Elmwood Memorial Cemetery has long been the resting place for many of the city’s more prominent citizens. When people visit, they’re often curious about the memorial, located between that of Mayor Orson Winthrop (b.1857 d.1953) and Dame Winifred Carson (b. 1923 d. 1949). It’s a simple granite and marble pillar, marked-
THE ORPHAN’S LIVER
Why is it there? Well, the answer to that question goes back to an article in the Union-Star-Sentinel-Telegraph-Bee Gazette by reporter Ward Ellis, in 1955. The story ran on October 2, a profile of a young orphan boy the reporter had encountered while doing a story in the city’s rough North End.
The story went like this- While waiting for a source outside one of the area’s numerous taverns, he spotted what appeared to be a very short man passed out in the alley next door. When trying to roust the guy, he realized that it was actually a child, stinking drunk. Shocked, Ellis took the boy to a local diner to get some hot cocoa and a hot meal in him. Over the course of a few hours, Ellis was able to interview him, finding out only that he was an orphan named Tony, around ten years old, with no knowledge of his parents, having lived on the streets after the woman who was caring for him died when he was four. Since then, he’d a had a hardscrabble life in the North End, sleeping in abandoned buildings, stealing food where he could find it and, in recent years, serving as a sort of mascot in the area’s numerous bars, which apparently also had no problem serving him. At one point, while Ellis was using the men’s room, Tony disappeared, taking the cash for the tab with him.
The reporter returned to the neighborhood several times over the next week, asking around, checking out abandoned buildings until he finally found Tony in a deserted rowhouse- passed out amongst a pile of empty whiskey bottles, having literally drunk himself to death. Strangely, the boy’s young body had deteriorated almost immediately due to the chemical abuse that had been heaped upon it, save for his liver, which was almost perfectly preserved, giving the story a sad and bizarre coda.
When Ellis’ article hit the streets, the public was outraged- the liquor licenses of all bars in the North End were investigated and donations to the newly-founded Saint Erasmus Children’s Liver Clinic skyrocketed. Money was raised to bury Tony’s liver amongst the privileged in Elmwood cemetery, to as Mayor Harcourt put it, “serve as a reminder that we must not forget even the ‘forgotten’ of this great city.”
One slight problem, though- it was all a hoax. Every single word. Ellis’ editors wanted some sort of hook for both National Liver Month and to promote Saint Erasmus’. This is what they came up with. Other papers began to investigate the numerous holes in the story, but any attempts were ultimately spiked, as the public would not have looked upon them too kindly.
In 1978, Ward Ellis wrote a book, Stopping the Presses!, about his journalistic career (at this point, he’d been an ad man for ten years) in which he admitted the whole thing. His justification: “1) It helped bring about better policing of the city’s booze halls, 2) Helped bring the Children’s Liver Clinic along, 3) Sold a hell of a lot of papers and 4) Nobody got hurt. Well, except that calf who’s liver we buried up in Elmwood.”
The admission didn’t make much of a splash, as everyone had either forgotten the Orphan’s Liver by then or just didn’t want to admit having been played for suckers.
- R. White