When an Old Person Dies…

There’s a saying that when an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down. In other words, it’s a significant loss of historical information and stories and records and experiences that can never be restored.

I’d have to say there’s one exception to that rule: When that “old person” has taken the time to write a book, and record and preserve all the historical information and stories and records and experiences.

These days, I get asked a lot of questions about Addie Hoyt Fargo, my great Aunt. And often, I preface my response with, “I’m so grateful to Mary Wilson, who took the time to write a book about Lake Mills, and share what she knew about Addie’s death.”

As a fellow author and historian, I really am grateful that Mary Wilson left us a 700-page book detailing so many elements of Lake Mill’s history,  because it preserved a written record of Addie’s death that would have otherwise been lost to the ages. It was because of Mrs. Wilson’s book that I started digging into this story. Reading her book cover to cover is akin to sitting down and hearing the stories of someone who was born and raised in Lake Mills, and spent nine decades here, because – that’s just what Mary did.

It is a book full of gems.

So what does Mary tell us about Addie? Simply, that Addie was shot by her husband, Enoch Fargo.

In The History of Lake Mills (published in 1983), Mary Wilson writes, “A number of persons who knew [Enoch Fargo] will tell the same story – he shot Addie.”

Enoch had three daughters by his first wife, Mary Rutherford Fargo. The eldest daughter was named Elsie Fargo (McCammon). Elsie McCammon’s daughter was Mary Wilson, who authored The History of Lake Mills. In this book, it’s Enoch’s own granddaughter describing what happened to Addie Hoyt Fargo.

Mrs. Wilson also writes about Dr. William Oatway, the physician who was allegedly complicit in this crime, and reports that Oatway stated years later, “No one was fooled” by his alleged falsification of Addie’s death certificate (showing diphtheria as the cause of death).

That book was an incredible resource in my research, and gave me the foundation on which to start building a case. And in the ensuing four months, I’ve discovered a multitude of documents and resources that point to the fact that Mary Wilson’s accounting of this crime in Lake Mills is probably accurate.

It’s a tough book to find, and I paid almost $50 for my copy, which is a true testament to this book’s enduring value and appeal.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

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My favorite photo of all.

An amazing glimpse into another time, this photo shows Addie in her bedroom at the Fargo Mansion Inn in Lake Mills.


There's a sweetness and naivete on this young woman's face that is wholly compelling. She was just a girl - 24 years old - and full of hope and dreams and ideas. Perhaps she'd planned on having a whole passel of children or maybe she was looking forward to being a socialite, carrying the torch for whatever causes that filled her heart with passion. She's so young and sincere-looking in this photo. So untarnished by the world. And five years later, she'd be dead, murdered (allegedly) by the man that had promised to love her for the rest of his life.


Addie Hoyt - in 1896 (wedding day) and 1901 (shortly before her death). This photo presents an argument that Addie was sickly at the end of her life. Given the jagged and receding hairline (on the right), one has to wonder if she was suffering from arsenic poisoning. There's also a swollen lip and other distortions around her nose. Perhaps she fell down a flight of stairs and landed on her face. I understand that Victorian-era women were very prone to such accidents. She sent this photo to her brother-in-law Wilbur Whitmore, living in Denver at the time.


This shows the remarkable difference in the hairline.


Comparison of Addie's lips, showing the swelling and misalignment (on the latter photo on right).

To keep reading about Addie, click here.

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