Posts Tagged ‘exhumation’

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

January 30th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Since August 2010, I’ve written almost 700 blogs. That’s a lot of blogs. Each blog has three or more photos. That’s thousands of photos.

Some of these blogs took several hours to compose, and then get bumped off the page within a week of their creation.

So I’m posting a few of my favorite blogs below. If you’ve enjoyed this site, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

The Sears Corona has always been one of my favorite houses (1921).

The Sears Corona has always been one of my favorite houses (1921).


Sears Corona in Gillespie, Illinois.

A perfect Sears Corona in Gillespie, Illinois.


Last year, I wrote a blog about the San Jose. I’ve never seen one, but this was Rebecca’s find. Awesome house. Click here.

This blog was devoted to Alhambras, and had pictures of my favorite Alhambras of all time.

The Magnolia is my favorite house, and this blog has photos of all six Magnolias that are in existence today.

In this blog (also picture heavy) I provided lots of info on how to identify a Magnolia.

And this features a story from a 92-year-old man that built a Magnolia in the 1920s.

This blog was created from photos sent in by Pat, an Ohio resident. LOTS of Sears Homes in Ohio!

West Virginia is one of my favorite places in all the world, and Lewisburg is loaded with Sears Homes. Click here to see many fun photos.

And if you have about 10 hours to spare, click here to read the story of my Aunt Addie’s apparent murder. Let me warn you, her story is addictive! You can’t read just one link!!

Click here to read about her exhumation, and let me tell, that’s quite a story too!

Really awesome photos of Carlinville, IL (which has 150 Sears Homes) can be seen here.

This is one of the MOST popular blogs at this site. It’s picture-heavy tour of my old house in Colonial Place. We sold it a couple years ago, and yet this blog is a perennial favorite.

Another perennial favorite is the story of how we redid our bathroom in the old house. Came out beautiful, but what a project!

Here’s a detailed blog on one of Sears most popular homes: The Vallonia.

This was another fascinating historical research project: Penniman - Virginia’s Ghost Town. Wow, what a story that turned out to be!

Those are just a few of my favorites.  If you want to read more, look to the right of the page and you’ll see this (shown below). Click on any one of those months to navigate through the older blogs.


Click on this column (to the right) and you'll find the rest of those 680 blogs!


Thanks for reading the blog, and please leave a comment below!

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500,000th Visitor To This Website!

December 16th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Yesterday, this website had its 500,000th visitor.

That’s pretty exciting news.

Since 1999, I’ve been writing and talking about Sears Homes. In August 2010, I started “blogging regularly” at this site. And then in June 2011, a new topic appeared: Addie Hoyt Fargo. She was my great Aunt, who died under very suspicious circumstances in Lake Mills, Wisconsin in 1901.

Apparently, folks share my interest in these topics, and for that, I’m very grateful.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about my beautiful aunt Addie, click here.

Interesting in learning more about the rich and complex funeral customs of the late 19th Century? Click here.


Addie Hoyt Fargo and Anna Hoyt Whitmore were sisters. Anna Hoyt was my great-great grandmother, and the Hoyt family moved to Lake Mills in the early 1840s.

Addie Hoyt Fargo and Anna Hoyt Whitmore were sisters. Anna Hoyt was my great grandmother. The Hoyt family moved to Lake Mills in the early 1840s. Anna was born in 1866 and Addie was born in 1872. In this photo (taken about 1889), Addie is on the left.


This picture was taken on Addies wedding day in February 1896. Was this photo taken on the same day as the first photo shown above (with the cape)? I dont think so, but its hard to know for sure.

This picture was taken on Addie's wedding day in February 1896.


This photo, taken in 1894, really showcases Addies elegance and sophistication. She came from a wealthy family.

This photo, taken in 1894, really showcases Addie's elegance and sophistication. She came from a wealthy family.


I love it that theres a mink *in* her hat.

I love it that there's a mink *in* her hat.


A photo of Addie in her bedroom at the Fargo Mansion (Lake Mills) in the late 1890s.

A photo of Addie in her bedroom at the Fargo Mansion (Lake Mills) in the late 1890s.


