Whilst in Wisconsin last week, I visited the Lake Mills Public Library, seeking information on Addie Hoyt Fargo. I read about 15 months of the Lake Mills Leader from November 1900 to February 1902 (when Enoch married Maddie). The Lake Mills Leader was a weekly, and I found this obituary published on June 20, 1901. The other Addie obit that I published earlier came from The Jefferson County Union. Read it here.
I suspect both of these obits were penned by Oatway. He made a couple boo boos on this one.
This obit raises a lot of questions. First off, given that Oatway is the star of this obit, I think he wrote it in the wee hours. And the first obit (published here) said she got sick Tuesday late morning and died at 2:00 in the morning on Wednesday. Okay, so the midnight hour passed once. He defines that as two days. Huh.
And a second tidbit: Here he says there was a funeral. That’s not mentioned in the prior obit. But this was pre-telephone and pre-radio. How did they arrange a funeral? How did they notify mourners? Did Enoch run door to door and say, “Addie’s dead - please come to our funeral? It’s being held in 45 minutes? And hurry!!”
Again - more questions than answers.
Now, about that obituary. Those of us spending time in the 21st Century have learned about the Heimlech Maneuver, and what’s the first thing we learned? If the person can talk, they are getting some air, and they’re not truly choking.
And what if they have the ability to actually “exclaim!”?
Okay, so maybe her airway was restricted and she was in distress. That’s possible, but if those are the facts, she is NOT going to fall back on the bed and die.
That’s the first point.
Here’s the second.
Dr. Oatway was the county health officer and one of his duties was to file a report with the Wisconsin State Board of Health and report on the incidence of communicable disease in Lake Mills. This was a paid position (and he earned extra for epidemics), and it was a very important job.
In 1876, Wisconsin created a “State Board of Health” that compiled facts and stats on communicable diseases. “Health Officers” were appointed (and paid) by the state, and it was their job to help track, record and monitor the prevalence and severity of the dreaded scourges of the day such as diphtheria, small pox, consumption, cholera and typhoid.
Each year, these health officers filed a report with the state, wherein they answered several specific questions. Two of the most interesting questions they were asked were, “Are the laws regarding birth certificates and burial permits enforced in your community?” and “What’s the incidence of communicable disease in your community?”
In the report that Oatway filed with the state of Wisconsin for the period of time that included Addie’s death, Oatway stated, “the law requiring the report of dangerous contagious diseases is observed with regard to small pox, diphtheria and scarlet fever only.”
Reporting as the health officer, he mentions the deaths from a number of diseases but he says nothing about any cases of diphtheria in Lake Mills, or deaths from diphtheria in Lake Mills.
Okay, this is good news. There were no cases of diphtheria, and no one died from diphtheria in Lake Mills in 1901.
Okay, so maybe he forgot ALL about treating Lake Mills’ most famous socialite, married to Lake Mills’ most wealthy man, living in Lake Mills’ most grandiose castle. Okay. Maybe.
But this wasn’t just diphtheria! This was stealth, Ninja, Knock-off-your-socks (and Put-on-your-boots?), Diphtheria!
It was an especially virulent bout of diphtheria! In Oatway’s own words, “[the diphtheria] had advanced with unusual rapidity…it was the most stubborn, and rapidly developing case he has ever met with, and the result seems to justify the belief that no human power or skill could have furnished relief…”
And Oatway’s narrative also states that he “resorted to the most modern means in use for battling with the disease, and made every effort to check the disease…”
In 1894, a German doctor discovered an anti-diphtheria serum that was found to have excellent results. In 1895, it was manufactured (and available) in the United States. About that time, the mortality rate from this dread disease started to plummet. In Wisconsin’s small towns, the 1901 death rate for patients with diphtheria was 9.1%, and that includes children (who had a much higher death rate from the disease).
In one of these 1901 health reports, another doctor writes a short essay explaining that he’d lost a young child to diphtheria, and it never would have happened, had it not been for the family’s neglect to notify the doctor earlier. The doctor’s angst shone through his words, that even a child shouldn’t die in such a time as this, with the availability of modern serums.
Even if there was no serum in Lake Mills, couldn’t someone be sent (by train) to Milwaukee to fetch a vial for Mrs. Fargo?
But I don’t think there was any diphtheria that day (or that year) in Lake Mills. I think Dr. Oatway told the truth on the 1901 report to the State Board of Health. Oatway knew that the burial permit was a state document, checked by the state, and used specifically to track the incidence of communicable diseases, and that’s why he was willing to falsify the death certificate (making up a number for the burial permit), but not the burial permit. The burial permit was being watched by the state, and it might even trigger an investigation from the state. (Especially given that no diphtheria had been present in Lake Mills for some time.)
The death certificate could be safely forged. The burial permit could not. That’s why there was no burial permit for Addie.
And this obituary makes it much more difficult to believe that Oatway could have forgotten all about Addie’s death when he filed that report with the State Board of Health for 1901. After all, it was the most (fill in the blank with adjectives) Diphtheria he had ever seen! How does one forget such a thing?
As to Addie picking that up in Portage? The Lake Mills Leader said she traveled there around June 6th. The communicability period for diphtheria germs is less than six days. There’s that Ninja Stealth Diphtheria again.
And the best part? The Health Officer for Portage reported that there were no cases (and no deaths) of diphtheria in 1901.
It’s that stealth component.
So in conclusion, Addie got diphtheria and died. But there were no cases of diphtheria in Lake Mills in 1901. But she got it from her trip to Portage. But there were no cases of diphtheria in Portage, either.
As my daughter says, “Maybe Addie had that stealth, Ninja, reach-up-out-from-under-the-canoe-and-grab-you, throw-your-boots-on-your-feet-while-you-lay-sick-in-bed, jump-up-and-scream-while-choking, and then flop backwards on the bed and die” Diphtheria.
Best explanation I’ve heard yet.
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