Site Search & Directory »
The Great Seattle FireDon't Blame Jimmie McGough
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer of June 7, 1889, mistakenly reported that the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, was caused by the overturning of a glue pot in Jim McGough’s paint shop. In fact, the glue pot had been in the shop of Clairmont and Co., cabinet makers, who occupied the ground floor basement below McGough's shop. Despite a belated retraction of the story two weeks later, the truth is only now beginning to catch up with the falsehood.
The great Seattle fire of June 6, 1889, started in the Pontius Building at the corner of Front and Madison Streets in what was known as the Denny block. In his lively history of Seattle, Murray Morgan describes the origin of the fire:
"Madame Feitsworth-Ewens, who specialized in reading the future by means of colored clamshells, was giving a customer some advice in the near-by Pontius Building; in the office next to hers, Dr. Sturgens, a dentist recently from Boston, was peering into the mouth of a logger. On the ground floor of the building J.P. Madigan was showing some boots to a housewife. In the basement James McGough, who ran a paint store and woodwork shop, was finishing a cabinet. His assistant was heating glue over a gasoline stove. Around 2:40 p.m. the glue boiled over. Some of it, falling on the stove, caught fire; flaming gobs of glue splashed on the floor, which was littered with wood shavings and soaked with turpentine. The flames spread over the boards. McGough tried to douse them with water from the fire bucket; the water mixed with the turpentine and burst into flame. McGough and his assistant fled.
"Even before the cabinetmakers rushed from the building someone on the street saw the smoke and called the fire department. The flames burst through the wooden ceiling, driving Madigan and the housewife from the shoe store, Dr. Sturgens and the patient from the dentist’s office, Madam Feitsworth-Ewens and her client from the farsighted clamshells."
Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle (1951), at page 107.
Morgan mistakenly describes the location of the glue pot as McGough’s paint shop. He repeats an error from the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of the morning after the fire, June 7, 1889:
"The fire was caused by the overturning of a glue pot in Jim McGough’s paint shop, under Smith’s boot and shoe store, at the corner of Front and Madison streets in what was known as the Denny block.
"In an instant the whole paint shop was in flames and the fire burst through the floor above before a single thing could be carried out of the room.
"The Denny block was a frame structure, extending along Front Street from Madison to Columbia, running back to the alley. The basement and hallways in the building seemed to serve as flues to draw the flames, for black clouds of smoke poured from every window, door and crevice in the structure from one end to the other within five minutes from the time that the alarm was first given."
The false report that the origin of the fire was James McGough’s paint shop has often been repeated and has become a fictitious part of Seattle’s history. Frederic James Grant in his History of Seattle Washington (American Publishing and Engraving Co., New York, 1891, 578 pages) at page 214, embellishes the story:
"The fire began on the north side of the main business part of the city, where, with the gentle north wind that sprang up as the afternoon advanced, it had the best possible chance to spread to the whole quarter. It started in a building on the southwest corner of Front and Madison streets, owned by Mrs. M. J. Pontius. The circumstance was quite trivial. In the basement of this frail wooded structure, was a paint shop kept by James McGough. Here a workman was boiling glue, which, suddenly rising, ran over on the stove and ignited, dripping fire down upon some shavings below. Thinking to quench the sudden flames, the workman cast at them a bucket of water, but not skillfully, for by the act the whole lighted mass was scattered over the floor, which was soon covered with the flames. The oils and turpentine were kindled instantly, and as the wind passed underneath the floors and timbers, the combustion was forced into the apertures, and carried through the passages to the apartments above. Flames and smoke poured from every window, forcing their way upward and seeking to find escape through the roof. In this condition the fire department found the building."
The two volume History of Washington by Julian Hawthorne (1893), volume 2 at page 316, makes the same mistake:
"The mischief began on the north side of Seattle’s business centre; the fire started in a building on the northwest corner of Front and Madison streets, owned by Mrs. M. J. Pontius. The cause, as usual, was trivial. In the basement of this frail wooden tenement was a paint shop kept by James McGough. A workman boiling glue allowed it to run over on the stove, setting fire to some shavings below; he attempted to extinguish it with a pail of water, but so unskillfully that the whole lighted mass was scattered upon the floor, igniting the oil and turpentine and carrying the flames to the apartments above. The fire department were promptly on the ground, but the water failed, and the slender stream seemed rather to irritate than subdue the evil. The work of ruin was begun."
The same story, all implicating McGough’s paint shop is told by Archie Binns in his Northwest GatewayThe Story of the Port of Seattle (1941) at page 254; by Gordon Newell in Totem Tales of Old Seattle (1956) at page 78, and The Green Years (1969) at page 20; by Ralph W. Andrews in The Great Seattle Fire, Historic Fires of the West (1966), pages 105123; and by Nard Jones in Seattle (1972) (where he laments at page 131: "The assistant remains nameless, which is a pity, for he was the man who really began a new city and created the Seattle spirit about which much was said in years to come.") The mistake is restated in Seattle A Pictorial History, at page 64, by Lane Morgan and Murray Morgan with Paul Dorpat (1982) at page 64. The falsity that the fire started in McGough's cabinet shop is repeated on the internet in the historical reference at the end of Walk In The Light by Effie Burton. Even the History of the Seattle Fire Department got it wrong—saying the fire started in McGough's cabinet shop.
These stories all ignore a correction by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of its original story, almost two weeks after the initial publication, in the edition of June 21, 1889:
THE ORIGIN OF THE FIRE
A Bucket of Water at a Time
When it Was Not Needed
Clairmont’s Glue Pot Deserves
Equal Time With Mrs.
