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.
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.
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