On June 26, 1894, Ella's husband caught her in the act of having sex with another man. She and her lover were arrested and charged with adultery. Yeah. Adultery was a criminal offense in those days. The scandal was reported locally and in several regional newspapers. I can't imagine the shame and embarrassment that was ignited in our family back then.
All I knew before I ran into this little news clipping was that there was a vague family story about Grandfather having a half-sister or something. The family story wasn't specific, but the idea of a half-sibling kind of told me that it was about a shotgun wedding or a (gasp) child born out of wedlock.
Sure enough, it turns out that Ella gave birth to a daughter just six months after she married Newton Keet. Sadly, the daughter passed away when she was only nine years old. Her marriage was back in 1883 (Ella was born in 1856).
Ella and her brother, my great-grandfather, were legitimate siblings, but their half-brother, Frank, was born in 1866, seven years after Ella's father died. No, we don't know who fathered Uncle Frank. So the talk about a half-sister was alway interesting.
So there was some pretty good family dirt I had found. I figured that was that. Then I ran across this little news item in the 1894 Brattleboro, VT newspaper I found on the Intertubes (Library of Congress archives).
Holey moley, Molly. A real newsworthy friggin' scandal! More beyond the Cheezy-Poof.
This is Newton W Keet's cemetery marker (the one in the background) and his team of lawyers he hired to prosecute Doctor Abbott M Mason on civil charges of Alienation of Affection. Mr. Keet won those lawsuits to the tune of just over a $million award in today's money. The actual award was $30,000 in 1897. He only collected about $1000 of the award. It seems that the famous Cancer Doctor, a real Doctor and a certifiable quack, Abbott Mason, fled the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and died a few years later.
This is a sad and tragic story.
That little newspaper clipping just raised more questions. This read more like a romance novel plot than a real event. So I visited the Wheeler Public Library of Orange, Massachusetts to find the local newspaper reports. This version of the story was much better and filled in some details. It was clear that Mr. and Mrs. Newton Keet were well liked and were considered to be of excellent character and good examples of New England "stock". So it was a big surprise and a shock to the town. Dr. Abbott M Mason was thought to be drugging his patients for sexual favors. That seems to be a real possibility to me. Apparently, he "treated" other wives in the town and in nearby towns. According to the longer article, Dr. Mason was caught "with his pants undone" rather than caught in the act as the shorter article implied. Also, both parties of the tryst were arrested for adultery, not just Dr. Mason. The plan to arrange for the Sheriff to witness the crime was disclosed. The sheriff wanted solid evidence in order to get a conviction this time. It seems that the sly Doctor hired some effective lawyers again; ones that kept him out of jail for previous accusations of sleeping around.
Dr. Mason was married and had two daughters still living at home when he got caught with Aunt Ella,
Sometimes you get lucky when searching for more information about these folks. Two important factors helped me out. Everyone who dips into the genealogy and family history vortex figures out that anything with an unusual or rare name has a better chance of getting good hits than other names. That's one reason that Newton W Keet works well for genealogy searches. Sometimes when I run across a generic historical web site that is searchable, a name like Newton W Keet, if there are any hits, will often pull up a record that applies to the Newton Keet in my family tree. A name like Abbott Mason is probably going to get more hits, but the title of Doctor, the middle initial, and the place of residence will provide more than enough to narrow the hits down to the right person.
So let's look at some more information I was abloe to find.
Who was that Cancer Doctor Abbott M Mason?
Well, the old newspaper archive answered that question right away. In the center is Dr. Abbott M Mason's advertisement for his Cure for Cancer - All Types. This is from an 1890 edition of the San Francisco Morning Call newspaper: Dr. Mason advertised his quack false-hope elixir for a couple of decades in about a dozen major big-city and territorial newspapers; even as far away as Alaska.
