Post-Scripts Blog

Since publishing my first book in 2010, much has happened including newly-found Irish relations, more discoveries about my colorful Irish ancestral family, serendipitous crossing of paths with people who have a connection to my family story and more experiences that affirm my belief about the inherent goodness of people……even strangers.  This Post-Scripts blog will allow me to share these post-publication discoveries and experiences with you as well as being a place where I can tell you more surprising and interesting true stories of the past in Jersey and share my genealogical tips and experiences.  Please pass on the link to this page and encourage others to stop by.  There is so much more that connects us than divides us……if we just look.  Maureen


Enjoy a video of Maureen reading two of the stories from her book Jersey! Then  . . . Again:

New Jersey Suffragettes – The Quest for Votes for Women

Oliver Phelps Brown – 19th Century Medical Quack & Con Man


December, 2013

NJ350 – New Jersey’s 350th Anniversary Celebration – 2014:

Innovation, Diversity, Liberty

Immigrants in New Jersey:  Oscar Schmidt – Music-Maker

My penchant for “old things” has found me trolling through rows of tables at outdoor flea markets on many an early morning hoping to discover antique treasures. Over the years, scanning those tables searching for something wonderful and scoring it at a bargain price meant a lot of talking with sellers and dealers. Those conversations, whether or not they led to a deal being struck and a purchase being made, were a real opportunity to learn from people who had amassed a great deal of information and expertise about the things they specialized in buying, collecting, and selling. That casually-acquired knowledge can come in handy . . .  as it did when I was in writing this story. How else would I have known what a “zither” is?

Oscar Schmidt 1930s zither

A zither is a stringed instrument dating to before the birth of Christ. Sometimes mistakenly referred to as an autoharp (a similar but distinct instrument), a zither may be played laid on a flat surface or propped in the player’s lap and may have as few as a dozen strings or as many as 50, depending on the specific type. Zithers enjoyed a wave of popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s and were found in many homes where they were used for parlor entertainment. A premier maker of zithers at that time was Oscar Schmidt, a German-born immigrant who formed a music publishing company in New Jersey in about 1879. 

Schmidt, an astute businessman and entrepreneur, expanded his music publishing firm, opening a chain of music schools and using those schools to promote sheet music sales. He soon realized that he could then leverage his music school business by supplying instruments to the students. By the late 1890s, Schmidt was manufacturing zithers, mandolins, banjos and guitars at a large 30,000 square foot factory he opened on Ferry Street in Jersey City.

Oscar Schmidt Help Wanted Ad 1910

In the early years of the 20th century, the Oscar Schmidt Company was among the largest manufacturers of stringed instruments with over a million instruments reportedly produced at the Jersey City factory and instrument sales around the world.

oscar schmidt factory-in-jersey-city

In addition to his success in the music business, Schmidt was an active investor in real estate. Among his property purchases, in 1900, was a large parcel and house on Palisade Avenue in what was then known as Hudson City. Extensive renovations were commenced by Schmidt, including raising a third story on the existing house, adding multiple bay windows, extending the dining room, and installing the latest in modern conveniences, including steam heat, electric lights, “ornamental fixtures and first-class bathrooms.” The property was to have terraced landscaping with trees, flower beds and gravel walks and driveways. The cost of the work was expected to be at least $12-14,000.

There is no doubt that Oscar Schmidt, his wife and children were living very well as the result of Schmidt’s hard work and business acumen but newspapers of the day did occasionally capture them dealing with life’s ups and downs. In 1905, Mrs. Schmidt, accompanied by her daughter, drove out in their horse carriage with Mrs. Schmidt at the reins. Crossing Booream Avenue, the carriage was hit by a trolley. Mrs. Schmidt, who maintained that the motorman had not given any warning of the approaching trolley, somehow kept her head and control of the careening, damaged horse carriage, subduing the terrified horse and bringing the carriage to a stop. Cut and bruised, she was credited for her “skill and presence of mind” that prevented a much worse calamity.

Two years later, the Schmidts were involved in another vehicle-related incident when a horse and wagon belonging to Oscar went missing after being driven from Jersey City to New York by an employee, Louis Droove, who had taken a boy “helper” with him. When neither Droove or the boy – or the company horse and wagon – returned by the late evening, the police were notified. The following morning, the boy reappeared, telling the police that at 2am the previous night Droove had dropped him off on Barclay Street in New York saying that he should “beat it for the ferry and run home.” The boy was unable to explain where they had been all day and night except to say that frequent stops were made at saloons. Some hours later, Jersey City Police were contacted by the 57th Precinct in Brooklyn saying they had found a “driverless horse and wagon bearing the name of Oscar Schmidt of Jersey City Heights.” Droove, however, remained among the missing.

Oscar Schmidt died in 1929 while visiting one of his overseas factories, a month before the stock market crash and onset of the Great Depression, those events severely weakening the company which ultimately did not survive.  Nonetheless, the Schmidt name and branding has lived on under the ownership of other instrument manufacturers to this day.

Oscar Schmidt came to New Jersey to pursue  liberty and opportunities.  Like so many immigrants before and after him, he brought his native culture and enterprising spirit to his new home, contributing to the diverse story of our state and America.


September, 2012

Maureen featured in the Daily Record newspaper:

Genealogist shares tools to trace your Irish roots

PEQUANNOCK — Genealogist Maureen Wlodarczyk of Sayreville held an audience spellbound at the Pequannock Township Public Library recently as she shared stories from the lives of her Irish ancestors — and the tools she used to unearth them.

In Morris County, genealogical attention is well focused on Ireland. According to 2010 U.S. Census statistics, 21 percent of the population here claims some Irish ancestry. The county is also home to the Irish American Association of Northwest Jersey, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish groups.

Wlodarczyk, whose great-great-great grandparents were potato famine immigrants, has lots to tell in her book, “Past-Forward: A three-decade and three-thousand-mile journey home” (Outskirts Press, $26.95).

Written in the form of a letter to her beloved grandmother, Kate, the book traces, among other narratives, the fate of Kate’s maternal Irish ancestors. Like many families, they emigrated from Ireland to Jersey City and, eventually, moved to other suburbs throughout New Jersey.

Wlodarczyk, a self-described “unrepentant history addict,” knew to start her search in Ireland’s County Mayo and County Sligo by using a Surname Map of Ireland.

“Irish names are often rooted in locales,” she said.

Using ship and Census records and the New Jersey State Archives, she traced arrival, birth, marriage, and death dates, as well as occupations.

In 1862, Delia Hough, then 13, ventured from Ireland alone. She was passenger No. 400 in steerage on the Vanguard, a ship headed to the United States, where she would be self-supporting as a housemaid until she married John Flannelly, who was injured fighting in the American Civil War during the Battle of Williamsburg.

Delia’s daughter, Mamie Flannelly, was “an ironer in a laundry” whose first child, a son, was born out of wedlock. It was at, a database of stories from American newspapers dating to 1690, that Wlodarczyk pieced together Mamie’s likely story.

“One account said Miss Mamie Flannelly led the opening march with Mr. John Nagle, president of the employees association,” Wlodarczyk said. “I picture her in a secondhand dress, with that red hair, thinking how that was the best night of her life. It was Mr. Nagle who fathered her child.”

Then he abandoned her. Wlodarczyk said she couldn’t stop thinking about how, almost eight months later, the pride Mamie felt at the dance would have been transformed to shame in the eyes of her co-workers. It was her own “scarlet letter.”

Two years later, Mamie married Patrick Joseph Whalen, a ne’er-do-well alcoholic, according to Wlodarczyk. The couple had four children before Mamie died at age 35. Whalen gave up his children, one of whom was Wlodarczyk’s grandmother, Kate.

That’s where Wlodarczyk employed one of her key research tools — the notebook she’d used in the 1970s to write down her grandmother’s sparse replies to questions about her family.

“She always said she’d rather not air her dirty linen in public,” said Wlodarczyk, who was in her 20s when she did those interviews.

But the author embraces her whole genealogy, warts and all.

“You have to understand we’re not all descended from Queen Elizabeth. It’s even money you’ll find out something that surprises or disappoints you,” Wlodarczyk said. “We have to remember that they were saints and sinners. They were just like the rest of us. They persevered. They did what they had to do. They made decisions. Some of them weren’t the best, but we weren’t there, so we can’t say.”

It came to be that Kate was employed as a maid at age 13 after her mother, Mamie, died.

“Would Delia have felt sad that her granddaughter was starting out her teenage years in the same predicament she’d endured?” Wlodarczyk wondered aloud. That was one of many questions she pondered even as her research continued.

Indeed, she tracked down the house where her grandmother worked as a servant for the Esterbrook family in Jersey City. Its current owner gave Wlodarczyk a tour of the home, which was intact, though much changed. While walking through the home, Wlodarczyk was struck with the thought that her grandmother Kate would have touched the thick, old oak doors that were still there.

“I put the flat of my hand on a door, which I feel certain she probably touched many, many years earlier,” she said.

The moment was one of several in which all the years of research — collecting nugget upon nugget of information —made her lineage come alive for her. Along the way, Wlodarczyk has found new family and friends. At one of her talks, she told those assembled at the Pequannock library, a member of the Esterbrook family was in the audience and asked if her family had treated Kate well.

“We were excited to host Maureen’s program because there are so many library patrons who are passionate about genealogy,” said Rose Garwood, library director.

Among them was Jennifer Boggess of Massachusetts, visiting her hometown of Pequannock and looking to Wlodarczyk for good questions to ask her 90-something grandmother. Remembering all she wished she’d asked her grandmother Kate in the ’70s, Wlodarczyk gave Boggess an interview questionnaire she now shares with people just beginning to research their family stories.

It is one of many ways Wlodarczyk informs and guides people.

Today, she said, people still ask her if she’s embarrassed to say that her great-grandmother had a child out of wedlock and that her great-grandfather was an alcoholic. She is not. Indeed that knowledge makes Wlodarczyk all the more admiring that her beloved Kate was such a profoundly beautiful mother and grandmother.

The journey took Wlodarczyk 30 years, including a couple of trips to Ireland to feel even more deeply the fabric of those lives that yielded hers. She researched as time and finances allowed. As busy as life is, she said, she wouldn’t have missed the journey for all the world.

Written by: Lorraine Ash – The Daily Record


February 2012

Genealogy buffs, it’s that time again:  Who Do You Think You Are? will begin its new (and longer) season on NBC on Friday, February 3 at 8pm.  I was recently interviewed by about involving children in genealogy using family trees and other activities.  Read the piece at:


December 2011

The Authors Show Interview – Take a Listen:


November 2011

One Thing Leads to Another – Redux

As readers of this blog, family and friends know, I cannot resist a genealogical challenge and helping others achieve a breakthrough in their family history research is pure nirvana for me.  I had one of those adrenalin-pumping ancestor chases this past week – the kind that are unexpected, dripping with detective drama and a side of serendipity and proving, yet again, that in genealogy, one thing leads to another.

Just about a year ago, I reconnected with a high school friend.  We had both been on the twirling squad in school and stayed in touch for a number of years post-marriage and children.  Then, for no reason I can really pinpoint, we drifted in different directions and lost track of each other.  Reconnecting and catching up on decades (yes, decades), we realized, more than we ever had, how much we have in common.  Although we had dissimilar work lives and have different religious views, for example, there is an undeniable synchronicity between us.  We discovered that we were born two weeks apart in the same hospital, that we both spent the earliest years of our childhoods in Jersey City and that my maternal grandparents and her paternal grandparents attended the same church there, as did her father and my mother.  And . . . wait for it . . .  we also discovered that, like us, our mothers graduated from the same high school (albeit a few years apart). Each of us had a much closer bond with our mother than our father (for a good reason in each case).  And then there’s the wardrobe thing.  The first two times we met, we turned up wearing “matching” outfits, as if we had planned it the way girlfriends sometimes do when they are ten years old.  When I say matching, I mean it – right down to a black and cream hounds-tooth jacket, red top and black slacks.  Freakish.

As we emailed back and forth telling each other what we had been up to during our years of separation and attaching photos for illustration, I told her about my years of genealogical searching that gave birth to two books and a second “career” speaking and writing about my favorite addictions: genealogy and local history.  She was interested in doing some family history research about her husband’s family and her own.  Sniffing the scent of a new challenge, I was more than happy to offer my help.  A lot of revelations have resulted and, as is almost always the case, some were happy or surprising in a good way and others were sad or unpleasant.I suggested some months ago that we make a field trip to the NJ State Archives, a top spot for doing family research.  The Archives is a treasure trove of information about births, deaths and marriages in NJ, particularly covering the period from 1848 through the early decades of the 1900s.  The Archives staff, professional and very knowledgeable, are themselves a great resource for researchers.   We finally got to the Archives about two weeks ago.  I had recommended (more like “instructed”) that my friend review the information I had already uncovered (census lists, etc) and prepare a list of the records she wanted to look for so we could have a clear focus for the searching.  She did.

I gave her a quick overview of how the records and films were organized,  how the microfilm reader worked, and the basic rules (yes, you have to leave your purse, water and food in the provided locker, no pens – just pencils allowed, etc).  I encouraged her to ask the archivists for help when she got a bit turned around or couldn’t find what should have been on a particular roll of microfilm.  That strategy paid off and very quickly.  My friend already had a marriage record that included the maiden name of her great-great-grandmother but we couldn’t make it out with any certainty.  The archivist suggested looking for a marriage or birth record for another sibling in the hope of hitting upon an easier to read surname.  The search for that, however, turned up another record with an equally undecipherable name.  The archivist then switched gears and suggested looking for delayed birth record filings which, frankly, seemed like a real long-shot.  Well, it was actually a bulls-eye as a typed 1949 (much) delayed birth filing was found and there was that elusive surname, plainly legible.  More records were found during our three-hour Archives visit and a look at the list we started with confirmed that the most important of the items had been found.  In and of itself, this constituted a great first attempt and a very successful day but, in fact, it would also turn out to be the “one thing” that would quickly lead to another . . .  and another.

My friend had been told that her family was part “Dutch.”  Not Pennsylvania “Dutch” (who were really “Deutsch” meaning German) but windmills, tulips and wooden shoes Dutch.  Was that ever true!  A couple days after our Archives visit, I went on and started searching on the newly-revealed maiden surname of my friend’s great-great-grandmother.  I was able to find an 1870 US census record with the last name misspelled but clearly the correct family.  That census record led me to public family tree postings and the surprising discovery that the last name had been anglicized (either by the family or the census taker) and to a tree that included the proper Dutch spelling of the surname.  I couldn’t wait to search on that name and without much delay that led me to the ship passenger record for my friend’s great-great-great-grandparents who had traveled to America from Rotterdam, Holland in the mid-1850s.  Traveling with them was a baby daughter listed as having died during the trip across the Atlantic and a son who survived the voyage.  Another example of how genealogical research delivers both the happy and sad news that can still touch our hearts so many generations later and informed our ancestors’ lives, struggles and triumphs.

The family tree that put me on to the original Dutch family name included two additional generations of my friend’s family, thus taking us back to fifth great-grandparents and the late 1700s in a tiny town in Holland.  I excitedly called my friend to tell her what I had found.  I caught her on her cell phone in the aisle at Toys ‘R’ Us shopping for a birthday gift for her little grandson.  All shopping activity stopped as I gushingly told her the story.  I asked her if she wanted me to contact the owner of the family tree (through Ancestry’s blind messaging function) to tell them about her and ask if they wanted to contact her.   For a moment I thought she might say no, but she didn’t.   I have since sent the message through Ancestry.  No response as yet but, with the luck we have been having, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from her newly-found relatives.  My friend, who likes to use clever pseudonyms when emailing me (for example “Dear Sherlock”), signed a recent email “Double Dutch Girl.”  Indeed.

Double Dutch & Sherlock 2011


October 2011

Charles Dickens and the Hudson County Jail

Part One:

Old Charlie Dickens is one of my favorite authors.  A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities and Little Dorrit – I love them all.   Who doesn’t know who Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim are?  Who doesn’t remember lines like:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” and “It’s a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done . . ?”   Little Dorrit is a lesser known part of Dickens’ body of work but, with one of its central events being a greed-fed financial collapse at the hands of a ponzi-schemer, it is as timely today as it was 150 years ago.  (Not to mention that Charles Ponzi, the swindler who gave pyramid schemes their name, was not born until some 25 years after Dickens first published Little Dorrit.)

So, what does Dickens have to do with the Hudson County Jail?   Well, the title Little Dorrit refers to one Amy Dorrit, born in an English debtor prison where her father, William Dorrit, was an inmate.   In Merry Olde England, it was not unusual for wives and children of imprisoned debtors to join them in prison.  Amy’s father, once a “gentleman,” had a precipitous fall from grace due to the unscrupulousness of others and wound up a destitute inmate of the Marshalsea Prison in London.   Charles Dickens was very familiar with the Marshalsea Prison.  His own father had served time there in the 1840s for failing to pay a debt.  Dickens drew upon his personal experiences in crafting the characters in Little Dorritt and telling the tale of William Dorrit’s fall and imprisonment, his years-later rise and restoration back to the status of “gentleman” and his second fall as a victim of the ponzi scheme.

In Little Dorrit, William Dorrit, during his many years as an inmate, becomes known as the “Father of the Marshalsea,” a dean of sorts in the prison community.  In that regard, he is treated with some amount of deference by his fellow prisoners and even by the jailers of the prison and he clings to that small measure of respect as evidence that he is still a “gentleman.”

In doing some research recently, I happened upon a story about a similarly “senior” prisoner who, for many years in the second half of the 1800s was known as the “star boarder” of the Hudson County Jail.  No, he was not a lifer nor did he serve a long-term sentence.  He was just a “regular.”  In and out of the Hudson County Jail (more in than out) over a thirty-year period, often unable to care for himself or homeless, he deliberately got himself committed to jail.

This star boarder was named Charles Middleton and came from a prosperous New York family.  Why he was estranged from them I couldn’t find out but, from newspaper pieces I found, it appears his family tried to help him without success.  Charles Middleton was better known by the moniker “Baldy Sours.”  How he got that name I don’t know, but Jersey City locals all knew him by that name, as did the local newspaper, the Evening Journal.