O’Leary’s Kicking Cow
"Several statements having been made as to the origin of the fire, a POST-INTELLIGENCER representative yesterday called on several of those who belonged in the shop at 922 Front Street where it started. The first interviewed was James McGough, a painter whose workshop was just overhead, above the one where the fire started. He stated as follows:
"My shop was in the flat just over where the fire occurred. At that time I was at work at a building at the corner of Fourth and Terrace streets, and hearing the alarm and being a fireman of Company No. 1, I quit work and hastened to join my company, not knowing the locality of the fire. From my best information the fire broke out in the shop of Clairmont and Co., cabinet makers, who occupied the ground floor basement, just beneath me. I am told several men were working there at that time. The one who caused the conflagration is a Swede named Berg. He threw a bucket of water over a burning glue pot on the stove, which spread the flames at once. A heavy draft swept through the room from the two wide doors at its rear and front."
"Calling upon Mr. Clairmont, who owned the place and employed the men where the fire started, he at once brought the reporter into the presence of two of them. They were Charley Stoll and a young man named Kittermaster. The former one stated as follows:
"When I went into the basement, I saw the glue on fire in the pot upon the stove. There were four others in the room, and I told them to pack up and get out. Kittermaster went after something to put over the flames and just then, a Swede named Berg, picked up a pail of water and dashed it over the glue kettle and stove. That sent the fire all through the shop. It was a sheet-iron stove with a hole in its top for this glue pot, and the water seemed to explode it and scatter the glue and fire together. The place was at once full of fire and smoke, and I got out as best I could."
"Mr. Kittermaster being called on said: "There were five of us in the room. Mr. Kirchener, Charley Stoll, an old Swede named Berg, a young Swede from New York and myself. At the first alarm I was about forty feet away with my back toward the stove. As I turned to look back, it was blazing right up, and I saw Berg seize a pail of water to throw upon it. I shouted for him not to do it, but the ignorant Swede seemed excited and danced about with the pail before he dashed the water. I rushed to a corner to get my coat, intending to throw it over the burning glue and keep the air out; but the instant water touched the material everything in the shop was in a blaze and the smoke was so dense that I had difficulty to get out."
"Berg, the unconscious incendiary, is yet in this city, looking about for work, but his former employers do not want one who caused their misfortune and that of so many others.
Dr. James R. Warren in his well researched and well written book The Day Seattle Burned (1989), at page 20, continues the story:
"The reporters continued their search for ‘Berg,’ and the following day this interview was published:
‘The chance incendiary who caused the recent disaster by fire was interviewed yesterday by a Post-Intelligencer representative who found him at work on a new building at the corner of Third and Jackson streets. His name is John E. Back, and not ‘Berg’ as heretofore given. He is a short, thick-set blonde of mediocre intelligence, aged 24, and a native of Sweden. [Back is listed as a carpenter in the 1889 City Directory. He is not listed in the 1890 edition, so we can presume he left town.]
‘How did you start the fire?’ he was asked.
"He replied: ‘I can’t tell. I put glue in and water on it, and I can’t tell no more about it.’
‘Well, how did you go about it; what were you trying to do?’
‘I cut some balls of glue and put them in the glue pot on the stove. I put in some shaving where there was little fire, and then went to work about twenty-five feet away, near the front door. After a while somebody said ‘Look at the glue.’ Another fellow, a Finlander from New York, then took a piece of board and laid it on to smother the glue, but the board caught fire. Then I run and took the pot of water to smother the fire and poured it over the pot of glue, which was blazing up high. When I throw the water on, the glue flew all over the shop into the shavings and everything take fire."
‘What did you do then?’
‘Then I tried to pull out my tool chest and burnt my hands. I lost the chest, and now somebody tell me to go to the relief committee for pay, and I go there pretty soon.’
Mr. A. Kirchener, his former employer, being present during this conversation, asked him: ‘Why did you take cold water to throw into the hot glue? Don’t’ you know water has to boil before it mixes with glue?’
‘I thought it was sure to damp it out; but when I throw it, it fly out.’
‘Did you ever mix glue with cold water?’
‘No, I never did it before. I didn’t know anything about it. I thought the fire go out with water.’
"One of the others who was in the room at the moment of the disaster says that Back probably tipped the glue pot over into the shavings and in his excitement poured the water upon the fire in the stove. Back has been in the United States two years, and in Seattle since last October, and he’s taken out his first naturalization papers.’
"So started the great Seattle fire."
Dr. Warren, while Director of Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, led a mini-crusade to remove the blot on the McGough name. For other articles by Dr. Warren pointing out that, at the time the glue pot overheated and exploded into flame, it was not in McGough’s paint shop, but in Victor Clairmont’s basement woodworking shop, and it was being tended by a newly-arrived Swedish immigrant named John E. Back, see: Who Started the Seattle Fire of June 6, 1989?, at page 16 of the Summer/Fall 1980 issue of Portage, a magazine published by the Museum of History and Industry; and King County and its Queen City: SeattleAn Illustrated History (1981) at page 88.
