New book explores the life of Carolyn Wells


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RAHWAY, NJ — Carolyn Wells, who was born and buried in Rahway, wrote more than 180 books, some of which were adapted in silent films; others became best sellers.

Yet, 100 years later, there are hardly any records of Wells and her accomplishments. How does someone like this become forgotten?

It’s a startling question for author Rebecca Rego Barry. “I knew she didn’t have any children,” Barry said. “It didn’t descend through the family. There was a mismanagement of the estate. She left most of her stuff to the maid. The maid keeps a few special things. Everything was sold at auctions.”

Barry’s recently published book, “The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells,” dives deep into the life of the brilliant writer, who was considered one of the funniest, most talented women of her time.

“The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells” is a biography — the first-ever biography on Wells, which Barry feels is hard to believe. Barry, who grew up in New Jersey now lives near Woodstock, N.Y., came back to Rahway to visit Wells’ house and grave. She also visited the apartment building on the Upper West Side, where Wells lived.

Barry went to a couple of different academic libraries for archives and contacted other libraries for reference material. She pieced together as much as she could.

“It’s unbelievable how much she did,” Barry said. “Someone said she did so much, it thinned out how people think of her. Maybe people got sick of her.”

Barry said she became friends with Wells’ great niece, who is now in her 80s and “sharp as a tack.”

Wells lived from 1862 to 1942 and was friends with many people who were famous at the time, such as Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. She got these celebrities of the era to sign an autograph book she treasured. They would either doodle or write a poem or inscription. The book was left to her brother, handed down as an heirloom.

Originally, Barry wrote an article on Wells, which came out in March 2020, when the pandemic hit. Barry used that time at home to make a list of all the books Wells published. “I bought a copy of her autobiography,” said Barry, who spent that first year doing background research. The next two years, she researched places related to Wells.

What Barry finds amazing about Wells is that she was “really tenacious.” Barry said, “She was just really like, ‘Here’s my poem. If you don’t like it, let me know as soon as possible. Other editors may be interested.’ She built a literary life completely on her own. She didn’t have any help.”

Wells didn’t get started as a writer until her mid-30s. “She didn’t give up her day job until her 40s,” said Barry. “In her time, those ages are ancient. I find that really inspiring. I’m in the same period of my life where I have a day job, but I really love writing books. At what point could I say, ‘I do this for a living?’”

To learn more about Rebecca Rego Barry, visit:

Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Rego Barry