the grumpy genealogist

Fargo MansionIn the wee hours of the morning, through the blackness of a warm summer's night, Enoch J. Fargo entered the bedroom of his frail and sickly wife, Addie Hoyt Fargo. While his two grown daughters, his servants, Addie's nurse, and Enoch's young mistress all slept quietly down the hall, Enoch put a gun to Addie's head and blew her brains out.

The family doctor was immediately summoned, bribed, and filed a fake death certificate. Addie was then taken directly to the cemetery for a quick burial that morning. Or was the coffin empty? For it seems that her burial permit is missing. And now Addie's ghost roams the grounds of her former home, the Fargo Mansion, in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.

Well, that's what the legend's promoters say. From what I see, Addie died of diphtheria, and the ghost story was made up decades later to promote the old house, which became a Bed and Breakfast in the 1980s. But the genealogist in me wanted to look a little deeper, and here's what I found:

An obscure book, claiming that Addie was shot, was self-published in 1983 by a person born some 25 years after the supposed murder.

The house was purchased by commercial developers in 1985 and opened in 1987 as a B&B. It was heavily promoted, and was featured in several magazines and newspapers. Though, no mention of Addie's death.

In 2001, a newspaper interview with one of the owners claimed that Addie's ghost was hanging around, celebrating the 100th anniversary of her gruesome death. They also had the ghosts of two bears, who once lived on the property for a short time before being sent to the zoo. And of course, the house is available for weddings and parties.

The previous 2001 story was repeated in a book of ghost stories in 2003.

In 2011, one of Addie's photo albums was discovered, and a new investigation ensued (apparently leading to a future book deal), complete with speaking events, new claims of domestic abuse, and appeals for donations to exhume Addie's body.

Here are some of the claims (new and old) put forth in the legend, along with my own research:

CLAIM #1: The so-called "Smoking Gun" - Addie's burial permit is missing in the cemetery books, and by law, everyone needed a permit before opening a grave (even stillborn babies). So obviously, something shady was going on.

EVIDENCE: Rock Lake Cemetery Burial Permits, Lake Mills, Jefferson, WI:

Nellie Electa Smith died 30 April 1901 PERMIT #21  issued  1 May 1901
Addie Hoyt Fargo died 19 June 1901 NO PERMIT
John Smith died 26 June 1901 PERMIT #22 issued 27 June 1901

TRUTH #1: Searching the months of May and June 1901 in the Rock Lake Cemetery, I found that only 2 out of 5 burials had actual permits.

EVIDENCE: shows Addie plus two more graves between the dates of permits 21 & 22. These two extra graves also appear in a Rock Lake Cemetery list complied by the Jefferson County Historical Society.

Nellie Electa Smith died 30 April 1901 PERMIT #21  issued  1 May 1901
Carrie Joslin died  9  May 1901 NO PERMIT
Addie Hoyt Fargo died 19 June 1901 NO PERMIT
Mary L. Sondermann died 21 June 1901 NO PERMIT
John Smith died 26 June 1901 PERMIT #22 issued 27 June 1901

CLAIM #2: Addie's death certificate was completed, filed and certified within hours of her death. The logistics are mind-boggling.

TRUTH #2: Only to a boggled mind. The permits shown above were also issued within hours of their deaths (probably by 6 A.M. the next morning), and therefore so were their death certificates. People didn't like to leave dead bodies lingering around.


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"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance." - George Bernard Shaw