Item in the Mayfield Monitor, Wednesday, February 15, 1893:
“Mittens Willett, well known young actress, died in New York of cancer. Born in Columbus, Kentucky 30 years ago. Appeared on the stage under name of Mary Anderson. In 1884 she married Henry Aveling. He was a suicide in 1891. Left a five year old boy. She was a niece of Col. Len G. Faxon of Paducah” (Graves Co. KY Newspaper Genealogical Abstracts, Volume 3, Mayfield Monitor).
Her obituary in The New York Times, on February 10, 1893, states she made her debut on the stage with Mary Anderson’s company and that she was the daughter of Edward Willett, former editor of the Sunday Dispatch and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (see The New York Times Internet online archives).
How did Mittens get from Columbus, Kentucky to the Big Apple and was her name really Mittens? Why is the fact that she is a niece of Col. Len Faxon so important that he is mentioned in her obituary?
Leonard “Len” G. Faxon began the Cairo City Times with William Alexander Hacker in Cairo, Alexander County, Illinois in May 1854. Faxon left this newspaper in 1855 to begin his own, The Cairo Weekly Delta. When Faxon left the Times he was replaced by Edward Willett. The two papers merged into the Cairo Weekly Times & Delta and Faxon and Willett published this newspaper and the Tri-Weekly Times Delta. Faxon moved to Paducah and edited the Paducah Herald sometime after April 1859 (see “A History of Newspapers in Cairo, Alexander County, Illinois, 1841-1881 by Darrel Dexter at http://rootsweb.ancestry.com).
Cursory research does not tell us exactly what happen between Faxon and Willett but it is surmised that Faxon took Willett home to visit his folks where Willett met one of his sisters whom he subsequently married and fathered a daughter sometime around 1860. In 1880 Edward Willett was in New York with a Kentucky born wife named Dora and a daughter named Mittens, 20 years old (see U.S. Census records online at www.ancestry.com). But why she was named Mittens or if this is just a nickname has yet to be uncovered. Mittens was a direct descendant of the famous New York Willett family and both she and her father were buried in the family vault in Marble Cemetery, New York City. (see The New York Times obit).
So we can surmise that Mittens went to New York with her family and made a name for herself on the stage. She was important to the editor of the Mayfield Monitor because of her link to the Paducah journalist Faxon and her birth in Columbus.
Mittens captures the imagination not only because of her name, ancestry and her acting career but because her New York Times obituary describes a complex talent: “She was better known as an actress on the road than in this city, though her comely face and bright manners made her a favorite everywhere. From her father she inherited marked literary tastes. She was a frequent and a welcome contributor to the various comic papers, such as Puck and Judge, and has written some very acceptable verse for the magazines.”
Unanswered still is the question: where is her son and mother? Does the Jackson Purchase harbor within its history the continued legacy of this artistic talent or has the thread been knitted up elsewhere?