As early as 1900, historians adverted to the name of John E. Back from the PI corrections of June 21 and June 22, 1889. Thomas W. Prosch, in A Chronological History of Seattle from 1850 to 1857 (typewritten manuscript, prepared in 1900 and 1901, in Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Room) at page 366, identifies the place of origin of the fire as the "basement of a wooden building owned by Mrs. Margaret J. Pontius on the southeast corner of First Avenue and Madison" and goes on to say:
"The place was a paint shop kept by James McGough. A man named John E. Back put on the stove a pot of glue, and in the stove a lot of shavings. The glue got to burning, water was thrown upon it, when the blazing glue burst and scattered fire among the shavings all over the shop. Extinguishment was impossible, and the five men there all fled to save their lives."
Prosch seems to have mixed the information from the initial PI article of June 7, 1889 and the later corrections of June 21 and June 22, 1889 when he says that the origin of the fire was the paint shop kept by James McGough, rather than the Clairmont carpentry shop below.
A few historians in addition to Dr. Warren have correctly identified the origin of the fire as Clairmont’s woodworking shop. In Clarence V. Bagley’s History of Seattle (1916), the fire is blamed on the "overturning of a glue pot in Victor Clairmont’s woodworking shop under the rear of the building at the southwest corner of First Avenue and Madison street." (Volume I, page 419).
J. Willis Sayre, in This City of Ours (1936), at page 163, says that the fire "originated in the shop of Clairmont and Company, cabinet makers in the ground-floor basement of the Pontius Block, 923 First Avenue." He recounts that one of the five men at work there, John E. Back, threw a bucket of water on a burning glue pot.
Edgar I. Stewart’s The Seattle Fire of 1889 in Washington Northwest Frontier (1957), pages 159164, correctly identifies the origin of the fire as the "wood-working shop of Victor Clairmont, located at the corner of First Avenue and Madison street." (volume II, page 159).
Seattle writer Walt Crowley gets it right in an article on HistoryLink. Kent R. Davies gets it right in his article Sea of Fire in the Summer, 2001, issue of Columbia, The Magazine of Northwest History, volume 15, number 2. Irish Seattle by John F. Keane (Arcadia Publishing 2007), at page 16, gets it right:
"Jimmy McGough (1850–1910), from County Monaghan, was initially identified by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as having started the fire. ... The paper corrected itself later, but McGough's glue pot remains a Seattle legend., much like that cow in Chicago. McGough fought the fire as a member of the Seattle Fire Department and was one of Seattle's most prosperous citizens when killed in a horse-and-buggy and street car accident in 1910."
Despite the corrections in the PI almost two weeks after the original misleading article, the PI continues to ignore the corrections, to refer to the origin of the fire as a glue pot in Jim McGough’s paint shop, and to state that the identity of the dasher of the bucket of water is unknown. For example, the 100th anniversary edition of the Seattle PI, published on April 7, 1963, at page 3 of section C, says that: ". . . a workman, as anonymous as Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, knocked over a glue pot in Jim McGough’s paint shop." On the cover of this section, the PI reprints the front page of the June 7, 1889 issue, containing the original erroneous information. The same article is now etched on a metal plaque installed on a lamp post on the west side of First Avenue in Seattle just south of its intersection with Madison Street. Jean Godden, in an article entitled Time to, er, burn away a bum rap on page 1 of section B of The Seattle Times of March 10, 1997, points out the error in the article and asks: "Isn’t it time to clear the paint-shop owner’s good name?"
James McGough himself did not ignore the annual repetition of the misinformation. Here is an article from page 2 of the Seattle Times of Saturday, June 15, 1895:
NOT HIS GLUE POT
Jimmie McGough Makes an
"James McGough has been securing a good deal of notoriety every year that is not at all to his liking, although he is getting somewhat accustomed to it by this time. At the time of the great fire, June 6, 1889, when Seattle was wiped out of existence, it was stated in print that the fire started in his paint shop on the corner of Front and Madison street by the overturning of a glue pot.
"'I’m getting mighty tired of all this notoriety," said McGough this morning. "Every year the papers come out and say that the fire started in my shop and the story is all told over again. As a matter of fact, the fire did not start in my shop at all, and every year I have gone around and made the correction for the benefit of the newspapers. The fire started in a carpenter shop in the basement under my shop, and the place was owned by a man named Berg—I think that was his name. I’m not getting a pension for fathering the catastrophe, and I’m getting weary of the conflagration. But, then, I’m getting used to it, and I’m not half so sensitive about it as I used to be.'
"Every year the papers have something to say about the fire when the anniversary comes around, and the papers published the day following the fire, June 7, 1889, which contained a graphic account of the conflagration, are always used as a basis of information on the subject. And on every anniversary of the fire, McGough forgets all about the event until he reads about it and sees his name in the papers. Only once since then has he remembered the event in time to stop the mention of his name by appearing at the newspaper offices and making a statement of the facts in the case."
The glue pot itself may have been owned by Martin Andreason, a workman in the Clairmont cabinet maker shop. Elsie Franklind Marriott in Bainbridge Through Bifocals (1941), at page 105, after describing the location of Tolo on the west coast of Bainbridge Island (just west of Seattle), says:
"Martin Andreason took a homestead of 160 acres there in 1890. Mr. Andreason, after losing his all in the Chicago Fire—his home, the school which was held in his home, and his cabinet shop, moved first to Tacoma and then to Seattle. In Seattle, he worked in a small cabinet shop where the great Seattle Fire was kindled. In fact, it was Mr. Andreason’s glue pot which boiled over onto the shavings and started the fire."
