Christmas 1900: Addie’s Special Gift to Wilbur

I’ve heard coincidences defined as “wonderful little miracles where God chooses to remain anonymous.”

When you look back at the many events that had to transpire in order for Addie’s picture albums to end up in my possession, it surely does appear to be a long string of God’s anonymous miracles.

It started in 1896, when Addie and/or Enoch hired a professional photographer to capture the story of their day to day life at the Fargo Mansion Inn. The picture album in my possession represents a five-year span, which is quite remarkable. And then sometime in late 1900, Addie – who was obviously a woman who prided herself on her appearance –  permitted someone to take her photo when she was not looking her best.

In fact, she looked awful.

In this final photo of Addie – the last known photo of Addie – her face is badly swollen, her upper lip is distorted and swollen and there’s a pronounced puffiness under her right eye.

In addition, her hairline has receded. This is not the look of someone styling their hair a little differently. This is a hairline that has moved back significantly. Look around the ears, and you can see this even more. In fact, the smooth hairline around the perimeter of her forehead is gone, and in its place is a zig-zag hariline, looking more like a hairplug job gone wrong, rather than a 29-year-woman’s scalp.

Why did she permit herself to be photographed in this condition? Had she been poisoned with arsenic? Typical signs of arsenic poisoning are hair loss. Laying that to the side for a moment, why all the bruising about her face? Was she being beaten by Enoch? People who are ready to discount this out-of-hand need to study their history a little better. In late 19th Century America, there were many who thought it was a man’s duty to “keep his wife in line,” and women were considered more akin to children than equal partners.

I don’t know what’s going on with Addie in this photo, but it’s a radical departure from all the other photos in Addie’s album. And it’s on a remarkably different cardstock (much lighter and thinner) and it had faded significantly (as compared to the other photos). In fact, this photo appeared to be more of a snapshot, whereas the others seemed to be professionally done.

Why did Addie include this small photo in the album she sent to her brother-in-law Wilbur for Christmas 1900? Was it a plea for help? Was it Addie’s way of telling her only surviving family that she was being beaten by her husband?

Seven months after Anna (Addie’s sister) and Wilbur (Anna’s husband) received this parcel at their home in Denver,  29-year-old Addie was dead. According to Enoch’s granddaughter Mary Wilson (author of The History of Lake Mills), Addie did not die of diphtheria (as is stated on the death certificate), but was murdered by her husband, Enoch Fargo.

In 1939, Wilbur died and a short time later, his widow (Anna Hoyt Whitmore) moved to Santa Monica, to be near her daughter, Florence Whitmore Fuller.  Anna Hoyt Whitmore died in 1966, at the age of 99 years and four months. She’d outlived her baby sister by 70 years.

As Florence and her husband Edgar A. Fuller went through Anna’s many possessions, they decided to keep this old photo album.

In the  mid-1980s, both Florence and Edgar passed on, and my father (their son), drove out to California and cleaned out their massive old house.  He dragged home a U-haul, filled with things from their home in Santa Monica.

And then June 2011, my father died, three days shy of his 92nd birthday. Amongst his few possessions, I discovered this photo album.

On June 25, 2011, I sent an email to my friend David Spriggs asking him, “Hey, I found this photo album and I don’t know who these people are. Can you help me?”

It’s hard to imagine that it all started with a Christmas present, 111 years ago this Christmas.


The leatherette photo album that Addie sent to her brother-in-law, Christmas 1900.

Photos inside the album covered a span of about five years.

Photos inside the album covered a span of about five years.


The inscription reads "A Merry Christmas to Wilbur, from Addie." Wilbur was married to Anna, Addie's older sister. Wilbur and Anna were married about 1886, and moved to Denver in the late 1880s. Why did Addie send this to her brother-in-law, and not her sister?

