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Marking his memory

Sixty years after America’s Unknown Child was discovered in a box on Susquehanna Road, a Boy Scout is making sure he won’t be forgotten.

A sign of remembrance: Nicholas Kerschbaum, a Troop 522 Boy Scout, spearheaded the effort to erect a historical marker for “America’s Unknown Child.” On Feb. 26, 1957, a boy’s body was dumped in a box on Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase. The case was never solved. TOM WARING / TIMES PHOTOS

Sixty years after a boy’s body was dumped unceremoniously in a JC Penney box on Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase, a Boy Scout from Delaware has made sure he’ll never be forgotten.

Nicholas Kerschbaum, a Troop 522 Boy Scout, chose a boy who has become known as America’s Unknown Child for a memorial marker.

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The ceremony took place on Nov. 11 on the 700 block of Susquehanna Road, a little west of Verree Road.

“America’s Unknown Child will forever be memorialized with this marker,” Kerschbaum said.

Kerschbaum chose America’s Unknown Child (formerly known as the Boy in the Box) for his Eagle Scout Project.

The 17-year-old senior at Salesianum School had petitioned the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, seeking the erection of a historical marker on Susquehanna Road, near the location where the boy’s remains were found.

However, the commission rejected the application.

To make matters worse, the commission approved a marker commemorating the city’s confrontation with MOVE in 1985, when Mayor Wilson Goode approved the dropping of a bomb on the roof of the radical group’s Osage Avenue home, resulting in a fire and 11 deaths, including five kids.

“I was disillusioned,” said Kerschbaum, son of a retired Philadelphia police officer.

But he wouldn’t give up on his quest.

“I decided to have a private marker made,” he said.

Back in February, Kerschbaum organized a memorial service marking the 60th anniversary of the death of America’s Unknown Child.

Supporting him then and throughout the process of erecting the marker has been the Vidocq Society, a private organization of law enforcement and forensic professionals who try to crack tough cases.

On Feb. 26, 1957, Philadelphia Police Officer Elmer Palmer was dispatched to then-rural Susquehanna Road, where he discovered the body of a boy believed to be about 4 years old. The boy was in a cardboard box that once contained a bassinet bought at the JCPenney at 69th and Chestnut streets in Upper Darby.

No one has ever come forward to identify the boy, and the police investigation into his murder has never been solved.

Olney’s Mann Funeral Home buried America’s Unknown Child in Potter’s Field along Dunks Ferry Road and assisted in his move to West Oak Lane’s Ivy Hill Cemetery. The reburial took place on Nov. 11, 1998.

Many years after the boy was found, the story was chronicled on America’s Most Wanted and dramatized on Cold Case.

Bill Fleisher, a retired FBI and U.S. Customs agent and commissioner of the Vidocq Society, praised Kerschbaum’s efforts.

“He worked hard to get this done, let me tell you that,” he said.

St. Christopher Parish-based Boy Scout Troop 367 led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

David Teesdale, the senior patrol leader, said Troop 367 will conduct a memorial service each February at the marker location.

Chaplains from the 7th Police District, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Vidocq Society offered prayers.

James Palmer, son of Elmer Palmer, said his dad always held out hope the boy would be identified. He credited Kerschbaum with tenacity and dedication in his effort to place the marker.

To raise money for the marker, Kerschbaum held a car wash and a bake sale, and continued to work with the Vidocq Society.

“The Vidocq Society has been there the whole time,” he said.

As the marker is on property owned by Holy Redeemer Health System, Kerschbaum had to gain permission before the pole could be placed in the ground.

Kerschbaum is satisfied that the marker is in place and is looking forward to official approval of his Eagle Scout project.

“I’m happy and relieved,” he said. ••

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