat,” Temple would say later. “We had little food and almost no water left. Without the horses, survival would be almost impossible.”
But at last they found one of the horses, and caught up with the other in Kelton, Utah, where he had wandered in search of water. Bolstered with food, drink and fresh supplies, they followed the railroad tracks out of town. Soon, a westbound train screeched to a stop. The men aboard offered a ride to the boys and their horses, which would spare them three more days of desert riding.
Bud did not hesitate: “No sir, we can’t do that. It would be breaking our contract.”
“We’ll never tell,” said one of the crew. Another agreed: “That’s right. No one will ever know.”
“We’d know,” Bud said.
The exhausted boys pressed on, making it through Nevada to California, then San Francisco and into Golden Gate Park to dump their flask of Atlantic water into the Pacific. They had covered 3,619 miles in 62 days of traveling, missing the goal by two days but setting a record for crossing the continent on horseback, breaking the old mark of 182 days. Their expenses were $2,800; their payout was zero.
Reports noted that neither seemed disheartened at missing out on the prize. The taciturn Bud had few words to share: “It was too hard. We averaged nearly 60 miles a day when we rode, and it was too far.” Temple said: “Gee, but it’s great to get here. I liked the trip all right, but sometimes it got cold, and then I didn’t like it so well. I want the deepest feather bed I can get in this town.”
The boys’ final ride came in 1913, when the maker of Indian Motocycles (spelled at the time without the r) offered a custom-made, two-seat, twin-engine machine if the boys would travel on it from Oklahoma to New York City. Temple had just turned 9, and Bud was 13. The company sent along a second bike, for a mechanic to ride along.
After teaching themselves to drive the 500-pound cycle, they headed out in June, stopping along the way to give demonstrations and visit dealerships. Roads had improved so much that they were able to hit speeds of up to 70 miles per hour on some paved stretches.
In the book Bud and Me, authored by his wife, Alta Abernathy, Temple talked of their arrival in New York: “We were salesmen now, not celebrities as before, and we didn’t have to deal with reporters and crowds. I missed the excitement, but all in all I liked it better, because we were free to do as we pleased. … Although we didn’t realize it at the time, our cross-country travels as the ‘Abernathy boys’ were at an end.”
A statue commemorating the Abernathy boys was dedicated on the lawn of the Tillman County courthouse on April 22, 2006 – a month after what would have been Temple’s 102nd birthday.
Their bronze figures oversee the town of Frederick’s annual Abernathy Day celebration, held the first Saturday in June. Although instilled with cowboy swagger, the likeness of 9-year-old Bud and 5-year-old Temple appear to be even smaller than their ages would suggest.
After their celebrity childhood wound down with the coming of World War I, the boys enrolled in military school in San Antonio. Jack became a wildcatter, and relocated to Wichita Falls, Texas. Temple joined his father in the oil and gas business. Bud would go on to graduate from University of Oklahoma Law School, becoming a lawyer and, eventually, a judge.
Near the end of his life, Temple Abernathy said: “We’d been royally entertained by some folks, and coldly turned away by others, and we’d always faced the question of whether it was worthwhile to go on. I’m glad we always pressed ahead. That is where the future is.”
Thirty-year-old Jessie Pearl Abernathy died in Guthrie on May 7, 1907, three months after giving birth to a sixth child. She left behind four daughters (Pearlie Mae, Kittie Joe, Vera Golda and Johnnie “Jack” Martin) and the two boys.
Abernathy’s father and sister stepped in to help raise the children. Jack remarried the next July, eloping with Almira Pervaine, the teenaged daughter of a wealthy farmer near Guthrie. The union would last less than two years, as Abernathy filed for divorce in April 1910, weeks after the arrival of the daughter they named for Roosevelt: Theodora Lucile.
In June 1909, The New York Times quoted Jack – whom they called “the cowboy Sheriff of Oklahoma” – saying of his sons: “They got all their good points from their mother, who died about three years ago.” The newspaper noted, “There was a touch of sadness in his voice.”