Barbara Newhall Follett was famous as a “child prodigy” in the 1920s for publishing two books with Alfred A. Knopf. She wrote the first, “The House Without Windows,” when she was just eight years old (though the manuscript was lost in a fire and not published until she was 12). Tragically, we’ll never know what remarkable work she may have produced as an adult. Barbara vanished from her home at 42 Kent Street in Brookline, Massachusetts on December 7, 1939, when she was 25 years old.
In her teens, Barbara continued to write while also pursuing her ambition to be a crewman on a ship sailing out to the Atlantic. At 14, her second book was published, The Voyage of the Norman D. However after becoming estranged from her father and encourager, who left Barbara’s mother for a younger woman, the work began to dwindle. Barbara found new inspiration in a young man named Nickerson Rogers, and they married in 1934, settling in Brookline, Massachusetts.
After a time, the marriage began to suffer. Then on December 7, 1939, after a fight, Barbara left their apartment on foot with just $30 and a notebook. She was never seen or heard from again.
Nick didn’t report her missing for two weeks, and when she was listed as missing it was under her married name, Barbara Rogers—so the press didn’t pick up on the child prodigy turned gone girl for another 25 years. No one knew except, of course, her family. Over the years no sign of Barbara ever turned up, but her father, with whom she had never reconciled, wrote a letter imploring her to come home that was published in The Atlantic.
The mystery was never solved, and today no one can say with any certainty what happened to Barbara. There’s a chance she even could have started over again somewhere else, under a new identity. Maybe we’ll never know. Thankfully, she left behind her treasure chest of letters, short stories, poems, Farksoo (her invented language), and her superb lost novel, Lost Island—and her voice rings loud and clear throughout.