Updated! Following my visit last week to Lake Mills, we’ve now uncovered evidence that proves – incontrovertibly – that Dr. Oatway did falsify Addie’s death certificate! This is a powerful piece of evidence!
June 19, 1901 was a very, very busy day in Lake Mills.
That was the day that Addie Hoyt Fargo – a 29-year-old socialite in the prime of her life – died very suddenly and unexpectedly from diphtheria. Married to one of Lake Mills’ wealthiest men, Addie lived with Enoch and his two daughters in one of Lake Mills‘ most grandiose homes, The Fargo Mansion.
According to local lore and two published reports, Addie Hoyt Fargo didn’t really die of diphtheria. That was a contrived story created to cover up the truth: Addie died from a gunshot wound to the head, delivered by her ever-loving husband, Enoch Fargo.
The 51-year-old Enoch Fargo was in love with Maddie Hoyt (no relation to Addie) and wanted Addie out of the way so he could marry Maddie. The same sources claim that Dr. William H. Oatway openly stated years later, “No one was fooled” by Oatway’s alleged falsification of Addie’s death certificate (showing diphtheria as the cause of death), and that folks knew Enoch had killed his young wife as she lay sleeping in her bed.
The local newspaper account (below) states that Addie first started feeling unwell Tuesday morning, June 18th 1901. According to the obituary (also below), Enoch’s physician (Dr. Oatway) was summoned and “The fact that she was afflicted with this dread disease was only apparent to her physician only a few hours [before she died].”
That‘s a remarkable detail.
For one, Dr. Oatway specialized in diseases of the ear, nose and throat. Diphtheria was a disease of the nose and throat. How in the world could an ear, nose and throat doctor miss a disease that first attacks the nose and throat?
Secondly, the progression of this disease – from onset to death – typically took a minimum of 6-8 days and more often, the progression was measured in weeks and arose from complications involving the brain and heart. Diphtheria was not an automatic death sentence. It was the young and elderly that perished. It was expected that otherwise healthy adults would survive this disease.
Addie came from hardy stock. Her sister (Anna Hoyt Whitmore) lived to be 99 years old.
In the early 1900s, the fatality rate for diphtheria was 5-10% for people Addie’s age (more than five years old and less than 40). The higher death rate (less than 20%) applied to those who were under five years of age and more than 40. [Source: College of Physicians of Philadelphia, History Project.]
And one can’t help but assume that the death rate for a 29-year-old healthy woman probably be the lowest of all. In other words, how many six and seven year old children died from diphtheria? Probably enough to skew those numbers.
A fascinating aside: The Iditarod in Alaska was first known as “The Great Race of Mercy.” In 1925, there was an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome, and 20 drivers (mushers) and 150 sled dogs made the arduous 670-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome, to deliver the life-saving serum as fast as possible. They traversed the entire distance in less than six days’ time. Our modern-day Iditarod commemorates this “Great Race of Mercy,” that saved the lives of countless native Inuit children in 1925.
Knowing all these facts, it’s a tough sell to say that Addie first started feeling unwell sometime late Tuesday morning and was dead 18 hours later (at 2:00 am on the 19th).
Was this Oatway’s way of giving us a subtle clue in this murder mystery? Was he trying to tell someone, “This is all a contrivance. Healthy 29-year-olds don’t die in 18 hours from diphtheria.”
Let’s set all that aside for a moment. There’s another tough sell in this story.
So Addie was unwell late Tuesday morning, and dead by 2:00 am Wednesday morning.
Addie dies at 2:00 A. M.
The doctor is summoned to pronounce her dead.
The body is removed.
A burial permit is issued.
An undertaker is engaged.
A casket is selected and obtained. (Someone from Addie’s station would have had a “custom” coffin, built to fit, as it were. Or maybe her lifeless form was simply shoved into an off-the-shelf pine box.)
Addie’s body is prepared for burial.
Grave diggers are summoned and hired to prepare a grave, and it’s likely – given the timing – that this was done in the dark.
The death certificate is completed by Dr. Oatway as attending physician.
The death certificate is certified as true by the County Health Officer, who just happens to be…
Addie is “laid to rest” is 10:00 A.M. the next morning.
Not a visitation, but “laid to rest.” The casket is never opened – allegedly because of the grievous fears of contagion.
Soon after 10:00 A.M., we can assume that her body is lowered into the soft earth of a waiting grave.
Eight hours after her death.
As my friend David Spriggs said, “Talk about efficiency! All that in one day for an unexpected death?? Why, it is almost as if they knew that it was going to happen and had already made preparations.”
And while they were in a hurry to get this done, they were not in a hurry to tell the family. I’ve found notes, apparently penned by my Great Grandmother (Anna Hoyt Whitmore), that suggest that – as of 1904 – she assumed that her sister Addie was still alive and well in Lake Mills.
Thanks to David Spriggs (Norfolk) for providing the substance of this blog, and also to Bruce A. Samoore, Volunteer Historical Researcher (Wisconsin) for unearthing much of the hard-to-find genealogical facts, death certificates and obituaries. And special thanks to Heather Lukaszewski (Waukesha, Wisconsin) for spending too-many-hours to count at the library, digging up old newspaper articles on Dr. Oatway!
The more I learn, the more I become convinced, it seems unlikely that Addie died from diphtheria.
I need your help. Please leave a comment below with your ideas, insights or thoughts.
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