Archive for August, 2011

The Sears Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania!

August 2nd, 2011 Sears Homes 8 comments

Two weeks ago, I drove six hours out of my way (enroute to Elkins, WV) to visit a Sears Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania.

Irwin, it turns out, is not a thriving metropolis but a small town just off the beaten path. However, it does have an Americus, an Alhambra (on the main drag) and a Lewiston. And best of all, it has a Sears Magnolia dressed up in brick.

The Magnolia was the creme de la creme of the Sears kit homes. It was bigger and grander and fancier than any of the other 370 models that Sears offered. You can learn a whole lot more about the Magnolia by clicking here and here.

In short, The Magnolia was Sears’ finest home. And it was also one of the rarest.

For years, we’d heard that there were six Magnolias built in the country. There was one in Nebraska (which burned down many years ago), and one in North Carolina, Alabama, Indiana and Ohio. (Click on the links to read more about those particular houses).

And then in February, I was told about a purported Sears Magnolia in Blacksburg, South Carolina. I put 897 miles on my car that weekend, driving down to Blacksburg to see that house in the flesh. It was close - real close - but it was not a Sears Magnolia. You can read more about that here.

In May, I learned about the seventh Magnolia in Syracuse, New York! So how many Sears Magnolias are there? Perhaps billions and billions and billions.

How delightful is that!?!

And what about our Magnolia in Irwin? Unfortunately, I was not able to get inside despite a lot of serious door-knocking. However, it appears that our wonderful Maggy has been turned into an apartment building.

First, the original catalog image from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The Sears Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.


Unfortunately, there were many obstacles to a good picture, such as a utility pole and stop sign. This Magnolia looks quite different from the traditional Magnolia, plus the third-floor dormer has a full-size door with coach lights flanking it! The Magnolia typically has a gabled dormer, whereas the Irwin house has a hipped dormer. That's one of about a dozen minor differences between this house (above) and the Sears catalog page (below).

Another view of the Magnolia in Irwin

Another view of the Magnolia in Irwin

From the rear

From the rear, it surely looks like this old house has been turned into several apartments. I hope someone from Irwin will tell me that I'm wrong!

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.  (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling)

This is another view from another time. This photo was sent to me several years ago by Bob Keeling, who then owned the house. As I recall, he was in the process of selling the house at that time. (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling)

Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, New York

And here's a picture of the Sears Magnolia in Syracuse! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Details on Sears Magnolias front porch

Details on the Sears Magnolia's front porch. Notice the many differences between this porch (shown in this catalog page) and the house in Irwin!

Close-up of the house itself (1921 catalog)

Close-up of the house itself (1921 catalog)

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

A beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

Sears Magnolia in South Bend

Sears Magnolia in South Bend. (Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Magnolia in South Carolina

The Magnolia in Alabama is also not a spot-on match to the original catalog image. Most obvious is that attic dormer, which is much simpler than the Magnolia dormer. Yet this house in Piedmont Alabama is a Sears Magnolia.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes (sold by Montgomery Ward), click here!

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Was Aunt Addie Shot in the Head? (Part VI)

August 1st, 2011 Sears Homes 7 comments

Updated!  Following my visit last week to Lake Mills, we’ve now uncovered evidence that proves - incontrovertibly - that Dr. Oatway did falsify Addie’s death certificate! This is a powerful piece of evidence!

June 19, 1901 was a very, very busy day in Lake Mills.

That was the day that Addie Hoyt Fargo - a 29-year-old socialite in the prime of her life - died very suddenly and unexpectedly from diphtheria.  Married to one of Lake Mills’ wealthiest men, Addie lived with Enoch and his two daughters in one of Lake Mills‘ most grandiose homes, The Fargo Mansion.

According to local lore and two published reports, Addie Hoyt Fargo didn’t really die of diphtheria. That was a contrived story created to cover up the truth:  Addie died from a gunshot wound to the head, delivered by her ever-loving husband, Enoch Fargo.

The 51-year-old Enoch Fargo was in love with Maddie Hoyt (no relation to Addie) and wanted Addie out of the way so he could marry Maddie. The same sources claim that Dr. William H. Oatway openly stated years later, “No one was fooled” by Oatway’s alleged falsification of Addie’s death certificate (showing diphtheria as the cause of death), and that folks knew Enoch had killed his young wife as she lay sleeping in her bed.

The local newspaper account (below) states that Addie first started feeling unwell Tuesday morning, June 18th 1901.  According to the obituary (also below), Enoch’s physician (Dr. Oatway) was summoned and “The fact that she was afflicted with this dread disease was only apparent to her physician only a few hours [before she died].”

That’s a remarkable detail.

For one, Dr. Oatway specialized in diseases of the ear, nose and throat. Diphtheria was a disease of the nose and throat. How in the world could an ear, nose and throat doctor miss a disease that first attacks the nose and throat?

Secondly, the progression of this disease - from onset to death - typically took a minimum of 6-8 days and more often, the progression was measured in weeks and arose from complications involving the brain and heart. Diphtheria was not an automatic death sentence. It was the young and elderly that perished. It was expected that otherwise healthy adults would survive this disease.

Addie came from hardy stock. Her sister (Anna Hoyt Whitmore) lived to be 99 years old.

In the early 1900s, the fatality rate for diphtheria was 5-10% for people Addie’s age (more than five years old and less than 40).  The higher death rate (less than 20%) applied to those who were under five years of age and more than 40. [Source: College of Physicians of Philadelphia, History Project.]