Despite the corrections, Jimmie McGough continues to be blamed for the fire. In The Day Seattle Burned (1989), at page 18, Dr. Warren sums it up:
"To this day, the location of the initial spark that grew to become Seattle’s greatest fire is often mistakenly attributed to a glue pot in the shop of James McGough, house and sign painter whose shop according to the 1889 City Directory was at the 'southeast corner Front and Madison, Rear 922 Madison. In fact, the basement space was leased to Victor Clairmont for his cabinet shop. The McGough paint shop was on the floor above."'
The second child of James and Sarah McGough, Ella J. McGough, was born in Seattle in September of 1894. She spent her entire life in Seattle. She married John J. Peter. A news story on page 19 of the Seattle Times of November 11, 1965, reported her death. One paragraph of the story said:
"Mrs. Peter, who resided here all her life, was the daughter of James McGough, Seattle pioneer, in whose shop the Seattle fire of 1889 began."
The complete article is reproduced below.
James McGough was born in county Monaghan, Ireland, on February 19, 1850—according to his gravestone. He is almost certainly the James (Jacobus) McGough who was baptized on February 19, 1850, in Latton, in the parish of Aughnamullen West, county Monaghan, Ireland. Sponsors were Patrick Floody & Eliza Magough. See Baptisms for Aghnamullen West Parish, Co Monaghan on the website of Ann McGeough Harney, and my page: Baptisms and Marriages in the Catholic Parish of Aughnamullen West. When he first emigrated to the United States, around 1875, he settled in San Francisco. He may be the James McGough of Ireland, age 20, a laborer, who arrived in New York from Liverpool on March 14, 1870, aboard the Great Western; or the James McGough or Ireland, age 22, who arrived in New York from Liverpool or Queenstown on May 19, 1873. James McGough, a painter, is listed in the 1880 San Francisco city directory (Langley's San Francisco Directory For the Year Commencing April 1880, page 614) as renting at 1122 1/2 Larkin Street. He was not in the 1879, 1881 or 1882 directories. (In 1880, there was also a John McGough, a teamster, renting at 7 Rincon Avenue. In the 1864 San Francisco city directory, page 274, there is a James McGough, a stone cutter, dwelling at "N s Broadway nr. Davis.") James McGough came to Seattle from San Francisco in about 1883. He and his family in the Seattle area pronounce their surname McGoff.
He is probably the James McGough listed in the 1883 census of Clark county, Washington territory (in southwest Washington on the Oregon border): age 33, born in Ireland, a painter, unmarried, father and mother foreign born, a citizen of the United States (listed in the April 1, 1883 Washington Territorial Census on Ancestry.com; roll V228_1, line 23, dwelling house 616; his age can be read as 55 and is so indexed by Ancestry.com, but I read the age as 33).
James McGough, painter of houses and signs, is not listed in the Seattle city directories of 1876 and 1882. He is listed in the directory for 18845 as having a business at Front Street at the foot of Seneca. The 1887 R. L. Polk & Co. Puget Sound Business Directory lists the painting business of McGough & McTavish (James McGough, Donald McTavish) at the southeast corner of Front and Madison. McGough's listing as a painter of houses and signs continues through the 1908 directory. (He died in 1910.) The 1902 and 1903 directories show his residence as 301 22nd Avenue. Corbett & Co's Seattle City Directory of 1892–93 lists at page 582: McGough James, house and sign painter and paperhanger, 217 Columbia, residence 215 Eaton near Houghston.
The General Land Office Records of the Bureau of Land Management show that a James McGough was issued a patent to 120 acres in King County, Washington, on January 25, 1888. The land was described as follows:
N½NE, section 25, township 23-N, range 3-E, fraction number No, Willamette meridian, WA King.
SENE 25, section 23-N, range 3-E, fraction number No, Willamette meridian, WA King. (Document Number 9010, accession/serial number WAOAA 075668.)
James McGough of Seattle married Sarah Gleeson of Satsop, Washington, in Grays Harbor county (then known as Chehalis county), Washington, on September 30, 1891. See the section on Sarah Gleeson McGough, below.
The 1892 census of Seattle (ward 4), King county, state of Washington, lists J. McGough, age 38, a contractor, married, born in Ireland, living with his wife, Sarah McGough, age 28, a housewife, born in Ireland. Washington State and Territorial Censuses, 1857–1892 (on Ancestry.com, Roll V228_7, line 33)..
The 1900 federal census of Washington shows that James McGough of Seattle, residing in "house 401" on 22nd Avenue, was born in Ireland in 1850. (James' gravestone says he was born on February 19, 1850.) He emigrated to the US in 1875. He had been married to Sarah McGough for 9 years. Sarah was also born in Ireland, in February of 1863, and was 37 at the time of the census. (Her gravestone says she was born on January 19, 1863.) She had also emigrated in 1875. She was the mother of 5 children, all of whom were living. Their children shown by the 1900 census were Rose M. McGough, born in July of 1892, age 7; Ella J. McGough, born in September of 1894, age 6; James T. McGough, born in January (4) of 1895, age 5; John M. McGough, born in October (17) of 1896, age 4; and Sarah E. McGough, born in January of 1898, age 2. All the children were born in the state of Washington.
James McGough was killed in an accident in Seattle on January 20, 1910, and was buried in grave 3, lot 295, section first, of Calvary Cemetery in Seattle on January 23, 1910. James was buried next to his son, Daniel McGough (in grave 2, lot 295, section first), who was born and died on February 1, 1909. James McGough's wife, Sarah, was buried beside him on March 3, 1943, in grave 4 of the same plot.
