Part 7 – The “Real” Mrs. Paige
The brothers of Mr. SB Paige were suspicious of his new wife from the beginning. She was 30 years his junior and seemed to have materialized out of nowhere after the death of the first Mrs. Paige. The wedding was done in a rush in a very private ceremony in New York with none of the Paige family present. After the marriage, the newlyweds made their home in Davenport, Iowa. Two months later, Mr. Paige was dead by apparent suicide.
The brothers, JA Paige and CC Paige, could not believe that their brother committed suicide. Mr. Paige was a very wealthy man in good health and had no reason that they could see to end his life in such a way. They immediately moved to block Mary Paige’s attempt to be the executor of his estates in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Mrs. Paige did not attend the funeral of her husband.
Within days the Paige brothers had a detective working on digging into Mrs. Paige’s past. Two days after the funeral of Mr. Paige, Mary Paige’s mother was interviewed by a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. She was quick to deny any allegations that her daughter was “an adventuress” and that she tricked Mr. Paige into marriage. At the end of June 1883, Mary Paige announced that she was writing a novel.
In July 1883, rumors began to circulate that Mrs. Paige was not divorced from her first husband at the time of her marriage to Mr. Paige. Mrs. Paige began to play defense in the newspapers by telling the story of her first marriage. In her interview with the Quad-City Times on July 6, she was sixteen when she married Mr. Fagin who was a traveling salesman. She said he was well mannered when home, but she later found that he was often drunk and would have affairs while out on the road. She said he had left unpaid bills at several hotels and that he was arrested three times before she decided on divorce. Mary said she applied for divorce, but with court delays, the divorce wasn’t final until after she had met Simon Bailey Paige. She said that she had told Mr. Paige about Mr. Fagin and that Mr. Paige had even helped her to secure the divorce.
In September 1883, Mrs. Paige was interviewed by the Quad-City Times and told the story of her first marriage again. This time she said that she was born in 1855 in Massachusetts and that her father was a physician. Mary’s family lived in Davenport where she met William Fagin at the age of fourteen. Two years later, they were married and then she realized that he had disguised his true character. Mary and William moved to Cincinnati and had two children. Mary said that after five years of marriage, she left William. Mary said that she supported herself and her children while the divorce was pending and that the divorce was final in November 1882 – two months before she married Simon B Paige in New York. At the end of this interview, Mary mentions that she is writing a novel based on her life.
It should also be mentioned that in July and September of 1883, two letters of support from “A Relative of Mrs. SB Paige” appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern. These letters were both sent from Brooklyn, New York. (It is my belief that the letters were most likely written by Mary’s mother) The first letter states that Mrs. Paige had been abandoned by her first husband in 1876 and had thought him killed in the southwest around that time. The second letter details Mary’s quest for a divorce from Mr. Fagin in 1881 in Ohio. The author wrote that Mary’s family “were not wealthy – but they were honest.” Oddly, at the end of the letter there is mention that Mary had always wanted to be a writer. The author enclosed some newspaper clippings from articles that Mary wrote to the papers in Davenport and St. Louis and asked that they be returned after reading as the author was in possession of a large collection of her writing.
On December 16, 1883, the Commercial Gazette in Cincinnati printed a 3 column article with the findings of JC Grannon, a police detective hired by the administrators of Simon Bailey Paige’s estate. The story was printed across the country in newspapers such as The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times. Unfortunately the original publication is not available online, however the Boston Globe seems to have printed the most complete version of any of the available papers.
Detective Grannon’s findings can be summarized as follows:
Mary’s mother was Elizabeth Libbey, an “Irish woman, small and red haired, with a violent temper and an appetite for intoxicants”
Mr. Libbey was from New England and claimed to be “something of a doctor” and who invented a potion called “Raven Oil” that was sold as a cure-all
Mary Libbey pedaled pop on the streets of Davenport as a child to help earn money – she was called “Pop Mary”
Mr. Libbey died and Mrs. Libbey found a partner to help sell “Raven Oil” – William Fagin from Indianapolis -who would be Mary’s first husband
Mary left her husband after they moved from Illinois to Pittsburgh with the help of her mother
Mary and her family (children, mother, and sister) moved from Allegheny, PA, to Cleveland, OH, and then to Cincinnati by 1879.
Mary and her sister, Laura, became “ballet dancers” at the Grand Opera House in Cincinnati under the name of the Pierrepont sisters – Mary going by the name of Alice Pierrepont
Mary saw the news of the Beckwith fire and read about Mr. Paige and the death of his wife and was intrigued by the now bachelor millionaire
Mary followed the Paige story closely and learned everything she could about both Mr. and Mrs. Paige eventually learning enough to write a letter to Mr. Paige in the guise of an old school friend of Mrs. Paige having dated the letter ahead and having it mailed from Brooklyn, New York
Mary claimed to be a widow, offered to be the governess to Mr. Paige’s children, and continued to write to Mr. Paige with stories about her former friend, his wife, which were put together by details Mary found in newspapers
Mr. Paige promised to meet Mary when he next traveled to New York and so Mary’s family moved east
Mary met Mr. Paige in January 1882 in a rented house with rented furniture and in a borrowed dress so as to appear as though the family were well off
Mr. Paige proposed to Mary but she had to delay because she was not divorced
Mary returned to Ohio to obtain her divorce in fall of 1882 – knowing her first husband was alive – and received news via mail December 1882 that the divorce was granted
Mr. Paige returned to New York and the couple was married January 9, 1883 – he believing that she was a widow for the previous five years
After the suicide, Mary did not attend the funeral but spent time with her mother and lawyer
Mary took any jewelry, money, and valuables from the room after the suicide
Mary sold her husband’s gold watch and valuable racing stallion for “ready cash”
Mary received her widow’s allowance of $200 a month from Iowa and then attempted to collect the same in Wisconsin
Mrs. Paige made no immediate response in the newspapers except to mention that her novel was nearing completion.
On December 29,1883, the judge in Mrs. Paige’s case for her widow’s allowance from the SB Paige estate in Wisconsin ruled against Mrs. Paige. She was cut off from any further support from the estate. It was stated that she had received $1800 from the estate since the death of her husband.
In January 1884, Mary Paige announced several libel suits against the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Evening Wisconsin, and the New York World for printing the “Pop Mary” story. She returned to New York in April to pursue her case and mused to a reporter there about building a grand hotel on Coney Island and a making a tour of Europe once she collected her share of her husband’s estate.
In June 1884, Mary Paige publishes her novel, “A Lovely Girl’s Fetters”. You can still read her “spicy novel” here. She mentioned Charles Reif on page 172 – not by name- but Mary implied that his suit was the cause of her husband’s death. The novel sold in Oshkosh for $1 per copy. Mrs. Paige shortly after announced her plans to start a magazine.
Throughout 1884, Mrs. Paige manages to keep her name in the papers intermittently. She is the subject of the gossip columns of Brooklyn, New York and appears in the Oshkosh papers as her various law suits against her late husband’s estate continue.
I was so intrigued by the story of Mary Libbey Fagin Paige that I had to dig into the historical record to see if I could determine anything about her true background story. In the next chapter, I will share the details of her life that I could find.
The story continues -Part 8
This story was put together after researching my husband’s great great grandfather Johann Karl Friedrich “Charles” Reif. The story can be found primarily in the Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper beginning on 3 December 1880 (although parts of the story were published in papers across the US and Canada) and continuing into the 1920s and beyond.