The Curious Case of Charles Reif vs SB Paige

Part 8 -The Historical Record of Mrs Paige

The task of the detective hired to research Mary Elizabeth Libbey Fagin Paige’s past would have been daunting. It seems as though Mary – and her mother, Elizabeth Libbey – deliberately tried to muddy the waters regarding their history from the beginning. Even today, with the ability to research databases with a few key strokes, the job is difficult. I have followed her life as best I could using available historical sources and the results are as follows:

Mary Elizabeth Libbey was born 31 December 1850 at Chicopee, MA to Thomas H Libbey, a “peddler” born in Maine, and Elizabeth, his wife, born in Ireland. She was listed as an unnamed female child. (record can be viewed here – entry 113)

Mary Libbey birth entry

Thomas Libbey and Elizabeth are on the 1850 US Census in Chicopee, MA probably in a hotel or boarding house. He is 40 years old and a “peweter” born ME. She is 24 born Ireland.

The Libbey family appears in the 1860 US Census living in Janesville, Rock, Wisconsin. They are listed as:

T H Libby age 47, a merchant, born in Maine

Elizabeth age 30, born in Ireland

Mary E. age 9, born in MA

Thomas H Libbey Civil War

Laura J. age 4, born in WI

It is assumed based on Mary’s birth date that her parents probably married on the east coast in about 1850. Elizabeth was 17 years Thomas’ junior, so it is possible that she was not his first wife.

The 1855 WI Census shows a Libby family in Newark, Rock, Wisconsin comprised of 1 male and 2 female members. There is no one listed in the foreign birth category.

Thomas H Libbey enlisted in the Civil War in Missouri. (His file can be viewed at Fold3) He was part of Companies D and H of the 26th Regiment of Missouri Volunteers. He appears to have enlisted August 1863 and he was listed as being 5 feet 5 inches tall with gray eyes and dark hair. He is listed as 45 years old and occupation is silver smith. Thomas died in the hospital from “chronic diarrhea” on 2 February 1865 in Missouri. His hospitalization form lists his residence as Rock Co, WI and states his wife, Elizabeth, was living in “Janesville City”, WI at the time of his death. He is buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Missouri.

Thomas H Libbey Civil War Hospital Form

The 1865 WI Census was destroyed for Rock County,WI.

In 1870, the US Census shows Elizabeth Libbey living in Davenport, IA. Elizabeth is listed as 33 years old and born in New York. Her daughters Mary, age 19 born MA, and Laura age 14 born WI, are also listed.

On 9 April 1871, W. E. Fagan and Mary E. Libby were married in Tazewell County, Illinois. Mary would have been 20 years old at that time. Tazewell County is about 100 miles from Davenport, IA.

from the Daily Evening Express, Lancaster, PA
19 April 1875, Monday, page 3

The cure-all known as “Libby’s Raven Oil” was first mentioned in a Lancaster, Pennsylvania newspaper in April 1875 with EF Libby as “sole proprietor”.  The advertisements for “Raven Oil” eventually spread to Lebanon, Reading, and Wilkes-Barr. The ads stop abruptly in October 1876. The ads all say that EF Libby is from Allegheny City, PA which is now part of Pittsburgh. There were no ads in the Pittsburgh area papers, however.

The Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities for the years 1876-1877 has a listing for an E Florence Libby, widow of Thomas H. There are no other listings for “EF Libby” in the directory. (There is also a listing for William Fagan, a miner, in the same directory. I am uncertain if this is Mary’s husband) By the 1878-1879 Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities, Libby is no longer listed (but Fagan remains).

Elizabeth Libby, widow, is living at 101 Barr Street in William’s Cincinnati Directory 1879, 1880, and 1881.