Buried in the same plot are their son, James T. McGough, grave 1, March 1, 1961; their daughter Sarah E. (Dyer), grave 6, December 27, 1967; and their son John M. McGough, grave 5, April 27, 1971.
James McGough's gravestone in Calvary Cemetery says he lived from February 19, 1850, to January 20, 1910. On the gravestone is inscribed: "Here Rests a Woodman of the World." James' stone is about eight feet tall and topped by a large cross. There is a Woodman of the World symbol (WOW marker) cut into the gravestone, which means that the gravestone was probably a benefit under a term life insurance policy issued to James McGough that provided members' death and monument benefits "to give honorable burial to our sacred dead." See: Woodmen of the WorldIn the Shape of a Tree Stump. See also: WOW: On the Search of Graves.
The WOW marker cut into the stone is six inches in diameter. Around the upper part of the inside edge of the circle is an olive branch; around the lower part of the inside edge are the words Dum Tacet Clamat, "Though silent, he speaks." In the upper part of the circle is a dove. In the lower part of the circle is a horizontal log, with both ends sawed cleanly, lying on the ground. Imbedded in the log, and partly splitting it, is a single bladed axe and a wedge. In the front of the log, with its head resting on the ground and its handle leaning against the log, is a beetlea heavy hammering instrument using for driving a wedge. These symbols are common to WOW markers, but are arranged differently that any of those shown in the websites cited in the previous paragraph.
Other stones adjoining the gravestone of James McGough, flush with the ground, are: Sarah McGough, January 19, 1863 March 15, 1943; Daniel McGough, February 1, 1909 February 1, 1909; James T. McGough, January 4, 1895 March 14, 1961; John M. McGough, October 17, 1876 April 24, 1971; Sarah E. Dyer, 1898 1967.
More information on the children of James and Sarah McGough are in the sections below.
The false story that the great Seattle fire started in his shop did not prevent James McGough from becoming a prosperous painting contractor. The front page article of the Seattle Times on Friday, January 21, 1910, that described the accident that caused his death, said he was a "wealthy contractor." Here is the article:
James McGough, Wealthy Con-
tractor, Dies and David Bal-
lantine, Alaskan, Probably
Fatally Hurt in Accidents.
BOTH CRUSHED BY
[The article includes a photograph of James McGough.]
"Speeding street cars killed James McGough, one of the best known and wealthiest painting contractors of the city, and probably fatally injured David Ballantine, an Alaskan miner, last night. The former was thrown from his carriage by a Mt. Baker Park car, at Eighteenth Avenue south and Jackson Street, and dragged to death, while Ballantine was struck by a Capitol Hill car at Second Avenue, between Lenora and Virginia Streets, and sustained several broken ribs and a fractured skull. At the City Hospital the surgeons have little hope for the miner's life.
"A coroner's jury will investigate the death of McGough and place the responsibility which, the family and friends of the contractor assert, belongs to the crew of the street car. Motorman R. L. Fitts was at the controller.
Crew Says Horse Shied.
"According to the statement made to the police by Fitts and his conductor, Harry Winter, when they voluntarily surrendered themselves at headquarters after the accident, McGough was driving across Jackson Street at Eighteenth Avenue South, when his horse shied and stopped suddenly on the tracks in front of the street car.
"The car, which had started down the sharp grade from Twentieth Avenue, had gained great momentum by the time the street intersection was reached and the force of the collision carried the wrecked vehicle for more than 200 feet. According to the motorman, McGough was not thrown to the tracks until the car was almost at a stop. He landed on the rails in front of the car, states the
(Continued on Page Two.)
[On page 2, the headlines quote above are repeated, with one additional headline.]
"Coroner's Jury to Investigate
Mishap in Which Local Man
(Continued From Page One.)
"motorman, and was dragged about thirty feet.
[Details of the Ballantine accident are omitted. He died on January 23, 1910. His obituary spells his name Ballentine.]
In Seattle 30 Years
"McGough had been a resident of Seattle for almost thirty years, coming here from San Francisco, where he first settled on his arrival in this country from Ireland. He was born in County Monaghan sixty years ago. He leaves an estate, mostly city property, valued at about $75,000. He had property at Three Tree Point, at Vancouver, Wash., on Queen Anne Hill and Smith Cove, besides his residence at Twenty-Third Avenue South and Norman Street. He is survived by a widow and the following children: James, John, Thomas, and Sarah. [Rose and Ella are omitted.] A brother, Bernard, lives in Ireland. The funeral will be held Sunday from St. Mary's Church, interment taking place in Calvary Cemetery."
There was a follow-up article the next day on page 2 of the Seattle Times of Saturday, January 22, 1910:
VERDICT AT INQUEST
EXONERATES CAR MEN
Coroner's Jury Finds Appli-
ances Were Not Fit for
Service and Motorman Was
Unable to Avoid Accident.
BLAME WRONGLY PLACED
BY VICTIM'S RELATIVES
"Exonerating the crew of the car from all blame, but stating that the appliances on the car were not fit for service, a coroner's jury returned a verdict early this afternoon in the case of James McGough, a wealthy contractor, who was killed at the corner of Eighteenth Avenue and Jackson Street Thursday night. Coroner J. C. Syder conducted the inquest at the place of business of Collins Bros. undertakers.
"Relatives of McGough at first blamed the crew of the car, Motorman R. L. Fitts and Conductor Henry Winter, for the accident, but the evidence this morning and the verdict returned later exonerated them from all blame. A horse McGough was driving shied at the car. The vehicle was struck by the car and dragged 200 feet before the car could be stopped on the down-grade.
