BUFFALO GROVE, IL—The Holsapple family, long feared missing or spiritually dead, was found alive in the Chicago suburbs Monday, somehow managing to survive in the hostile environment for more than eight years.
Rescuers discovered the five-person clan after a survey plane spotted a crude signal fire the family had created in a barbecue grill.
"Imagine my surprise when, smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, I saw these flames," pilot Tony Riggs said. "I did a second pass and was shocked to see actual human beings down there. I remember thinking to myself, 'My God, who could live in a place like that?' It's incredible to imagine they survived there for so long."
Bill Holsapple, 41, wife Meredith, 39, and son Jay disappeared in June 1993, when, two months after Jay's birth, the family of three left their Chicago apartment for parts unknown. The three were not heard from again until Monday, when they were found in the suburban wasteland known as Buffalo Grove with two new family members, Kimberly, 4, and Jordan, 2.
To protect themselves from the elements, the Holsapples fashioned a three-bedroom, ranch-style lean-to with brick facing and white aluminum siding. During their years on the acre-and-a-half lot, the Holsapples faced many hardships, including septic-tank backups, frequent ant infestation, and the threat of rezoning to erect an industrial park across the street.
"The Holsapples were in pretty bad shape when we found them lying lifelessly on their patio furniture," paramedic Mary Gills said. "Their stomachs were bloated from years of soda and fast food, and they were all suffering from severe cultural malnutrition."
Upon discovery, the family was rushed back to civilization. Attempts to reassimilate the Holsapples into metropolitan living with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and dinner at a nice Peruvian restaurant were met with resistance.
"When we got to the museum, the family became quite agitated," psychologist Dr. Allan Green said. "Jay kept calling all the modern art 'weird' and Meredith said, 'If we wanted to look at art, we could just go to Deck The Walls at the mall.'"
Green feared that the family was not ready to rejoin urban life after having received little or no cultural stimuli in the suburbs for nearly a decade.
"We were going to ease them into it, perhaps with a marginally artsy movie like Being John Malkovich," Green said. "Then Kimberly kept complaining that she missed 'Ashley' and wanted to go home. At first, I thought we'd left one of the family members behind, but then she said Ashley was a friend. I was shocked to learn of whole tribes of suburban dwellers, people who live their entire lives there."
Upon arriving in Buffalo Grove in 1993, the Holsapples befriended the locals, called "suburbanites," and soon adopted their ways entirely, from the mode of dress to the food they eat. Meredith Holsapple described in great detail the suburban settlements called "sub-divisions" where great emphasis is placed on maintaining lawns, watching televised sports, birthing children, listening to Top 40 music, and collecting stuffed animals.
According to University of Illinois– Chicago anthropologist Dr. Arthur Cox, to survive such an emotionally, culturally, and spiritually barren place, the Holsapples were forced to "go native."
"Much like those stranded in remote islands, the Holsapple family looked to the indigenous population to learn techniques for adaptation and survival," Cox said. "Shocking as it is, one eventually becomes acclimated and then numbed to the theme restaurants, cinema multiplexes, and warehouse-sized grocery stores.
"The world is full of strange, isolated cultures, but the American suburbs are unique among these in that virtually no culture exists there," Green said. "Even the Eskimos living in the most barren, remote Arctic regions have whale-bone art and beautiful storytelling traditions. The odd part about these suburbanites is how, unlike the Eskimos and other isolated groups, they live in close proximity to places brimming with art, life, and vitality. Yet somehow, they shut all of it out. We don't know the reason for this, but I don't think anyone wants to spend enough time in the suburbs to find out."