Hudson County Courthouse & Jail Ca. 1900

In November 1874, Baldy was jailed under a charge of drunk and disorderly.  In November 1876, he was listed among prisoners being released from the Snake Hill Penitentiary.  In January 1880, the following piece appeared in the Evening Journal:

Baldy Sours Gone up Again

“Charles Middleton, familiarly known as ‘Baldy Sours,’ in the neighborhood of the Court House, was committed to the County Jail for two months by Justice Aldridge yesterday afternoon.  The bleak winds pinched the thinly clad form of the unfortunate old man, and having no home he threw himself upon the mercy of the court, and was provided with winter quarters.  He was a self-confessed vagrant, and saw no other chance of getting shelter, and something by which to satisfy the inner man.”

Later that year, a small item in the newspaper reported that he was sentenced to two months in jail for drunkenness.   Sometime in the months thereafter, Baldy temporarily pulled himself together and tried to mend his ways but it didn’t last.  On August 15, 1882, the Evening Journal reported that “Charles Middleton, known as Baldy Sours, was sent up for 90 days.  He is a genial, good-natured man, perfectly harmless to everybody but himself.  He had been behaving for more than a year heretofore.”

Jersey City Police Paddy Wagon

The cycle of arrest, jail and release continued for the next two decades.  At the time of the taking of the 1900 U.S. census, Charles Middleton is found “at home” in the inmate population at the Hudson County Jail.   He gave his year of birth as 1828, making him about 72 at the time and indicated he was “single” and born in New York.  A year later, in September 1901, the venerable New York Times reported the following:

Dies in Jersey City Jail

“Baldy Sours” Rarely Had Been Out of It for the Last Thirty Years

“Charles Middleton, alias ‘Baldy Sours,’ died yesterday in the Hudson County Jail at Jersey City.  He came out of a respectable New York family, who allowed him a monthly stipend.  He was seventy-five years old, and for the last thirty years he has not been out of the county jail a month at a time.  He called it his home, and he was known as the star boarder because the allowance made by his relatives enabled him to provide his own meals during the greater part of his imprisonment.

A man of more than ordinary ability, drink was his besetting sin.  He was never arrested for anything but drunkenness.  He was known to every Justice in Jersey City, and whenever he was arraigned he was at once sent to what he called his ‘home.’  On one occasion he was arrested in Hoboken, where he was a stranger, and sentenced to thirty days in the penitentiary.  ‘That’s wrong,’ said Middleton.  ‘I belong to the county jail.  Make it ninety days there instead.’

A county court officer who was present explained matters to Frank McDonough, who was then the Recorder, and the sentence was changed in accordance with Middleton’s suggestion.  He was employed in light work about the jail, and one day was sent to trim some flowers in the jail yard.  He walked off.  The next day he returned.  Charles Birdsall, the Warden, refused to admit him.

‘You can’t help yourself,’ said Middleton.  ‘I was sentenced to thirty days, and I have only served twenty.’

‘You violated your parole,’ said Birdsall, ‘and I won’t take you in.’

The matter was finally compromised by Middleton’s subscribing to an affidavit that he would never run away again. As the address of his relatives is not known, Middleton’s funeral expenses will be borne by Sheriff Carl Ruempler. ”

Of course, Baldy’s hometown newspaper, the Evening Journal, also reported on his passing.  In addition to reporting much of the same story that ran in the New York Times, the Journal piece reported that Baldy had died “at his home” from heart disease and “only had time to say Good bye Joe,” to the night jailer Mr. Tucker.  The article went on to say that Baldy was a man of some education and “his money belonged to everyone he met” and that he was first sent to jail about thirty years earlier.  He was described as short in stature and having a gray beard and with the skills of a “professional horticulturist.”  Among Baldy’s duties around the jail and court house were the care of his “friends” Tom and Jerry, the two alligators who lived in the court house fountain basin.   The Journal article concluded by saying that “as a helper around the jail, Baldy was without equal,” and was the Trustee in charge of Ward No. 1 in which all the murderers were kept.

While local law enforcement was ready to pay for Baldy’s funeral, it was not necessary.  Charles “Baldy Sours” Middleton’s New York relations heard of his death and his sister came to the morgue to claim his body.  He was interred in the Middleton family plot at Cypress Hills Cemetery.

Not long after Baldy’s passing, a short article appeared in the Evening Journal:

Kelly Succeeds “Baldy”

“Since the death of ‘Baldy Sours’ Middleton, the star boarder in the County Jail is William Kelly, who for the past fifteen years has been an intermittent guest of the county.  The death of ‘Baldy’ has advanced Kelly to the position of ‘Trustee’ No. 1 and he has charge of Ward No. 1 which for years was under the control of ‘Baldy.’  Kelly has also succeeded ‘Baldy’ as custodian of the Court House fountain.”

Part Two:   The Hudson County Jail’s Star Female Boarder, Bridget Coogan

Baldy Sours had a female counterpart at the Hudson County Jail.  According to the Evening Journal, the lady, Bridget Coogan, was “the only true friend” of Charles “Baldy” Middleton.  Born in Ireland in the early 1830s, it appears that she came to the U.S. in the late 1840s during the Irish Famine.  Over the years from the 1860s forward, she frequently made the pages of the Journal, arrested for petty and grand larceny, drunk and disorderly, vagrancy and the like.  In 1873, the Journal reported that she was “committed to the workhouse for 60 days for making a beast of herself.”  Yikes.

She served most of her sentences, which usually were for 30, 60 or 90 days, in the Hudson County Jail but also spent time as an inmate at the Snake Hill Penitentiary.   At the time of the 1880 U.S. census, Bridget was at Snake Hill.  The census indicates that she was a married woman, occupation: housekeeper.  Apparently, after leaving Snake Hill, she tried getting sober.  (I imagine that a sabbatical at Snake Hill in those days was a bit of a “scared straight” experience for someone used to lodging with the jailers at the Hudson County Jail who knew her so well.)  Picked up in October 1880, the Journal reported that Bridget, who had been sober for some months, “fell from grace and was gathered in, but was given one more chance.”

In her earlier years as a local criminal, several of Bridget’s escapades made the pages of the Journal.   On December 27, 1875, Bridget was arrested on suspicion of larceny.  At the time, she was in the employ of a Mrs. White who accused her of stealing a shawl.   “On examination, Bridget proved that she had borrowed the shawl and had no intention of stealing it.”  The article concluded that Bridget’s bad reputation had led to her arrest.  The charges were dropped.

In 1872, Bridget and gal-pal Mary Lowry were picked up and put in the “cage.”  Mary, described as having a “long, thin, cadaverous face,” and holding fast to her umbrella and a small parcel wrapped in torn newspaper laid down and went to sleep.  Bridget, described as a “stout, strapping, specimen who could with ease take an ordinary-sized man in her arms and spank as well as smack him,” sobered up more quickly and philosophically stated that she “had a damned right to do as she pleased with her loose change, and she’d just enjoy herself whenever she liked – Judge or no Judge, law or no law.”  The article went on to comment that it was “a pity a woman so combative and independent should select benzene to tickle her appetite and fire up her brains.”

When called before the Judge, he asked Bridget when she left the workhouse.  “Yesterday, sir,” she replied.  “You made haste Bridget,” said the Judge.  “It’s a bad job, Bridget.”  “Yes, sir,” said Bridget.  “But who wouldn’t when they’re kept up there for a month or so working for the county?”  The arresting officer testified that he had picked Bridget up at 10pm the prior evening at the corner of Washington & Montgomery Streets (Jersey City) as she was quarreling with a group of boys gathered around her.  He told the Judge that she turned her “batteries” on him with a barrage of abusive language he had never before heard uttered by a woman.  Bridget said nothing until the sympathetic Judge asked her if he let her go this time, would she try to get a job.  Brightening, Bridget said she could try.  The Judge bade her depart in peace and try to sin no more.  The Journal concluded that Bridget’s resolution wouldn’t amount to much as she was “a natural bummer and easy-going (jail) revolver.”

My person favorite was the Evening Journal article of February 28, 1873 titled “Past Experience Unheeded.”   Written in a style that was worthy of a poet describing a fair damsel, it went as follows:

“Unheeding the experience of many years, she drank deep numerous potions of an intoxicating and fiery beverage, commonly denominated ‘rum.’  The usual results from an undue attachment to lava followed.  The cherub face and sylph-like form of sweet Bridget Coogan sank amid the heaps of beautiful snow, completely overcome; her mind and optics completely oblivious to passing events.  Then did a knight of the baton (policeman), with a chivalry like unto that of a different age, raise the angelic Bridget and carry her boldly to the precinct number three.  The cadi (court) dealt with her judicially this morning, for, having no lucre (money), she languisheth.”

In late 1876, Bridget had solidified her sketchy reputation when the Journal reported the following:

“Bridget Coogan has been well known at the station houses in this city for years past.  Yesterday, Officer Bottner arrested her for being drunk on the street, and this morning a lady who knows Bridget paid her fine for her, took her home and will try to make a decent woman of her, and it is hoped that she may succeed and Bridget be reconstructed.”

Those hopes were for naught. I found no less than two dozen newspaper stories mentioning Bridget’s arrest from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century. When the 1895 New Jersey State Census was taken, both Bridget and Charles “Baldy” Middleton were among the inmates of the Hudson County Jail.  Five years later, at the time of the taking of the 1900 U.S. census, Bridget, like Charles “Baldy” Middleton, was again residing in the Hudson County Jail.  Matter of fact, their names appear on the same census page.  Her age was shown as “about 71” and it was indicated that she was a widow and had never had any children.

In September 1901, the Evening Journal ran an article titled “Alone In Cell, She Mourns For Baldy – The Only True Friend the ‘Star Boarder’ of County Jail Ever Had – Their Lives Ran in the Same Channel, and When the Morgue Man Called for ‘Baldy Sours’, She Wept Silently and Alone.”

The article described Bridget as sitting in the women’s ward of the County Jail “with tearful eyes, probably the only sincere mourner for the departed” Baldy Sours Middleton.  The piece claimed that Bridget had been a regular at the jail for nearly 50 years and that she and Baldy were single-mindedly “swayed by fondness for drink and their love for the County Jail.”  Apparently Bridget began her relationship with the jail before Baldy but they soon came to know each other as fixtures there.  The story speculated that although Bridget and Baldy had a long-time friendship, they were never “destined for a warmer sentiment” because their love of liquor was stronger than their caring for each other.

Bridget was fond of dressing herself in “gaudy calico” when discharged from the jail and it was believed that Baldy bought it for her.  A day or two later, Bridget would be back, once again arrested.  Baldy would greet her and she would tell him that she had a hell of a time while gone.  When Baldy was released, the story would be much the same.  When Baldy would return, once again arrested, he would bring Bridget two new clay pipes and two pouches of tobacco.   When Bridget heard of Baldy’s death, she lit her pipe and sat by the barred window of her cell.  It was said that she was heard saying, “Good-bye Baldy, Good-bye,” as the morgue attendant removed Baldy’s body from the jail.

Just eight months after Baldy’s death in the Hudson County Jail, Bridget Coogan also died there.  The Evening Journal ran a small piece with a headline in all caps “Bridget Coogan Died This Morning.”  On May 7, 1902, the Journal reported Bridget’s burial in Holy Name Cemetery “in consecrated ground.”  Bridget’s death was also reported in at least one New York City newspaper and, on May 12, 1902, the Denver (Colorado) Post picked up and ran the following New York Herald article:

“Jail Her Only Home – Queer Octogenarian Slave to Drink Dies in Prison”

The article talked of Bridget’s weakness for the drink and said that jail officials estimated that she had been committed to the jail more than one hundred times.  She had “earned a record as a model prisoner early in her career, and inevitably had a place in the squad of ‘trusties’ assigned every afternoon to clean the court-house offices every afternoon. In this way she formed the acquaintance of every county official who held office over the past quarter century.  In spite of her many visits to the jail, little was known of Bridget’s history as she never could be induced to talk about her family.”

(Post-Script:  I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you what became of the star animal boarders at the jail and courthouse complex.  Tom and Jerry, the two alligators taken care of by Baldy Middleton, came to live in the courthouse fountain basin in about 1899-1900.  Bridget, Baldy, Tom and Jerry – fixtures at the Hudson County jail.   In 1904, a few years after the passing of Baldy and Bridget, tragedy struck again when Jerry, according to the Evening Journal, “in a fit of cannibalistic unfriendliness” killed his buddy Tom, devouring all of Tom except his head and tail.  Less than a year later in 1905, the Journal reported that Jerry, suffering a “life of loneliness” simply lay down and died.)


May 2011

Gangs of Another City

Part One:

Jersey City has always had a connection with New York City, actually, a number of connections.  In the early 1800s, when Jersey City was in its infancy, it was a sleepy suburb of its neighbor across the water.  Over the ensuing years, some of New York City’s successful businessmen and professionals took up residence in Jersey City, then something of a bedroom community.   A short ferry ride provided a means of commuting . . . some things never change.  Like its much larger sister-city, Jersey City was also home to the poor and lower classes that generally consisted of European immigrants and native-born Americans drawn to the city by the jobs resulting from growing industrialization.

With population growth, economic struggles and social change came the inevitable crime.   New York had its infamous gangs like those depicted in the memorable film, Gangs of New York.   Its little sister was no different.  In the second half of the nineteenth century, Jersey City was home to many gangs who claimed specific streets and neighborhoods as their turf.  These hoodlums and toughs instilled fear among residents and local business owners as they committed robbery, burglary, assault and even murder, making it unsafe to walk the streets, particularly after dark.  Those they victimized were often too afraid to testify against them, making it more difficult for law enforcement to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate them.   Boys as young as nine or ten years old were often initiated into these gangs, committing crimes alongside young men twice their age . . . and just as often sent out on their own to do the dirty work for the older gang members.  Among the Jersey City gangs of the 1880s era were the Red Tigers (whose members reportedly included two brothers of Jersey City’s famous mayor Frank Hague), Glass House Angels, the Trestle Work gang, and the Lava Beds, also known as the Featherstone gang.

The Lava Bed gang operated in the 1880s and 1890s in what was the Sixth Ward, a poor neighborhood characterized by vacant lots, swamp, standing pools of water . . .  and rocks, both large formations that the gang used like a fortress and smaller rocks used for makeshift fire pits fueled by burning refuse that left piles of ash behind.  This desolate, rocky environment, where waste from a local soap factory was reportedly dumped, only to foam up when it rained, was sometimes called the lava beds, hence the name of the local gang of hoodlums.  The Lava Bed boys used the rocks as cover from police and as weapons of assault and vandalism.  In the Sixth Ward, as in modern gang neighborhoods today, there was a perverse kind of status that came with being a Lava Bed member and also like today, the Lava Beds had specific initiation requirements for prospective new members that included committing a burglary or robbery single-handedly or “laying out” a policeman (often with a blow to the head using one of those local rocks).   The book, History of the Police Department of Jersey City: from the Reign of the Knickerbockers to the Present Day, published in 1891, described the Lava Beds as “a wild, vicious lot, with no homes, no attachments, and without anything whatever to hold them in check except a policeman’s club.”  The author, Augustine Costello, went on to say that the Lava Beds, whose territory was near the train tracks, were fond of breaking into freight cars, moving on the rails or sitting in the train yard, and helping themselves to livestock or whatever else they could steal.

The six Featherstone brothers were the heart of the original Lava Bed gang which formed in the mid-1880s, although the brothers had been budding criminals before that and more than one of them had spent time in reform school early on.  In prior book research, I had hit upon some newspaper stories about the infamous Featherstone brothers and my curiosity was piqued.  I decided to see what I could find out about these very bad boys.  Perhaps they were orphans left to fend for themselves and were drawn into the criminal life.    With that, the genealogical hunt was on for the notorious Featherstones of Jersey City.

As it turned out, the Featherstone boys were not orphans.  Their parents, both born in Ireland, were Michael, born in 1830, and Catherine Ivers Featherstone, born in 1836.  The Featherstones’ oldest son, John, was born in Ireland in about 1859.  Their five other sons, all born in New Jersey, were James, born in 1862, Michael Jr., born in 1864, Mark, born in 1867, William, born in 1873, and Edward, born in 1874.  The Featherstones also had one daughter, Julia, born in New Jersey in 1866.   With the birth of their first son John having occurred in Ireland in 1859, and the birth of their second child having been in New Jersey in 1862, we can surmise that the Featherstones married in Ireland and emigrated to America between 1859 and early 1862 with their young son John.  Michael and Catherine Featherstone were survivors of the Great Famine in their homeland and arrived in New Jersey during our Civil War.  They took rooms in Jersey City and lived for many years in the 400-block of First Street.

That location (the 400-block of First Street) rang a bell with me.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out why.  My own Irish-born great-great-grandparents, Patrick and Catherine (Jordan) Whalen lived at 400 First Street at the time of the 1880 U.S. census.  Also living at that address were my great-great-grandmother Catherine’s two brothers (James and Patrick Jordan) and their families.  At that same time, the Featherstones and their seven children were living at 420 First Street.  My great-great-grandparents were recorded on page 365 of the census ledger; the Featherstones on page 366.  Their rooms were just a few buildings apart on the same side of the street.  It immediately occurred to me that my Whalens must have known the Featherstones.  Very quickly, though, two other realizations came to mind: my great-great-grandparents lived in that awful, desolate, poverty-ridden neighborhood I described earlier  . . . and they were no doubt among the residents frightened, intimidated and victimized by the Featherstone boys and their Lava Bed gang!

Part Two:  Gangs – A training school for criminals

In 1880, the census-taker made his way down First Street, interviewing and gathering statistics on each family, most of them, including the Featherstones, headed by Irish immigrants.   The Featherstones were recorded as a family of nine.  Michael Featherstone Sr. was listed as an Irish-born laborer and his wife as “keeping house”.   Oldest son John was also listed as an Irish-born laborer.  Julia and Mark (sometimes called “Marx”) were age 14 and 13 and were listed as “at school”, meaning they were attending elementary school.  William and Edward, ages 7 and 6, were not yet attending school.  Sons James, 18, and Michael Jr., 16, were in a very different kind of school.  The census listed them as “in Reform School”.  In fact, James and Michael appear in the 1880 census twice: once under their parents’ address at 420 First Street in Jersey City and a second time as inmates of the Jamesburg Reform School in central New Jersey.