"McGough had lived in Seattle for more than thirty years. His estate is valued at about $75,000. He was 60 years old."
Another article describing the accident was published on page 2 of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Friday, January 10, 1910:
KILLED BY CAR
Motorman Says Victim's Horse
Shied While Crossing
"James McGough, a painter residing at Twenty-third avenue and Norman street, was instantly killed last night by a Mount Baker Park car in charge of Motorman R. L. Fitts. Mr. McGough was riding in a buggy, which was run down by the car.
"Motorman Fitts told the police that McGough, when the car was nearing Eighteenth Avenue and Jackson Street, attempted to cross the car tracks directly in front of it, and would have escaped injury and collision had his horse not shied or balked while on the tracks. Before he could bring his car to a stop, Fitts said, it struck the buggy. The force of the collision veered the buggy off the track and threw the body of McGough under the car. After dragging him a distance of several feet, the car was brought to a stop and the body of McGough was taken out.
"After the accident Motorman Fitts and Conductor Henry Winter voluntarily went to the police station, but were not detained.
"Mr. McGough came to Seattle from San Francisco twenty-seven years ago. He was a boss painter and had amassed considerable property, having real estate at Three Tree Point, Vancouver, Wash., Queen Anne hill, Smith Cove and his home at Twenty-third and Norman streets. He was a member of the old Seattle volunteer fire department and was married in this city twenty years ago.
"Mat Branagan, a family friend of Mr. McGough, stated last night that the distance from the point where Mr. McGough's buggy was struck to the point where his body was picked up was fully 200 feet.
"There will be an inquest today and the burial will take place Sunday at Calvary cemetery, with the services from St. Mary's church."
James McGough had signed a will on November 5, 1908. In the will, he left $5.00 to each of his six living children, and everything else to his wife, Sarah. The will was witnessed by R. J. Fisher and H. S. Ralston, and admitted to probate in King County Superior Court on February 21. 1910, under file number 11216. Sarah was appointed executrix. All six children are shown as living at the family home at 2305 Norman Street. From the will came the full names of his children that are set out below.
James McGough of Seattle married Sarah Gleeson+ of Satsop, Washington, in Grays Harbor county (then known as Chehalis county*), Washington, on September 30, 1891. (See Grays Harbor County, Washington, Marriages 1855 to 1892). Sarah was born in Ireland on January 19, 1863. (The 1900 census says she was born in February, 1863.) She had also emigrated in 1875, according to the 1900 census.
+Birth records of her children usually spell her surname Gleason. See Washington Births, 1889–1929, on Ancestry.com.
*Chehalis county was renamed Grays Harbor county on March 15, 1915.
There were several Gleeson families from Ireland in Elma and Satsop, which are within four miles of each other, in the last part of the nineteenth century and first part of the twentieth century. (See: Elma Catholic Cemetery Index—Grays Harbor County, Washington, where Gleesons are buried in one area, and Gleasons in another, although they seem to be of the same family.) Sarah was born in Ireland on January 19, 1863, and came to the United States in 1869, according to her obituary. The 1900 census of Seattle says she emigrated to the United States in 1875; the 1910 census, 1874; and the 1920 census, 1881) at the age of 6 (or 12 or 18).
For some insight on the early history of Chehalis county, see: Pioneer Life in Washington, A Story of the Early Days by a "Pioneer Grandmother" from The Weekly Vidette (Montesano) of Friday, February 25, 1898, where there is a mention of James Gleeson, Jr., and his cousin, William O'Leary.
Sarah's father may have been James Gleason, Sr., who was listed in the 1870 census of Chehalis county (Elma P.O.—spelled Ellma on the census return) as age 40, a farmer, born in Ireland, with real estate worth $2000 and personal property worth $525, a citizen of the US. No family members are listed with his name, and it is possible his wife and children were still in Ireland. See: 1870 Federal Census Chehalis County, Washington. The same James Gleason is listed in the 1880 census of Chehalis county as age 52, married to Mary Gleason, age 32, with four young children, all born in Washington Territory: Michael, age 9; Mary, age 7; Patrick, age 3; and Margaret, age 3 months (roll 1396, book 1, page 4b). (Could this be Sarah's father with a second wife?) This James Gleason died on March 21, 1899, and his birth year is given as 1822 and age at death as 76. (See: Elma Catholic Cemetery Index—Grays Harbor County, Washington.)
Living next door to James Gleason, Sr., in 1880 was James Gleason, Jr. (1851–1921), age 26, a farmer, born in Ireland, probably Sarah's brother (and a son of James Gleason, Sr., by a wife who preceded Mary?). This is the James Gleason, Jr., who is listed in the 1900 census of Satsop (page 193, dwelling 57—erroneously indexed as Gleson by HeritageQuest) with his wife of 19 years, Mary (1859–1946) (a different Mary than the wife of James Gleeson, Sr.), age 40, born in Ireland in December 1859, and their nine children, as age 48, born in Ireland in July, 1851, emigrated in 1870 (with his sister Sarah?); and who is listed in the 1910 census of Satsop precinct, Chehalis county, Washington (roll 1653, book 2, page 314a), as age 57, who emigrated from Ireland in 1870, with his wife of 29 years, Mary; and who is listed in the 1920 census of Satsop, Grays Harbor county, as James Gleeson, age 68, with a family, born in Ireland, who came to the US in 1870 and was naturalized in 1890. This is the James Gleeson whose years of life are listed as 1851 to 1929 in the Elma Catholic Cemetery Index—Grays Harbor County, Washington. Buried with him in the same space is his wife, Mary Gleason, 1859–1946.
