Here it is late August and I was out riding my bike the other day along the Hudson River in Albany, New York and I couldn’t help but notice that the leaves were starting to fall off the trees. It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over and that autumn is quickly approaching. This also means that in another six weeks or so, people will be flocking to the mountains of New York and New England to do a bit of leaf-peeping. Personally, there are few things as beautiful as hopping in the car and taking a long drive through the mountains to see the amazing beauty of the fall foliage.
Sunday, September 28, 1941, was such a day for the Hollingworth family of Dunstable, Massachusetts, a rural town near the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Dunstable lies approximately 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Boston and a short distance south of the New Hampshire state border. The sky was clear and the air was brisk, making it the perfect day to head into the mountains for a picnic.
In the car that day was Joseph E. Hollingworth, his wife Blanche, their 9-year-old son Ted, 5-year-old daughter Pamela, Joseph’s dad Joseph K., and Blanche’s mother Minnie Moulton. Their destination was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, about a two-hour drive from their home.
Joe Hollingworth described what happened next: “We went to White [Ledge] Forest Park to have a steak cook-out and when we found there were restrictions on cookouts there, we drove to the National Forest Park in Albany.” Albany, New Hampshire was about a twenty-minute drive north of White Ledge Forest Park.
Mother-in-law Minnie described what happened next: “We stopped the car near the edge of Iona Lake and Joe cooked the meal.” This was around 2:15 pm. She continued, “After our lunch, Joe took some pictures of the children. They laughed and seemed so joyful. Pammie and Ted took their water bottles and went down by the lakeside to get some water. They returned in two or three minutes. Then they took another trip to the water, little Pammie never came back.”
Pamela Hollingworth had disappeared in the dense forest of the White Mountains, which are said to be the most rugged mountains in all of New England. The Whites are also noted for their extreme weather conditions. For example, on April 12, 1934, nearby Mount Washington recorded a record-setting wind speed of 231 miles per hour (372 km/h). With autumn setting in, this was not a place for anyone, particularly for a lightly dressed five-year-old girl, to get lost.
As soon as Joe realized that his daughter was missing, he immediately sprung into action. “I knew just where she went, so I went to the spot in an effort to get her. I then realized she was lost so I ran up and down near the brook calling to her and looking for her. I then started shouting to other people in the park and asked them if they would get in touch with authorities.”
Pamela was described as having blue eyes, brown hair that was braided and tied with a blue ribbon, and weighing approximately 45 pounds (20 kg). She was wearing green corduroy overalls with red sneakers at the time of her disappearance.
As nightfall approached, alarm turned into panic. Temperatures were expected to drop below the freezing point, although they bottomed out at 32º F (0º C). Couple with that the natural fear of the dark that most young children have, her lack of food and shelter, and the possibility of attack by wild animals.
With each passing hour, the number of men searching for Pamela increased.
After searching all night with the other men for his daughter, Joe Hollingworth was forced to leave the search party by midday Monday for treatment of a shoulder infection coupled with sheer exhaustion.
Meanwhile, scores of additional men showed up to help with the search. In addition to rangers and local residents, one hundred soldiers arrived in army trucks from Fort Devins in Massachusetts to help in the search. They were assisted by fifty WPA (Works Progress Administration) and NYA (National Youth Administration) enrollees. By the end of the day, an estimated 500 men were searching the area surrounding the location where Pamela had disappeared.
As the day progressed, a base camp was set up at the nearby White Ledge campground. Two airplanes circled overhead while two bloodhounds unsuccessfully tried to pick up Pamela’s scent. Shag, her English Setter, was also driven up from their family home in the hope that he might somehow locate her.
From a sound truck supplied by the US Forest Service, Joe Hollingworth could be heard desperately calling out for his daughter. “Pammy, this is your daddy speaking. If you can hear me, go to the men in the woods who are looking for you. If you are stuck anywhere, yell and these men will come to you.”
His calls went unanswered.
At 2:15 PM, twenty-four hours after Pamela had gone missing, an announcement was made that an area of 4-1/2 square miles (11.7 square km) had been scoured over. While there was the thought that she may have fallen into the stream by which she had been last seen, it was concluded that this was nearly impossible. The mountain stream was far too shallow to hide a body.
The plan had been to temporarily suspend the search at nightfall. Just before that was to happen, a search party spotted faint footprints along the shoreline of Lake Iona that appeared to be freshly made. Through the freezing darkness, searchers followed the tracks for an estimated one-quarter mile (0.4 km) before they disappeared.
Early Tuesday morning, it was reported by one of the search teams that overnight they had heard what sounded like the cry of a small child. It was thought that the child was saying “mommy, mommy,” but search leaders later concluded that it was most likely the cry of a wild bird or animal. Yet, any lead is better than no lead, and the search area was shifted toward the area where those sounds were heard.
