Since Addie’s story appeared on a popular genealogy blog, the readership at my website has gone way up, and in five days, I’ve had more than 7,000 new visitors, which is a lot. The great majority of the comments and emails I’ve received from the new readers were supportive, but some of them were just filled with vitriol and hatred. Really bad stuff.
I’ve now learned that two of the nastiest comments came from two someones who subscribe to the Crab Theory, better known as Schadenfreude. (By the way, you know who you are, and I do too, and we’ll be praying that the light of God’s love will shine into your dark, troubled soul and bring you peace.)
But let’s get back to those beautiful emails!
One of the best (and most well thought out) comments came from Susan Waggoner of New York.
A friend in Lake Mills sent me the link to the Sears site, because she knows I’m a history and architecture buff. I was sad to read that Addie died so young. But even before I learned of all the suspicions surrounding that, I thought it was an odd death because I’d thought of diphtheria as a killer of children and the elderly.
After reading everything else Addie-related here, I looked up diphtheria. For someone of Addie’s age, the mortality rate was only between 5 and 10%! Moreover, diphtheria has a short incubation period, then rapid onset that peaks quickly, so any prolonged “mystery illness” would have been unrelated. I didn’t see any mention in the obits about a diphtheria epidemic going on concurrently, and if there wasn’t, how would she have gotten it, since the Fargos hardly lived in squalid, third world circumstances.
I wish I knew more about Martha (“Maddie”). If Addie was 29, Martha would have been 28. A woman 28 and unmarried in that era didn’t have a lot of options, other than office work, and these people seem too upper class for that. She might have been quite jealous of Addie and eager — or desperate — to take her place. Perhaps it was she who gave Addie a not-so-gentle shove into eternity.
If EJ Fargo was already having an affair with Martha, what would his motive be for something as high-risk as killing Addie? There were lots of what were referred to as “odd women” — i.e., spinsters (“odd” as in odds and evens, not peculiar) — in that era, and it was seen as something of a masculine duty to take on a wife’s unmarried sister or close female relative.
Lots of men in the Victorian era (including Freud and Dickens) had their wives’ sisters living with them. No one batted an eye, so the arrangement could have gone on indefinitely on whatever terms it was. If, however, Martha killed Addie, EJ would probably have pressured the doctor to falsify the death certificate in order to avoid scandal and be left with at least one wife.
Another consideration with Martha — arsenic would have been more of a woman’s method than a man’s. Men don’t have the patience for it. And a wealthy man like EJ buying it would have raised eyebrows, whereas women, even well-off ones, would buy it to control kitchen rodents.
Susan, your comment above is the VERY reason I started blogging about Addie in the first place! One, I wanted to share her story so that this beautiful, intelligent and interesting 29-year-old woman wouldn’t be forgotten, and two, I was hoping the smart women in the world would take an interest in this story and provide fresh insight and new information. I know a lot about old houses, but not so much about arsenic, diphtheria and high society in the late 1800s.
So first, thank you for your wonderful note! And all the facts that you’ve stated above are concurrent with what I’ve learned.
Secondly, I’ve also wondered if Maddie was complicit in Addie’s death. Maddie’s life was not an easy one, to say the least. If you click here, you’ll see the talk I gave in Lake Mills, where I discuss Maddie’s past in some detail.
Here’s the short version.
“Maddie” (Martha Harbeck Hoyt Fargo) was born August 12, 1873 to 19-year-old Marie Harbeck of Lake Mills, Wisconsin. Marie was the daughter of William and Elizabeth (Betsy) Harbeck. From what we can glean from old records, Marie was not married at the time of Maddie’s birth, which in 1873 would have been quite remarkable (okay, scandalous).
In 1879, Marie (mother of Maddie) married Henry Hoyt and moved out of her parent’s home in Lake Mills. Marie Harbeck and Henry Hoyt had four children together (born from 1881-1891). According to census records, Marie’s first child (young Maddie Harbeck) remained behind with her grandparents. For a little girl growing up in small-town 1870s America, this must have been devastating.
In the eyes of Victorian society, this child was “illegitimate” (a term I personally disdain), and that must have been hard, but that pain must have been multiplied when her mother remarried, created a new family, and then left Maddie behind with the grandparents.
It was in later years that Maddie took on the name “Hoyt,” but in fact, she was not blood kin to the Hoyts. Further, Henry Hoyt (Maddie’s step-father) and Addie Hoyt (my aunt) are not related. So the four children of Henry Hoyt were not related to the children of Homer Hoyt (father of Addie and Anna), and Maddie was not blood kin to either Henry Hoyt or Homer Hoyt.
What is truly incredible is Maddie’s grandmother’s (Elizabeth Harbeck’s) maiden name: Fargo.
There’s an old story that Maddie Harbeck and Addie Hoyt were cousins, but (as mentioned above), that’s not true. However, it’s certainly possible that Elizabeth Fargo Harbeck and Enoch J. Fargo were related and perhaps even cousins. That’s conjecture. I don’t really know.
Back to Maddie: Her early years could not have been easy ones. The 1900 census shows 28-year-old Maddie living with her mother and step-father (Henry Hoyt) at their home in Lake Mills. It’s then that Maddie’s name appears as “Hoyt,” and her relationship to “head of household” is listed as “step-daughter.”
Sometime before Addie’s death (June 1901), Maddie allegedly moved into the Fargo Mansion. I don’t have any written documentation on that, but it’s part of the old story.
For about three months, I’ve studied and even memorized these old pictures from Addie’s two photo albums, but just four days ago I glimpsed something that I had missed before.
Addie trusted Maddie.
There are about 30 photos in these albums, depicting Addie’s life in Lake Mills. The only human beings shown in this album are Addie, Enoch, and Addie’s two step-children (Elsie and Mattie), and…
I just don’t think Addie would have gone to the trouble and expense of including a photo of Maddie in her photo album – a photo album she sent home to her family in Denver – unless Maddie was someone important in her life. I think Maddie was a friend to Addie.
And I think that there’s a fair chance that your theory about Maddie is correct, which is very sad.
If you were Maddie, and your own mother had walked out of your life when you were six years old, and this wealthy older gent shows up and promises the moon and the stars to you when you’re in your late 20s, unmarried, living an unsatisfying, lonely life, there’s a chance you’d do anything and everything to become part of his life, to have a home of your own, and to have one chance at the “happy ever after” you’ve seen pass by too many times to count.
It’s a theory.
Maddie and Enoch were married February 17, 1902, a scant eight months after Addie’s death (June 19, 1901). Victorian (Edwardian?) mourning rituals required a mourning period of 12 months. It would have caused quite a stir for a marriage to take place during the mourning period.
Enoch died in 1921 in Tarpon, Florida. Originally, I’d believed that Maddie was living in California at the time, but I’ve discovered new evidence that suggests she was in Lake Mills at the time of Enoch’s death. I’m still trying to sort that out. I do know that Maddie remained in Lake Mills until her death in 1964.
I wish I knew more about Maddie, but that’s everything I’ve got.
In addition to Susan’s email (quoted above), I’ve received many others – as powerful and beautiful and insightful – and I’ll write about those in a few days. 🙂
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