Anna Gleeson (aka Anna Gleason, 1849–1907), age 58, born in Ireland, a widow, died of heart failure in Satsop on March 25, 1907. (See Deaths for Grays Harbor County, Washington State, 1891–1908.) In 1900, she was living next to James Gleeson, Jr. She is buried in the same plot as James Gleason, Sr. In 1900, she was living next door to James Gleason, Jr.
Another possible relative of Sarah is listed in the 1900 census of Blockhouse precinct, Chehalis county, Washington: James Gleeson, age 30, single, born in December, 1869, in Ireland, farm laborer, emigrated in 1891, 9 years in the US, naturalized (roll 1741, page 113). He came to the US about 21 or 22 years after Sarah,. however, and is not buried with the Gleeson/Gleason families in Elma Catholic Cemetery.
The Gleesons were preceded in Chehalis county by a cousin from county Tipperary, Ireland, where most of the Gleesons in Ireland reside. (See: The Gleesons.) William O'Leary is listed in the 1860 census of Chehalis county as William O'Lary, age 35, a farmer, with real estate worth $2000 and personal property worth $1000, born in Ireland, See: 1860 Federal Census, Chehalis County, Washington Territory (page 19). He is in the 1880 census (roll 1396, page 1), no township listed, as William Oleary, age 58, single, farmer, born in Ireland. According to the 1900 census of Satsop precinct, Chehalis county (page 193), William O'Leary, age 79, farm laborer, was born in Ireland in May, 1821, and emigrated to the US in 1837. In 1900, he was living with James Gleason, Jr, age 48, born in Ireland in July, 1851, emigrated in 1870 (probably Sarah Gleeson McGough's brother) and his wife of 19 years, Mary, age 40, who was born in Ireland in December, 1859, and emigrated in 1880, mother of 9 children (including Sarah E. Gleason, age 16, born in February, 1884, who died in 1905), all of whom were living with the family. There were also Gleasons living on both sides of James and Mary: Annie, age 49, a widow, born in Ireland, who emigrated in 1870, and who died of heart failure at age 58 in Satsop on March 25, 1907; and Michael, age 28, born in Washington, in August, 1871 (the oldest child of James Gleason, Sr., and Mary Gleason). William O'Leary died in Chehalis county on September 25, 1901, at the age of 85.
The 1910 census of Seattle (roll: 1658, page 98) lists, on Norman Street:
(1910) Sarah McGough, age 45, a widow, mother of 7 children, 6 of whom were living, born in Ireland, emigrated in 1874, with her own income, owner of her home. [Daniel McGough had died at birth in 1909.]
Rose N. McGough, age 17, born in Washington. [Should be Rose M. McGough]
Ella J. McGough, age 16, born in Washington.
James T. McGough, age 15, born in Washington.
John W. McGough, age 13, born in Washington. [Should be John M. McGough]
Sarah E. McGough, age 12, born in Washington.
Thomas F. McGough, age 8, born in Washington.
Sarah McGough, age 55, a widow, who emigrated in 1880 and was naturalized in 1891, is listed in the 1920 census of Seattle, on Norman Street, with her sons: James McGough, age 24, a clerical worker for an electric company; John N. McGough, a caulker in a ship yard; and Thomas McGough, age 18, a ship fitter who was out of work; and her daughter, Sarah McGough, age 22, working as a stenographer and government clerk.
The 1930 census of Seattle list Sarah McGough, age 65, who emigrated in 1885, with two of her sons, both single, living with her: James T. McGough, age 34, chief clerk in a telephone office, and John M. McGough, age 32, a teamster working for a transfer company.
The 1940 census of Seattle lists James McGough, age 45, single, as the head of the household at 2305 Norman Street. He was born in Washington and employed in constuction by the telehone company with $3600 in come in 1939. In the same houshold were his mother, Sarah McGough, age 75, a widow, born in Ireland; and his brother, John McGough, age 43, born in Washington, who was employed as a truckdriver by a wholesale grocer and who income in 1939 was $400. All lived in the same house on April 1, 1935 (enumeration district 40-289, block number 115).
The 1940 census of Seatle also lists Thomas McGough, age 38, born in Washington, the son of James and Sarah Gleason McGough, and his family at 7332 Earl Avenue Northwest. Thomas was employed as a fire-man by the city fire department. In the same household were his wife, Helen McGough, age 28, born in Oregon; their son James, age 9, born in Washington; and their daughter, Carole, age 5, born in Washington (enumeration district 40-3, block number 77).
Sarah (Mrs. James) McGough died in Seattle on March 15, 1943. Here is her obituary from the Seattle Times of March 16, 1943:
"Mrs. Sarah McGough, who came from Ireland in 1869, died yesterday after a long illness. Rosary services were to be held this evening at 7:45 o'clock in St. Mary's Church and Requiem Mass will be said tomorrow at 9 o'clock in the Church.
"Born in 1863 in Ireland, Mrs. McGough came to this state at the age of 6. She was educated in the St. Francis Mission Convent at Cowlitz Prairie and upon her graduation taught in Grays Harbor County schools for several years.
"She came to Seattle in 1888 and resided here since that time. She was the widow of James McGough. Surviving are three sons, James T., John M., and Thomas F. McGough, and three daughters, Mrs. Ella Peter, Mrs. Sarah Dyer, and Mrs. Rose Fleming, all of Seattle; a sister, Mrs. Johanna Damitio*, Elma, and five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
"Burial will be in Calvary, under the direction of Joseph R. Manning and sons."
