AUBURN — It was a family tragedy Cameron Hartley only learned about in his teens.

That’s when he found out he had an aunt who died as an infant in a boarding-house fire in New Auburn in 1945.

“Honestly, my grandparents never really talked about it,” Hartley said. “My grandmother mentioned it a few times and showed me some of the newspaper articles. But I don’t think my grandfather talked about it. Ever.”

But Hartley learned it wasn’t just a family tragedy. It was a community tragedy. His aunt, 3-month-old Carol LaRochelle, was one of 11 infants killed in the fire at Lacoste Babies Home. An adult and four children also died.

What’s more, he learned the victims were all buried in unmarked graves scattered around Maine — most at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Lewiston.

“It’s an interesting story about a part of time,” he said. “Their moms were working, and they were the children of service men and mill workers.”

He knew he and his sons’ Cub Scout Pack — Pack 111, based in Auburn — could do something. He’s enlisted help from the scouts to raise money to put memorial marker stones on the victims’ graves.

“I thought it sounded like a great project for the Cub Scouts, part of their emphasis on public service,” he said. “It also ties in to World War II, so there is history to learn.”

Hartley scanned his families’ copies of old Lewiston Evening Journal stories about the fire into the computer and retyped them, posting them to a blog, www.auburn1945.com.

“It’s not a fancy website,” he said. “I just created it so I could show it to people, show them what I was talking about.”

The Lacoste Babies Home was essentially a boarding house/day care center for the children of Lewiston-Auburn’s service men during World War II. While the fathers served in the armed forces, the mothers had to work to support the family. If they didn’t have family to fall back on, they had to rely on a service to care for their babies.

According to news articles, the fire started with an explosion in the kitchen about 5:30 a.m. and spread quickly through the two-story wood-framed house.

Nighttime assistant Blanche Tanguay discovered the fire and ran through the house yelling to wake everyone up before running out into snowdrifts to alert the neighbors and call the Fire Department.

Proprietor Eva Lacoste was dragged out, but she was unable to save any of the children. Loretta Fournier, a 20-year-old mother and an employee of the nursery, and 14-year-old Laurent Lacoste were there as well. Fournier was able to escape with two infants, including her daughter, Cecilia. Laurent Lacoste saved his 6-year-old brother, Norman.

But one adult and 16 children, ages 3 months to 5 years, died in the fire.

Hartley doesn’t know why the victims’ graves are unmarked.

Eleven of them, including Hartley’s aunt, are in an unmarked area of St. Peter’s Cemetery. Another is buried in Lewiston’s Mt. Hope Cemetery, another in Bangor and one 13-month-old Francis Ferguson is buried somewhere in Auburn’s Evergreen Cemetery.

“Unfortunately, the only people who knew where she’s buried were her mom and grandparents and they’re all dead,” Hartley said. “Everyone feels she’s buried in Evergreen but we don’t know where. So we’ll put the stone down in the area where we think she is. That’s really the best we can do for her.”

The Scouts will host their first fundraiser, a candy sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 12 in front of Marden’s on Main Street in Lewiston. They plan to have more fundraisers, including bottle drives. The money they earn will be used to buy grave markers for the babies.

Their goal is to have the markers in place this summer and host a ceremony to commemorate the fire and those killed on its 70th anniversary, Jan. 31, 2015.

“A future goal on down the line would be to create a memorial and put it somewhere in Auburn,” Hartley said. “But that’s a future goal. We’re not going to think about that part yet. We want to see how things go for this first goal.”

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