Seven years before the census-taker’s visit, in August 1873, the Evening Journal newspaper reported on a melee that broke out on First Street, specifically, in and around 420 First Street.  The article, titled “A Donnybrook Fight on First Street”, was subtitled “Scalps as Thick as a Hudson River Fog”.   (You’ve got to love those colorful, entertaining nineteenth century newspapers.  They really knew how to hook the reader and fill a column of print space.)   The best way to tell you what happened on First Street that Saturday night is to let the Evening Journal tell the tale as originally told in its pages nearly 140 years ago:

“First Street, formerly South Eighth Street, near the Point of Rocks, has always been a spot in our city where a man could get his eye blacked or his skull cracked quicker and easier than he could at any other portion of Jersey City.  Here Connaughts, Fardowns, Tipperarys, Corkonians, Galwayians and Dublinites (all terms describing Irish by the county in Ireland from which they came) live not in peace and harmony, but in eternal warfare, each section ready to meet the other in a friendly set-to, or ready, at the slightest hint, to “tear the coat off” the spalpeen that comes from any other county than that from which the challenger first drew his breath.  On Saturday night last, in that populous section near 420 First Street, the passers-by could hear loud and angry words coming from the different windows, each hallooing at the other, and using phrases that would disgust the worst denizens of Baxter Street, New York.  About 11 o’clock the war broke out, and Michael Shanley and his son James Shanley, came out of their holes in a right-good humor for a grand fight.  James Shanley fell upon Patrick Higgins with a slungshot or club, and made short work of him, leaving wounds thus described by Dr. Oscar T. Sherman:  “A contusion and lacerated wound on right side of the head, above the temple, with a suffusion, and liable to result fatally”.  Michael Shanley fell upon a man named Michael Featherstone (Sr.), and ‘ere he got through with him, left him in a condition which is thus described by Dr. Sherman:  “Two contused and lacerated wounds on the head, situated on the right and posterium part of the head, about three and a half inches in length, above the ear;  a cut about two inches in length with more or less suffusion under the skin, and other wounds less in extent, situated on the left side of the head, in the same relative position as the others, all of which wounds may prove fatal to the sufferer”.  Justice Fred Payne was sent for yesterday afternoon and took the affidavit of Featherstone at his bedside, against Michael Shanley, whom he charges with a murderous assault, and the culprit was arrested.  Mrs. Catherine Featherstone, then appeared before Justice Ryan and made an affidavit that Michael Shanley and his wife Mary made an assault upon her, at the same time and place, with a bayonet, cutting her hand and otherwise injuring her bodily.  Both of these parties were arrested by special constable Sumers and gave bonds of $500 each, ex-Alderman John Lennon becoming their bondsman.”

Just three weeks later, on September 9, 1873, Michael Featherstone Sr. made the Evening Journal again, proving that, however serious, his injuries in the melee were not fatal.  This time the article was titled “Struck by the Cars” and it was more bad news about Mr. Featherstone.   At about 6:30 one evening, Featherstone was struck by a Pennsylvania Railroad train as he was walking on the tracks near Monmouth Street.  According to the newspaper, “the unfortunate man’s legs were horribly mangled and his head badly injured.   He was picked up by Officer William Kelly, who, with assistance, carried him home to First Street.  Dr. O’Callahan attended him, but he has no hopes of his recovery”.   (Believe it or not, he did survive and lived another twenty-four years.  Perhaps either the beating by his neighbor or the train accident left him disabled but, whether he was or was not, he did not pass away until 1897 at the age of sixty-seven.)

In May, 1874, about eight months after Michael Featherstone was hit by the train, his namesake, Michael Jr., made the pages of the Evening Journal.  He was about 4 months shy of his tenth birthday.  There had been a theft of a large quantity of lead pipe from the Brunswick Street home of a Terence Beggins.  The police first arrested James Fullerton for stealing the pipe and a junk dealer, John Lynch, for buying it from the thief.  Shortly after those arrests, Edward Kelly and young Michael Featherstone were arrested for “complicity in the robbery”.  The article stated that Kelly and Featherstone belonged to a gang that had recently taken up quarters in a furnished house on Mercer Street that was temporarily vacant as the owners were away and indicated that more arrests in the case were expected.   Nine-year-old Michael Featherstone Jr. was on the road that would lead to his incarceration at the Jamesburg Reform School about five years later.  In September 1874, the Evening Journal reported that young Michael Featherstone had been “committed” on a charge of larceny.  Two years later, in 1876, an Evening Journal article recapping court proceedings included a line about the arraignment of a “boy”, James Featherstone, who pleaded guilty to a charge of robbery and was held for sentencing.  James was thirteen at the time of the arraignment.  It is likely that older brother John Featherstone, who would have been about 15 at the time, was an up-and-comer in the gang and sponsored younger brothers James and Michael’s initiation into the group.

Big brother John himself made the pages of the Evening Journal in January 1878 at the age of seventeen in an article titled “A Young Blackguard Punished”.  Featherstone had accosted a young couple named Jones, blocking their path on the sidewalk and then addressing an “obscene remark” to Mrs. Jones.  Mr. Jones knocked Featherstone to the ground and a beat cop, Officer Conway, picked Featherstone up and took him in.  While in custody, it was discovered that Featherstone was wanted under an active warrant for smashing the windows of a saloon on First Street (near his home).  The proprietor of the saloon, Mr. Miller, had refused to supply Featherstone and “his crowd” with free rum so they vandalized the saloon.  John Featherstone was “sent up” for 90 days for insulting Mrs. Jones to be followed by another term for the saloon incident.

While Michael Jr. and James were cutting their criminal teeth in the mid-1870s under the tutelage of their older brother John, their mother Catherine was giving birth to the youngest Featherstone boys, Edward in about 1872 and William in about 1874, while caring for their young sister Julia and little brother Mark, then about six or seven years old.  The Featherstones were Catholics and were parishioners of St. Mary’s R.C. Church where their children were baptized.  Catherine Featherstone lost at least one child, Annie, in 1866, and likely lost another named Thomas in 1878.

In 1881, the Evening Journal reported a raid on the Lava Bed gang on First Street.  The article told of the need for frequent raids to keep the gang of thieves and “loafers” under the “subjection” of the police, those raids happening at the direction of Captain Farrier.  Picked up in the midnight raid were six young men including Michael Featherstone, each of whom was given the choice of paying a fine of $20 or being locked up for 90 days.  Just after that raid, young William Featherstone was arrested at the tender age of seven, charged with burglary committed at Lahey’s grocery store.   While these offenses may seem hardly worthy of police raids, the Lava Beds and other gangs in Jersey City routinely victimized residents and business owners on a daily basis, making the streets unsafe.  Mothers were afraid to let their children play outside for fear of violence or their young boys being recruited by gang members.  Women and young girls were accosted on the street and became victim to lewd remarks and even sexual overtures and assaults by these brazen gang members, making it unsafe to go out alone even in the daytime hours.

Capt. Farrier

Part Three:  She died of a broken heart

The Lava Bed Gang, we’ll call them “LBG” for short, made the pages of the Jersey City’s Evening Journal and the New York City papers as well during the 1880s and 1890s.  In August 1882, the Journal reported the following starting with the subtitle “A Nest of Hoodlums Broken Up – Lively Encounter”:

“First Street abuts upon the rocks at its western extremity, and in that neighborhood has long existed a gang of hoodlums known as the ‘Lava Bed Gang.’  No sort of property is safe from these fellows.  Portable property is seized and carried off almost with impunity.  A protest from a victim is visited with outrage and carnage by the gang.  Real estate is broken and defaced and tenants are driven out by the conduct of the hoodlums.  Mr. Wm. Howeth, who owns houses in the neighborhood, has been a sufferer for years.  He succeeded in sending a few of the gang away, and their loss is a gain to the neighborhood.  Last Saturday night, the owner of 420 First Street complained to Capt. Farrier that a gang of hoodlums had taken possession of the upper floor of his house and refused to leave.  They had made it a headquarters, whence they sallied forth to steal and to which they returned their booty.  Capt. Farrier waited patiently until 4 o’clock yesterday when he called several officers in and organized a raiding party.  The house was surrounded.  In the hallway were found four hoodlums who were placed under arrest and left with a guard while a squad ascended to the top floor where four more were taken.  While they were being searched there was a lively time in the hallway.  Officer Stucky’s prisoner knocked him down and made an attempt to escape.  Officers Graves and Whelan were tripped going to Stucky’s assistance and a prisoner ran.  A pistol shot raised the skin on the fugitive’s arm and he stopped.  By this time, the neighborhood was aroused and the officers hastened away with the prisoners.  Nearly all of them are notorious characters.  They gave their names as John Ryan, John “Red” Doyle, Edward Harris, Walter McCue, Edward Hayslip, Fred Harrion, John Featherstone and James Featherstone.  All but Ryan and Harris were convicted by Judge Stilsing who sent the six away for 90 days each.  Hayslip is wanted for the assault upon Mr. and Mrs. Evans, which caused the latter to give premature birth to a child and nearly caused her death. The Featherstones are a bad crowd.  Another brother was committed for robbery this morning. This wholesome dose of correction will thin out that gang for some time, and is therefore a blessing to the public.”

The New York Herald reported the same event under the provocative headline: “HINT TO THE NEW YORK POLICE:”

“A band of Jersey City ruffians and thieves, known as the “Lava Bed Gang,were raided yesterday by a squad of police, under command of Captain Farrier, and eight of the lawless ruffians composing it were captured.  The band was broken up some time ago and several of the delectable coteries were sent to prison.  Recently, some of those who had been released were noticed loitering about their old haunts at the head of First Street, and, as reports of petty thefts and assaults were becoming frequent, the police were convinced it had reorganized and had a rendezvous near the rocks.  Three of the band were fugitives from justice, but it was decided not to interfere with them until their hiding place was discovered.  On Saturday, it was ascertained that they had taken possession of two rooms on the top floor of the tenement, No. 422 First Street.  The band is composed of desperadoes, and anticipating a stubborn resistance, Captain Farrier summoned his entire force of night men and at four o’clock yesterday morning started for the nest.  They approached the place quietly, burst in the door and surprised and caught the band, the majority of whom were asleep.  They were not disposed to submit quietly, but the policemen subdued the leaders, who made a show of resistance, and the eight prisoners were taken to the Gregory Street station and locked up.  Those captured were John Ryan, Edward Harris, Frank Dougherty alias Red Doyle, Frederic Harmon, Morgan McHugh, Edward Hyslip (Hayslip), John Fetherston (Featherstone), and James Fetherston (Featherstone).  Hyslip will have to answer for committing an atrocious assault on a Mrs. Evans, who was so brutally beaten that her life was for a time despaired of.  John Fetherston is wanted for robbery and cruelly beating a little girl and his brother James for burglary.  The prisoners have, with one or two exceptions, been in jail.  Their ages vary from seventeen to twenty-eight years.”

James Featherstone

While his brothers John and James were away serving that 90-day sentence, Michael Featherstone kept the home-fires burning in partnership with the same Edward Hayslip .  The Journal, under the title “Only Another Crime,” reported that Mrs. Marly’s “fancy store,” No. 356 First Street, was broken into and $20 worth of socks had been stolen.  Captain Farrier, who already had Michael and Hayslip in custody, went to their cells only to find “some of the stolen property on the feet of Michael Featherstone and Edward Hayslip.”

In January 1883, the Journal, in reporting activity at the county courts, reported on the trial of John Featherstone and an accomplice, both identified as members of the LBG.  (Featherstone would barely have been past the 90-day sentence above when he was back in police custody again.)  More than telling the facts of the trial, the short piece gave a chilling criminal bio of John Featherstone.  Featherstone was on trial for breaking and entering with the intent to commit assault and battery and had a court-appointed defense attorney named Samuel McGill.  On December 6th, the complainant Mr. William Kerr had sent his “little girl” on an errand.  She was accosted by Featherstone and friend and “abused.”  Mr. Kerr came to his daughter’s aid and told the two assailants to clear the passageway to his home.  Instead, the hoodlums chased him up the stairs and broke down his door.  Mr. Kerr said that one of the defendants said “Hit him with a brick.”  John Featherstone denied being there and said it was one of his brothers, not him.  Mr. Kerr’s neighbors corroborated his version.  Featherstone admitted having once been in State Prison for 18 months for assault and battery, and that he had been fined and imprisoned at Snake Hill a number of times for various offenses.  He “hypocritically said that he had been trying to make a man of himself” to which the prosecutor responded by stating the obvious – that he had not succeeded. The jury shortly brought in a verdict of guilty against both Featherstone and his accomplice.

So, what can we conclude thus far about the LBG?  They were young men who operated in their own backyard . . . literally . . . preying on and brutalizing their “own kind,” ethnically and economically.  Utterly without a moral compass or conscience, they passed the time and amused themselves by stealing socks one minute and beating a pregnant woman nearly to death the next.  Sound familiar – people seeing life as cheap?  Some things never change.

The New York Herald continued to follow the exploits of the LBG and in April, 1883, ran a story titled “Going Back to the Farm.”   The article told the story of James Smith and his wife who had lived “happily” on a Connecticut farm for many years but could not make progress in “accumulating a fortune” and so decided to sell that farm and open a business in the city.  Having a cousin in Jersey City, they set up a small grocery store with liquors there, rents being cheap.  Unfortunately, their choice of location, the upper end of First Street, was the territory of the Lava Bed Gang, “a crowd of young thieves, several of whom are now rendering the State service.”  Describing the LBG as “the worst in Jersey City,” the article went on to say the gang had been led by John Featherstone or one of his two eldest brothers, depending on which of them was not in the State Prison.    Gang members were the first “customers” to come into James Smith’s newly-opened store.  They sampled the liquors and opened “accounts.”  They kept returning to “sample” the liquors until the “old farmer-merchant” objected and asked for payment for open accounts.  A gang member threatened to “wipe out the place” and left.  Minutes later, a chunk of concrete pavement came flying through the front glass window of the store, almost striking Mr. Smith.   John Featherstone and his gang then entered the store, wrecking the place and causing the aged couple to flee.  The Smiths told Judge Stilsing what had happened at the store and Featherstone was arrested and committed for trial.  As he prepared to leave the courtroom, Mr. Smith said to Judge Stilsing, “I guess my wife and I will go back to farming.  I will give you my address in Connecticut.  Please notify me when the trial is to take place and I’ll be here.”

The Journal also reported that, upon John Featherstone’s arrest, others came forward to report recent crimes committed against them by John Featherstone including a woman who said he had assaulted her.

The revolving door of justice apparently kept spinning and the Featherstone boys rode it like a carousel, moving in and out of the judicial and prison systems time and time again, month by month, year after year.  They no sooner were released than were back at it again – thieving, breaking and entering, assaulting, vandalizing, extorting businesses and the like.

It was no different the next year, 1884, when the Journal reported that the LBG who “infested” the Sixth Ward, “made a raid” on the saloon of Adam Metzger on Railroad Avenue near Brunswick Street.  When refused free liquor, they began to wreck the saloon, breaking windows and doors.  The same year, the New York Herald reported that the LBG, “a notorious band of Jersey City hoodlums,” had a post-prison-release “reunion,” the majority of them having just been released after three months in State Prison.  The celebration was timed to include one member, John Darcy, who had been “away” for two years.  The partying started just before midnight with a raid on a grocery establishment where they procured free drinks and then each “appropriated a new broom.”  They then prowled about in the old Sixth Ward and “besieged saloons and dwellings,” using the brooms on those they encountered as persuasion to provide free drinks.  If refused, they destroyed the place.  Two police sergeants and an officer came up upon the gang on First Street.  The alarm was sounded and the gang scattered but the police did capture three of the hoodlums:  William Hanley, John Darcy and John, alias “Pucksie,” Featherstone.

It was also in 1884 that something more personal happened in the lives of the Featherstone boys.  In May of that year, Catherine Ivers Featherstone, their mother, passed away.  She was 48 years old.  In his 1891 book, History of the Police Department of Jersey City, Augustine Costello, in describing the LBG as “the wickedest gang in Jersey City,” wrote the following:

“The Featherstone parents and one sister, Julia, were very respectable folks, as respectability goes thereabouts, and the mother died of a broken heart it is said, grieving over her sons’ misdeeds.”

Part Four The Beat Goes On……

Truth be told, the cause of Catherine Featherstone’s death was “Phthisis Pulmonalis”, better known as tuberculosis or consumption, a disease that was the scourge of 19th and early 20th century cities in the United States.  She was buried in Holy Name Cemetery, joining two sons she lost in early childhood.

Perhaps it was a mercy that Catherine Featherstone was not alive to see the waning days of the 1800s as, despite the passing of time and defying any expectation that they would outgrow their youthful deviant behavior, her “boys” got older all right . . . but no better.  The Journal and New York newspapers continued to tell the tale of the LBG, the Featherstones and their gang brethren which included three one-legged warriors named Fisher, McGee and Sherry, each of whom had reportedly lost a leg due to being run over by railroad cars while committing robbery.

In 1885, Michael Featherstone, then living on Third Street, was arrested for “raiding” the apartment of one Terence Brady, a tailor, who lived in the same building, and robbing a “suit of clothes” valued at $40.  Suspecting his neighbor Featherstone, Brady sought him out and found him coming out of a local pawn shop.  Featherstone had just pawned the stolen suit, getting $2.50 for his efforts.   The New York Herald picked up the story and amplified on it.  The Herald identified Michael Featherstone, age 20, as one of the Featherstone brothers, “four desperate young fellows,” all leaders of the LBG of Jersey City, the “most persistent and notorious gang of law breakers that the Jersey City police have to deal with.”  The article went on to say that although half the gang was then in State Prison for crimes including highway robbery and burglary, “they manage, however, to recruit their ranks and fill the places made vacant by the retirement of the veterans to prison.” Among those then in prison were two of the Featherstone brothers including John Featherstone who, according to the Evening Journal, had broken into five grocery stores in one night.

By April, 1886, when the Journal ran a piece titled “The Lava Bed Gang Again”, it reported that only one of the “Featherstone boys” was not in prison.  By September, 28-year-old John Featherstone, once again out of prison after serving a State Prison term for burglary, was back in custody after beating a man on the corner of Monmouth Street and Railroad Avenue because the man refused the LBG’s demand for money for beer.  The same month, his brother James, also just out of prison, was held on a charge of larceny.  Not to be outdone, younger brother Mark (sometimes known as “Max”) was picked up a few weeks later after a foot-chase by Jersey City police on a charge of being a disorderly person.

Max, who was the youngest of the four notorious brothers, was beginning to make a name for himself.  In March, 1887, his offenses escalated.  The Evening Journal reported, under the title “Frightful Outrage,” the assault on a woman in her own home by five men.  “Outrage” meant sexual assault in those days.  The victim was a 45-year-old widow, Mary Quirk, who lived alone in the upper floor of a tenement on First Street, near Colgate, right in the heart of Featherstone and LBG territory.   Mrs. Quirk reported that, at about 9 o’clock, the men forced their way into her apartment and assaulted her, muffling her attempts to scream for help.  She was beaten and held for four hours before escaping.  Mrs. Quirk recognized Featherstone and one of the other men from the neighborhood and courageously named and identified them for the police.