This photo was taken in the early 1890s in Lake Mills. It was titled Addie and her pony. I found it at the Lake Mills Library.

This photo was taken in the early 1890s in Lake Mills. It was titled "Addie and her pony." I found it at the Lake Mills Library during a research trip in November 2011.


A photo of Addie

As shown in this photo, Addie was a snappy dresser.


To read about Addie’s exhumation, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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“Every Funeral Tradition of the Time Was Violated By This Burial…”

February 9th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

“In 1901, a death in a small town was a community event, and in a town with only 1800 people, death was a big event.”

That’s one of about three dozen amazing tidbits I learned about funeral customs during my conversation with Marty Mitchell, Funeral Director of Mitchell Funeral Home in Marshalltown, Iowa. Marty has a special interest in early 20th Century burial customs, and has an amazing collection of artifacts from that period.

A social slap in the face to the community.

“The funeral of this young wife of the town’s most prominent citizen would have been a very elegant and elaborate affair,” he told me. “Addie’s sudden death would have captured the whole town’s interest, and everyone would have turned out for the viewing and then later, attended the funeral. The lack of a proper funeral for this 29-year-old woman - who died so suddenly - would have been a social slap in the face to the community.”

Mr. Mitchell couldn’t understand how all this could have transpired in less than eight hours.

“It would have been totally unacceptable for a community to wake up the next the day and find out, ‘Enoch’s wife died last night and Addie’s already in the ground.’ The immediate burial - dead at 2:00 a.m., and buried by 10:00 a.m. - would have been quite a scandal. People in town would have been wondering what in the world was going on.”

Diphtheria equals fast burial? Not really.

I asked about the claim that a communicable disease prompted the fast burial. Mr. Mitchell made the point that a century ago, it was contagious disease that usually took the lives of children, and yet they were not tossed into the ground immediately and unceremoniously. In fact, their funerals were also fairly elaborate affairs with embalming, wakes, viewing, and finally a burial. Typically, a Victorian-era funeral spanned about three days, from death to interment.

Arsenic and old lead.

In 1901, embalming fluid was made with arsenic and lead, and it was a powerful disinfectant.

“The funeral director would never even have questioned the family about the embalming, like we do today,” he told me. “They just would have set up the embalming fluid and started right in. And there’s a fair chance he wouldn’t have even asked about the cause of death.”

Addie’s black shoes.

As I suspected, Addie’s black dress shoes were also a point of interest.

In 1901, a woman’s shoes were removed when their body was prepared for burial, and “burial slippers” were then placed on their feet. Mr. Mitchell explained that burial slippers were made of CLOTH, not leather, and they would not have endured through the years.

Remembering the remnants of black leather lace-up shoes found in Addie’s grave - with their 1-1/2″ heel - I asked Mr. Mitchell, “Is it possible that burial shoes would have had a heel?”

His reply was, “No, there was no heel. In fact, these shoes didn’t have soles, like you’d find in a pair of everyday shoes, but just cloth bottoms. And the bottoms were just a piece of fabric that was sewn on. These slippers had a type of elastic band so you could slip them easily onto the deceased’s feet.”

“Your aunt must have died in those black boots and was then carried right out to the grave,” he told me, “because if a funeral director was involved in preparing her body, those shoes would have been removed, and the burial slippers would have been put on her feet. She would not have been buried in walking shoes. There’s just no way.”

Addie was murdered.

The black shoes prove that Addie was murdered, and that old Enoch didn’t even have the decency to give his young wife a proper burial. If Addie was sick, those shoes would have been removed when she went to bed. If her body was prepared for burial, those shoes would have been removed and burial slippers put on in their place.

Ah, but there’s still more.

“Addie should have been buried in the best casket that was available,” he told me. “From what you’ve described, it sounds like an oak coffin, which was not the best. Mahogany and cypress would have been higher end. It doesn’t sound like Addie’s coffin was either one of those, because they don’t rot.” (All that remained of Addie’s coffin were small slivers of wood inside the sterling silver coffin handles.)

Cast-iron caskets.