Mom Blanche Hollingworth remained at a tourist lodge in nearby Conway while father Joe had recovered enough of his energy to rejoin the search. Again, his voice could be heard emanating from the sound truck. “Pammy, this is daddy calling. Don’t be afraid, Pam. Don’t be afraid.”
Those are easy words to say but Joe Hollingworth was scared for his daughter’s life.
Later on that second day, there was another glimmer of hope that Pamela was still alive. A new set of tiny footprints had been spotted along the shoreline of Lake Iona. Mrs. Hollingworth told a reporter, “Perhaps it is forlorn hope, but both my husband and I are still trying to be optimistic.” She continued, “It’s been pretty cold in the woods since Pammy got lost Sunday, but the weather hasn’t been too bad. Maybe they’re just trying to cheer me up, but the leaders of the search say they’re confident she’ll be found alive.”
Sadly, many of the searchers did not share that same level of optimism. The 24º F (-4.4º C) temperature was beginning to take its toll on the men and they found it hard to imagine how anyone, particularly a young girl lacking proper protection from the elements, would be able to survive the harsh conditions. Deputy Sheriff Herbert Taylor stated, “Your guess is as good as mine but it seems almost impossible that she hasn’t died of exposure. The men that worked during the night almost froze and all of them were warmly dressed and wore heavy jackets. The little girl only had overalls and sneakers on.”
Yet, an unnamed medical specialist was more optimistic, expressing that any child in this situation “won’t be able to sleep unless you find shelter and probably would be in a state of exhaustion due to the need of walking around to keep warm.” He added, “In certain cases, children have been fasted purposely as long as three weeks but, of course, they were in bed.”
Wednesday, October 1 began with a frigid low temperature of 20º F (-6.7º C). Rain had drenched the region, making the search that much more difficult. In addition, there was a new concern: kidnapping. A woman reported that she had seen a young girl wandering on the road near the picnic area several days earlier and police were concerned that Pamela may have been picked up by a motorist.
Police had a suspect in mind. He was described as a 33-year-old man from North Conway who had committed unspecified sexual offenses. Police sent out an eight-state alarm via teletype for the man’s capture. He was believed to have been driving a 1929 brown sedan with New Hampshire license plates. “This man is wanted on suspicion of felony, to wit: Kidnapping.” Interestingly, police had already interviewed the suspect after a report came in that he had been spotted at the same picnic area that the Hollingworths had visited. Apparently, the man grew bored of the long periods of waiting while being interrogated, and since he wasn’t under arrest, he decided to leave. He did, however, agree to report to the hunt headquarters the next morning. He was a no-show. In addition, he failed to show up for his construction job atop Mt. Washington.
Grandmother Minnie Moulton told the press, “Joe said from the very first that little Pammie was kidnapped – she went so quickly – just as if she had disappeared into thin air. But why would anyone want to take Pammie – her father isn’t rich and she was dressed like a ragamuffin.”
Meanwhile, the story of the missing girl had begun to appear in newspapers all across the nation. Reward money began to pour in. Based on my calculations from various newspaper reports, over $1,300 (over $23,000 today) was offered as in reward money. Some were conditioned on Pamela being found alive, others were not.
Thursday – Day 5 – was another cold and cloudy day. Three state conservation officers were assigned to drag a nearby pond because the suspect’s sister had a cottage near there. They did not find Pamela’s remains.
Later that day, police in Boston arrested the man suspected of kidnapping Pamela. He claimed to have been partying with friends and then visited an ice cream parlor near where she had disappeared. Upon being questioned by the police as to her whereabouts, he feared that his parole would be revoked, so he skipped town. He was released after sixteen acquaintances vouched for him.
On Friday, heavy rain fell on the region as the search continued. There was a slight chance that Pamela may have found shelter in a nearby structure, so every barn, house, and outbuilding in the area was searched. Carroll County High Sheriff James Welch stated, “Certain evidence we have uncovered leads me to believe that the child may have wandered onto a highway and been struck and killed by a motorist who carried the body to a hiding place some distance from the White Ledge National Forest.”
His theory was supported by two separate reports:
First, Joseph Hayford, a resident of nearby Center Ossipee, told police that he had seen a girl matching Pamela’s description walking along the road carrying a piece of cardboard in her hand. Hayford and Deputy Sheriff Harry M. Leavitt proceeded to the scene where they found the bottom of a cardboard box. In addition, they found tire skid marks there.
Second, an unnamed woman from nearby Conway stated that she saw a motorist experiencing some sort of a mechanical problem near that same spot around 4 PM on the day that Pamela disappeared.
Many felt it was time for the search to start winding down. Hundreds of the troops were recalled. High Sheriff Welch explained that the bulk of the volunteers would leave on either Saturday or Sunday. The search, which was no longer considered to be a rescue mission, would be continued by individuals who sought the reward money and by small groups of forest rangers.