John, James, Michael and Max Featherstone, then ranging in age from about 20 to 28 years old, had been terrorizing the Sixth Ward and the First Street neighborhood for the better part of a decade and reportedly had no “home”, just drifting around the neighborhood.  Their mother was dead, and their father, perhaps an invalid, may have been trying to care for their sister Julia and youngest brothers William and Edward.

Young William and Edward made the pages of the Evening Journal the following year, in February 1888 at ages of about 14 or 15.  The article was titled “Little Outlaws” and it takes us back to Snake Hill.  Edward, William and two friends, George Campbell and Charles Enness, were convicted of stealing county property and were sent to Reform School (most likely in Jamesburg, where their older brothers had spent time nearly a decade earlier).   William and Edward, identified in the piece as relatives of the “notorious Max Featherstone,” had been “inmates of the almshouse” (poorhouse) at Snake Hill.  This implies they were destitute and perhaps homeless and were sent there to live.  The article goes on:

“Tiring of the discipline of the institution, they (William & Edward) sought refuge in the woods near Snake Hill.  When Robert Ryan assumed charge of the Almshouse, he found the names of the boys upon the register, but learned they had not been in the institution for months before.  Upon investigation, he was put in possession of information that led him to believe that the Featherstones and other missing inmates of the Almshouse had established themselves within convenient distance of Snake Hill and made predatory visits to all the county institutions and the neighboring farmhouses, for food, clothing and other supplies.  He also had reason to believe that the older boys in the Almshouse were in the habit of visiting the quarters of the Featherstones.  He maintained a strict watch, and his vigilance was rewarded by seeing George Campbell and Charles Enniss carrying food to the young outlaws.  He followed them and bagged them and the Featherstones.  In the home the boys had made for themselves in the woods were found blankets, bed ticking and other property which had been stolen from the Almshouse.  Judge Lippincott, in sending them to the Reform School, said it was the proper place for such boys who only demoralize their companions in such a place as the Almshouse.”

And so the criminal careers of the last two Featherstone brothers seemed destined to follow those of their four older brothers.

In the succeeding years, the headlines kept coming, even as the four oldest Featherstones passed through their twenties and into their thirties:

1889:  “A Bad Lot” – James Featherstone arrested for bringing “disreputable women” into the neighborhood, placing them in the hallways of residential buildings to facilitate robberies.

1890:  “Those Featherstones Again” – John “Pupsie” Featherstone committed for trial for the beating of an old German saloon owner and his wife for refusing free drinks at their establishment on the corner of Newark Avenue and Brunswick Street.

1890:  James Featherstone convicted of assault and battery and sentenced to six months at Snake Hill.

1891:  “Two Toughs Committed” – Michael Featherstone arrested for the “waylay” and assault on Patrick O’Brien of 418 Third Street, who refused the LBG money for beer.

1893:  “The Burglar Identified” – Mark Featherstone, age 28 and a Lava Bed Gang member, of 91 Colgate Street, arrested for attempted robbery at the 430 Second Street residence of contractor John Nolan.  Caught by Nolan’s son hiding under a bed in the home, Featherstone made “desperate resistance” and had to be “clubbed.”

1893:  “A Beggar Held Up” – Beggar Joseph Harding, refused to turn over his money, 35 cents, and was choked by one man while a second rifled his pockets.  Among the three arrested for the robbery was Michael Featherstone of 301 Railroad Avenue.  Featherstone, a “leading spirit” in the notorious Lava Bed Gang had just been released following a multi-year prison term.

1895:  “Ran Away Under Fire” – John Featherstone of 301 Railroad Avenue and William Stone, no home, were charged with attempted burglary at Sheridan’s shoe store at 473 Newark Avenue.  Policeman Lynch fired a shot at the men as they attempted to flee but neither was hit.

1895:  “Lava Bed Gang” – First and Second precinct police made a round-up of some members of the “old and notorious” Lava Bed Gang which had been a terror to the city.  Chief Murphy and his men have succeeded in breaking up the gang and sent members to prison.  Some reformed, some left the city, and those who persisted in being “tough and troublesome” were sent again to prison.  Among those picked up in this round-up was John Featherstone, age 32, an “old member” of the gang.

1896:  “Lava Bed Gang Returns – Time in State Prison has expired and they resume operations” – “During the past few months several members of the notorious Lava Bed Gang have completed their terms in State Prison and returned to their haunts at the foot of the hill, much to the disgust of the law-abiding citizens in that locality.”  Following an attempted break-in on Third Street, police made a raid on several Lava Bed toughs picking up 5 men including Michael Featherstone, alias “Liver,” of 301 Railroad Avenue.

1896:  “County Courts” – The Sessions Courts were well-attended as sentences were passed including the following:  John Featherstone, resisting an officer and assault and battery – eighteen months in State Prison; James Featherstone, larceny and receiving (stolen goods) – one year in the County Penitentiary;

1897:  “Robbed a Restaurant Keeper” – James Featherstone and two cohorts went into a restaurant owned by Mrs. Newhoff, a near-sighted woman.  Featherstone flim-flammed her out of $8 by claiming a $2 bill was a $10 bill and his accomplice then snatched the $2 bill from her.  Featherstone was given a term of six months by Justice Nevin.

1898:  “Charged with Robbery”  – James Featherstone, an “old offender and leader of the Lava Bed Gang,” is again lodged in jail, charged with larceny from the person of a 19-year-old Wayne Street man who he dragged into the hall of a house, stealing his watch and some change.

1898:  “Four Old Offenders” – James Featherstone and three other old members of the old Lava Bed Gang were arrested for “disturbing the Italian colony” by raiding and theft at a junk store.  They were given six months by Justice Nevin to which Featherstone replied to the judge: “Why don’t you hang us?”

On July 6, 1899, Michael Featherstone enlisted in the US Army (perhaps to avoid jail).  He lasted all of 40 days and was dishonorably discharged on August 15, 1899 at the Presidio in San Francisco.  Perhaps he got into trouble or perhaps they discovered he was a serial convicted felon.  Despite the onset of middle-age, James Featherstone kept at it.  In 1903, at the age of about 40, he was arrested for grand larceny for stealing twelve dozen napkins embroidered with the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) monogram and selling them.   The police recovered eight dozen of them.  As late as 1907, the oldest of the Featherstone brothers, in their late forties, were still making the Evening Journal, arrested for thieving and fencing goods.

If there is any good news, it is that I found no further newspaper articles indicating that the youngest Featherstone boys, William and Edward, had joined up with their older brothers in a life of crime.  Perhaps the stint in the Reform School, resulting from their entrepreneurial activities at the Almshouse, proved the deterrent it was intended to be.

Part Five (Conclusion):  Miss Julia Featherstone

Catherine and Michael Featherstone were the parents of seven children who survived childhood – six sons and one daughter, Julia Featherstone.  They also lost three other children including two sons, one at 6 years old in 1867 and another at 2 months old in 1878.  Julia Featherstone was born in August, 1866 in Jersey City and baptized four days later at St. Mary RC Church.  Julia was, in fact, a twin.  Her twin sister, named Annie and baptized with Julia at St. Mary’s, died just two months later.   Julia was named for her Irish maternal grandmother, Julia Ivers (sometimes spelled “Evers”).

At the time of her mother’s death in May, 1884, Julia was approaching her 18th birthday.   The following year (1885), the Featherstones were still living at 148 Merseles Street where Catherine Featherstone had died.  The city directory for that year lists Michael Sr., James, John and Michael Jr. at the Merseles Street address.  By 1891, Julia Featherstone herself, then 25, was listed in the city directory for Jersey City which gave her address as 60 Colgate Street and her occupation as “tobacco worker”, no doubt in the Lorillard Tobacco Factory.

Two years later, Julia Featherstone Trudell gave birth to her first child, Charles Trudell, named for his father.   Julia’s husband, Charles Trudell Jr., was no stranger to the notorious Featherstone boys and had his own checkered past.  He was born in 1862 in Canada to French Canadian parents, Charles and Harriet Trudell.  The family immigrated to the US a few years later and, at the time of the 1880 US census, was living on Brunswick Street in Downtown Jersey City.   That census indicates that Charles Trudell Sr. was a carpenter, born in Canada in about 1832.  The family included Mrs. Trudell, sons Frederick and David, and daughters Sarah, Kate and Josephine.   Charles Jr., the oldest child, then about 18 years old, was listed on the census as “prisoner.”  The 1880 census included a separate schedule tracking the homeless, disabled and “inhabitants in prison.”   Sheet 18 for Hudson County reveals an early Trudell/Featherstone connection:  it listed James Featherstone and Michael Featherstone as “inmates” in Reform School, followed on the next line by Charles Trudell Jr., prisoner in the Hudson County Jail for assault.

Like his future Featherstone brothers-in-law, Charles made the local papers in the 1880s.  In October, 1882, the Evening Journal ran a piece titled “Three Terrors in Limbo.”  The article opened with the following:  “Among the worst and most dangerous hoodlums in the old Sixth Ward are Charles Trudell, Michael Murphy and Otto Kief.  These young men are a terror to the neighborhood.”  It went on to describe the trio’s robberies and assaults on those who resisted.  The specific incident in the article was a theft from a storekeeper named Einstein who did business at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Monmouth Street and had been “beaten almost to insensibility” by the trio because he tried to prevent the pillaging of his store.  The three had beaten a man named Thomas Regan the prior night, leaving him “bruised and temporarily maimed.”  All three were arrested by First Precinct police.   In September, 1884, Trudell pleaded guilty to resisting an officer and assault and battery.

Julia and Charles Trudell, married in about 1891, had eight children, five of them surviving childhood.  They lost their first-born, Charles III, in 1898 at age five.  They lost an infant son, Michael, (no doubt named for Julia’s father) in 1897 and a daughter Meredith.   The surviving children were sons Joseph (1893), Edward (1898), Mark (1901), Leo (1903) and Catherine (named for Julia’s mother) in about 1905.

Charles Trudell was listed in the city directory for 1896-97 at 301 Railroad Avenue and his occupation was shown as “truck driver.”   In the same time period, arrest records show Michael Featherstone living at the same address, probably with the Trudells . . . or just using their address perhaps.

The Trudells appear in successive US census records for 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930.   In 1900, the family lived at 384 Third Street with sons Joseph and Edward.  Charles listed his occupation as “iron worker.”  By 1910, the family, then with five children, was living in the rear of 316 Fifth Street and Charles was a laborer in a coal yard.   In 1920, the family was living at 223 Brunswick Street, four of their five children were still living at home, and Charles was still working in the coal yard as a laborer.   Charles continued in that occupation for some twenty years.  By 1930, he and Julia were living alone at 339 Ninth Street and he was still working in the coal yard although he was in his late sixties.

The latest generation of the Featherstone-Trudell clan would have a brush with the law and make the Evening Journal just after the turn of the twentieth century.   The ever-vigilant Evening Journal ran the following story about Julie Featherstone Trudell’s son Edward on December 22, 1906:

Eddie Trudell – Eight-Year-Old Burglar

“Eight-year-old Eddie Trudell of 16 Maxwell Street, who tried to crack a safe in the office of the Commercial Realty Company, Erie and Bay Streets, at 3 o’clock yesterday morning, was hauled before Police Judge Higgins in the Juvenile Court this morning.  He artlessly told the judge that he and two friends, Johnny Reynolds and Bobbie Cooley, had felt the necessity of getting some money to spend for Christmas and had arrived at the conclusion that the easiest way to get it was to open a safe.  As the boy was palpably mentally deficient, Judge Higgins paroled him in the custody of Truant Officer Stell who will see to it that he attends school.”

Nineteen months later, Eddie Trudell’s friendship with Johnny Reynolds would bring him back to pages of the Evening Journal for something far more sinister, serious and sensational.   The headline, dated July 28, 1908, in large, bold type jumped off the page:


“Mugsy Reynolds, Terror of Reilly’s Row, Truly Penitent When Arraigned in Police Court and Held for Grand Jury”

The story went on as follows:

“John, alias Mugsy Reynolds, the 13-year-old boy who yesterday morning stabbed to death Peter Bashanelli, an Italian street singer, was this morning held for the Grand Jury by Judge Farmer in the First Criminal Court on a charge of murder.  Hugh Hunter and Edward Trudell, his boy playmates, who witnessed the attack on the Italian youth, were held in $500 bail each as witnesses.

As he sat in the prisoners’ pen listening to the various petty cases being tried this morning the boy slayer had anything but the appearance of a “tough kid.”  When Judge Farmer called his case, tears came into his eyes.

Assemblyman Joseph Tumulty appeared as Reynolds’ counsel.  ‘Mugsy’ was captured yesterday afternoon by William Meyers of 262 Sixth Street.  After the murder, Meyers went out in search of ‘Mugsy’ and found him hiding under the Pennsylvania Railroad trestle at Brunswick Street.  ‘Mugsy’ made no resistance.

‘Is the dago dead?’ he asked.  When told that he was, he seemed to feel sorry.  ‘I never meant to kill him,’ he said.

Meyers took the boy to the Second Precinct Station.  From there he was sent to Police Headquarters.  His companions had been previously taken into custody and were in Captain Larkins’ office when ‘Mugsy’ arrived.

Young Reynolds willingly made a statement.  He admitted the stabbing but insisted he had been first attacked by the Italian.  According to ‘Mugsy’s’ statement, he and his companions saw the Italian boy with a bag on his shoulder poking into a barrel.  One of ‘Mugsy’s’ companions suggested that it would be a good joke to cut the bag open.  Reynolds thought so too and he quickly took a knife from his pocket and proceeded to slit the bag.  The Italian turned and saw him.  There was a scuffle and Reynolds claims the Italian tried to bite him.  It was then that ‘Mugsy’ plunged the blade into his breast.  Then he fled and remained in hiding until captured by Meyers.

He told Capt. Larkins that he had no intention of slaying the other boy but had committed the crime in a fit of anger.  ‘When I saw him try to bite me,’ he said to Capt. Larkins, ‘it made me so mad, and I made up my mind to get hunk.  Then I stabbed the knife into him.  When I saw him fall I got scared and beat it.  I first thought of jumping a freight train and going west, but I got so hungry after a while that I really didn’t feel very sorry when Meyers caught me, for I knew that if I went to jail, I would be sure of getting something to eat.’

Hunter and Trudell, who witnessed the crime, verified ‘Mugsy’s’ story.  Young Trudell told Captain Larkins that immediately after Reynolds had stabled the Italian, he handed the bloodstained knife over to him with the command to hide it.  Trudell, having no desire to be found with the knife in his possession, journeyed all the way to the foot of Sixth Street and threw it in the North River.

‘Mugsy’ has a bad reputation.  He has been arrested several times for petty theft and has been in the charge of Probation Officer James Butler.”

The murder story was picked up by the NYC newspaper the Sun and it added more personal color.  It quoted people as calling Reynolds the worst boy in the neighborhood and saying that their predictions that Mugsy would come to a bad end had been fulfilled.  Some said he was the victim of his surroundings.  His father had died six months earlier leaving an alcoholic wife and seven children.  After being widowed, Mugsy’s mother sought work at the Lorillard factory.  Mugsy spent time at the St. Joseph’s Home and in truancy school but was put out of both for being incorrigible after which he freely roamed the local streets.  The Sun also reported that the dead Italian boy, 14-year-old Petey Bashanelli, had a reputation himself – for using his teeth in fights.  Like Mugsy, Petey had lost his father and lived with his widowed mother on Monmouth Street.  At the time young Eddie Trudell was picked up in 1908, the Featherstone and Trudell “boys” had been involved in criminal activity in Jersey City for nearly 35 years.

Despite a shaky start, Edward Trudell would grow up to serve in the military during WWI as part of the 111th Machine Gun unit out of Camp McClellan, Alabama.  Like his brothers Joseph, Mark and Leo Trudell, he married and started a family of his own.

Julia Featherstone Trudell and her husband Charles Trudell Jr. died in 1938 and 1947 respectively and were buried with Julia’s mother Catherine Ivers Featherstone at Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City.  Neither Catherine’s husband, Michael Featherstone Sr., nor any of her six surviving, notorious sons are interred with her.  I can’t help wondering what became of John, James, Michael Jr., and Mark Featherstone, the “heart” of the Lava Bed Gang . . .


April 2011

Who do you think you are?   One thing leads to another….

The latest episodes of NBC and’s series “Who Do You Think You Are?” exploring the family histories of Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Vanessa Williams and Ashley Judd, were very much slices of real life: touching, surprising, disappointing, shocking and always revealing.   Their discoveries, however, are no more touching, surprising, disappointing, shocking or revealing than what many a genealogical hunter digs up when exploring their own family history.  That’s the great thing about genealogy:  it’s an “everyman” (or “everywoman”) thing.   We all come from a line of saints and sinners . . . a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly.  That’s how we got here, and while it’s often a life-affirming journey to reach back into time and “meet” our ancestors, finding the blacksheep and uncovering their escapades can really make it interesting.

For a couple of years now, despite having finally made great progress in finding my lost Irish and Irish-American ancestors, I remained unsuccessful in finding one of my great-grandmother Flannelly’s siblings, her brother William, born in Jersey City in about 1868.  He was recorded with the family at the time of the 1880 U.S. census, listed as 12 years old.  The 1890 U.S. census records were lost in a fire years ago so that resource was not available in my search for William.  Moving to the 1900 census, he was nowhere to be found.  I tried every spelling and misspelling and found other William Flannellys but I knew they were not my William.  William’s brothers were a wild lot (read about them below in “The Fighting Flannellys” posting) and I entertained the thought that he met an early, unfortunate end in a  bar brawl or something like that.   Periodically, I would try again to look for William . . . on, or on newspaper archive sites (thinking I’d find that, like his brothers, he had been arrested).  I also tried the LDS site:  FamilySearch is a huge genealogical repository and the only major research site that remains truly free . . . with no strings attached.  Well, not long ago, while tooling around on FamilySearch, I came up with a William Flannelly who had married in Newark, N.J. in September, 1898.  His listed age was off a couple of years, a common thing and not something that would rule him out as being my William.  I also found a death record dated April, 1900, for a William Flannelly who appeared to be the same person and died in Jersey City.   Married at 28 and dead just months before his 30th birthday.  Could he be my William?

