Historian intrigued by 100-year-old love story

Today, Annette Fitch-Brewer’s saga would be one for the milk cartons. Or she’d be in court, charged with a crime.

Nearly a century ago, she wrote it all down. She called her self-published book “The Story of a Mother-Love.”

In truth, it’s a story of custodial interference and abduction. Telling only her side of it, the author comes off as a fearless heroine. She portrays her wilderness adventure as a noble act of love for her little boy.

I was hooked from the start. Near the beginning of Fitch-Brewer’s tale, published in 1913, she wrote: “My child was six years old, and when he asked me to take him where he ‘could stay with mamma,’ I let a mother’s heart overrule a woman’s head.”

David Dilgard, a history specialist at the Everett Public Library, is more economical with his words. “She just swiped the kid and ran. She swiped him right after Christmas in 1905,” he said.

Dilgard will present a program at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Lake Stevens High School library called “Annette Fitch-Brewer: Hiding Out at Lake Stevens, 1906-1910.”

The free event is organized by the Lake Stevens Historical Society, which has one copy of the book. The Everett library’s Northwest Room has another copy, and Dilgard has located a few copies at BookFinder.com and other online sources.

Fitch-Brewer didn’t write about what led to her 1904 divorce from Isaac Curtis Brewer, a wealthy man in Sandusky, Ohio.

On Dec. 24, 1905, she was allowed to visit with Isaac Curtis Jr. – the boy was called Curtis – at a Cleveland hotel. When she didn’t return him, Brewer hired detectives and began a hunt that wouldn’t end until 1910.

His ex-wife had money and friends. She and the child traveled by train to Ottawa, Canada. Later, a letter she wrote to her Ottawa friends from the stately Davenport Hotel in Spokane tipped off detectives who were on her trail.

A wanted poster distributed by her husband includes the line “Left Spokane October 1, 1906.”

She was tracked to Seattle, but finally found refuge at Lake Stevens on property owned by William Illman, an early settler. She lived near the Rucker Mill. The book is filled with descriptions of the “great peaks that looked down on us” and the forest “with its strong, healthy fragrance.”

She settled in, made friends in Everett and Seattle, and ordered “luxuries” from the Bon Marche. She went by the name Mrs. McIntyre and renamed her son Boyd McIntyre.

She bought some small boats and canoes, and rented them out to fishermen – 25 cents an hour for a canoe, $1 a day for a boat.

Dilgard said the book has been in the Northwest Room for years. He is only now digging deeper into the story.

“There are lots of accounts of America, but this is Lake Stevens,” Dilgard said. “When she writes about her little boy watching cars go by, those were the first cars in Snohomish County. The added intrigue is, she’s in hiding.”

The intrigue ended April 14, 1910. An Everett Herald article tells of “the climax of an exciting search extending over a period of five years.”

“Eastern lawyer” H.L. Peake, employed by Brewer, was accompanied by a deputy sheriff as he took a picture of Curtis into a Lake Stevens schoolhouse. The boy matched the picture and was taken from the school.

Young Curtis was returned to his father, and no mention is made of any legal consequences for Fitch-Brewer.

If it happened today, “it could either be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances,” said Kathy Webber, a Snohomish County deputy prosecutor who has handled numerous custody cases. She said it’s common to get complaints around Christmastime.

“They aren’t necessarily prosecutable, but what happens around the holidays is people want to change their parenting plan,” Webber said.

Long before parenting plans, Fitch-Brewer took matters into her own hands. She wrote of her belief that God was on her side: “That Just Judge above sees intents and reads thoughts and hearts, and in His hands I leave my case.”

Dilgard discovered through his research that after Curtis grew up, he returned to live with his mother.

“She ended up living in Everett, on Grand Avenue,” Dilgard said. “By World War I, her son was living with her. He enlisted and was a veteran of the first World War.”

Dilgard also found evidence that Isaac Curtis Brewer Jr. later lived in Everett by himself.

As for Fitch-Brewer, “Whether she lived the rest of her life here and is buried here, I’m still trying to find that piece,” Dilgard said.

Always looking for an eyewitness to the past, he wonders if there’s anyone left who knew Annette Fitch-Brewer.

Is there?

If you know, give me a call.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com.

Hiding out at Lake Stevens

Historian David Dilgard will present “Annette Fitch-Brewer: Hiding Out at Lake Stevens, 1906-1910” at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Lake Stevens High School library, 2908 113th Ave. NE.

Dilgard will explore the story of a mother who abducted her son and ran off to Lake Stevens. For more information, call Anne Whitsell of the Lake Stevens Historical Society at 425-334-3873.

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