On February 1, 1899, a baby girl was born in Winston, North Carolina. She was the second child of Dr. Allen King and his wife, Phoebe Whitaker King. A daughter named Phoebe was born four years earlier. The Kings named this daughter Allyn.
I began the post this way, because I had planned to write about the actress Allyn King, but as I researched, I got derailed—as I so often do—when I read about an incident that occurred early in Allyn’s life. Though she wasn’t physically present when it occurred, it changed her trajectory and it’s a fascinating story. So let’s start here!
As you may have already noticed, there are some duplicate names in this story, including within the King family. For instance, Allen and Phoebe King named their daughters Phoebe and Allyn. To keep it simple, I’ll use the parents’ formal names (Dr. and Mrs. King) to distinguish them from their children.
The family was living with Mrs. King’s parents in North Carolina at the time of Allyn’s birth but, within a few years, they moved to Louisiana. They were probably drawn there because Dr. King was born and raised in New Orleans; however, the family opted to move to Morgan City, a small town about 90 minutes away from the Big Easy. Morgan City may have been a more manageable place for Dr. King to build a practice. He set up shop in a small office he rented in the bank building.
In 1909, Allyn, now 10 years old, accompanied her mother and sister on a visit to see her maternal grandparents in North Carolina. Dr. Allen King remained in Louisiana to work. At least, that was why he said he was staying behind.
Among Dr. King’s patients was the Olivier family. The Oliviers had a tragic story. Mrs. Olivier died many years earlier, after bearing her fifth child. Mr. Olivier soon married Miss Souby, the sister of a local priest. By the time Mr. Olivier died eight years later, his three oldest children were adults. The other two were technically orphans, but their stepmother stayed and continued to raise them after the death of their father.
Hazel Olivier was 19 years old, and she still lived in the family home. She was a schoolteacher in Morgan City but in late January or early February of 1909, Miss Olivier took a mysterious leave of absence and traveled to New Orleans. Not much was thought of it by her friends and acquaintances at the time.
Dr. King, whose family was 900 miles away, went to New Orleans around the same time. No connection was made to Hazel’s visit; indeed, there may have been none.
Hazel returned to Morgan City in April. Soon after her arrival, she insisted on visiting the Sacred Heart church to speak to Father Souby. Her stepmother and a friend accompanied her. Once inside, Hazel told the priest her conscience was bothering her and confessed she had gone to New Orleans “to have an operation.” Abortion was illegal, but the real criminal in her listeners’ minds was the man who had gotten her into this terrible situation. When she was pressed, Hazel said it was Dr. King.
If you’ve spent much time in a small Southern town, you might be familiar with the astonishing speed with which a story can spread. The gist of Hazel’s story was immediately shared far and wide, and by the time families sat down for supper that evening, the story was public property. Dr. King, blissfully unaware of all of this, was gone several weeks longer. He returned home late on the evening of May 11 and immediately went to bed.