Just yesterday, I received copies of William’s marriage record and death record that I had ordered from the N.J. State Archives.  I always get excited when I get an envelope from the diligent folks at the Archives.  I unfolded the two pages and knew immediately that the two records were for the same person and that person was without question “my” William.  Both the marriage and death records listed his parents’ names: the names of my great-great-grandparents, Irish immigrants John J. and Delia (given name Bridget) Flannelly.  I had found my lost great-grand-uncle.  He died of tuberculosis as did my great-grandmother and another of his sisters not many years later.   I searched an on-line newspaper archive ( and found William’s obituary which invited members of the Theatrical Protective Union to attend the services.  Now I am looking into whether William (or his wife Margaret) was a stage hand or other theatrical worker.

1898 Marriage Record Wm Flannelly

1900 Death Record for Wm. Flannelly

Similarly, in writing my upcoming book Young & Wicked: The Death of a Wayward Girl, I was researching the family of the female subject of the book, Polly Sexton (aka Ms. Young & Wicked), and came upon a marriage record on FamilySearch that appeared to be for Polly’s older sister (and sometime partner in crime), Margaret Sexton.  I ordered the 1891 marriage record and it included the names of Margaret’s parents and her mother’s maiden name so there was no doubt that the bride was Polly’s equally wayward sister.  Unexpectedly, however, the bride and groom’s address, also listed on the marriage record, provided confirmation of something else.  I had found an 1891 newspaper article about the arrest of several “disreputable characters” including one named Margaret Sexton, but could not be sure that the arrested Margaret was Polly’s sister.  As it turned out, those arrests took place at the very address that Margaret and her Italian-immigrant-barber groom gave as their address on their marriage record.  Question answered.

So, one thing leads to another.  One clue can unlock a door, solving one mystery while perhaps offering up a new one.  Perhaps you will find a clue or solve a mystery at . . .


DNA – Let’s hear it for the girls!

Guys, before you decide this posting can’t be for you, wait.  If you have a sister, daughter or wife, stay with me as you may want to share the following with those girls of yours.

In speaking about genealogical research, my own journey and the “how-to’s” for others who want to find out “who they are”, I always spend some time on DNA testing as a family history research possibility.  I do that not to encourage testing (that’s a very personal decision) but to share how genetic ethnic DNA markers are passed from parents to children and to draw the distinction as to what that means to men versus women.  (My explanation is presented in a way I believe we regular folks can understand so, if you are reading this and are by chance a geneticist or other “pro” in that field, apologies…..and no need to contact me for a tutorial.)

For this posting, DNA also stands for Daughters ‘N’  Ancestry.   Those amazing, complex strands that make each of us unique yet inextricably connected to the generations that came before us, contain markers that are the imprint of our ethnicity.  Those markers are separate and apart from other genetic components that control things like eye color, hair color, who we look like (Mom, Dad or Great Aunt Mabel), etc.  Fathers pass their ethnic markers only to their sons.  (Yes, therein is a plethora of opportunities for male-bashing jokes.)  Mothers, on the other hand, pass their own ethnic markers to all their children.  (Yes, more opportunities for male-bashing or for female superiority musings….but wait.)  Although mothers pass their ethnic markers to their sons, those sons cannot pass them on to their children.  (Hmmm…….a teaser gift.)

So, maternal ethnic markers travel through the ages by being passed from mother to daughter, meaning that my ethnic DNA (known as MtDNA) is the same as that of my maternal great-great-great-great-grandmother (and other maternal ancestors preceding her).  That really resonates with me.

Let’s use me as a practical example.  My maternal grandmother Kate was born of first generation Irish-American parents.  Her grandmother (my maternal great-great-grandmother) Delia was born in Ireland in 1849. Delia passed her Irish ethnic DNA markers to her daughter Mamie who passed them to her daughter, my grandmother Kate.  Kate in turn passed those ancestral Irish ethnic DNA markers to my mother and my mother passed those same Irish ethnic markers to me.  Simple enough.  My father, however, was born in Italy and passed me no ethnic markers……only passing those markers to my brother.   Enter DNA testing for genealogical research, done with a simple swab of the inner cheek.  Scrape my inner cheek and the MtDNA test results say “Irish”… hint of my Italian heritage.  Swab my brother’s inner cheek and the YDNA (used for testing males) test results say “Italian”.   I should mention again that ethnic markers have no impact on how we look or on the other traits we think of DNA influencing or controlling.  I look very much like my Italian grandmother Emanuela.

I am extremely proud of all my ethnicities and have been known to talk about my grandmothers, both Irish and Italian, until people’s ears wither.  They are both beloved personal heroines to me.  The news for me was the discovery that although I am not “pure” Irish (or pure Italian for that matter), when it comes to my ethnic DNA identity I am, without question, all Irish.  I may not have been born with an Irish surname (my dear grandmother Kate Whalen was the last of my line to have one) but I am the genetic ethnic “image” of my Irish maternal ancestors, that ethnic signature going back thousands of years.

My Grandmother Kate – age 79

In my estimation, I am the luckiest of girls:  undeniably Irish by virtue of the imprint of the amazing chemical strands that give us life but still the vessel of other genetic traits that leave no doubt that I am my Italian grandmother Emanuela’s granddaughter.

So, in the spirit of the much-mentioned American “melting pot”, we each share in the genetic traits of the ancestors whose feet (shod or bare) traversed the earth years, centuries and millennia before us.  If you are anything like me that also means you can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day……and others.   How great is that!

Like to know more about MtDNA and maternal ancestry?  Read “The Seven Daughters of Eve” by Bryan Sykes (a geneticist and professor) and take a trip to meet our earliest female ancestors.


March 2011

Snake Hill:  An All-Too-Common Legacy

In the 1800s (and earlier), the concept of “political correctness” had yet to be born.  Newspapers recounted the happenings of the day in a style that often blended fact, conjecture and editorial opinion as if all three were equal in contribution to the accurate telling of the story.  Likewise, the description of people’s behavior (e.g. “painted ladies lounging in dives”) and institutions (e.g. “lunatic asylum”).

Speaking of “lunatic asylums”, that brings us to the subject of today’s posting:  the Snake Hill complex once located in Secaucus, New Jersey.   In my years of genealogical researching, I have found myself “visiting” Snake Hill multiple times.  Anyone with Jersey family roots may well have a Snake Hill connection in their own family.  Snake Hill, located in Secaucus adjacent to what is now the New Jersey Turnpike, was a complex of penal and charitable institution buildings opened by Hudson County beginning in the 1850s, the last of them closed in 1962. The facilities consisted of a penitentiary with a quarry where prisoners were put to work, a “lunatic asylum” and an almshouse (poorhouse).  By the early twentieth century during the days when “consumption” was rampant, it would also include a tuberculosis and contagious diseases hospital.  For the many indigent inmates who did not survive their stay at one of the Snake Hill facilities, there was also a burial ground on the site.  Hundreds of people lived at the Snake Hill facilities at any one time and many thousands did so over the century that these institutions were in operation.  Snake Hill, later renamed (more pleasantly) Laurel Hill, was essentially a community of last resort for so many of its inmates, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Many of those inmates were non-English-speaking immigrants who must have been surprised and frightened as the massive complex first came into sight.

Think it’s unlikely that your Jersey roots found their way to Snake Hill?  Consider the following.  In researching my Irish family line, I discovered that my great-grandfather Whalen’s second wife died at the Snake Hill Tuberculosis Hospital in the early 1920s.  My great-great-grandfather Flannelly’s youngest brother died in the almshouse (poorhouse) in about 1915.  My great-grandmother Flannelly-Whalen’s second cousin Margaret was an inmate of the Snake Hill Lunatic Asylum for about twenty years, dying there in 1927.  Margaret’s brother William was incarcerated at the Snake Hill Penitentiary in the late 1880s.  The good news for those four Snake Hill “residents” was that each of them “left” Snake Hill (three dead, one alive) and did not end up interred there.  For thousands of others, Snake Hill was their last stop……literally.  They went through the doors of the asylum, medical hospitals, almshouse or prison and came out in a pine box, buried on the Snake Hill grounds.  Nearly ten thousand people were buried at Snake Hill, including indigents who died on the streets of Jersey City, Hoboken and other Hudson County locales (think “Potter’s Field”).

Interior – Snake Hill building

While a charity burial is a humane thing, the dead of Snake Hill have not always been left to “rest in peace”.  Progress, in the form of the New Jersey Turnpike, has rolled over them……sometimes literally.  The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, an empire unto itself and arguably one of New Jersey’s most insular and mistrusted institutions (hmm…..institution?), is the Goliath in a story of one family’s long quest to find their own family member who died at Snake Hill and was buried there.   Obviously, the “David” in this tale is a father and son descended of the dead man, Leonardo Andriani, who had died just days after being sent to the Lunatic Asylum due to what was most likely disorientation related to a stroke…….not mental illness.

While I have most often written about my (wild) Irish ancestral family on this blog and in a book, my father was born in Italy, coming to Jersey City with my dear Italian grandparents as a toddler in 1928.  The story of Leonardo Andriani particularly resonates with me as both he and my Italian grandfather Giuseppe were veterans of the Italian military who fought in World War I.  Leonardo was born in Italy in 1894 and Giuseppe was born there in 1898.   As my grandmother Emanuela explained it to me, Italian WWI vets enjoyed “special” assistance should they want to emigrate to America.  Both Leonardo and my grandfather Giuseppe availed themselves of that “special” help and both came to Jersey.  My grandfather Giuseppe traveled with his brother-in-law (also Giuseppe), my grandmother’s brother.  Leonardo became a longshoreman in Hoboken. Giuseppe worked construction and did a good amount of “ditch-digging” in New York City according to family stories.   Both men traveled home periodically to visit their wives and children in Italy, returning to America to earn more money in the hope of bringing their families to New Jersey.

Giuseppe – Italian Army WWI – Far left with shoemaker tools

My grandmother Emanuela & my father in Italy circa 1927

My grandfather Giuseppe succeeded in doing that.  Leonardo did not.  His illness took him on a one-way trip to Snake Hill.  His son did eventually make it to America and made a life here but the Andriani family did not know where Leonardo was laid to rest.  Three decades later, Leonardo’s grandson Patrick obtained his grandfather’s death certificate and so started the quest to find Leonardo’s grave at Snake Hill.

Snake Hill 1940s – When Leonardo Andriani died there

According to a piece by Kristin Romey ( done in 2005 for The Archaeology Institute of America:

“The turnpike authority was readying to petition Hudson County Supreme Court for permission to remove remains from the project area and reinter them in a mass grave in a nearby municipal cemetery when it discovered in the county archives the decades-old paper trail of Andriani’s hunt for his grandfather. Since he was a direct lineal descendant of a possible individual the NJTA was preparing to disinter, the authority was legally obligated to inform Andriani of their plans, and to name him as a plaintiff in the court petition. ‘[The NJTA] basically wanted to go in and rebury people without identifying them,’ Andriani recalled. ‘But if they found the cemetery, I wanted to find my grandfather.’

Andriani and the turnpike authorities arrived at a court-approved agreement in January 2003: the NJTA would pay for a careful archaeological excavation that would enable identification of individual burials. The authority would also pay for the reinterment of all individuals and their personal effects, as well as a monument commemorating their reburial. It was an agreement that was to put into motion one of the largest, most complex disinterment projects in U.S. history.”

Amazingly and against all odds due to the nature of the Snake Hill burial records, Leonardo Andriani’s remains were found and identified.  Most of the unearthed remains were not identified and while about 4,500 of the dead were disinterred and reburied at Maple Grove Park Cemetery in Hackensack, thousands more (the earliest of the burials at Snake Hill) remain abandoned in the old Snake Hill burial grounds.

The Berger Group which performed the 4,500 removals wrote as follows:

“A total of 113,532 artifacts or non-skeletal objects were recovered of which over 50 percent were coffin nails. Other personal effects or “grave goods” included dentures, glass eyes, coins, clay smoking pipes, embalming bottles, whiskey/wine bottles, combs, over 4,500 buttons, over 500 ceramic fragments, clothing remnants, shoes, hats, jewelry, military medals, religious items, and medical devices or prosthetics. … Using historic maps, original hand-written burial ledgers, osteological examination, background research, and artifact analysis, Berger’s team was able to determine possible identities for approximately 900 of the disinterred remains. Of particular note, positive identifications were established for two interments who have living linear descendants. The remains were returned to their respective families for private ceremonies and reburial – ending the search for their long-lost grandparents. “

If you would like to know more about the history of Snake Hill and the Andrianis’ touching story of perseverance in the face of a massive and powerful bureaucracy, rent or buy the award-winning documentary movie “Snake Hill: Buried but not forgotten” by Legacy Mountain Films.

NY Times review summary from 2007:

“In 2002 a New Jersey Turnpike excavation unearthed the human remains that would set into motion the largest court-ordered disinterment/re-interment project of its kind ever to take place on U.S. soil. Now, after more than two decades searching for clues as to his grandfather’s true fate, Patrick Andriani and his father Gennaro’s mission to uncover the truth about New Jersey’s notorious Snake Hill institutions is documented by filmmaker Sandra Longo. In the years between 1870 and 1962, these institutions served as the sites where such undesirables as prisoners, indigents, and the terminally-ill would live out the last days of their earthy existence. Upon expiration, some 10,000 patients at Snake Hill were buried two-deep on the grounds and completely forgotten.  As progress continued New Jersey  Turnpike commuters casually drove by with nary a clue as to the land’s sordid history. This is the story of the countless lost souls whose bodies were abandoned and whose memories were forsaken, until an investigation launched by one man permitted the spirits of the dead to speak for themselves. “~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Running Time: 78 minutes


February 2011

The Fighting Flannellys


Those of you who read my genealogical family memoir “Past-Forward” were introduced to four generations of my Irish immigrant family the Flannellys.  During the devastating Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, my great-great-great-grandparents William and Mary Lang Flannelly and their six surviving children emigrated from County Sligo, Ireland to America, arriving in New York on November 28, 1846 and then settling in Jersey City, New Jersey. One of those six children was my red-haired great-great-grandfather John J. Flannelly, age five, who would later serve as a Union soldier in the Civil War.  He returned from that war and, in 1867, married another Irish immigrant named Delia and the couple had ten children, eight of them surviving infancy.  One of those surviving children was Mary Agnes (called Mamie) Flannelly, my red-haired great-grandmother, born in 1878 in Jersey City.  Mamie would be an unwed mother as she turned twenty, living with her baby son in a boarding house and working as an “ironer” in a commercial laundry.

It took me over thirty years of searching and digging to discover and confirm the information above.  Over those years, I thought I had looked under every rock and in every dusty corner, meaning that I had surely exhausted any possibility of finding out more about my Flannellys.  I was wrong…..which is both good news and bad news.  The good news is that I remain excited to find out anything about them…….even surprising or shocking things.  The bad news is that what I discovered since publishing “Past-Forward” is pretty much a fit for the “shocking” category.  Oh yes, they were quite the bunch, those Fighting Flannellys of mine.

To prep those who have not read “Past-Forward” and to jog the memories of those who did, I will tell the story of the new revelations Flannelly by Flannelly with a thumbnail sketch of each leading into the new discoveries.  Living in the tough Irish immigrant neighborhoods of New York City (think “Gangs of New York”) and Jersey City in the mid and late 19th century wasn’t just a day-to-day struggle against endemic poverty.   Rather, it was a struggle for basic survival on cobblestone streets crowded with cold-water tenements crammed with immigrant Irish and their first generation American-born children.  Those cobblestone streets were also home to petty crime, violence and personal tragedies on a daily basis.  Newspapers of the day, many owned by native-born Americans and some openly anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, chronicled that petty crime and violence covering offenses from public drunkenness, assault and burglary to murder.  Today the archives of those newspapers paint a vivid picture of life on the gritty streets of immigrant neighborhoods like the Downtown Jersey City “Horseshoe” district where my Flannellys lived for more than six decades beginning in the late 1840’s.

The Horseshoe – Jersey City – Ca 1910

The Horseshoe

(Photos courtesy of Patrick Shalhoub & the Jersey City Free Public Library – New Jersey Room)

Part One:

You may be asking yourself why I would want to tell tales about my family that are often unflattering to say the least.  You may wonder why I don’t find doing so embarrassing.  The truth is that my desire to know them and my decades-long search to discover them and their lives have given me a personal connection to them beyond blood and DNA.  I am the product of their desperate struggle to escape death by hunger and disease in their native Ireland and of the meager lives they scratched out on the streets of their new American home for the next half century.  As the 1800s gave way to 1900 and the new twentieth century, a little red-haired girl was born in Jersey City.   She was born exactly twenty years to the day after her immigrant Irish great-grandmother died of gangrene in the same Jersey City neighborhood.  She would have a sad, tragic, abbreviated childhood but, somehow, she would marry a good man at age 16, raise six children and live a modest honorable life.   That good woman was my grandmother Kate, who never knew anything more about her family but that they were “Irish”.  Any family that could give me a grandmother like Kate couldn’t be all bad.  And, considering the things that go on in average families today, we would all do well to remember that maxim about glass houses and stone-throwing, right?

My Grandmother Kate – Ca 1925

Now, let me tell you the latest about my Fighting Flannellys…..

William & Mary Lang Flannelly:

William & Mary were my great-great-great-grandparents, he born in Ireland about 1800 and she in County Cavan about 1813.  William was a Catholic and Mary belonged to the Church of Ireland.  They married in 1832 in William’s Catholic parish church in County Sligo.  It must have taken great courage, particularly on her part, to marry someone of an “opposing” faith…..just not done in their time.   After their arrival in America in 1846 with their six children, they had two more children between 1848 and 1851.  They first lived on Morgan Street in Downtown Jersey City and remained in that neighborhood for the remainder of their lives.  (Today what was that rundown tenement street is a gentrified upscale location.)  An 1873 article in the Evening Journal of Jersey City, titled “City Notes” described “quite an excitement on Morgan Street” at about noon that day when an “old grey-haired woman” was seen giving her husband “a good trouncing” and speculated that “perhaps the ould man deserved it”.  Although the name of the old woman was not spelled exactly right, I strongly suspect she was my great-great-great-grandmother Mary.