“And if Enoch was claiming that diphtheria was the cause of death, her casket should have been either metal or cast iron. And I’m sure that a funeral home would have recommended a vault for someone of Addie’s prominence.”

According to Mr. Mitchell, vaults were widely used in this time period, commonly made of metal or brick. Less commonly, pre-formed concrete slabs were inserted into the grave. The vaults had no bottom, just sides and a top. They were expensive, so it was the well-to-do who had vaults for their loved ones.

And what about Addie’s shallow grave? Mr. Mitchell explained that traditional grave depth was planned to provide a minimum of three feet of earth atop the casket. Adding in the casket’s height and a domed vault, created a grave depth of about six feet.

When I told him that Addie’s remains were found at 34″, he said, “Wow, that’s a very, very shallow grave.”

He explained: “One of the reasons that we make sure there’s three feet of earth on the casket is because of animal intrusion. Given the other facts in this burial, I almost wonder if that was intentional. Once animals invade a grave, they’ll divide up the body and carry it off.  Our funeral home is right in the middle of Iowa, and years ago, we had a grave with a crushed lid, and the animals dug into it and they took everything off in different directions. There was nothing to re-inter. I almost wonder Enoch buried her in a shallow grave intentionally, thinking that animals would deal with her remains.”

In conclusion, I think Mr. Mitchell is right. I think an animal did deal with Addie’s remains, but it was the two-legged kind.

To read part II of this blog, click here.

Dr. Peterson

This photo really shows the shallowness of Addie's grave. The day of exhumation, we arrived with buckets and ladders and ropes and shovels, ready to dig down to six to eight feet. This grave is just beyond knee-deep.


Dr. Fred Anapol and a student examine Addie's remains.


Dr. Peterson and Dr. Anapol carefully extricate old bones from the grave site.


Addie's days in a shallow grave are now over.

Addie on her wedding day, February 1896. She was 24.

Addie on her wedding day, February 1896. She was 24.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

To see Addie in her beautiful dresses, click here.

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December 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

Tripe:  noun
the first and second stomachs of a ruminant, especially oxen, sheep, or goats.
Speech or writing, that is wholly false or worthless; rubbish.

Here’s one example of the tripe that is being emailed to me, and also posted on public bulletin boards, where there’s been discussion of Addie Hoyt Fargo, my great, great Aunt.

Please remember this statement below is pure tripe.

“This rumor (that Addie was shot) was put to rest by your forensic team. In an email Pat Theder, Jefferson County Coroner states that he stood by the results of the forensics team.”

I don’t know where this poor, misinformed soul got this information, but it’s wrong.

Two weeks after the exhumation, I talked with the Milwaukee medical examiner by phone, and he gave me a full report.

The autopsy results were inconclusive.


The autopsy did not prove that Addie was murdered (due to both the lack of skeletal remains and their poor condition), and it did not prove that she was not murdered.

Let me share something else the medical examiner told me in that conversation on November 17th at 10:28 in the morning. He said, and I quote, “We didn’t have a lot of [Addie's] skull.”

While her lower jaw was found, with several teeth still in place, her upper jaw and teeth were not found. Nor was her face (the skull bones underlying her face). Nor were a few other pieces and parts.

That’s one of the reasons that the results were inconclusive. You can’t make a definitive finding when there’s a lack of physical evidence.

Lastly, I know of no written report generated by Pat Theder (Jefferson County) and the Coroner’s Office (which is in Jefferson, and is a separate entity from the Milwaukee Medical Examiner’s office).

Honestly, I can’t help but question if such a “written report” exists, because it has NOT been offered (or even mentioned) to Addie’s own relatives, and if such a report does exist, and yet was not supplied to Addie’s own kin, that is inexcusable.

To read more about Addie, click here and here.

Addies autopsy results were inconclusive. Thats a fact.

Addie's autopsy results were inconclusive. That's a fact.

Did Enoch shoot Addie? Mary Wilson (Enoch’s own granddaughter) says that he did. Read more about that here.

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Mary Wilson’s Source

December 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 9 comments

To read the updated version of this piece, click here.

