Aug. 10 2016 11:18 AM

Memoir details the lives of Lansing’s famous quadruplets

Courtesy Photo
At the height of the Great Depression, Lansing residents were looking for something to cheer for, something to make them smile and take their minds off the dreary circumstances.

On May 19, 1930, the Lansing State Journal delivered just such a story. The paper announced the delivery of quadruplets, weighing less than 15 pounds combined. The four identical sisters were born at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital to parents Carl and Sadie Morlok. The sisters, Lansing’s first recorded instance of identical quadruplets, became known as the Morlok quadruplets.

The lone surviving quadruplet, Sarah Morlok Cotton, released her memoir, “The Morlok Quadruplets: the Alphabet Sisters,”

last year. The book, which details life with her three sisters, is now available at amazon. com in Kindle format, as well as paperback.

The four sisters were world famous before they even left the hospital. Even the choice of their names became a promotional opportunity. The two local daily newspapers each held contests to name the girls. As they were delivered, over a span of about 10 minutes, the girls were labeled A, B, C and D for their order of birth. These letters would become their middle initials.

More than 12,000 names were submitted for the contests, including rhyming quartets like Ollie, Mollie, Dollie and Pollie. The winner, the 12-year-old girl daughter of the physician who delivered the babies, suggested the girls be named after the hospital, then known as E.W. Sparrow Hospital after benefactor Edward W. Sparrow. She suggested that the names should start with E, W, S and H. After some tinkering, the girls were named Edna A., Wilma B., Sarah C. and Helen D. Morlok.

From the start, they were virtually adopted by the city. A city-owned home was donated to the family, rent free, and gifts of all kinds began to pour in. One of more unusual donations came from the Massachusetts Carriage Co., which gave the family a custom-made four-seat baby carriage. The carriage, which is featured on the cover of Cotton’s memoir, is held at the Michigan Historical Museum.

Photos of the infant girls were published in hundreds of newspapers and innumerable newsreels. So many visitors made unannounced pilgrimages to the family’s home, Cotton writes, that her mother erected a sign demanding $0.25 admission. The family was suspicious of visitors, since Charles Lindbergh’s child had recently been kidnapped. In late 1931, two men tried to snatch two of the Morlok quadruplets from their home but were prevented by the parents.

By the time they were 5, the Morlok girls were taking dance lessons at Virgiline Simmons’ dance studio, as well as voice and drama lessons. They were soon in demand for recitals and public appearances, often appearing at the Lowell and Chesaning Showboats.

Cotton writes fondly of her mother’s role in raising her and her sisters, describing her mother as “very protective.” At one point, she canceled a movie contract for the quadruplets, fearing it would bring them too much national attention.

But the quadruplets’ fame did bring some troubles. Cotton writes of the jealousy of their classmates, who went as far as throwing sticks and stones at them. One grade school teacher, Cotton claims, even called them “freaks.”

Through all of it, the sisters remained close. When one of the sisters was held back in fifth grade, all four repeated the grade “in order to stay together,” Cotton writes.

The family was self-sufficient, especially when it came to preserving food. She recalls sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers and beets and other money-saving foods on the dinner table.

“Our parents also made German headcheese,” she writes, “and I really hated that stuff.”

Also on the subject of food, she recalls an episode where her father’s love of smelly foods like Limburger cheese and sardines got them sideways with a grade school teacher at Oak Park Grade School. The teacher was convinced the children weren’t bathing. After that, they only ate the pungent cheese on Saturdays.

Carl Morlock ruled over the quadruplets with an iron fist. Cotton details several rules her father set, including “never go to the library or touch any books — they have germs.” The girls were not allowed to date or go to dances, and Sarah would end up being the only sister to marry.

The other girls worked to become secretaries, careers which would carry them through adulthood.

“I was the rebel of the bunch anyway,” Cotton writes.

As adults, the sisters went their separate ways, but eventually they all came back to Lansing.

In 2000, the sisters were feted by Sparrow Hospital on their 80th birthday. The quadruplets even performed a rendition of “Alice Blue Gown,” their trademark song, for the occasion. Wilma Morlok died in 2002, followed by Helen Morlock in 2003. Edna Morlock died last year. Sarah lives in southeast Michigan, near her son.

“As I look back, we made quite a team,” Cotton writes.