There were a handful of inscriptions in the photo album, such as this one for Mattie.  Addie must have trusted this woman, because she included her photo in the album she sent to her family. Utlimately, Mattie (real name: Martha) Harbeck became Enoch Fargos third wife, a scant seven months after Addie death.

There were a handful of inscriptions in the photo album, such as this one for "Mattie." Addie must have trusted this woman, because she included her photo in the album she sent to her family. Utlimately, Mattie (real name: Martha) Harbeck became Enoch Fargo's third wife, a scant seven months after Addie death.


And why did she include this haunting photo? Look at the body language. Look at Addie's face. As mentioned above, the quality of this photo (cardstock, finish and depth of tint) is radically different from the rest of the photos in the album. Was she trying to convey a message to her family in Denver?


It's hard to believe she was 29 years old in this photo.


Look at her face. The right eye is puffy, the lips are swollen, and the cupid's bow is badly misaligned with her philtrum.

Five years with Enoch took a toll on Addie.

Five years with Enoch took a toll on Addie. Compare the hairlines in the two photos. That's more than just a different hairstyle. Look around her ears. Her hairline had receded dramatically.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

To learn more about the falsified death certificate, click here.

*   *   *


  1. Mandie Brewer


    Just think about the fear the women in Enoch’s life must have felt. If Enoch beat Addie the days before the photo, then told her she had to stand by him lovingly for a picture she would have. In that photo of her looking so beaten and worn with Enoch she sure looks like she took advantage of it and she decided to try to get someone’s attention. She also looks like she is poised and ready to tip him right out of that chair!

    At that time in history, she may have mailed it to her brother in law in hopes that a man making claims of abuse would be taken seriously. Almost makes me wonder if she stuck the photo of Mattie in the album as a clue, like here is the other woman, and this is what he has done to me…help. It is just so sad that the clues were put to together too late.

    Anyway you look at it, that album is the most wonderful Christmas gift your family has gotten. Addie was a brave woman to put it together and send it! And now look at all the friends you have come to know, it is almost like Addie is still giving gifts to her family.

  2. Linda Smith

    It certainly is a very haunting picture. The body language really seems distant and Addie seems to being pleading for something. I can understand that she would have to go through Wilbur for help as you are correct in that women couldn’t speak off such things. Such a shame.

  3. David Spriggs

    Consider this: You possess and have touched something personal, which Addie had touched.

    To me, that is different than touching a bannister or a door jamb in the mansion or walking on the same sidewalk or sitting on the same steps on the front porch. This album is something which Addie created … which she held in her hands and gave thought as to which photos to include and how to present them. It was her attempt to capture moments of her life to be seen years into the future.

    As in the film, “The Red Violin”, that album could be the artifact around which you build the narrative of her life and death. It is the literary mechanism by which you can leap back and forth through time to tell her story.

  4. Jan Heidemann

    Her posture in the picture seems to me as if she is in pain and unable to stand up straight–obviously an unwilling participant in the photo session. She looks to me as if she is using the chair for support as she is about to pass out from pain. This picture is very bothersome to me from Addie’s stance to Enoch’s distant stare with out any concern for his wife.

  5. Sears Homes

    @Jan Heidemann
    Jan, that could well be. The legend in Lake Mills is that she was poisoned with arsenic. If she was being poisoned, she would have suffered significant abdominal pain. Unfortunately, the medical examiner could not test the bones for arsenic, because the soil sample from the grave showed high levels of arsenic.

  6. Lois Madry

    @Jan Heidemann
    I think you are right, she does seem to be in pain. Maybe her brother-in-law Wilbur was an attorney or someone in high office that people would listen to. And what if she was poisoned and it was taking too long and he decided to shoot her, what if it went thru her heart or stomach?

    Would there be evidence of that or would they just have to sift the dirt for a bullet?

  7. Lois Madry

    It is clearly murder, what a shame it can’t be solved. Do Enoch’s relatives have a gun that was handed down, or any information? Has Maddie’s family (Maddie, aka Martha) been able to offer any insight?