Most of Dr. Mason's advertisements were similar to this one:
It turns out that Dr. Abbott M Mason seems to have actually been a licensed physician. I didn't think so at first. His occupation is listed as a "drum maker" when he was a young lad in his twenties. He was either making drums for wagon wheels or musical instruments. Both industries were present near his homestead at that time. If he graduated from a medical school, I found no record of that. One could become a doctor through an apprenticeship and private instruction back then; the proverbial Country Doctor was the terminology. Toward the end of his life, Dr. Mason had stopped practicing medicine and listed himself as the president of a medical marketing company in New York. It's frustrating to not have any 1890 Census records to work with, but Ancestry has helped out and provides alternative sources for the missing Census period. I had no problem tracking the whereabouts of Doctor Mason. I sort of wondered why the Commonwealth of Massachusetts said that they were unable to locate Dr Mason. He was listed in the City Directories year by year. Law enforcement kept city directories on site. Perhaps this will remain a mystery.
On the other hand, the Chief of the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the guy who assigned cases to judges and managed the judiciary personnell was named Mason. This is the person who assigned the judges for the Keet v. Mason trials. And he was a 3rd or 4th cousin of Dr. Abbott Mason. I think this is just a coincidence and there didn't seem to be anything unusual that happened in the courts. Still, this adds a bit to the mystery.
There is a string of court cases involved here. One of the decisions established precedent in Massachusetts. But in truth, this ordeal lasted almost three years and had to be way difficult on many, many others.
The story in the paper clearly said that the arrest was planned. What the paper didn't report was the background of that. Apparently, Newton Keet had it all figured out in advance. He filed the lawsuits against Dr. Mason the next morning. It's likely that the paperwork was prepared well in advance.
Both Dr. Mason and Aunt Ella were charged with Adultery and ultimately found guilty. I didn't check that far into the newspapers to see when and how those nasty charges were discharged. One court listing in the paper showed a guy that got 10 months in the Greybar Hotel for a guilty pea for adultery. I thought that rather harsh, myself. I learned that Ella's husband testified in her defense in court. He thought that the Doctor was overpowering his wife with potions and elixirs or something. That would be the all-vegetable cure for cancer they were buying from the Doctor. That showed me that they were still a couple but torn by scandal. It had to be difficult for everyone.
Newton Keet went after Dr. Abbott Mason like a buzzsaw. He filed asking for $20,000 for Alienation of Affection. Caused by some interesting testimony from Ella's brother, my g-grandfather, in court, the judge decided that their affections may not have been as alienated as far in the past as they claimed. He awarded $1000 to Mr. Keet.
Newton Keet was determined to win. He appealed the case. His grounds included new evidence that would not change the decision of guilt or innocence but would affect the award. The state supreme court ultimately decided that the case was eligible for retrial. And that technical detail about grounds for a retrial became a precedent, even g the vote of the trial judge who was also a petitioner.
The retrial proceeded. Newton Keet won a $33,000 award this time. Of course, Dr. Abbott M Mason was still hiding out, away from Massachusetts, so nobody was ever going to collect the money.
Early in the ordeal, Ella moved to Fitchburg and sewed shirts at one of the shirt factories in business there. She was divorced from her husband Newton Keet in 1897. She never remarried. Ella was 38 when she started sewing shirts and she did that until she was 72 years old. She listed herself in the City Directory after her divorce as Miss Ella Keet. A few years later, she listed as Mrs. Ella Keet. After her ex-husband had died in 1925, she listed herself as Mrs. Ella Keet (widow of Newton). In the early 1930's, Ella retired from the shirtmaking labor pool and moved in with her half-brother, Frank, in their mother's old, small, farm house in Athol, MA. There, in the City Directories and the Census, she lists herself as Mrs. Ella A Keet (widow of Newton W Keet) and as the sister of her half-brother, Frank, the head of the household.
It looks to me like Ella still had a bit of a flame still burning for her ex-husband, Newton Keet. After all of that.
Dr. Mason passed away in 1902 of diabetes. His wife and daughters survived him.
Newton Keet remarried. He passed away in 1925, his second wife in 1936.
The widow, Mrs. Ella Keet, widoe of Newton W Keet, passed away in 1942. The estate papars say the she died in Montana of all places, but I don't think that this is true. I'll have to go back to the library in Orange or Athol to have a chance of finding an obituary for her. Odds are that she died at the home of her half-brother in Athol. I could break down and buy a copy of those records, but that isn't as much of a challenge. I'd rather dig through the old records and hold the papers in my own hands.
For me, hands on is the better way to go.
Today is Ask A Stupid Question Day.