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Triplets, a rarity in 1888, born to Hannibal couple

Triplets were featured in the Jan. 26, 1890 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer. The newspaper sought out triplets from that era born in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana or Kentucky. A dozen sets of triplets were identified, and the newspaper gave $100 to each family. Missouri had its own set of triplets born to a Hannibal couple on July 5, 1888.


In 1890, the Cincinnati Enquirer set out to identify sets of triplets (then aged 5 or younger) which resided in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana or Kentucky.

A dozen sets of triplets were identified, and subsequently profiled in the Jan. 26, 1890 edition of the newspaper. Each of the dozen families was the recipient of a $100 prize.

“The Enquirer’s novel enterprise has awakened great interest among the medical fraternity. ‘It is one case in a million,’ remarked an old practitioner, in speaking of the rarity of triplets.”

Noted in the newspaper article was the fact that only one or two of the claimants were from larger citifies, and none from Cincinnati or the adjacent cities. “Nearly all the applicants are from farming localities or what might be termed country towns.”

Those sets of triplets rewarded with $100 prizes:

The M’Entire triplets, Bethlehem, Ind.

The Rapp triplets, Layayette, Ind.

The Scott triplets, Cambridge City, Ind.

The Reading triplets, Ashland, Ohio

The Stewart triplets, Buchanan, Ky.

The Borell triplets, Massillon, Ohio

The Everhart triplets, Lawrenceburg, INd.

The Turner triplets, Morgantown, W.Va.

The Elkins triplets, Hewett, W. Va.

The Bennet triplets, Richmond, Ky.

The Duffy triplets, Terre Haute, Ind.

Local triplets

Outside of the jurisdiction of the contest’s geographic boundaries, Hannibal, Missouri had its own set of triplets.

Announced in the Quincy Daily News on July 7, 1888:

“G. Hugh Mackey, (a moulder by trade) as his wife’s delivery date neared, was boasting that he was wishing and praying for a girl.”

He was already the father of a boy and a girl - and then the Quincy Daily News reported that “his praying was too earnest. Three of it came in a bunch.”

Triplets, three girls, were born on July 5, 1888, to G.H. Mackey (a Civil War veteran) and his wife, Anna “Annie” Leigh Mackey of Hannibal.

Mackey was at first a moulder by trade, and later turned to dairy farming. When the triplets turned 11 years old in 1898, the Palmyra Spectator discussed the triplets in the Sept. 1, 1898 edition:

“Their names and weight at time of birth are as follows: Jessie, weight four and 3/4 pounds; Eleanor, weight 6 1/4 pounds; Gladys, weight five and 3/4 pounds. They are in perfect health, have never been sick but once in their lives and are now past ten years of age. They all look very much alike, each having light hair and complexion.”

Dairy farming

By 1895, G.H. Mackey was operating a dairy farm on a piece of land east of and adjacent to Mount Olivet Cemetery, (nearby E.T. Cameron’s property at Cave Hollow.)

But when his wife, Annie (mother of the triplets) became ill, he sold out of farming.

On Aug. 19, 1903, he offered for sale, via the Palmyra Spectator:

“14 head of Jersey cows, some lately fresh, others to be fresh soon, to be delivered Sept. 25. Price reasonable. Also 14 head of last fall and winter heifers, one half and three fourths Hereford. These can be delivered at any time. G.H. Mackey, 620 Union St., Hannibal, Mo.”

Then, on Nov. 24, 1903, he conducted an auction at his farm:

On the auction block:

One bay mare, good roadster, nine years old;

1 mare mule, ten years old;

12 head of milk cows, mostly Jersey;

9 head of yearling heifers, one half Hereford;

2 spring calves, one half Hereford;

20 head of hogs, consisting of brood sows, shoats and pigs;

1 Poland China boar.

On April 13, 1904, G.H. Mackey advertised in the Palmyra Spectator: “For Sale. Delavel Cream Separator, Baby No. 2. Used but two seasons. Can be seen at Hannibal Creamery, or address G.H. Mackey, Hannibal, Mo.”


By 1905, Gartin H. and Annie Mackey, in addition to their five children, had moved to Chicago. Their children were: Gartin L. Mackey, born in 1885; Anna (Bessie) Mackey, born in 1886; and the triplets, Jessie, Eleanor and Gladys, born in 1888. In 1910, the family lived on Clifton Avenue, Chicago.

Mrs. Mackey died in 1905, when the triplets were around 17.

Mackey children

Gartin L. Mackey was born May 15, 1885, in Marion County, Mo. He went into the accounting field, and first married in 1911. On July 19, 1927, he was married to Alice M. Settersten in Indiana. She died June 1, 1948. He later married Edith, who died in 1968. Gartin L. Mackey died in April 1966 in Colorado. He had one son, G. Russell Mackey, also of Colorado.

Anna Bess Mackey, the second of Gartin L. and Annie Mackey’s five children, was born Nov. 11, 1886 in Missouri. She was married to John Wesley Shellhamer on April 22, 1913 in Chicago. They at first lived in Indiana, then Springfield, Ill., before settling at Louisville, Ky. John Wesley Shellhamer died in 1964, and Bess Mackey Shellhamer died Dec. 13, 1975. They were survived by two sons, Jack and Robert Shellhamer.

And the triplets:

Jessie Mackey was born July 5, 1888, at Hannibal, Mo., and was the last of the Mackey children to marry. She was married to George Sidney Bacon July 2, 1921 in Chicago. During the last years of his life, her father, Gartin H. Mackey, alternated living with Jessie in Chicago and Gladys Bitting in West Lafayette, Ind., until Mr. Mackey death in 1921. Jessie’s daughter, Mary Ann, was delivered prematurely on March 14, 1926, because her mother was dying of pneumonia. Mary Ann was raised by her father and aunt on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Jessie Mackey Bacon died March 16, 1926.

Eleanor Mackey was born July 5, 1888, at Hannibal, Mo. She was married to Harvey Clyde Fife on April 16, 1913, in Indiana. In 1930, they were living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Mr. Fife was working as a salesman in a dry goods store. Eleanor Fife died June 9, 1961 in Los Angeles. Mr. Fife died Aug. 27, 1978, in Los Angeles. They had one daughter, Edna, born in 1913.

Gladys Mackey was born July 5, 1888, at Hannibal, Mo. She was married to Ernest W. Bitting on Aug. 31, 1912 in Chicago. In 1920 they were living in Wabash, Ind. They later moved to Los Angeles, California, where Mr. Bitting died March 13, 1937. Gladys Bitting was the last surviving of the triplets, dying Nov. 14, 1978, at Santa Monica, Calif. She was survived by three children, Wayne Bitting, Hildred Veen and Eleanor McFee.

Note: Information regarding Jessie Bacon’s daughter was obtained from the obituary of Mary Ann Bacon Strebler, published in the Chicago Tribune on March 8, 2007.

Farm field, circa 1900, with farm buildings in the background. Library of Congress.

Gartin H. Maskey, father of the Maskey triplets born at Hannibal in 1888, sold out his farming operation and moved his family to Chicago, circa 1905. Among other farm implements, he sold a DeLavel Cream Separator, similar to the one pictured in this advertisement in The Howard Courant, Howard, Kan., on May 29, 1903.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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