John & Delia Flannelly:

John J. Flannelly was my great-great-grandfather, born in Ireland in 1841.  At age 5, he fled the Great Famine with his parents William and Mary and 5 siblings (Abby, Patrick, Edward, Michael and Owen).   They made their way to Liverpool and then sailed in steerage on a packet ship bound for New York City, arriving in late 1846.  Several months after the publication of “Past-Forward”, while doing research for someone else at the NJ State Archives, I discovered John’s Civil War discharge on microfilm at the Archives.  While I already knew a great deal about his Civil War service, the discharge document included two bits of information I hadn’t known:  my great-great-grandfather was a blue-eyed redhead!

1864 Union Army Discharge – John Flannelly

John married Bridget (known as Delia) Hough, also an Irish immigrant, in October 1867.  Having discovered that Delia traveled alone to America at age thirteen seeking a position as a “housemaid”, I had concluded that she must have been a strong, independent young woman.   She gave birth to 10 children over 17 years, eight of them surviving infancy.   Yep, strong woman all right.   In searching Jersey City newspaper archives over the last few months, I stumbled upon an article from July, 1882 titled “Row Over Beer”.   The star of the article was one Delia Flannelly, my great-great-grandmother.  The short piece described an altercation in a saloon that took place as Delia, her husband and their children were returning home from the Jersey City July 4th fireworks.  The Flannellys “stepped into” a saloon where their nephew was bartending, that establishment very likely McGinnis & Flannelly on Grove Street and the man behind the bar, Thomas J. Flannelly.  Soon Delia and her nephew got into a disagreement over a glass of beer and “both soon found themselves in the (police) station house”.   Delia was offered the “privilege” of going home but “got ugly” instead and was “so disorderly” that the Sergeant locked her up overnight.   Not a word is said about my great-great-grandfather who I have to assume gathered up the children and went home.   Delia would have been 33 years old and the mother of seven at the time she took on her nephew and the police precinct…….and still a force to be reckoned with.

As you will soon see, my great-great-grandfather John, notwithstanding his fiery wife Delia, was the “white sheep” of the Flannelly brothers.  Aside from the reference to him in the article about Delia’s row and arrest, I found no other mention of him in the Jersey City newspapers from the 1860s to the time of his death in 1894.  Not so for his Irish-born brothers Edward, Michael and Patrick and his American-born little brother William who were described in one 1874 article as “that Flannelly crowd” and a “rough gang”.

Part Two:

As I post this chapter of “The Fighting Flannellys”, I am wondering if I should have called this series “The Felonious Flannellys” instead.  You’ll soon see why.  I wanted to mention that, in digging up these archival newspaper articles, I had to routinely search using the correct spelling of “Flannelly” along with the typical misspellings I have come to know over my many years of genealogical researching.   Since my prior research included tracking my Flannellys from the 1840s to 1900 using Jersey City directories, I know most of the places where they lived (and there were lots of them).  Those addresses provided a means of verifying that, for instance, an article naming a “Flannery” was, in fact, one of my own Flannellys.   So, these bad boys are my bad boys…….

Gang of Brothers:

Michael, Patrick and Edward Flannelly arrived in Jersey City in 1846 at the ages of seven, three and one and grew up in the Horseshoe section also known as the rough Second District.  Their brother William was born in about 1851 in the same neighborhood.  The Horseshoe was a gerrymandered district deliberately drawn to encompass the growing Irish immigrant population and so contain their potential political influence in Jersey City.

Map of Jersey City – Ca. 1850

JC District Map – Horseshoe #2 – Courtesy of D. Shaw – The Making of the Immigrant City

The Flannelly brothers were, it seems, no strangers to the drinking, brawling and law-breaking that happened on the streets of the Second District in the 1870s and 1880s.  The earliest article I found that may well be about one of the brothers appeared in the Trenton Gazette in January 1866 and told of a “prize fight” between “two ruffians” named Fox and Flannelly broken up by the Jersey City police.  Fox and Flannelly had arranged for a “ring fight” at “the patch”, a spot on the outskirts of Jersey City but were discovered by the police.  As it turned out, Fox and Flannelly got away but six other “roughs” were captured by police.  This wouldn’t be the last “organized” boxing match for the Flannellys.

Eighteen-year-old William made the local paper in March 1869 when he and a Neil Bonner were arrested for “burglariously” entering the home of Mrs. Wilson on Montgomery Street and stealing two pictures valued at ten dollars.  Pictures?  Really?   I couldn’t help but wonder about that word “burglariously” and found out that it is an old legal term dating back to the 17th century and, yes, it really is a word…and an adverb.

William was in the news again in July 1872 when a former police officer named Henry Breen filed a complaint charging that 21-year-old William had assaulted him, threatening to kill, tar and feather him (not necessarily in that order).  A warrant was issued and William was held for bail of $100.  Two months earlier, William had filed a peace bond against Mr. Breen.  The cause of this running feud between the two neighborhood Irishmen was a young lady: Mr. Breen’s step-daughter.  Mr. Breen strenuously objected to William’s attentions to the young lady and forbid William from calling.  William ignored the prohibition and, in response to Breen calling him a “rogue” and “villain” (among other things), William threatened the tarring and feathering.   In light of the peace bond, Breen, not in a position to physically avenge himself, instead “shamefully misused his step-daughter, beating her in a scandalous manner” according to the newspaper.  The step-daughter’s story to the police confirmed William’s and the newspaper concluded that if the young woman’s account was true, it “justified Flannelly in his threats.”   By the way, the title of the article was “Love Under Difficulties”.

William would be elected a Democratic city delegate in March, 1875.  In giving the results of those Democratic primaries, the Evening Journal said the following:  “In the Second District, there were several tickets, and the amount of fighting and quarreling indispensable to any political movement in that famous headquarters of Democracy.”  Just another day in the Irish Horseshoe.    Just a year later, William pleaded not guilty to a charge of assault and battery (no details were provided) and was released on $200 bail.  Later, in 1882, William was arrested for assaulting his older brother Patrick and it was noted that William was same person who had previously fled Justice Davis’ courtroom while appearing on an unrelated charge.   In fairness, I should mention that Patrick himself was arrested in 1875 for assault and battery on one Edward Corrigan.

Not long after William’s B&E foray in early 1869, brother Edward beat a charge of drunk and disorderly in the saloon of Michael “Moneyghan”.   Of all the brothers, Edward made the papers most often and for a variety of reasons.

In the late 1860s and into the mid-1870s, Edward was involved in politics in the Second District and was, for a while, a fireman with the notorious Hercules Engine Company No. 3.  He also had one of those Mark Twain experiences:  a newspaper report of Edward’s death was “greatly exaggerated”….and wrong.  Synthesizing the various newspaper articles mentioning Edward, he was, using today’s vernacular, a punk, a local “tough” and a young man honing his street cred in the Irish Horseshoe.

Edward served as an elections judge in the Second District, as a Democratic city delegate and as a member of the Board of City Canvassers.    Elections in Jersey City were often raucous events.  A headline in 1870 described the Democratic primary as “Fighting, Fun, Fooling, Repeating, Stuffing and Colonizing – Cheating All Around”.   “Repeating” was the practice of having voters cast ballots multiple times in multiple wards and “stuffing” was folding one ballot over another (and another and another) so that each single vote dropped into the ballot box became several (and even ten or more) votes at once.  When Edward was elected a city delegate in 1872, the Second District polling place was a saloon on the corner of Steuben Street.

 The Rowdies of Hercules Engine Company No. 3:

Starting in 1869, I found Evening Journal newspaper articles about Edward Flannelly’s involvement in the Hercules Engine Company No. 3 headquartered in the Horseshoe.  There were many local baseball clubs in the greater Jersey City area including those made up of members of the various fire companies including Hercules No. 3 and their rival Pacific Hose Company No. 1.  Edward played third base for Hercules.  These were the early days of organized baseball but, based on the number of newspaper stories (including game stats) about local contests, baseball was already a very popular pastime.  In one report, Hercules bested Pacific Hose by scoring thirty runs (in nine innings) to their opponents’ eighteen.  One week earlier Hercules beat Passaic Hose, forty-three to thirty-two.  In that game Passaic racked up twelve home runs and Hercules had nine.  An article in March 1870 titled “Firemen’s Sociability” told how Hercules No. 3 entertained the men of Americus Hook & Ladder No. 2 and Pacific Hose No. 1 at their Warren Street engine house, serving a “fine” chowder supper, “after which the night was passed in making speeches and singing by the members……and the utmost jollity prevailed, the company not separating until 6 o’clock the next morning”.

But things at Hercules No. 3 were not all fun, games and “jollity”.  At the time Edward was a fireman, Jersey City firefighters were volunteers and the City was contemplating making firefighters paid municipal employees, at least in part in an attempt to assert control over the firehouses.  Hercules No. 3 had less than a good reputation and the following appeared in the paper in 1870: “The roughs and rowdies who have taken possession of Hercules Engine Company are in the habit of getting together at midnight to commence their disgraceful revels.”   Things came to a head that year when Hercules was accused of deliberately failing to respond to a fire at the business premises of Washburn, Hunt & Co.  The allegation was that the firemen allowed the Washburn building to burn down in retaliation for the owner’s refusal to buy tickets for a picnic sponsored by Hercules No. 3.  Mr. Washburn stated that he had always bought tickets in the past and could not recall declining to do so recently.  The firemen denied the allegation but there was no reasonable explanation for their failure to fight the fire although the firemen themselves demanded an investigation of the charges.  An editorial piece titled “A Chance for Reform” indicted the “sad lack of discipline” in the Jersey City fire department, citing “squabbles between companies, frequent fights, wanton destruction of public property, calling in of false alarms and infestation of engine houses with loafers and bummers” and the “blackmail” of demanding the purchase of tickets for excursions and “company sprees”.   Ultimately, the requested investigation was performed by the Board of Fire Commissioners who recommended immediate disbandment of Hercules Engine Company No. 3.  Many of the Hercules firemen were called to testify but most said they “knew nothing” or “saw nothing” of the alleged activities.  The Fire Commissioners’ recommendation was approved by all 28 members of the Board of Aldermen.  The men of Hercules No. 3, returning from fighting a fire, knowing what was coming, didn’t return to the firehouse and instead abandoned their horse-drawn engine and tender in front of City Hall.

Nine months before the disbanding of the fire company in March 1870, Hercules No. 3 responded to a catastrophic fire at the Central Railroad Freight Depot that resulted in two deaths, three injuries and financial losses of over $12,000 along with the destruction of a building 500 feet long.   According to an article in the New York Herald, Edward Flannelly, Hercules No. 3, “was struck in the back by a pole of the engine-tender of Engine Co. No. 1 and was fatally injured”.  The truth was that he was badly injured but survived.   The Jersey City paper of the same day correctly reported Edward’s “serious injury” stating that he was “conveyed in an insensible condition to his home in Steuben Street”.    Some days after the fire, the Evening Journal reported that another newspaper, The Hudson City Gazette, had erroneously reported that Edward “was crushed in a frightful manner and lived but a few moments”.  Edward was quoted in the piece as saying “it wasn’t so” and that he wouldn’t “pay a cent for the obituary”.  He also wrote to the Evening Journal to correct their reporting of the compensation he received for his injuries.  In his letter to the editor, he stated that he received $25 from a fire department fund and $50 from the Central Railroad Company and thanked both respectfully for their “liberal donation”.

JC Fire Department – Courtesy of

Not long after the disbandment of Hercules No. 3, residents of the area formerly served by Hercules No. 3 wrote the paper asking for fire protection to be restored to their neighborhood.

Part Three:

The Flannelly, Connolly, Kelly Row:

Twas the night before Christmas (1873) and all through the house, Irish fists and furniture were flying about…….

It was a much-reported melee between my Flannellys and two local police officers.  As the newspapers stated, whether you believed the story as told by Officers Connolly and Kelly or by the Flannellys, one thing was certain: all concerned suffered “rough handling, being beaten and kicked”.

According to Officer Connolly, on Christmas Eve, he surprised brothers Patrick, William and Edward Flannelly and their friend James Coughlin “apparently in the act of committing a theft” which the accused absolutely denied.  He said he ordered them to disperse and as they did, they swore “vengeance” upon Connolly.   He claimed that later that night while he was on duty, they attacked and beat him.  They claimed he clubbed them and they were only defending themselves.

On Christmas morning Officer Connolly arrested Patrick, William and friend James Coughlin at a local saloon and took them in despite “stout resistance”.  Forty-five minutes later, he said he caught Edward and did the same.  The court Justice committed all four for trial but, once Officer Connolly left the courtroom, instead allowed them bail.

The above leaves out the specific circumstances of Officer Connolly’s arrest of Edward which took place at the home of my great-great-great-grandparents (Edward’s parents), William and Mary Flannelly who would then been about 73 and 60 years old respectively.  When Officers Connolly and Kelly arrived at the Flannelly apartment on Steuben Street, Edward, his brother Michael and their elderly parents were at home.   Edward refused to leave with the officers and “a row ensued”, joined in by “old man” Flannelly, Mrs. Flannelly and their other son Michael.  A neighbor, Mrs. Heavey, was also accused of having helped Edward resist arrest by Officer Connolly. The Flannellys said that, during the melee, one of the officers knocked old Mr. Flannelly down with a club and while he lay prostrate, Officer Kelly kicked him.   For his part, Officer Kelly said that he stepped on the old man accidentally while ducking down to avoid a chair thrown at him by Michael Flannelly.  At one point, it was reported that “old man” Flannelly had been so badly beaten that he was expected to die which would have resulted in a charge of manslaughter against the officers.

On December 27, 1873, a follow-up article appeared in the Evening Journal with a dire report on the condition of 73-year-old William Flannelly Sr.  Old William, who had been arrested and released for his part in the Christmas Day melee, was said to be “at the point of death” with a fractured skull and internal injuries “apparently inflicted by kicks from a heavily booted foot”.  Officer Connelly had clubbed old William and Officer Martin had kicked him according to the article, the officers stating that they acted in self defense.  Old William was described as “quite feeble” before receiving these injuries.  Happily, another article reported that, after consultation by two physicians, my great-great-great-grandfather was “pronounced in no danger of dying from injuries received”.

Officers Connolly and Kelly were arrested and bailed pending a Grand Jury investigation.   The Evening Journal concluded that it could not “undertake to say which party tells the truth” and legal proceedings would have to determine if the officers were to blame for using unnecessary force or if the Flannellys who have a  well-earned “hard name” got what they deserved this time which would be an “exceptional instance”.    The Grand Jury quickly acquitted the officers.  One of the Flannelly brothers submitted an affidavit accusing Officer Connolly of trying to force him to play cards for money in a local saloon so that he (Connolly) could then pull the saloon’s license.  The saloon owner testified that Connolly continually harassed him by “calling out to him and blackguarding him and by wrapping his club in front of the saloon”.  A police department investigation concluded that Officer Connolly was “a resolute, faithful officer” and had “incurred the ill-will of the rough (Flannelly) gang”.   Case closed.

Jersey City Police


Settling a Baseball Score in the Ring:

Edward Flannelly, former fireman and Christmas Eve brawler was back in the newspaper in 1874 just months after the Christmas incident above.   More fisticuffs but not with the police.   The article was titled The Prize Ring and subtitled A Spirited Encounter Between Jersey City Roughs – Reilly versus Flannelly –  Flannelly  the Victor in Twenty Rounds.

The lengthy article is chock full of the colorful, sometimes over-the-top writing style of the Victorian era so you will forgive me for quoting it directly.   It adds to the entertainment.

“Shortly after eleven o’clock Saturday night, a well-known County officer arrived at Ketchum’s boat house and desired to hire the yacht “Burton” for a few hours.  The vessel happened to be engaged and then the visitor spoke of hiring some row boats.  During the conversation that ensued, it leaked out that the boats were wanted to carry a party to some sequestered point, where a little unpleasantness could be settled according to the rules of the prize ring.  Ketchum refused to rent out his boats for any such purpose and locked up all his oars.

In a few minutes, a crowd of about fifty men arrived at the boat house, and for a short time it seemed that they would take the boats anyhow, but the master minds with them showed the crowd that the boat house was within hearing of the precinct station house, and a noise would bring the cops down on them.  The gang adjourned to Sam Fowler’s boat house, near Ketchum’s, and there they hired three row boats.  These were placed in charge of “Captains” James Mulraine, Jack Lynch and Stephen Coolahan.  At that time the county officer received word that his child was dangerously ill and he left for home.

“The Contestants”:  The two men who were deliberately going to pummel each other were Edward Flannelly and Phillip Reilly, both well known roughs.  Flannelly was much the bigger man, but Reilly was plucky and scientific and his friends expected to see him win.

“The Cause of the Trouble”: The fight was to be fought simply for the purpose of settling the mooted question as to who is the best man.  The fight grew out of a bitterness between Flannelly and Reilly, engendered at a recent baseball match.  It seems that Flannelly thrashed an old man who was a friend of Reilly’s.  Reilly took the matter up, and the appeal to the rules of the prize ring followed.

“The Start”:  At about midnight, the party were ready for the start.  Flannelly was in one of the boats but Reilly was not.  The flotilla moved quietly out of the South Cove and rowed to Smith’s coal dock at the foot of Hudson Street, when Reilly was taken aboard.  His friends were jubilant.  The flotilla moved out into the water of the bay, and rowed down and across to Staten Island, to a point opposite Constable’s Hook.  A landing was effected, a ring was formed and seconds were chosen.  Edward Cosgrove and Jeff Collins acted for Flannelly and James McBride and Dan Dougherty did likewise for Reilly.

The fight was sharp with the odds in favor of Reilly.  Up to the fourteenth round, he had the fight all his own way but in the fifteenth he sprained one of his wrists which gave the advantage to Flannelly.  Reilly fought gamely, however, until in the twentieth round, his wrist was dislocated and his seconds threw up the sponge.  Reilly was badly punished about the body, while Flannelly took his about the head and face.

“The Voyage Home”:  After the fight, the crowd started for home.  On the way they robbed a garden, filling their boats with tomatoes.  They arrived at Fowler’s about 6:30 o’clock and immediately dispersed.  Among the crowd were Joseph Weir, Richard Sheridan, James Griffin and others of the loafing fraternity.  The police got an inkling of the fight but were cleverly hoodwinked by somebody who told them the party were only going fishing.”

19th century prize fight

Edward had one last surprise for me.  Although I had believed he never married, I now discovered a record on a genealogical website showing that eight years after his prize fight with Phillip Reilly, in April 1882, he married an Elizabeth Beck, a young widow, at St. Peter’s RC Church in Jersey City.  When Edward died in 1904, he was a “boarder” in someone else’s home and I have so far been unable to determine what became of Elizabeth.  I did find a widow named “Lizzie” Beck of the right age listed in the 1880 US Census.  According to that census, Lizzie worked in candy store and had two sons and two daughters aged one to twelve indicating that she was a recent widow in 1880.

