On the evening of July 14, 1915, a couple went into the Southern Railway station in Macon and tried to give away a baby. The blond-haired, blue-eyed girl was almost 5 months old, and she wasn’t theirs.
Salvation Army Capt. G.B. Austin was across the way at the Brown House hotel when someone told him. Austin hardly believed it, but he hustled to the station at Ocmulgee and Fifth streets. Built in the 1880s, the depot, replaced by Terminal Station a year later, featured a brick spire that overlooked the tracks.
On a bench in the waiting room, Austin saw a woman with a baby and sat down beside her. The man supposedly with her wasn’t around. Austin told the woman what he had heard.
“I guess I am the one you are looking for,” the woman said.
“Tell me about it,” Austin said, according to an account in the Macon Daily Telegraph.
Austin spoke to the woman awhile but didn’t learn much. Before returning to the Salvation Army barracks, he assigned an associate to keep an eye on the woman.
Before long, the woman and the baby rejoined the mystery man and headed toward the Fifth Street bridge at the Ocmulgee River. Austin’s associate, “apparently believing they were about to get into trouble in their efforts to dispose of the baby,” summoned a bicycle cop, the Daily Telegraph noted.
When he caught up with the couple, the associate said, “Where are you going?”
“None of your business,” the man replied.
He said his name was Johnson. He told others it was James.
About then, Austin returned and they all rode by car to the Salvation Army at 808 Third St.
The man and woman handed over the baby there. The couple said they were from Jones County, that they would drive and get the child’s clothes.
They left and never came back.
* * *
The bicycle cop was a man named Will Moseley.
He had two children of his own, and that night he took the baby home.
A headline atop the front page of the next day’s Macon News said, “Blue-Eyed Baby Girl Gives Police Mystery To Solve.”
The article told of the baby’s “soft, flaxen hair” and called her “a perfect specimen of babyhood,” with “fat, chubby cheeks.”
It went on to say that authorities were trying to find the child some parents, but that for now she “goo-goos in a cradle at the home of Patrolman Moseley.”
The story also told more about the couple who’d abandoned the girl. The pair, who may have been brother and sister, told Moseley that the child’s mother lived in Savannah but that she had vanished after giving birth at the man’s house.
The man reportedly said, “I had never seen her before and have not seen her since. She stayed at my home several weeks. Several days ago, I got a letter from her asking me to give away the baby. I don’t know her name, for she didn’t sign the letter.”
Macon wasn’t yet a century old. At Flournoy Grocery on First Street, Beechnut Hams were 30 cents a pound. Straw hats at Benson-Hunnicutt Clothing Co. on Third Street were half price.
Leo Frank’s hanging at the hands of a Marietta lynch mob was a month from happening. Overseas, the Germans were driving on Warsaw.
But in Macon, for a few days at least, the story of “the motherless young one” was the talk of the town.
The News dubbed her “the depot baby.”
Some 50 couples volunteered to raise her.
Two days after she was given up, she had a new home.
Alva C. Rachels and his wife, Annie, adopted her. They lived at 925 Ash St., in a neighborhood at the southwestern edge of downtown between the Mercer University campus and what is now the Bibb County jail.
Alva Rachels, a Hancock County native born in 1881, was a police detective. He collared killers, safecrackers. He and another cop once publicly called out a local judge for failing to back them in their quest to shutter houses of ill repute. After Rachels left the force, he built cabinets at the Trading Post.
He and Annie had been wanting a child for 10 years. When they went to see the baby at Officer Moseley’s house, the News reported that “it was a case of affection at first sight.”
The paper said Capt. Austin at the Salvation Army “was assured” the Baptist couple would give the girl a good home and bring her up “under proper conditions.”
* * *
They named her Annie Ione.
She went by Ione.
Alva and Annie had married in 1904.
His father was wounded fighting for the Confederate army. Annie’s grandfather had died, as Ione wrote in a brief autobiography in 1999, “in a Yankee prison camp.”
It’s no wonder Ione -- pronounced “eye-own” -- never referred to it as the Civil War, but rather the War of Northern Aggression.
One day when she was about 5, there was a knock at the door. It was Ione’s birth mother. Annie Rachels was gracious and let her in. Though the details aren’t clear, the woman explained best she could why she had given up little Ione.
The identity of the couple who handed the girl over seems to have remained a mystery.
Over the years, Ione’s birth mother made occasional visits. Ione knew who she was but called her “Aunt Ruth.”
Ione later told her own children that she had no ill feelings for the woman, that in those days an unwed mother couldn’t support a child. Ione said she was better off adopted, though she didn’t tell her kids about being “the depot baby” until they all were grown.
Aunt Ruth, who had been a nurse, inspired Ione to become one. Ione graduated from Middle Georgia Hospital’s School of Nursing in 1936.
One of her teachers was adamant that nurses were not “trained.” Animals were trained, Ione said. People were educated.
In her early 20s, Ione was a dainty platinum blond. The story was that she once went out with future U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. Or perhaps it was his brother.
