According to Ella Mayhew Maxfield (b. 1866), she attended the
ill fated Mr. Bluebeard
matinee at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago with an unnamed friend, was badly injured and suffered from amnesia.
During her fourteen-month
hospitalization, said Ella, her husband Herbert Maxfield (b.
1868), thinking her an Iroquois Theater fatality,
mistakenly buried the body of another woman,
a stranger, as being Ella. Upon recovering her
memory, Ella saw that Herman had remarried and that
her grown daughter, Luella (b. 1880), was making a
new life. Ella decided it would be best if she
did the same. She silently moved away and adopted her
maiden name, Mayhew. The reborn Ella Mayhew
became a Red Cross nurse, branch organizer and traveling
lecturer in St. Paul, Minnesota, selling Christmas stamps to raise funds to fight
Nine years later, upon learning of an inheritance
from the estate of her parents, Thomas and Betsy
Mayhew of Empire, Wisconsin, Ella decided to reveal
identity so as to claim her one-third share of the
estate. She telephoned her daughter Luella to request her
help in proving her identity.
“Hi, there, this is
Mom. You know, the dead one?”
Daughter Luella had married a newspaper man, Sidney Burrows (b. 1878).
Sid printed the
story in the Wisconsin Valley Leader* and it went
viral, or as viral as things went in 1912.
Newspapers dramatized the story by saying Ella had
adopted an “assumed name” and portrayed Ella as a
tragic victim who had given up her happy life for
the sake of her husband and daughter.
Ella and Luella were
traumatized by all the attention and refused to give
interviews. An enterprising reporter tracked down husband Herman to learn
how he felt about his late wife coming back to life.
Not so good, it seemed.
Herman says reports of Ella's death are greatly exaggerated.
According to Herman (who worked as an oiler,
presumably at the stock yards), Ella
had abandoned him in 1902, a year before the
Iroquois fire, after thirteen years of marriage. In 1904 he
obtained a divorce on grounds of desertion. He was
happy to show the divorce decree to anyone who
wanted to see it. The last time he saw Ella was the
day she left him. He denied having buried anyone from the
Though Ella refused to be interviewed on the record,
she protested that a sister in Fond du Lac,
Mrs. A. F. Olmstead, could substantiate her story.
Reporters went looking for information (as did yours
truly) and the name
Ella Maxfield was nowhere to be found among the
Iroquois dead or injured.
Ella doesn’t look good in this Swiss cheese story. I found reference online to
an Ella Mayhew and Herman Maxfield marrying in 1889
in Chicago, but a genealogy report gives Luella’s
birth date as 1880 which would have her being born
nine years before Ella and Herman married. Not
impossible but not likely in Edwardian times.
More likely that Herman was
Ella’s second husband.
* The Wisconsin Valley Leader was a weekly published