And one can’t help but assume that the death rate for a 29-year-old healthy woman probably be the lowest of all. In other words, how many six and seven year old children died from diphtheria? Probably enough to skew those numbers.

A fascinating aside:  The Iditarod in Alaska was first known as “The Great Race of Mercy.”  In 1925, there was an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome, and 20 drivers (mushers) and 150 sled dogs made the arduous 670-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome, to deliver the life-saving serum as fast as possible. They traversed the entire distance in less than six days’ time. Our modern-day Iditarod commemorates this “Great Race of Mercy,” that saved the lives of countless native Inuit children in 1925.

Knowing all these facts, it’s a tough sell to say that Addie first started feeling unwell sometime late Tuesday morning and was dead 18 hours later (at 2:00 am on the 19th).

Was this Oatway’s way of giving us a subtle clue in this murder mystery? Was he trying to tell someone, “This is all a contrivance. Healthy 29-year-olds don’t die in 18 hours from diphtheria.”

Let’s set all that aside for a moment. There’s another tough sell in this story.

The timing.

So Addie was unwell late Tuesday morning, and dead by 2:00 am Wednesday morning.

Addie dies at 2:00 A. M.

The doctor is summoned to pronounce her dead.

The body is removed.

A burial permit is issued.

An undertaker is engaged.

A casket is selected and obtained. (Someone from Addie’s station would have had a “custom” coffin, built to fit, as it were. Or maybe her lifeless form was simply shoved into an off-the-shelf pine box.)

Addie’s body is prepared for burial.

Grave diggers are summoned and hired to prepare a grave, and it’s likely - given the timing - that this was done in the dark.

The death certificate is completed by Dr. Oatway as attending physician.

The death certificate is certified as true by the County Health Officer, who just happens to be…

Dr. Oatway.

Addie is “laid to rest” is 10:00 A.M. the next morning.

Not a visitation, but “laid to rest.” The casket is never opened - allegedly because of the grievous fears of contagion.

Soon after 10:00 A.M., we can assume that her body is lowered into the soft earth of a waiting grave.

Eight hours after her death.

Eight hours!

As my friend David Spriggs said, “Talk about efficiency! All that in one day for an unexpected death?? Why, it is almost as if they knew that it was going to happen and had already made preparations.”

And while they were in a hurry to get this done, they were not in a hurry to tell the family. I’ve found notes, apparently penned by my Great Grandmother (Anna Hoyt Whitmore), that suggest that - as of 1904 - she assumed that her sister Addie was still alive and well in Lake Mills.

To learn more about the details of Addie’s mysterious death, click here.

Thanks to David Spriggs (Norfolk) for providing the substance of this blog, and also to Bruce A. Samoore, Volunteer Historical Researcher (Wisconsin) for unearthing much of the hard-to-find genealogical facts, death certificates and obituaries. And special thanks to Heather Lukaszewski (Waukesha, Wisconsin) for spending too-many-hours to count at the library, digging up old newspaper articles on Dr. Oatway!

The more I learn, the more I become convinced, it seems unlikely that Addie died from diphtheria.

I need your help. Please leave a comment below with your ideas, insights or thoughts.

To read the newest information, click here (updated September 12th at 11 pm).

To read Part VII, click here.

To read Part V, click here.

To read Part IV, click here.

To read Part III, click here.

To read Part II, click here.

Enoch Fargo and his bride, Addie Hoyt Fargo. This is labeled as their wedding photo from 1896.

Enoch Fargo and his bride, Addie Hoyt Fargo in 1896 at the time of their wedding. Addie was 22 years younger than Enoch. He allegedly murdered Addie so that he could marry Maddie Hoyt (no relation).


Addies death certificate, allegedly falsified by Dr. Oatway.

Addie's death certificate, allegedly falsified by Dr. Oatway. The lower portion shows that the death certificate was certified on June 19, 1901.


On October 2, 1913, the Waukesha Freeman (newspaper) reported that Dr. Oatway was moving from Lake Mills to Waukesha to open a new office there.  Interesting that, years after establishing a successful practice in Lake Mills, hed up and move to Waukesha.

On October 2, 1913, the Waukesha Freeman (newspaper) reported that Dr. Oatway was moving from Lake Mills to Waukesha to open a new office there. Interesting that, years after establishing a successful practice in Lake Mills, he'd up and move to Waukesha.



Addie's obituary as it appeared in the local paper, soon after her death.


This obituary attempted to explain her fast death from a slow disease process.

I bet Addie was "very much shocked" too. This obituary attempted to explain her fast death from a slow disease process.

Addie, in the bedroom where she was allegedly shot by her husband, Enoch Fargo.

Addie, in the bedroom where she was allegedly shot by her husband, Enoch Fargo.

Addie, about 1899.

Addie, about 1899.

And heres Maddie, the woman Enoch was (allegedly) willing to kill for.

And here's Maddie, the woman Enoch was (allegedly) willing to kill for. Contrary to local lore, she was not related to the Hoyts of Lake Mills in anyway. Maddie Louise Harbeck Hoyt Fargo was born seven years before her mother (Marie Harbeck) married Henry Hoyt. In 1880, Maddie (then seven years old) was living with her grandparents in Lake Mills. Her grandmother was Elizabeth Fargo Harbeck.

To read more about Addie and Annie Hoyt, click here.

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