Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Strange Crime of Hazel McNally.

In my ongoing reading of Woody Register's "The Kid of Coney Island", I have come across a very strange story about a Hammond, Indiana woman who was accused of killing her children in 1922. The resulting court case illuminated the fact that the victims were in fact Effanbee dolls- anatomically correct toys made by Fleishaker and Bawm of New York.

Hazel McNally was a sterile divorcee when she married the man whom she worked for as a housekeeper. Her new husband was thirty years her senior, and evidently wanted a visible product from their marriage. Prosecution witnesses in court, which included the bereaved "father", swore that the victims had been living children. McNally countered that this testimony in particular was proof of her husband's "mania to pose before the world as a father" (Thompson, p.240).

Of course when the truth came out... the charges of child murder were unceremoniously dropped. McNally went on to celebrate her new freedom from accusation by purchasing two replacement Effanbee dolls. Her endorsement of the realism of the product led the Toys and Novelties Journal to feature her in a photo spread with her new "family". Her post-trial plans included divorcing her husband and studying law.

Register used the strange story of Hazel McNally to accentuate a process of cultural shift that occurred during the first couple decades of the twentieth century. The advent of consumer culture and the simultaneously shifting gender roles were challenging the hegemony of the patriarchical world of the American white male. Women were starting to question their "predestined God-given" roles as mother and homemaker. Their attention was turning increasingly toward material desires. Native-born middle class white men began to fear a sharp decline in birthrate. Particular attention was focused on the toy industry, and its effect on the traditional development of children.

The unease among traditional society was exacerbated by a craze for the newly-invented "Teddy Bears", which seemed to replace the age-old desire for dolls. Would these stuffed animals hinder the natural acquisition of maternal values among little girls? Would these toys encourage bestiality? What about boys? They had these toys too... what did that mean as far as the feminizing of white men? Obviously the popularity of dolls came back around, but as Hazel McNally's case demonstrated- this popularity sometimes had unintended consequences.

Intrigued by Hazel's story, I did an Internet search and was able to come up with only a single link referencing this scandal. It's from the October 20, 1922 edition of the Reno Gazette, which is catalogued on a newpaper archive site, transcribed with copious grammatical and spelling errors. The URL is way too long for me to accurately hyperlink to, so i'll just give it to y'all direct...

"PLAYING MOTHER WAS MANIA OF ACCUSED AS YOUNG GIRL HAMMOND, INd., Oct. Hazel McNally, accused by her husband of murderINg twIN babies claims were born to her last December was discharged .at the close of a prelimINary hearINg to- day.
HAMMOND, INd., Chi- cago women who knew her as a child today went to the defense of, Mra Hazel McNally, accused by her hus- killINg the twIN babies he says, were born to her last December. with said she deceived her firiends and relatives by "motherINg" two dolls, was, if true, a repetition of n similar deception she woliked. when, she was sixteen years these women said. Hazel Hill, the name by which Mra. MoNally was known as a child, pos- sessed a mania for "playINg accordINg to Mrs. G. A. Kahne, whose daughter, Rhea, was. a playmate of Hazel. At sixteen tlje manfa became so pronounced that..the girl. actua'llj fooled her closest Ir.tends, Mrs. Kabne said, made them believe she was to .become a mother and later appeared .with, "twINs? which later turned ,otit be only dolls"


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