 Another Generation, Another Brawl:   As I mentioned above, my great-great-grandfather John Flannelly, Civil War veteran and husband of the fiery Delia, was the only one of the  Flannelly brothers who apparently was a “family man” and avoided the notoriety of his brawling brothers Edward, Michael, Patrick and William.  John’s twin sons Edward and Frederick, however, kept the Flannelly fisticuffs and mayhem going it seems.  As January 1896 began, Edward and Fred made the papers in an article titled “First Fights of ‘96” with the subtitle “The New Year Ushered in with Violence – Several Men Injured – Population of City Hospital Considerably Increased Since Tuesday – and Whiskey Seems to Have Been to Blame for it All” that reported the following:

“The new year was ushered in with a regrettable flow of blood.  Several men with broken heads, black eyes and stab wounds are in the local hospitals.  None of the victims, according to last accounts are likely to die as a result of injuries.  John Scanlon, of Brunswick and Second Streets (in the Horseshoe), known as “Big” Scanlon, was found lying in a pool of blood on Second Street about 6 o’clock this morning.  He charged the Flannelly twins, Fred and Edward, aged 20, of 212 Wayne Street, with the assault and Policeman Kaiser arrested them.  Scanlon was cut in the abdomen with some dull instrument, probably a piece of glass.  His own theory is that while quarreling with the Flannellys , he was thrown through a shop window.  All concerned had been drinking freely during the night.  Police Justice Potts remanded the two alleged assailants. “

The article went on to report on four  other violent altercations that happened over the New Year’s holiday.  At the time of their arrest, Fred and Edward had been without their mother Delia since her death six years earlier and without their father John since his passing nearly two years earlier so their parents were not around for the twins’ escapades.   Not too many years after the New Year’s incident, both Edward and Fred married and left their youthful indiscretions behind.  Fred married a young Irish-born widow named Bridget Pritchard.  Those of you who read “Past-Forward” will recognize her by another name, given to her by my grandmother Kate:  “Bella the bitch”.

Fightin’ Fred Flannelly – Many Decades Later


Part Four:

A Young Flannelly takes on the Political Machine:   More than a decade before the Flannelly twins were arrested in 1896, their older brother Eugene, then a youngster of about 13 years old, made the pages of the Evening Journal for a very different…….and civic-minded reason.  It was November 1894 and the US presidential campaign was running up to Election Day.  Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, was locked in a nasty, mudslinging campaign with his Republican rival, the Irish-American James Gillespie Blaine.  Some of the “lowlights” of the campaign included accusations of Congressional influence peddling (for serious monetary profit) against Blaine and revelations about Grover Cleveland having fathered a child out of wedlock.  (I guess politics hasn’t changed much in 125 years.)  Both men were experienced politicians, Blaine having been House Speaker and Cleveland having been Governor of New York.   Since Blaine was an Irish-American Catholic, Republicans hoped that might, for once, attract Irish voters to their side.  Unfortunately for them, an incident of anti-Catholic Republican campaign rhetoric coupled with Tammany Hall’s decision to support Cleveland, put an end to any such prospects.  Cleveland narrowly won the presidential race on November 4, 1884.  So, how does young Eugene Flannelly figure into all this?

The Evening Journal, in a piece that appeared the day before the election and showing its Republican bias, reported on some local dirty tricks meant to sabotage the circulation of flyers opposing Grover Cleveland.  The article titled “Futile Bulldozing” and subtitled “Attempting to Suppress Cold Facts – Outrageous Treatment of Messenger Boys” went on to tell the story of “a shameless and evidently concerted series of attempts to suppress the truth”.   Arrangements had been made with a local telegraph company for the distribution of flyers aimed at “independent” Irish Catholic voters in Jersey City for the purpose of dissuading them from voting for Grover Cleveland.  Messenger boys were hired and sent “to the doors of the various Catholic churches with instructions to hand out flyers to people as they emerged from those edifices”.  At St. Bridget’s, the flyers were distributed without incident but not so at four other Catholic churches.

 At those other churches, the messenger boys “were either arrested by bogus policemen or chased away and warned not to return. “  Their circulars were taken from them which the Journal characterized as “the crime of larceny”.  A messenger at St. Peter’s was “arrested” by a man with a false badge and his circulars taken by the man who told him to go home.  At St. Patrick’s, the messenger boy was approached by a “well-dressed sneak” who forcibly took the boy’s flyers.  Upon the boy’s objections,  according to the reporting, “the honourable Democrat placed a 10 cent piece in the boy’s hand and saying:  Take this, my boy and go home.  Don’t say anything about it and no one will be the wiser.”  The honest young messenger instead went to the telegraph company office and reported the incident, showing the coin as proof of what had happened.  The Journal challenged the honorable Democrat to be “manly” enough to claim his coin.  At St. Mary’s, the story was similar except that the boy was told he was a “prisoner”.  The boy resisted and held on tight to his circulars.  After being escorted a few blocks, he “was started down Grove Street with a cowardly kick, at the same time being told that if he returned he would “have his —– neck broken”.   Up to that point, all the aggressors (who the Journal referred to as “miscreants”) escaped capture.   Enter Eugene Flannelly, my great-grandmother Mamie’s brother.

Eugene had been sent to St. Michael’s to distribute flyers.  He was soon seized by a man who would later be identified as Michael “Click” Clark, a bartender employed by a former city official.  Clark dragged Eugene down to Grove Street after flashing a fake shield.  At the corner of Pavonia Avenue, Clark told Eugene that he would let him go but “don’t let me catch you around here again”.  Clark turned down Pavonia and Eugene followed him, watching him enter Haley’s Saloon.  Eugene then rushed to the telegraph company office and reported the incident to the man in charge who sent him to the Second Precinct where Eugene told the desk sergeant what had happened.  Eugene was sent back to the saloon and told to ask Clark for his circulars.  Clark retorted that he had “delivered them all”.   Young Eugene returned to the police station where a complaint was filed.  Officer McMahon was “sent around to the gin mill” to ask Clark to come down to the police station.  Clark was advised by a bar patron, the Democratic candidate for County Clerk, not to comply unless the officer had a warrant.  He did not.   The complaint was scheduled to be made before Justice Stilsing and Clark charged with assault, unlawful interference, larceny and impersonating an officer.  The Journal concluded that those charges would result in Clark “having ample time to regret that he did not restrain his partisan feeling sufficiently to allow fair play to both sides of the house” and lauded young Eugene Flannelly as a “sturdy little fellow” whose “pluck” brought in the offender.   Just another day in the Horseshoe…….

Eugene Flannelly – All grown up

Mamie Flannelly – from Belle of the Ball to Unwed Mother:   Without question, the most unexpected and poignant newspaper article I discovered appeared in the Evening Journal on February 2, 1898.  It had the tame, bland title “Laundry Employees Dance”.  It went on to report that the second annual ball of the Manhattan Laundry Employees’ Association, held at Columbia Hall in the Greenville section of Jersey City, had been attended by over five hundred young people.  The “opening march” starting the evening was led by the Association President John Nagle and Miss Mamie Flannelly.  A list of some of the other attendees was given and included Mamie’s older sister Annie Flannelly.

Columbia Hall

Those of you who read Past-Forward will remember my red-haired great-grandmother Mamie (given name Mary Agnes) Flannelly born in 1878 in Jersey City.  Mamie was the daughter of fiery Delia and John (“white-sheep”) Flannelly, the Irish-born Civil War veteran.  Mamie lost her mother at age eleven and her father at age fifteen.  I don’t know what her living circumstances were after that but by age nineteen she was pregnant but not married.  Just weeks after her twentieth birthday she gave birth to a baby son and census records show her living in a boarding house with her baby and employed as an “ironer” in a laundry… doubt the Manhattan Laundry.  The birth record for Mamie’s son listed his birth as “OW” (out of wedlock) and his father as John Nagle.   Yes, Mamie’s dance partner at the Laundry Ball.

Mamie’s son was born seven and a half months after the night of the dance so it is possible that she became pregnant that very evening……..or she was just weeks pregnant at the time of the ball.  No photos of Mamie exist and I have imagined how she looked in my mind’s eye from time to time.  Finding the newspaper article and the story of her position of honor being escorted by the president of the employee organization and leading the opening dance with him has led me to envision her in a lovely floor-length dress with her long red hair pinned up stylishly.  I imagine her excitement, anticipation and pride as she prepared for the big night and I feel sure she had no idea that eight months later she would be in such different circumstances.  How different her fellow employees must have felt about her.  Did they pity her disgrace or was she, like Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, a “scarlet woman” in their eyes?  And why did John Nagle abandon her?  Did he suffer any disgrace or was it just hers?  I will never know.  But, the chance discovery of the newspaper article implies that there was something of a relationship between Mamie and John Nagle, a connection that was somehow broken.   In some strange way, it makes me feel better for her.

The Manhattan Laundry Co. – Circa 1895

My great-grandmother Mamie died of tuberculosis in 1913 at age thirty-five while living on Brunswick Street.  Fifteen years later, my Italian immigrant father and grandparents would arrive in Jersey City and settle in Downtown Jersey City.  The neighborhood that was the six-decade home of my Irish immigrant ancestors had begun “turning over” as more and more Italian immigrants took up residence there.  A decade later, my Italian-born grandfather Giuseppe opened a shoe repair shop on Monmouth Street in the heart of what was the Horseshoe and my Italian-born grandmother would shop on the same Brunswick Street.    Such is the immigrant experience…..then and now.

Thank you for reading my book “Past-Forward” and this blog series “The Fighting Flannellys” and for your support and feedback.  I am well-along in my research for a new book tentatively titled “Young & Wicked – The Death of a Wayward Girl” and have begun putting fingers to keyboard to tell the story.  It is non-fiction and takes place in Jersey City and the Bowery in Manhattan from the 1870s to the 1890s.   Now I just have to finish it!


Below is an earlier blog piece titled The Angels of Sligo General.  If you have not already read it, please page down to do so.


 December 2011


Chapter One:

It’s every traveler’s nightmare: a sudden illness or injury during a business trip or vacation……in a foreign country……and serious enough to require hospitalization.    Such a nightmare was visited upon me recently while on vacation in Ireland.

The first half of our two-week trip to the west of Ireland went flawlessly.  Our flight from the US lifted off nearly on-time and we landed at Shannon Airport as anticipated.   We claimed our rental car and set off for our first foray into driving “backwards”.   We only had a short trip to get to the 18th century B&B where we would spend our first day and night.  That inn was lovely as expected and we savored a wonderful, gourmet dinner there that included a delicately delicious Irish prawn cocktail and a luscious dessert of warm rhubarb and strawberry crumble.  Adhering to the maxim that the best way to adjust to the five hour slide forward on the clock is to “stay awake” the day of arrival, I set out for a long walk along the country roads near the inn, taking in the lush green fields that stretched far into the horizon and stopping to appreciate wildflowers along the roadside.   A perfect start all the way around.

We set out the next morning heading to Ennis where we would spend a few days at a clan gathering.  On the way we stopped off at Bunratty Park, enjoying the clear skies and temperatures in the 60s after having endured several weeks of wilting 90+ degree days back home in New Jersey.    Being in County Clare, we took the opportunity to once again visit the other-worldly towering chiseled Cliffs of Moher thrusting up from the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

The clan gathering (Flannery Clan) was fantastic.  We met distant (and very distant) “cousins” from Ireland, Australia and the US, some of whom we had known only through email and others we had not “met” at all previously.   The group activities included a boat trip to Castlebawn, the restored 16th century towerhouse originally built by the McNamara chieftains, another boat trip to the Holy Island (Inis Cealtra) where an outdoor mass was celebrated in the ancient remains of a small church and a visit to the stunning Quin Friary.   After three days, dozens of photos and heartfelt farewells to our clansmen and women, we struck out for County Mayo.

Our next stop would be the Foxford Lodge and a day of salmon fishing on the spectacular River Moy for my husband.

No fisherman myself, I had arranged to have watercolor painting lessons which I thoroughly enjoyed while my husband bagged a couple of those famous Atlantic salmon.

So far, so good.  We moved on to Cawley’s Guesthouse in Tubbercurry where we had stayed three years ago and were warmly welcomed back.  The structured part of our trip being over, the plan was to do some day-tripping in County Sligo and County Cavan, the places where my Irish ancestors had lived.   I say that very casually, as if just an explanatory comment.  The truth is that it took me over 30 years of relentless genealogical searching to discover and confirm those origins.  After thinking for so many years that I might never figure out where my Irish came from or when and why they made the fateful decision to leave their homeland for America, I was going to complete my journey (literally) by returning to the place they called home over 160 years ago.  Almost impossible to believe….but true.

Chapter Two:

Day eight of our trip, also day one of the planned wanderings in the “old neighborhood”, started out smoothly as we drove out of Tubbercurry heading for Doonflin Upper townland in Skreen, about a 40 minute drive.  We were off to meet an American ex-pat couple who had been living in Doonflin Upper for the past several years.  I had connected with these nice people via the internet after having found their website while searching for information about Doonflin.  They generously offered to show us around the neighborhood, introduce us to long-time locals and accompany us to the very property where my great-great-great-grandparents were tenant farmers in the years leading up the Great Famine of the late 1840s.  Amazingly, those fields remain undeveloped open land, bordered by the same stone walls that defined them in the days when my ancestors lived there.   Being a sentimental person, my heart was full to bursting at the thought of laying my eyes on that land and seeing it so much the same as the day my ancestors regretfully left it in order to survive.

We found Skreen without any trouble but being without a GPS, finding the rural road we were looking for in the tiny townland of Doonflin Upper proved a real challenge.  Two stops asking locals for directions got us closer until suddenly the sight of my ancestral family parish church, St. Adamnan’s,  came into view.  It looked exactly like the photo I had found on the web!

We took a left turn up a single lane country road and made a third stop hoping we were then on the right road.   We stopped at a lovely new home with a long upward sloping driveway and I jumped out and made my way to the front door.  It was raining…..lightly.   The lovely woman who opened the door was followed by two sweet little girls.   After a brief conversation I was relieved to find we were almost there.  Coming down the driveway, I remember having a happy smile on my face.  My next recollection is my foot sliding on something at the foot of the driveway, me trying desperately to regain my balance, and that famous “slow-motion” feeling ending with me lying on the ground writhing in pain that was centered in my right knee.   My husband, who was sitting in the car in the street describes seeing me coming down the driveway, turning away for a second and then looking back to see that I had “disappeared”.   Then he heard my wee voice calling for help.  Within seconds, the lovely young woman and her little girls were there as well as was the postman who stopped to see if he could be of help.

As I lay on the ground, I reasoned (wishful thinking?) that I might “just” have dislocated my knee and told my husband to try and “put it back in”.  He gently touched the knee and knew immediately that the kneecap was in pieces.   So, what had actually happened to me?  I had fallen victim to a wet, slippery cattle grate.  The purpose of a cattle grate is to deter pasture animals (sheep and cows) who are found in the countryside and may wander onto nearby residential yards uninvited.   When they put their little hooves on the metal grating, they find an unfamiliar and disconcerting experience, leading them to turn tail and head in another direction.  So, what I am saying to you is that if I had the alertness and common sense of a sheep or cow, I might have avoided the flyer.

I was covered with blankets and a sheepskin throw and an ambulance was called.  I was not to be moved until the paramedics arrived.  Despite the agony I was in, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought about the people waiting for us and asked for my blackberry so my husband could help me email them the bad news.  My blackberry, which was in my hand when I slipped, had also been brutalized by the cattle grate and had slipped through the metal slats of the grate and lay trapped several inches below the metal monster.   The blackberry proved tougher than me and, after being fished up and out from under the grate using a fireplace shovel and poker, it was up, running and none the worse for the experience.   I lay on the damp ground as we waited for the paramedics who had a thirty minute trip from Sligo General Hospital to Skreen and my mind darted back and forth between trying to deal with the excruciating pain and trying to tell myself that the fall wasn’t going to destroy all the plans I had for our final five days in Ireland.

Chapter Three:

I remember hearing someone say “here they come” when the ambulance and paramedics drove up.  Soon two very capable and gentle fellows, Stan and John, were huddled next to me asking me how I was doing, what happened, etc.   They explained that they were going to give me a mask so I could inhale what I call “magic gas” which would help me deal with the pain and allow me to relax enough so that they could realign my leg and knee in order to put me on a stretcher and get me into the ambulance.  I inhaled deeply and repeatedly and soon I was in the ambulance.  Stan drove and John stayed with me.  I was treated to some Irish humor on the ride to the hospital which was a good supplement to the magic gas effect.    My husband followed the ambulance in our rental car.     When we arrived at the hospital, I hauled myself up to a sitting position on the stretcher, determined to help with my exit from the ambulance.   I reached out, in my semi-stupor, intending to wrap my arm around Stan’s waist.  After a few seconds, I realized that the palm of my hand rested squarely on his “bum” and I quickly apologized for that liberty.  Stan admonished me to “get that hand off there…… a half hour”.    Stan and John were my introduction to the Sligo General medical community and their kindness, humor and gentle care would prove predictive of the rest of my experiences at Sligo General.

I was taken into “Casualty” (ER to Americans) and although I don’t have a clear, chronological recollection of all that went on there, Stan and John stayed with me for a while and I was taken for x-rays.  Stan came by and peeked in to see how I was doing.  My husband, who looked more frightened than I did, not having shared in the morphine I received, asked how the x-rays came out.  Stan said we’d have to wait for the doctor to talk to us but I looked up just in time to see his changed expression and pursed lips and I knew the news would not be good.   Shortly after, we were shown the x-ray (I could have done without that) and told that my kneecap was broken into two large pieces along with a third small sliver and that I would need surgery to reconnect the pieces with wire and tension banding.   An initial groin to ankle cast was put on my right leg to stabilize the knee pending surgery.

Surgery in a strange hospital in a foreign country…..oh boy.   My husband  asked if it would be possible (and safe) for me to travel back to the States for the surgery.  The answer was that it was “possible” if I could withstand the pain and if the airline would allow me to fly with a stiff groin to ankle cast.  The risks, particularly DVT (deep vein thrombosis) clotting, were emphasized.   Like a good soldier, I twice tried to stand up with cast and crutches to see if I had the strength to do so.  Both times I broke out in a severe case of the sweats seconds after getting up.  After the second try, the nurse helped me back into bed and said “Luv, I cannot let you leave.”   I was admitted to the hospital and allowed time to decide if I would have the surgery the following day.  No pressure was applied and there was no hint of impatience.

