The Lost Children
Excerpted from the Wanaque Borough Golden Jubilee (1918 – 1968) Book
Riverdale, NJ: 6 Tri-County Publishers, [ 1968 ].
Wanaque did not escape a great tragedy which became legend, to perpetuate its memory this is the story. Heading in the newspaper read “HEROIC SACRIFICE MARKED WANAQUE TRAGEDY NEARLY CENTURY AGO, NEWS CLIPPING SHOWS.”
Death of three young sons of Mr. and Mrs. John Wyble, of “Wynockie” on the first of the year 1870 is graphically recounted in a newspaper clipping of the time, forwarded to The Bulletin by Mrs. Roy Decker, of Wanaque, whose grandmother and mother treasured it. The children’s graves are at Wanaque. The story of the Children’s death, told by a writer at a time prior to origination of the four “Ws” of journalism is not recounted merely for the tale itself. Rather, it carries a moral which we, in these hectic times, might well learn.
This story is passed along from year 1870. The text you read here was transcribed from the Borough of Wanaque Golden Jubilee Book, published for the Celebration in 1968. Jubilee was observed to commemorate 50 years of Wanaque Borough incorporated as a Municipality: 1918 – 1968.
OLD STORY REPRINTED
Tale of the children’s death and a poem written by one who was deeply touched by the incident follow:
Joseph Wyble is a poor man. He lives on Wynockie Mountain, on the west side of the Hudson River, about twenty miles from New York. Joseph lives in a miserable shanty, hardly deserving the name of a cottage; but though enjoying small share of the world’s goods, like many other poor man, he has had a liberal supply of children in his family.
Three of these children were Anthony, aged nine years; Warren, aged eight; and Johnny, aged five. On the first day of the present year these three children, from whose young hearts even biting poverty did not exclude the gladness of childhood, went forth from their home for a ramble on the mountain and in search of nuts. Their feet wandered too far, and after a while they found themselves where they knew not, and whither to go they knew not.
The darkness of night began to spread itself, like a pall, over them; and to add to the unspeakable misery of their situation, a cold, driving storm of sleet and snow set in. A woman passing along one of the mountain paths at this time, heard in a distance the tiny voice of one of them shouting: “Pa pa — ” “pa pa pa!” but somehow, unaccountably enough, she went on unheeding the cry, and, as she testified on the Coroner’s inquest, simply wondering who had children in the mountain.
Hours passed. The three children were irretrievably lost. The darkness of the night increased and became impenetrable, and the darkness of death now began to enfold their shivering and benumbed little forms. The beating heart could no longer send the blood to the extremities, which commenced to freeze. The youngest, Johnny – the baby of the party – must have sobbed most piteously from his sufferings.
And now we come to the closing scene in the brief lives of these untutored children – whose parents were unable to read, and had to sign their affidavits with a cross – and it was characterized by a self-sacrifice as pure, as noble and as godlike as history records.
They are all suffering with cold. Warmth is the thing needed that instinct tells them to prolong life. And yet, at this critical moment, when they themselves feel the icy fingers of death taking hold of them, simply from want of sufficient clothing – what, do they do? The second boy, Warren, takes off his own coat, leaving nothing but his shirt on his own back and spreads it over his little brother, Johnny, trying to keep him warm. And then, Anthony, when he sees Warren perishing, strips off his coat and puts it under Warren’s head for a death pillow.
Ah, Astor! with your accumulated millions; with the granite hotel as an enduring monument to your memory; with the grander monument of the Astor Library; and we trust, with some unpublished acts of kindness to ease your passage through the camel’s eye. Ah Steward! with the outstretched Hempstead Plains; your palatial stores filled wth costliest fabrics; your residence of marble and peerless glass. Ah Peabody! rich dead and buried with a prince looking on, and the formal Winthrop to eulogize you. Ah, three-starred Grant and Sherman! there has been nothing so sublime in the life of any one of you, as marked the death of these poor mountain boys! Hallowed forever the spot where they [ died ]. The spot where, in the darkness and dreariness of that awful night, on an unseen ladder angels were ascending and descending between their expiring hearts and the Throne on High! And where, over the loud roar of the storm, their came to their [ ears ] the voice which of old spoke to Peter on the waters saying, ” Be not afraid; it is I;” and the same voice saying, “Suffer the little children and forbid them [ not ] to come unto me; for of such is the kinkdom ( sic ) of Heaven.”
The Lost Children
by Ethel Lynn
Come sit at my feet, little children.
Come sit in the fire light with me,
And listen a tale I will tell you
About the wee wanderers three
Who were lost in the dark of the mountain,
The very first night of the year –
Come sit by my feet, softly, silent,
So a tale truly sad you shall hear.
Over yonder, beyond the fair valley,
A mountain runs back wide and high,
Till the wods ( sic ) on its crest feather upward
Against the bright blue of the sky.
Great rocks with the white mosses hoary —
Deep springs with an emerald rim —
Old trees that fought with the tempest —
Young saplings elastic and trim.
Are yonder. Just facing the sunset,
Where the forest has been cut away,
Stands a cabin of logs laid together,
Made tight with a layer of clay,
And this is the picture before you:
The very first night of the year,
Three boys with a whoop and a halloo
Set off full of holiday cheer,
To gather up nuts on the mountain,
Their ages, ten, seven, and five,
While the mother looks out from the cabin,
Her last on the children alive.
The night, in its earliest shadows,
The mother stood calling them back
She listened, if answer or token
Came back to her wailing or faint,
But the terrible roar of the tempest
Was louder than cry or complaint.
Strong men trod the mountain till ( sic ) morning,
With staff and the lanterns red spark;
They called but there echoed no answer;
No cry from the horrible dark;
They rung out their rain sodden garments,
They fastened them tightly again,
As they though of their own little sleepers,
And plodded on spite of the rain.
So day after day on the mountain
Went careful eyed men far and wide
While mothers at home in the valley
Kept little ones near the hearthside.
Till ( sic ) a hunter saw circling beyond him
The crows with their horrible call
And following, found the poor children,
With brown forest leaves for a pall.
The strong men who hurried up thither
Dashed tears welling hot from their eyes,
As they saw in the little lads lying
Brave Anthony’s last sacrifice.
For over their forms near him lying
Were his garments carefully lain,
While stark in the rock’s gloomy shadow,
He fought with the cold and the rain!
Oh, brave little knight of the forest
If your life had been threescore and ten,
Perhance you would never had builded
So holy a altar again.
If at last you had slumbered in purple,
With banners draped over your head
They would whisper no tale like the jacket
That laid o’er the innocent dead.
And now little children my story
Is ended. Alas it is true.
‘Tis the tale of the Wynockie children
I’ve softly been telling you.
At times over two hundred men were searching the mountain. Some employed at Pompton Steel Works and at the Ringwood Iron Works joined in the search.
A reward for $100.00 was posted by the County of Passaic Board of Chosen Freeholders for such information as will lead to the recovery of the bodies dead or alive.
The reward was increased to $500.00 on January 29th. The children were found on February 2, 1870 and the funeral was on February 5, 1870.