That wasn’t what happened. More than one thousand men from the greater Lowell area – basically the Hollingworths’ hometown – joined together to spend the weekend scouring those woods for young Pamela. In total, an estimated 1,500 men formed the largest searching party ever in New England up until that point. Food, supplies, and equipment were trucked in to help with the enormous search effort. Over 6,000 cars, most driven by curious onlookers, jammed the roads of the search area.
Yet, the search was in vain. There was no sign of Pamela or her remains. Even worse, 42-year-old George Dunbar suffered a heart attack, 25-year-old Walter Lynch was hospitalized, and another three hundred needed treatments for sprains, bruises, exposure to the elements, and other maladies.
On Monday, October 6, the search entered its eighth day. Police revealed that they had another witness. Former schoolteacher Thelma Knight of Augusta, Maine claimed to have seen a girl fitting Pamela’s description sitting on a rock that bordered the White Mountain highway. It was in the same spot that the other two witnesses claimed to have seen her.
High Sherriff James Welch expressed even more confidence in his opinion that Pamela had been struck by a car and that her body had been carried away.
But, Joe Hollingworth refused to accept this. He stated, “I cannot be convinced that Pamela is dead. This is not hope, it is my belief. We will keep on.”
Around 5:00 that evening, a search crew was on the north side of Mount Chocorua near the intersection of the Middle Sister Trail and the Hobbs Brook Trail. They were just about to call it quits for the day when they heard a faint voice. It sounded something like “Hi, hi!”
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members William (Bill) Matson and Orestes Lawrence (Rusty) Rumazzo ran toward the source of the sound and there they found a young girl in tattered clothing.
“I’ve been out in the rain and cold since Sunday,” she calmly stated.
One of the team members asked, “What’s your name?”
She replied, “Pammy.”
To which Mattson replied, “You are in better shape than we are.”
The team radioed back to the base camp informing them that they had found Pamela alive. Joe Hollingworth asked to speak to his daughter. Her first words to him were “Where have you been?” as if he had been the one who had been lost.
Joe immediately set out to reach the remote rescue site. A military Jeep transported him a portion of the way and then he sprinted up the remainder of the trail. As soon as he set eyes on Pamela, Joe lifted her in a joyous embrace as tears ran down his face. He carried Pamela down the mountain to the awaiting Jeep. Along the way, Pamela reportedly said, “This is fun. It’s fun riding in a jeep car, daddy. Where are we going? Where is mummy? Where is Teddy?”
An awaiting ambulance transported Pamela to Memorial Hospital in North Conway, approximately 12 miles (19.3 km) away. It was there that Joe called his wife Blanche with the incredible news. Escorted from their Massachusetts home by state troopers, Mrs. Hollingworth arrived at the hospital later that evening.
Pamela explained to her parents how she was able to survive: “I slept in a little hole that I filled up with leaves. I had to crawl out when I wanted some water and drink from the brook.” She added, “When I got hungry I just crawled to the brook for some more water.” Pamela never saw a single person during the entire ordeal, even though several witnesses claimed to have seen her. She did hear the search planes flying overhead but was unable to signal to them due to the dense forest canopy.
Eight days without food had caused Pamela’s weight to drop by 8 pounds (3.6 kg), which may not seem like much, but was nearly 18% of her bodyweight. She was suffering from cuts, bruises, and most significantly, extremely frostbitten feet. Her sneakers had to be cut from her swollen feet. (Sidenote: The sneakers were to be placed on permanent display at the Morse Museum in Warren, New Hampshire. Sadly, the museum building and its contents were sold off in 1992.)
Mrs. Hollingworth said that the frostbite had turned her daughter’s feet black and that they had swelled to nearly double their normal size. She added, “Her little face is so thin and her normally large dimples aren’t even visible.”
Joe stated, “Pammy doesn’t look like the same child that went into the woods. I wouldn’t have recognized her features when she was found if I saw them under any other circumstances. She is just skin and bones.”
The day after Pamela’s rescue, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts, stood before the US House of Representatives and offered up her thanks to all of those involved in the search. Here is a portion of what she said:
“Mr. Speaker, early last evening I was overjoyed to receive word by telephone from Joseph E. Hollingworth that his little 5-year-old daughter, Pamela, had been found, alive and well, after being lost for more than a week in the dense forests of New Hampshire. This little child, the daughter of one of my friends and constituents, Mr. Joseph E. Hollingworth, of Lowell and Dunstable, Mass., strayed away from a picnic at White Ledge in the New Hampshire woods a week ago Sunday. Since that time, every foot of the densely wooded White Mountain National Forest has been searched by men of the United States Army, by rangers of the Forest Service, by C. C. C. boys, and by hundreds of Lowell men and boys, friends of the distraught father and mother, all of whom trudged the woods to the point of physical exhaustion to find the little girl. The Red Cross was there with food and first aid. That she was found alive and well was a miracle.”