In the 1880 US Census, M E Fagin is living on Barr Street in Cincinnati, OH with her mother, her 2 children, and her sister. The family is enumerated as:

Libbey E age 53, widow born Ireland parents born Ireland/England

Fagin ME age 29 widow born MA parents born Ireland/Ireland

Fagin Laura E age 7 daughter born PA parents born Indiana/Massachusetts

Fagin Ulmont age 5 son born MO parents born Indiana/Massachusetts

Libbey Laura age 24 daughter born WI parents born Ireland/England

The fire at the Beckwith House in Oshkosh happened December 3, 1880.

from the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, OH
12 March 1882, Sunday, page 9

On 12 March 1882, a notice appears in the Cincinnati Enquirer stating that Mary E Fagin’s (divorce) suit against William E Fagin was moving forward.

Elizabeth Libby appeared in the Brooklyn Directory for the Year ending May 1883. Again listed as the widow of Thomas, she was living at 379 Pacific Street. A note at the front of the directory indicated that the information was collected in about June 1882 for publication. There is no listing for Mary Fagin or Mary Libbey.

Mary E Fagin and Simon Bailey Paige were married January 9, 1883 at 379 Pacific Street in Brooklyn, New York.

The story of Mary’s life after her marriage is outlined in the previous posts in this series.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 , Part 7

I feel that the detective’s findings printed in the Boston Globe on 20 December 1883 align very well with the historical record of Mary’s life. He had the advantage of the personal observations of her contemporaries and documents which have most likely been lost to history.

from the Quad-City Times, Davenport, IA
22 September 1883, Saturday, page 1

In the few interviews that Mary gave at the time to newspaper reporters, her version of the events of her life are less accurate in comparison to the historical record. She stated in her interview published in the Quad-City Times on 22 September 1883 that she was born in 1855. She stated that her father was a physician and that the family was living in Davenport at the time of her father’s death. She made herself deliberately younger when she married her first husband saying that she married at age 16. Mary stated that she lived with Fagin for five years and then applied for and was awarded a divorce. She stated that her children, ages 10 and 3, were supported by her and that her divorce was final in November 1883.

We know that she was born in 1850. Her father was a merchant who died in Missouri while the family was living in Wisconsin in 1865. She married Fagin at the age of 20 in Illinois. Mary had to have lived with him for at least 7 years if you take into account the ages of her children. Her divorce was most likely granted in Fall of 1882.

from the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, OH
12 November 1878, Tuesday, page 4

In her interview published in the Oshkosh Northwestern on 19 December 1883 – just days after the story broke about the findings of the detective – she told a story that was a little closer to the truth. She said that her father died in St Louis and then the family moved to Davenport. She said that she married Fagin in 1871 or 1872 but she did not give any reference to her age. Mary said they separated in 1877 or 1878 and then she moved to Cincinnati. She admitted working at the Opera House with her sister but as chorus singers and not ballet dancers. Mary spent a great deal of this interview focusing on denying the idea that she grew up in poverty. She talked about her mother owning a Zimmerman & Co. piano and how she went to a large school. Mary said that she had vocal training at a musical academy and had planned to tour with the Alice Oates Opera Company to California but could not bring herself to leave her children behind. She said she stayed at the Grand until spring of 1882 when she moved with her family to Brooklyn so that she and her sister, Laura Jean Libbey, could focus on their writing careers. In this interview, Mary also mentions that she is working on her book and that her sister is also about to publish a novel. She showed the reporter a letter from a publisher and covered up the title. She let her finger slip and the reporter wrote that he saw the word “Ulmont” which he presumed was the title of the unpublished work by Laura Jean Libbey. (Ulmont happens to be the name of Mary’s son.)

from the Oshkosh Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI
19 December 1883, Wednesday, page 4

Mary was described as “a perfect blonde”, blue eyed, short, and “thick set” with round features. She was said to be attractive, lively, bright, and cultivated.

Mary lost every appeal to her husband’s estate in Wisconsin. The widow’s allowance that she was granted in Davenport did not pay out much for her either after all the estate’s debts were settled. She lost her last appeal in Wisconsin in November 1885. Mary appealed her case to the state supreme court and in March 1887, the ruling of the lower court was upheld. The newspaper reported that she only ended up with about $1000 from the estate. Her attorney was only paid six dollars according to the article and her libel suit against all the newspapers that published the “Pop Mary” story was never brought.

Mary’s story is not finished, however. If you care to learn more, I will continue her story next week.

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.

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