Saturday, June 4, 2011

Whiskey You're the Devil

     My youngest son was the first to notice, or the first to actually say it out loud.  There seem to be an inordinate number of alcohol related deaths in our early family history.  There!  Now I’ve said it, or rather written it.  It started with George Gunn.  If you follow my blog you are acquainted with George and his sister Mary.  He died in 1892, two years after arriving in the US from county Kerry.  George was buried in the local Catholic cemetery, although in unconsecrated ground.  What could he have done to deserve that?   Perhaps his death holds a clue. 

Palmyra NY Courier, Friday August 19, 1892:
      The body of George Gunn, a laborer, about 30 years old was found floating in the canal just west of this village, on Sunday morning last.  Gunn was in Palmyra late Saturday evening and the supposition is that he had been drinking and while on his way to Macedon by tow-path he fell into the canal and met his death by drowning.
     George has a very nice tombstone which has been lovingly under planted with day lilies that still grow today.  I know they are day lilies because they weren’t blooming due to overcrowding so I dug up a slip and took it home to see what grew.  Voila!  Lilies.  Who but his sister Mary would have done the planting?  That she loved her brother cannot be denied, she named her third son for him. Unfortunately, it seems her son George Power inherited some of his Uncle George Gunn’s less desirable traits.  In the wee hours of the morning of May 27, 1928, young George picked a fight with a train…he lost.

Rochester Democrat &Chronicle May 28, 1928:
     Palmyra May 27  Two youths were killed instantly at the Walworth Station crossing of the New York Central Railroad, four miles northwest of here, when their automobile crashed into the side of a moving eastbound freight train at 1:10 o'clock this morning.  The impact derailed the fifth and sixth freight cars, just ahead of the caboose and demolished the automobile.
     The dead men are George Powers 22, son of Philip Powers, of Manchester, and Merrill Hartle, 22, son of Mr. and Mrs. Loey Hartle, of Newark:  The pair had been employed in construction work on the Palmyra Hotel, and had left this village shortly after midnight.  Hartle is believed to have been driving.
     Call me cynical, but I find it unlikely two young men were doing construction work on a Saturday night on into the early hours of Sunday morning, and where were they going?  They werent heading to either of their homes; they were traveling in the opposite direction.  Prohibition was the law of the land in 1928, perhaps to a rural speakeasy?
      In a strange twist of fate, George was killed about two miles from the spot his uncle had been found floating 36 years earlier.  At least Mary was spared the trauma of her sons death, having passed away herself five months earlier. 
     Philip Power, young George’s father, had other family in America.  His mother, Honora Crotty and two sisters had also immigrated.  The oldest sister, Mary, married Thomas Ryan in Palmyra and had two daughters.  One, Catherine Ryan, married a local businessman named Riffenburg, and lived a comfortable life, her sister Ella was not so fortunate.  Ella Ryan was a troubled woman.  Her husband left her and Ella drank herself to death in 1915 at the age of 46.  Cause of death from her death certificate:  gastritis, heart failure, drinking habit.
     Switch now to the County Carlow relatives, and we find murder and mayhem.  Edward McCabe, a nephew of my great-great grandfather James OHora, thankfully never married.  Instead he lived with another bachelor in a cabin on a farm where they both worked as laborers.  One evening, after a day of drinking in Canandaigua, NY, the roommates returned home and began to argue.  Edward lay down and went to sleep.  It was then, his drinking buddy wielding a heavy shovel, pounced.  Edwards face was nearly split in two and he later died in a nearby hospital. 
     A niece of James OHoras, the child of his wife Maria McGarrs sister Bridget, went the route of Ella Ryan.  Either Mary Agnes met her future husband in New York and followed him west, or she became acquainted with him in her travels.  Eventually they were married in Tombstone, Arizona where he was serving as a hospital steward in the US Army.  Life on a western Army Fort in the early 1890s was not exactly enjoyable; just check some of the womens diaries from that era, also this wonderful site,  Perhaps it was more than Mary Agnes could cope with.  At some point she began drinking and the couple separated.  Her death record below from the Horan Funeral Home, whose records are available at the Denver Public Library, says she was a widow, but in fact her husband was serving in the Philippines at the time she died. She also had an alias.  An alias!  Who has an alias?  Her widowed mother paid to have her remains shipped back to New York for burial, and hushed up the sordid details.
Transcription of Horan Burial information, Denver Library:
Mary Agnes Westerdahl  died 2 Oct 1902, 35 years old
Alias name of Annie Wilson, widowed
Lived at 2161 Larimer St. Denver Colorado
Born New York
Cause of death: Paralysis of heart due to Alcoholism
The cleaned up version:
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Wed. Oct. 8, 1902
     The remains of Mrs. Mary A. Westerdahl, who died in Denver Friday, last, were taken to the residence of her mother, Mrs. Bridget Kinsella, in Shortsville yesterday.  She was 45 years of age and died from paralysis of the heart.  She leaves a husband, who is in the service of the government in the Philippine Islands as hospital steward, an aged mother, two brothers and four sisters.  The funeral will be held this morning at 9:30 at the church.

     I am seriously thinking all this entitles me to membership in International Black Sheep Society!

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