Little Ernie Whitmore: The Story of a Very Short Life

After my father passed on in June 2011, I was cleaning out his assisted living facility and that’s when I discovered two photo albums from the late 1800s, belonging to Addie Hoyt, my great, great Aunt. In that same old shoe box, I also found – laying loose in the box – a professionally done photograph of a young boy, about five years old. The back of the photo said the child’s name was Ernie Eugene Whitmore, 1888 – 1894.

Ernie was the eldest child of Anna Hoyt Whitmore and Wilbur W. Whitmore (my great-grandparents, and Addie’s sister and brother-in-law). Anna and Wilbur had three children, Ernie, Florence and Victor. Florence was my grandmother, and she was born in 1891. Her brother Victor was born in 1893.

Looking at these pictures of this little boy, I wondered, what happened to Ernie? He looks healthy and strong.

If you look closely at his folded hands, you’ll see the dirty fingernails of a young boy who loves to play outside and does not love to wash his hands! Ernie did not look like a frail little boy.

His small hands are clasped so tightly, it looks like he was struggling mightily to sit still on picture day! As a mother of three girls (one of whom was a real “wiggle worm”),  it’s easy for me to imagine that day at the photographer’s studio in 1893.

“Mrs. Whitmore, I can not get a good picture if that boy does not stop his squirming!”

I can imagine Grandmother Whitmore leaning toward Ernie, and – for the umpteenth time – admonishing her little boy to be still.

“Ernie, you must do as you’re told and sit still. If you’re a good boy, we’ll stop by the confectionery on the way home and I’ll let you pick out a treat.”

Ernie clutches his hands tightly together, desperately yearning to keep the inner wiggle worm still for just a few…more…seconds.

Finally, after a few shutter clicks and blinding flashes of light, young Ernie is released from this torturous stillness.

Ernie was not quite five years old when that photo was taken in June 1893. It was to be his last photo.

What happened to Ernie? How did his life end so quickly?

On February 22, 2012, I learned the rest of the story.

While reading my way through ten years of the Lake Mills Leader (the newspaper of Lake Mills Wisconsin), I found a little snippet in the corner of the page for December 1894. It said that Julia Hoyt (of Lake Mills) had rushed off to Denver to be with her daughter’s family (Anna Hoyt Whitmore and her husband, Wilbur).  Julia Hawley Hoyt was Ernie’s maternal grandmother.

The entire household had contracted Scarlet Fever, one of the most terrifying disease of that time.

Julia caught the express train from Chicago to Denver, rushing out to help her daughter’s young family. Julia left on November 31st, 1894 and arrived 26 hours later, on December 1st. That was to be the day that six-year-old Ernie died.

There’s no word that Julia ever returned to Lake Mills. Perhaps she did, but if she did, it was never recorded in the newspaper. Six months later, Julia Hoyt died in San Mateo, California (Alameda County). She was 51 years old.

UPDATED:  Julia Hoyt contracted Scarlet Fever during her stay in Denver, and died six months later in San Mateo.

Learning about Addie’s life in Lake Mills has been fascinating, and learning more about the rest of the Hoyt Family has been an unexpected bonus.

To read more about Julia Hoyt, click here.

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I find this photo of Ernie (taken June 1893) to be utterly captivating.

This photo of Ernie (June 1893) is enchanting.


Look at those hands!

Look at those dear little hands - and the lace on his cuffs and shirt!


And here

And he had a very sweet expression.


Addie thought so, too. She called him, Aunties Sweetheart.

Addie thought so, too. Written on the back of the photo is an inscription (written by Addie) where she called him, "Auntie's Sweetheart."


He was 10 monhts old

Ernie was 10 months old in this photo.



On December 6, 1894, the Lake Mills Leader reported that Julia Hoyt had left one week prior (November 31st) to be with Anna Hoyt Whitmore and her family, all of whom were afflicted with Scarlet Fever. The next day, Ernie would be gone.


And December 1st 1894, young Ernie died of Smallpox.

December 1st 1894, Ernie died of Scarlet Fever. It's difficult for me to think of a child - a six year old - being described as "a brave, beautiful example of Christian fortitude," while he lays dying.


Despite a whole lot of searching, I have not been able to find an obit for Julia Hawley Hoyt, my great-great grandmother.

Despite a whole lot of searching, I have not been able to find an obit for Julia Hawley Hoyt, my great-great grandmother. She died less than six months after little Ernie. She was 51 years old. This photo was taken in 1888.

To learn more about Addie Hoyt, click here.

To learn more about the kit homes of Lake Mills, click here.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Hardin

    She was burried in San Lorenzo Pioneer Memorial Cemetery May 6, 1895.