Since the articles on Addie have started to appear, I’ve received a surprising number of supportive comments from people who tell me, “I knew Mary Wilson personally, and she was very proud of her book and her work. If Mary Wilson said that Enoch murdered Addie, you can believe that it’s true.”

And that fits in with everything I know about people who love history and people who write books, and Mary Wilson (from all accounts) possessed both of those characteristics.

Wanting to dig deeper into this, I called Tom Boycks today, who (together with Barry Luce) owns the Fargo Mansion Inn in Lake Mills. The first time I met Tom, he proudly displayed his own copy of Mary’s book, The History of Lake Mills, hand-delivered to him almost 30 years ago by Mary Wilson herself.

Tom and Barry knew Mary Wilson very well, and thought very highly of her.

I asked Tom about something that Mary did not address in her book: The source of the story about Addie’s murder.

“Barry and I closed on the mansion in April of 1985,” Tom said. “And it wasn’t long after we closed that Mary Wilson came to the house and introduced herself. The house was still boarded up and it was a real mess in here. Mary Wilson stood right in the foyer, and pointed up at the top of the staircase and said, ‘That’s where my grandfather did Addie Hoyt in - right at the top of the stairs. She was his second wife. To cover it up, he got the doctor to alter the death record.’”

And how does Tom remember that conversation so well?

As they came to know Mary Wilson, she re-told them that story about Addie’s murder, and there was never any deviation from its original telling.

And the source of the story?

Tom said, “Mary Wilson told us that it was her mother, Elsie Fargo Mccammon (Enoch’s daughter), who told Mary about the murder of Enoch’s second wife.  It was Elsie that told Mary about Enoch killing his second wife at the top of the staircase.”

Elsie was born in 1876, so she was a scant four years younger than Addie. At the time of Addie’s death, Elsie was 25 years old, and according to the 1900 census, Elsie was living at the Fargo Mansion.

And speaking as a historian and a mother, this account - handed down from Elsie to Mary - is one of the most important pieces of evidence that Addie Hoyt Fargo was indeed murdered.

Why would a mother tell this fantastic story to her daughter, unless it was true?

By all accounts, Elsie was an upstanding, moral, and respectable member of her community. She picked an ordained Methodist minister (Reverend Charles Mccammon) to be her life partner, and remained married to him until his death in 1946. It does not seem likely that a woman like this would lie to her own child about something so important.

Why did Elsie share this story with Mary? Maybe she didn’t want the story of this crime to be forgotten or lost.

During the exhumation of Addie Hoyt Fargo’s remains, when we found Addie buried in that shallow grave, my first thought was, “Mary Wilson was right. She was right.”

To learn more about the history of the Fargo Mansion, click here.

To learn about visiting the Fargo Mansion, click here.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Addie, please share this link with others on Facebook!


Elsie Fargo was the daughter of Enoch James Fargo and Mary Rutherford Fargo. Elsie married Reverend Mccammon, and they had two children, Paul and Mary. It was Elsie's daughter (Mary Wilson) who wrote the book, "The History of Lake Mills." According to Mary Wilson, her information about Addie's murder came from Elsie Fargo Mccammon.

Mary WilsonElsie Fargo at the Fargo Mansion, about 1899.  Elsie told her daughter, Mary Wilson, that Enoch murdered Addie.
Addie in her bedroom at the Fargo Mansion.

Addie in her bedroom at the Fargo Mansion.

The Fargo Mansion in the late 1890s.

The Fargo Mansion in the late 1890s.

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Addie Has Left Lake Mills - UPDATED!

November 4th, 2011 Sears Homes 25 comments

As of Thursday (November 3rd) at 11:45 am, Addie Hoyt Fargo is no longer in Lake Mills. (Update: Read the autopsy results here!)

Her skeletal remains were removed from the grave that bears her name and transported to Milwaukee, for a state-of-the-art, top-notch autopsy by Milwaukee Medical Examiner, Dr. Brian Peterson and Dr. Fred Anapol, Professor of Anthropology at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

November 3rd was Addie’s exhumation day. To read more about why this exhumation was performed, click here.

At 7:15 am, I arrived at the gravesite. At 7:30, Minister McBride met me there, and we “gathered together” at Addie’s gravesite and asked for God’s blessings on the exhumation.

