CHERRY HILL, N.J. — At five days old, Mary Jane Bauman was abandoned in the front seat of a stranger's car in 1936.
Eighty years later, Bauman sits at the kitchen table of her Cherry Hill home looking through an old candy box containing the only connection to her mysterious birth — a note pinned to the baby clothes she wore.
"Please turn this child over to a Catholic Institution."
Bauman still questions who her birth parents were and why they would leave her all alone in the world.
An August 1936 Courier-Post article reporting Bauman's mysterious birth said Collingswood resident Jesse Satenstein found her in his car parked in front of a friend's home around midnight.
"Much to his surprise, there was a little, wiggly package in there," Bauman joked.
The infant girl was taken to West Jersey hospital in Camden for care. Police tried to ID the girl's parents but never got an answer. Investigators suspected the parents were wealthy, citing the clothes Bauman was found in as expensive garb.
The Courier-Post ran the article on the front page, hoping the parents would come forward.
No answers came, community interest died down and the child was left to start her life in a hospital.
Bauman has no memories of her time in the hospital but said she was baptized and named.
"All girl children who were abandoned were given the name Mary," she recalled.
Soon after, Alice and Joseph Henry, of Collingswood, petitioned for the right to adopt Bauman and were given custody in November of 1936. Her parents held a second baptism, naming her "Mary Jane," after her adopted grandmother.
The adoption came after a traumatic year for the Henrys, who suffered through the burial of two children. In July of 1935, their 10-year-old son drowned in a swimming accident at Crystal Lake Pool in Westmont. One months before Bauman was born, the couple's newborn daughter died from a heart defect after birth.
"All they ever wanted was a baby," Bauman said. The same month the Henrys adopted Bauman, Alice became pregnant. Nine months later, she gave birth to Bauman's baby brother David.
"I was so excited," she said of having a younger brother.
Joan Lanoie, Bauman's daughter, said adoption was rare in the 1930s. "Parents had kids and took care of them.” Today, child abandonment could result in felony or misdemeanor charges in New Jersey.
Bauman said her adopted parents did their best to give her a loving home during a time when adoptions weren't too popular in the public eye.
"Being adopted was never a problem with me. The biggest problem I had was the kids in the neighborhood knew my story and they used to make fun of me. I learned to live with it."
"Children would chant to me at school. 'You don’t have a mommy! You don’t have a mommy!' I don’t know what the parents told the kids, but it didn’t make a difference. I loved my mother very much. Being adopted, to me, wasn’t a chore. I was so proud because I was named after my grandmother, who lived with us and helped raise me," Bauman added.
Throughout the years, Bauman twice tried to find her birth parents. In the 1960s, she recalls, Bauman met with a group of people who were abandoned as children at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.
"The people running the group said it was almost impossible for an abandoned child to find their parents because it is rare the parents will seek the child."
She decided not to pursue her birth parents further until recently, when she sent a DNA sample to Ancestry.com.
"The only thing it told me were my nationalities. You don’t know where to start. There are no threads. Nothing to pull on," Bauman said.
Lanoie added, "Unless you have DNA from someone you think could be the mother or father, it does nothing for you."
Lanoie remembers finding out about the adoption when she and her sister were rummaging through a cedar chest at the foot of her mother's bed. "We must have been 8 or 9 years old," she recalled. "We found it and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think anything of it. We didn’t push the subject. I always considered Alice and Joseph my real grandparents."
Bauman said her adopted mother would often pray for her birth parents and teach her not to hate them.
"She figured it was probably a teenager who got herself into some trouble.”
Years later, now a retired teacher, Bauman has come to terms with them not coming forward. "You don’t know the story. It could have been a young girl who got pregnant from an affair, we don’t know. She didn’t abort me. Just pray for her.”
Alice and Joseph Henry passed away in the 1980s, but their loving presence continued on in Bauman's life.
She and her husband will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in September. Together, they've made a loving family of their own including four children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, with another expected to be welcomed into the world on Christmas Eve.
“We’ve been terribly blessed. We’ve slowed down but, knock on wood, none of my buttons have been pressed yet,” Bauman joked. She says the chances of one of her birth parents walking through her door now is small.
"It's possible that maybe if I had younger siblings, they would still be alive, but not older siblings. I would love to sit down with one of them. I'd also like to tell them about my beautiful family.
“I’d like to know what my birth parents were like, but they would be secondary to the parents who adopted me.”
After all these years, Bauman considers herself lucky.
"I was left in a car and I had the best adopted parents in the whole world.”