I had no idea what I was going to do: have the surgery at Sligo General, transfer to another Irish hospital (as suggested by someone) or try again to make it home.   After meeting two younger members of the orthopedic team, it was explained that I would be meeting the “big” guy soon.   The big guy came to see me as promised and was introduced as Mr. Andrew Macey, Consultant.


(Doctors are commonly called Mr. rather than Dr.)   I explained to Mr. Macey that I too was a “consultant” which, in the States, means a person without a steady job.   I pretended exaggerated relief that his title meant something quite different…….and we immediately bonded.  A veteran orthopedic surgeon, he patiently answered question after question (including one about whether it might be better to have the surgery at another hospital in Galway) and his professional, reassuring manner and sense of humor put us at ease.  At first blush, I thought him something of a rebel, having taken on the Sligo borough council according to the local paper and at the ready these days to deal with budget cuts and service curtailments at the hospital.  A closer look revealed a man whose activism is motivated by the desire to insure that authorities and institutions keep faith with their stated standards of performance whether it is in the delivery of medical services or the enforcement of local law.  Being an inveterate fan of those who speak up or raise their hand to point out injustice or inequity, and finding out that Mr. Macey is a genealogy buff, I knew he was just my kind of guy.   I am a person who recognizes and experiences strong instances of intuitiveness in my life.  I have learned to trust that intuitive sensibility, a gift I attribute to my Irish ancestry.  After talking with Dr. Macey, I was sure I should have him do my surgery at Sligo General.

Chapter Four:

The surgery went well with wires and tension-banding reattaching the two large broken sections of my kneecap.  I will leave the issue of post-op pain and discomfort to your imagination along with any images of my groin to ankle cast and brace.  Post-surgery, I was situated in the ortho wing in a ward with five other women.  Yes, I said “ward” and “five other women”…….no semi-private US-style rooms.   My bed had no push-button clicker to raise or lower the head or foot of the bed.  And, no, it didn’t have the old-fashioned crank either.  It worked like the old chaise lounge patio chair-backs: meaning to change position, the iron “headboard” had to be manually lifted and repositioned into another “slot” or “tooth”.  The ward had one television, not large, on a stand, convenient for me as I was at the end of the ward near both that TV and windows that provided a lovely panoramic view of the countryside including Ben Bulben, the distinctive flat-top mountain beneath which poet William Butler Yeats was buried at his specific request.

Downside of my cozy spot near the TV and windows?  The shared loo was at the opposite end of the ward and so the days were punctuated with the rhythmic sound of crutches and walkers tapping the floor as the walking (and hopping) wounded of the ward made the slow trek there.  I should also mention that there were no bedside phones in the ward, matter of fact, there were no phones at all.  Not a problem as all the ladies (of all ages) had their personal “mobiles” at the ready, and ringtones, sometimes dueling ringtones, wafted through the ward.

I spent six days in the Sligo General ortho ward working toward being able to be mobile enough to make the seven hour plane trip home to New Jersey.  My husband kept vigil with me most of each day and the ladies in my ward quickly adopted him.  He retrieved cell phones out of reach and found missing slippers for them in between sitting next to me reading the Irish newspapers.

Mr. Macey prepared me for the trip by transitioning me from my post-op groin to ankle cast to ankle hinged brace that allowed controlled limited bending of knee.  The cast was removed and the brace was custom-fit to my leg by Patrick, a casting technician.

Two lovely physical therapists (“physios”) began working with me, helping learn to use crutches and starting me on basic knee exercises, all these efforts designed to make it possible for me to board a plane and endure the hours in the air.


Day and night the nurses and orderlies were there monitoring pain levels, dispensing medication, providing physical support as we tried to regain our mobility and helping us manage seemingly simple tasks.


During each of those days I had the opportunity to observe not only how I was treated but also how my ward-mates, some of them elderly, were treated as well.  You can tell an awful lot about people by the way they respond to and interact with the elderly and others who are most unable to help themselves and so the most vulnerable in an institutional setting.  For six days I consistently saw the courtesy, patience, responsiveness and sensitivity of the nurses, doctors, orderlies, physios, and food service and housekeeping staff as they interacted with patients and with each other.    It was no fluke and, trust me, it wasn’t because they weren’t busy.


One morning, rather than having a bowl of porridge, I asked Patrick, who was serving the food, if there might be a banana I could have as my stomach was in rebellion after a few days of aspirin-based pain meds.  Patrick smiled and said he would see what he could do.  He returned with a banana and a yogurt which he thought would be good for that upset stomach.  More than that, he also handed me a slightly green second banana saying that he was off the following day and thought I might need it tomorrow…….and that it should be just ripe by then.   That act of thoughtfulness gave me as much comfort as any pain medication.


Now, lest I be accused of either pain-meds-induced delirium or ancestral bias, I must say that I did hear a good number of staff conversations none-too-complimentary of both the local and national government and its minions.   In a world so often noted for its required multi-tasking, hands hard at work can be seamlessly accompanied by tongues discussing the frustrating and life-altering issues of the day.   The global recession has visited great suffering on the former roaring “Celtic tiger” as the Irish economy was known in the go-go years of the decade preceding the recent global downturn.  My generally immobile carcass notwithstanding, my eyes and ears were tuned in to the goings-on in the ward urged on by my usual curiosity.  I listened to those discussions with great interest and it wasn’t long until that uncontrollable tongue of mine was joining in to ask questions and get context.   Having read US newspaper accounts of the economic situation in Ireland, I thought I had a handle on what was happening:  the view from 10,000 feet it turns out and not quite the same as hearing it from the sidewalk.   Suddenly, an understanding informed by reporting centering on the bailout of the largest Irish banks told in numerical cost sound-bytes was replaced by the narrative of people whose lives and livelihood were rocked by the questionable decisions, risk-taking and missteps of those they entrusted with the management of their nation.   Sound familiar?  It is a sister-tale of our own story but, being there, we learned that the unemployment rate was north of 13% as we repeatedly winced at the cost of everything from a small pack of baby aspirin ($7.00 US) to that ubiquitous pint of Guinness ($7.00 US or a bit more).

Chapter Five:

Over my days in the hospital, I shared stories with the staff and my fellow patients.  I told them about my thirty-year quest to discover my grandmother’s Irish family ancestry and how I finally succeeded and came to “home” to Sligo.

Ever aware of any opportunities for a captive audience, I soon had a steady flow of occupants in my guest chair where I regaled them with my Irish family story, warts and all. Among them was the handsome white-haired elder chaplain of the hospital.  He sat patiently listening, his head almost imperceptibly nodding in response.  He asked me when and where I used to talk with my grandmother about her Irish family and how I got her to tell me some of the painful moments of her childhood.  Somewhere in our talking, I unconsciously wrapped my hand around his arm.  It felt just right there.  His visit ended (or perhaps his escape occurred) when a fellow patient (Peggy) who knew the Father as she had worked at Sligo General for many years, called out: “Maureen, give Father a few coins and he’ll be moving on.  He’s always looking for donations for the hospice.”   Father made not the slightest reaction to the comment, finished his thought and wished me well as he moved on to greet other patients in the ward.

Peggy was the “character” of the ward and it seemed she knew most all of the hospital staff.  At age 76, she was fully comfortable with saying what she thought whenever she felt inclined to do so.  One day a woman came through the ward dressed in navy blue matching skirt and blouse and with the air of someone “in charge”.  I heard Peggy, who obviously knew her, address the woman as “Sister”.  Being a Catholic, when the woman left, I said that I didn’t realize there were nuns working in the hospital.  That statement proved quite amusing to my native Irish ward-mates who informed me that the title “Sister”, in this case was a nurse supervisory title.  Peggy went on to say that the woman in navy blue was “no nun” and it was clear she and Peggy had tangled before.

Several days later, “Sister” returned with a doctor to talk with Peggy about her transfer to a rehab center.  Peggy spoke up with the intent of making sure the arrangements and proposed care were what she wanted and needed, mentioning her continuing pain.   Sister piped up saying that Peggy, at her age, should expect to have some amount of pain.  Let the games begin.  Dear Peggy sat up in her bed eyes flashing and said: “What do you mean talking about my age?  Don’t forget how long I know you Sister.”  Then she turned to the doctor whose face said he was wishing he was anywhere else and said: “Doctor, don’t let this woman fool you.  She’s no spring chicken, I can tell you that for sure.”  Sister, not willing to let it drop there, fired back:  “Peggy, now look what you’ve done.  He’ll be telling everyone in the hospital what you said!”   The doctor, wedged in between Peggy’s bedside and Sister who was at the foot of the bed, looked every bit the proverbial “deer in the headlights”.  The doctor had already been on the receiving end of Peggy’s ire when he seemed unclear as to the nature of her surgery.  Peggy, seeing the hesitation, reminded him that she had undergone a hip replacement.  His reply, “oh you did” laid insult on top of injury with Peggy.  For my part, I had been laying back enjoying the commotion until Peggy sent in her last salvo.  I heard her say:  “Don’t you cut me with your mouth Sister.  You see that woman over there? ”  (Her finger was pointing straight at me.)  “She is from America and she has a camera and is doing a survey of things around here.”    The threat having been made, the altercation trailed off and our Peggy soon had to quickly pack up for the move to the rehab center…….in a waiting cab arranged for by Sister.

Although the Sister in the navy blue outfit wasn’t a nun, I was blessed to have a religious Sister of the Marist order as a ward-mate.  Sister Brendan had fallen and injured her arm which was in a sling and clearly painful.  Each morning she would go from bed to bed asking each of us how we were doing.  Her soft soothing brogue wrapped around me like a warm blanket. She was truly one of God’s angels.  And, in keeping with my tendencies toward serendipitous encounters, it turned out that Sister Brendan’s convent was located in Tubbercurry, literally next door to Cawley’s Guesthouse where my husband had continued to stay during my days at the hospital.  Of course Sister Brendan knew the Cawley family well and I explained how we had come to know them too.

After telling my new friends my Irish story, I asked many of them (patients and staff) to tell me about themselves and they graciously did so.  I learned from the graduating student nurses that there were no jobs at home and so, sadly, they were leaving shortly to take positions in the UK.  I learned that the breast cancer treatment facilities at Sligo General had been closed and that the ortho and other specialty departments had been cut back or eliminated.  Breast cancer patients formerly treated at Sligo General now have to travel to a Galway hospital for treatment, a distance of 175 miles round-trip. Rumors are rife that there is an unspoken plan to close Sligo General completely. More of that sidewalk view of the Irish economy.

Chapter Six: Conclusion

There were personal stories and precious memories that were shared with me, some of them poignant and some that set me to laughing so hard I was breathless, each one a gift .  Among those was the story of the little “black man” come down from the mountains of Sligo for treatment in the ER at Sligo General.    A reluctant visitor to the hospital, he arrived as found in his remote cottage:  black from head to toe.  As it was told to me, the only things on him not pitch black were the whites of his eyes, making for a startling site when he opened and fixed those beacons on those in the ER.  This wee “sooty man” as I dubbed him, had spent months, perhaps years, sitting by the hearth in his cottage and over that time had become “one” with it.   Just as those in the ER were coming to grips with our little man, he was taken away only to return “gleamin’” and “sparklin’” head to toe some time later.  The good folks at Sligo General had literally transformed him….clean clothes and all.

And then there was Mary, who came into our ward after being clipped by a car and knocked to the ground crossing the street in Sligo.  She was on her way home after having her hair done and, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, the female paramedic said:  “Your hair looks wonderful, who did it?”  Picture Mary breathlessly propping herself up on the stretcher to say “it was Pauline”.

The young woman in the bed next to me broke her ankle at the Leonard Cohen concert at the historic Lissadell House grounds.  The concert had ended and thinking the queue for the porta-johns too long, she decided to take a couple tissues and step into the woods to relieve herself.  She tripped over a wire and went down.  Twenty-thousand people had attended the two concert events that weekend.  The ER staff told her she had the distinction of being the only concert casualty.

She remained the most adventurous of the women in our ward, sneaking outside for a smoke on crutches with a cigarette tucked in the cuff of her sock……even managing to get locked out on one of those covert smoke-breaks.  Her maternal family had lived on Mweenish (Maoinis in the Irish language) Island in Connemara, County Galway and, like so many rural Irish, her grandfather had supported his family with multiple occupations, in his case lobsterman, barber, farmer, roof-thatcher and builder of stone walls. Her father was a pub-owner in County Tipperary and she told me hysterical stories about pub regulars and, in particular, two old feuding brothers with “coke-bottle-bottom” eyeglasses.  Diminished sight or not, the brothers still went hunting and, on one of those outings, after becoming separated, one brother mistook the other for “game” and but for a poor shot, would have bagged his brother.

My ward-mates told me stories late into the night preceding the day I was released from the hospital including those told to them by grandparents who had brewed potcheen  (moonshine made from potatoes…..of course), been threatened by British occupiers and who had worked at all manner of jobs to support their families in some of the most remote and impoverished areas of the country.   Whether sad or comical, all the stories were uniquely Irish, threaded together with love of country, culture, family and faith.  My only regret is that I cannot, via the written word, retell these stories with the lyrical tones of the Irish brogues that brought them to my ears cheering and comforting me with the humor and sentimentality of these natural storytellers.

Not long after my surgery, I had my husband bring my camera to the hospital and, with their permission, I photographed more than three dozen of my new Irish hospital friends including fellow patients, nurses, doctors, aides, food servers and housekeepers.  (That’s what I was really doing with the camera, despite Peggy’s threat.)  Their beautiful genuine smiles radiate from those photos.  A friend looking at the photos told me she swore she could see halos over some of their heads.   I don’t doubt that as, to me, they will always be “The Angels of Sligo General”.

One of the stories I told to my ward-mates was that of Asenath Nicholson an American social worker who visited Ireland just before and then again during the Great Famine of the late 1840s, intent on helping the poor Irish population.  She wrote the book “Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger” in which she described the warmth and kindness of the impoverished suffering Irish and the particular generosity of the devastatingly deprived and oppressed Irish Catholics she crossed paths with and who invited her to share their meager provisions.   One hundred sixty-three years have passed since that book was first published but I found the Irish people unchanged in their kindness to another American stranger.  Some might say my view is romanticized by the circumstances.  I say not.

(Post-script:  Just three weeks after my release from Sligo General, my surgeon wrote to tell me that budget constraints were resulting in a further 50% reduction in beds in the orthopedic department where I was treated.   My thoughts went immediately to those who cared for me and may now lose their jobs and to those, like myself, who will need emergency medical treatment in the area in and around County Sligo and may not find the same availability of care. Lying on the ground with a broken kneecap does give one the view from the sidewalk…..literally and figuratively.)   Some weeks after my release from Sligo General, my surgeon Andrew Macey had the idea to make a collage poster of the photos I took while hospitalized as a morale-booster for the staff who have been under the gun of budget cuts and service reductions.  In March 2011, the poster was finished and a fine job it is:SG Hospital Poster – March 2011   


22 thoughts on “Post-Scripts Blog

  1. Maureen
    I truly enjoyed reading this. The pictures are lovely and yourstory is great. Keep it coming. How are you feeling?

    Fran (Italy tour)

  2. Hi Maureen.
    what a lovely story, and such a shame, it had to end with your injury, but wish you well in your recovery.
    I had the very same injury, whilst on holiday in Spain,so i know exactly what you are going through.

  3. Enjoying every word, except the pain part!
    I always say, “it’s not what happens, it’s how you handle it that matters in the end.” And you handled it so well.

    It’s also about the people you meet along the way in good aand bad times. The folks at the hospital, as much as anything I’ll bet, gave you great insights into the spirit, wit and kindness that embody the Irish.

    Looking forward to the next chapter.

  4. Hi Maureen, love the story, thanks for the compliment of a young woman, got your lovely xmas card today, thanks, hope you keeping well, the little girls say hi,



  5. Hi Maureen,

    I finally got a chance to look at my non-work computer! (Yippee –I have the day off!)

    Thank you for sharing your story and pictures and for bringing some of my grandmother’s Ireland to me vicariously.

    Thank goodness for those wonderful drugs. — Your fall sounded extremely painful!!

    Take care, and have a wonderful holiday season and new year.


  6. Maureen,

    Sorry that yur story has ended, I looked forward to reading every chapter, I truly enjoyed reading it.

    You certainly had a remarkable experience and met some unforgetable people/characters. Hope you are feeling better.

    Merry Christmas

  7. Even though I have read the book and heard the stories first hand, it was still a great adventure to read the blog. I can almost hear your voice when I read your words. You have a great gift for writing….keep it going.


  8. Hi Maureen,

    My brother Pat has been keeping me up on all of your adventures and interesting information on the Flannelly’s.
    Looking forward to reading more..

    Take care of yourself.

    You can send me more updates at the email address i have

    Jean Stolte (Whalen)

  9. Hi Maureen,

    How exciting that you were able to find more information about your family! Just think — If they weren’t so colorful, you’d have to be content with some birth and marriage certificates with a lot less knowledge of what the actual people might have been like.

    “Scandals” from the past are definitely fun to read about. (Hmmm –Wonder if our local paper has archives going back to the ealy 1900’s when my grandmother arrived here 🙂 )

    I look forward to hearing more.


  10. I’m impressed, I have to say. Really rarely do I encounter a weblog that’s each educative and entertaining. Your concept is excellent; I’m very joyful that I stumbled across this in my seek for one thing referring to this.

  11. Just finished reading “the fighting Flannellys” and am so looking forward to getting your next book. ….’Young and Wicked – the Death of a Wayward Girl’. You have a true “way with words”.

  12. What a remarkable compilation. What a struggle to survive!

    Hard to believe what they all went through, and how different our lives have been.

    One article I found talks of my great grandparents having to bury two children in one week, although in their daily lives they were better off.

    You’re a gifted writer and researcher.


  13. Very interesting blog. I am a Flannelly, My father and three brothers grew up in Jersey City. My father was a member of the Jersey City Fire Dept. The Brothers were Walter,Ray,Bob & Frank

  14. Hello, I am a Flannelly too. Our Flannelly family came here in 1848 from Sligo, and settled in Carbondale Pa. I assume that all of the Sligo Flannellys’ were related.

  15. Thank you for the story of my family from Ireland to Jersey City, Its nice to know of their challenges from the hills of Silgo to streets of Jersey City

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