In all my travels, I don’t know when I’ve met a more Christly individual than  Bill McBride. Lake Mills is richly blessed to have such a spiritual warrior in their midst.

And  I think many of us present at the exhumation felt that Christly presence at this holy event. I know I did.

At 8:00 a.m., David Olsen (Olsen Funeral Home, Jefferson) arrived to assist the family (that’d be me). David Olsen is one of the heroes in this story, and without him, Addie’s exhumation would never have happened. I can’t say enough good things about this incredible man. He volunteered his services and gave countless hours of his time to make this come together.

His motive: He said it was the “right thing to do.”

Attorney Kurt Anderson arrived about 8:45 am. Like Dave Olsen, he was also a hero in this story. Without Kurt, there would not have been an exhumation. He spent countless hours working to get the court order and dealt with other legal issues.

Tom Boycks arrived about 9:00 am, and as soon as I laid eyes him, he gave me a big, warm smile. I was so happy to see him there. Innkeepers Tom Boycks and Barry Luce were another pair of angelic helpers in this story. I could talk for days about their many kindnesses. And don’t get me started on their gorgeous mansion. During my prolonged stay in Lake Mills, they treated me like a member of  their own family, and permitted me to stay at their home.

Dr. Brian Peterson and Dr. Fred Anapol arrived at the cemetery about 9:40 am. (The exhumation was scheduled to start at 10:00 am.) These two men were the consummate professionals. As I watched them work, at times on their knees in the damp grave, I felt that Addie was smiling from above, pleased that all the right people had stepped into my life at exactly the right time, to unearth the truth. God, His Angels and maybe Addie herself didn’t just send me helpers; She sent me the “best of the best.”

As expected, skeletal remains were found in Addie’s grave, and the bones were mostly intact.

Yesterday, as the exhumation progressed, there were a few surprises.

First, a fact:  I learned that coffins were typically buried at a depth of about 6-8 feet deep in Wisconsin.

Addie’s remains were found at 34″ (as measured by the medical examiner).

If she were in an 18″ high coffin, the top of the coffin would have been 16″ below the top of the soil. That’s an extremely shallow grave and a disturbing bit of evidence. (She was buried June 19, 1901. The ground would not have been frozen.)

This, coupled with the fact that there’s no burial permit for Addie is suspicious, and it suggests that it was not a professional grave digger who dug the grave.

Addie was wearing dress shoes, black leather with a tight lace on the front, and a small heel.

I’m still wrapping my mind around this. She died at 2:00 am from diphtheria. According to the obit, the disease was so fast-acting and so awful that she died in 16 hours, and was hastily buried and in the ground by 10:00 am. That’s eight hours later. If you were in bed, dying from diphtheria, would you be wearing your dress shoes? And if you died of a communicable disease and you were in the ground eight hours later, do you think someone would take the time to put on your high-top lace-up shoes? Probably not. They knew there’d be no viewing. Why was she wearing shoes? I’m still thinking about this.

Inside the grave were countless pieces of broken window glass, and it’s possible that the container in which Addie was buried had a glass top, but that doesn’t make sense either, because of the thickness of window glass. It was so thin that the first shovel full of dirt would have cracked the too-thin glass.

Update:  We’re now fairly confident that this coffin had a small viewing window on the top.  These were known as “safety coffins,” because they provided a means for viewing the deceased without the threat of contagion. Was it a “display coffin”? Was it the only thing in stock at 4:00 am at the local funeral home? Enoch knew there’d be no viewing. Why did he use such a coffin?

Second update!  Unfortunately, due in large part to the extremely shallow grave (she was buried at 34″, above the frost line), and the length of time (110 years),  and some missing pieces (much of her skull was missing), the autopsy was inconclusive. To read more about the autopsy results, click here..

To read more about Addie, click here.

To read about the inconsistencies in Addie’s obituary, click here.


The city required this "fence" at the site.


Addie's grave is now empty.

Addies foot stone still remains at her empty tomb.

Addie's head stone in Lake Mills is now a cenotaph.

Please leave a comment below.

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