She spent a year as a private-duty nurse in Macon, earning $5 per 12-hour shift.
“She liked Macon,” her son Joe, 68, said recently, “but she never talked about it.”
Ione moved on to a hospital in Savannah, where she met her husband. Joseph Pacifici was a Harvard-educated doctor from Massachusetts. His parents were Italian immigrants. His grandfather fought in Garibaldi’s army.
Ione and Joseph, whose first date was to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1937, married the following Fourth of July.
They had three children by the time Joseph, a family practitioner, was sent to an Army post in Tennessee. When he went in July 1942, commissioned as a medical corps first lieutenant, a mention of his departure in the Savannah Morning News referred to him as a “well-known Savannah physician.”
Ione was at the train station to see him off. She noted the occasion in a war diary she’d begun keeping.
“The train started moving. I got an almost-kiss and he was gone. I went home and cried,” she wrote.
“If you are reading this some years hence, there is no need to mention what happened before Pearl Harbor concerning a paper hanger in Berlin, a polygamist in Rome and a certain descendant of the Sun God in Tokyo. You will read that in a history book.”
Ione and the children later moved to Tennessee to be with Joseph. But he was often busy.
Ione’s father had died two years earlier. Annie, her mom, was still in Macon.
Ione kept in touch with her birth mother until Aunt Ruth died in the early 1960s.
That first winter in Tennessee, Ione wrote of the hardships of being a young mother: the rationed food, the snow ruining her garden, the fear of her husband going to war.
On her 28th birthday in February 1943, she wondered where they’d all be on her next birthday. “I don’t care where,” she wrote, “as long as I am not alone.”
Though she no longer worked as a nurse, her words still bore the language of her training. Instead of “quickly,” she’d write “stat.”
One day when the snow came and the wind whipped at the windowsills of their two-room rental, Ione bemoaned the shortage of sliced bread, the scarcity of meat and their soot-blackened stove.
“Things that seem so important now will be coated with time and I’ll wonder why I minded those little things,” she wrote. “I’ve been a very lucky person.”
She bowled and played bridge when she could find a sitter.
That May she wrote, “The children are fine; they are holy terrors and drive me almost nuts but I believe I’ll survive.”
Months later, longing for home, she asked a neighbor who traveled to Savannah to do her a favor.
“I asked her to bring me back a box of dirt,” Ione wrote. “She forgot.”
Two years after that, on Aug. 14, 1945, with Joseph shipped off to Europe, she was in Macon at her mom’s. It was after 7 p.m. when she wrote, “The war is over. The President just announced it. ... The shooting has stopped, the bells are ringing, the horns are blowing.”
A week later, Joseph was in Macon.
“The kids were thrilled,” she wrote. “They were rolling old automobile tires when his taxi rode up. ... They shouted and danced around him. I almost wept for joy.”
* * *
After the war, she and Joseph had five more children.
Ione’s adoptive mom, Annie Rachels, died in 1948.
Back in Savannah, Ione championed special education.
She cooked her Italian mother-in-law’s lasagna and Annie Rachels’ corn bread, collards and fried chicken.
She sewed prom dresses for her six daughters and their friends. She drank instant coffee and smoked Kents.
“She would have one lit in every room,” daughter Maureen Pacifici-Smith, 66, a commercial interior designer, said.
Ione quit smoking when she turned 50. She got tired of coughing. She gained 25 pounds and then lost it. She swam laps.
Her children became chemists, nurses, CPAs.
She’d been tough on them, demanding they be self-sufficient. Neighborhood boys nicknamed her “the Iron Duke.”
“She ran a house like anything,” Maureen said, “and everybody saluted when she said to do something. ... She didn’t think getting a job was good enough. She wanted you to have a career. She had no tolerance for laziness.”
Ione’s 65-year-old daughter, Margaret Pacifici, a nurse, said, “She wanted perfection.”
Son Joe, 68, an organic chemist, said, “If you had done your best and it was not good enough, mother would tell you to do better.”
Joseph, her husband, died in 1984. After that, Ione traveled. She read. She drove a Buick until she was 92.
Last month, on Feb. 19, five of her daughters were there at the care home where she lived to celebrate her 100th birthday. Ione’s health was failing. She was listless, probably unaware of the party.
Afterward, about 1 in the morning, a nurse checked on her. Ione was asleep.
Fifteen minutes later when the nurse looked in again, Ione was dead.
The way she died reminded her daughter Maureen of a conversation they’d had the year before.
Ione was lucid then, talkative. She said she was ready to die.
They were at Buckingham South, the assisted-living place that was now Ione’s home. Ione sometimes joked that she didn’t want to live to 100.
“I don’t want to be some old lady,” she said.
There chatting with Maureen that day, Ione wondered what death would be like. She hoped to die in her sleep.
Maureen told Ione that she envisioned her drifting off: “Then you wake up and open up your eyes and there’s Daddy. He’s got his hand extended to you, and you and Daddy take off.”
Ione just smiled and said, no, something else was bothering her. What about after she died? Who would find her?
The depot baby wanted to know.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.