She added, “One of my purposes in calling this to the attention of the House is to commend the searchers for their untiring efforts, their persistence in the face of an almost universal belief that further search was futile. I visited the locality and saw with my own eyes the efficient, well-organized manner in which the search was conducted. The highest praise is due every man and boy who participated.”
That same day, Joe Hollingworth took to the national airwaves and graciously thanked just about everyone involved for all that they had done. He gave a summary of how Pamela got lost, how the family initially searched for her, and the eight-day search that culminated with her rescue. Most significantly, he gave an update on Pamela’s health. “Dr. Williams watched over her last night and saw her this morning. He said he was so amazed when he saw her coming down the mountain that he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t imagine she was alive. I had hoped all along she would be ‘alive and kicking,’ and that is just what she is. Her condition is good. Her lungs are fine and so are her feet.”
Later that day, he would learn that one of Pamela’s feet was far more severely frostbitten than first thought and she would probably be in the hospital for the next month.
Telegrams, telephone calls, over one-thousand letters, and more than two hundred hair ribbons came in from all over the country. Day after day, reporters stood outside the hospital hoping to get even the tiniest detail about Pamela: how her recovery was proceeding, what she had to eat, what she said, and so on. She even received offers to appear in the movies and on radio, to which Joe Hollingworth responded, “When Pam leaves here, she is going to a Lowell hospital and when she leaves there, she’s going home to a normal life. We’re not going to commercialize our baby.”
Ultimately, all the attention proved too much for the family. At 7:30 AM on Monday, October 13, 1941 – one week after her rescue – the Hollingworths quietly withdrew Pamela from Memorial Hospital and then took her back home where they placed her in Lowell General Hospital. Joe left the following note: “Dear Press: Sorry to do this, but Mrs. Hollingworth and I agree with the doctor that this is the best way to do this for Pam’s sake. If it was your kid you’d do the same. – Joe Hollingworth.”
Pamela would spend a total of nineteen days in the hospitals before being released. She would make a full recovery and have no lasting effects of the ordeal.
Meanwhile, the state of New Hampshire set a deadline of October 25 for all those seeking a reward for their help in locating Pamela Hollingworth. On December 11, it was announced that the state’s $500 reward money would be split 86 ways, most of them being CCC enrollees. On December 23, an additional $500 collected by the citizens of Lowell was split 87 ways. In this case, the two men that first rescued Pamela, Bill Matson and Rusty Rumazzo, each received $25 (approximately $450 today). They had been ineligible to receive any portion of the New Hampshire reward.
Pamela would go on to graduate from Smith College in 1958. After that, she was employed as a public relations executive for the Lane Bryant clothing chain, as the editorial director for the Arthritis Foundation, as vice president for creative services at the Cancer Society, and communications director of the United States Committee for the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF).
Twenty-five years after her rescue, the press interviewed a now thirty-year-old Pamela. She reflected on what had happened. Here are a few highlights:
“I began to lose track of time and my sense of direction. I had wandered off and I couldn’t find the brook again, so I went without water for three days. Then it rained, so I drank out of a puddle.”
She added, “At one point I heard my mother calling me. But she couldn’t hear me call back.”
Pamela then went on to describe the moment she was rescued: “I heard somebody nearby and I called out something like, ‘woo, woo.’ And the men came running through the stream toward me. My first thought was that their mothers would be mad at them for getting their feet wet.
“They asked me my name and my father’s name and where I lived. They were testing my sanity, but I thought they were checking to see if I was the right one. I thought if I wasn’t, they’d leave me.”
The article concluded, “I don’t think very many people remember it though. I don’t think of it very often either.”
Sadly, Pamela Hollingworth passed away at her Cape Cod home in Orleans, Massachusetts on September 11, 1992. The cause was an unspecified heart ailment. She was just 56 years old at the time.
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Here are two Paramount News clips filmed shortly after Pamela’s rescue:
Wow thanks for this. My Aunt Pam was an amazing person. I loved visiting her in NYC. I remember her telling me this crazy story. Thank you for sharing the story!!
You are very welcome. When I started putting the story together, I wondered if she was still alive or not. At the time, I was in a cabin in Pennsylvania with a bad internet connection, so I had a tough time staying online long enough to search through Ancestry.com. I was very saddened to learn that she had passed on. I am glad to hear that she had such a big impact on your life and that she was able to share this amazing story with you.
Hi Steve ! Thank you for telling this story. My father is Ted Hollingworth. He’s still alive at 90. I’ll share this with him!!! My aunt Pam was amazing , I miss her tremendously. I’m not sure who Leslie is lol !! – Tori Hollingworth
You are very welcome. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it!