*Christopher A. Damitio, Jr., married Johanna Gleason (1867–1948) on May 21, 1890. See: Grays Harbor County, Washington, Marriages 1855 to 1892. The 1900 census of Elias precinct, Chehalis county, shows Johnna (sic) Damitio, age 32, born in Ireland, who emigrated in 1888 (?), as the wife of Chris Damitio, age 32, a farmer, who had been born in Michigan. Johanna was the mother of 7 children, all of whom were living. Three young Damitio brothers of Elma, John (13), William (11), and Daniel (9) (actually 11), drowned on July 8, 1904, in the Chehalis River. (Both Elma and Satsop lie a short distance north of the Chehalis River.) See Deaths for Grays Harbor County, Washington State, 1891–1908. They were three sons of Chris and Johanna Damitio, and nephews of Sarah McGough. The 1900 census says that William and Daniel were twins, as does the graveyard record. See: Elma Catholic Cemetery Index—Grays Harbor County, Washington.]
The children of James and Sarah McGough all lived their entire lives in Seattle:
Rose M. Fleming was born in July of 1892 (according to the 1900 census) and was buried on November 14, 1957, in grave 2, lot 205, section first, Calvary Cemetery. Her husband, John D. Fleming, was buried next to her, in grave 1, on February 8, 1964. They share a common gravestone, which is about 100 yards southeast of the McGough family plot. Under the family name Fleming, on the left side is John D. (18801964) and on the right side Rose M. (18921957). Here is an obituary from the Seattle Times of Wednesday, November 13, 1967:
"FlemingRose M., of 4619 6th Ave. N.E. Beloved wife of John D. Fleming. Mother of Mrs. Donald M. Moore. Sister of Mrs. Ella Peter, Mrs. Sarah Dyer, James T., John M., and Thomas F. McGough. Nine grandchildren. Member of Legion of Mary. Rosary this evening 8 p.m. at Manning & Sons. Requiem Mass at Mount Virgin Catholic Church. 2850 Massachusetts St. Thursday 9 a.m. Interment Calvary."
Ella J. Peter was born in July of 1894 (according to the 1900 census) and was buried on November 13, 1965, in Calvary Cemetery, grave 2, lot 24, section 5, next to her husband John J. Peter, who was buried on July 1, 1925, in grave 7, lot 24, section 5. Here is an article that appeared on page 18 of the Seattle Times of Thursday, November 11, 1965:
"Mrs. John J. Peter, 72
"Rosary for Mrs. Ella Peter, 72, of 1920 First Ave. W., a native of Seattle, will be said at 7:30 o'clock tomorrow evening in Manning & Sons Chapel.
"Requiem Mass will be said at 8:15 o'clock Saturday at St. Anne's Church, with burial in Calvary. She died after suffering a heart attack while riding a bus.
"Mrs. Peter, who resided here all her life, was the daughter of James McGough, Seattle Pioneer, in whose paint shop the Seattle Fire of 1889 began.
"Mrs. Peter had worked in the Leschi Elementary School and Washington Junior High School lunchrooms. She was a member of St. Cecelia's Circle of St. Anne's Church. Her husband, John J., died in 1929.
"Surviving are two sons, Dr. Philip A., Mercer Island, and John T. Peter, New York City; a sister, Mrs. Sarah Dyer, and a brother, John M. McGough, both of Seattle, and six grandchildren.
"The family suggests remembrances to the Catholic Charities of the Heart Fund."
An obituary was published in the Seattle Times of November 12, 1965, with excerpts of the same information.
James T. McGough, son of James and Sarah McGough, born on January 4, 1895, died on March 1, 1961, and was buried in grave 1 of the family plot in Calvary Cemetery. An obituary of son James appeared in the Seattle Times of Sunday, March 12, 1961:
"McGough, James T., 4735 35th N.E., Beloved brother of Mrs. Ella Peter, Mrs. Sarah Dyer, Thomas F. and John M. McGough. Member of Telephone Pioneers of America, Charles B. Hopkins Chapter. Rosary Monday, 8 p.m. at Manning & Sons.
"Requiem Mass Tuesday, 9:30 a.m., Church of the Assumption. Interment Calvary."
The 1923 City Directory of Seattle, Washington lists, at page 977, lists James McGough, a student, living at 214 1/2 East Boston. The Polk's Seattle City Directory of 1961 indicates James had been living alone at 4735 35th N.E.
John Matthew McGough was born on October 17, 1896, died in Seattle on April 24, 1971, and was buried in lot 5 of the McGough family plot at Calvary on April 27, 1971. Here is an obituary from page B15 of the Seattle Times of Monday, April 24, 1971:
"McGough, John Matthew of 6709 32nd Ave. N. W. April 24. Beloved husband of Anne. Father of Mrs. Herbert (Elizabeth) Foster, North Bend. One grandson. Rosary today, 8 p.m. Mittlestadt Chapel.
"Requiem Mass Tuesday 9 a.m. St. Alphonsus Church. Burial Calvary."
The 1923 City Directory of Seattle, Washington lists, at page 977, as residing at 2305 Norman, John McGough, a driver, and Sarah E. McGough, a stenographer at the City Light Department. Possibly, they were brother and sister.]
Sara E. Dyer was born in January of 1898 (according to the 1900 census) and died on or near Christmas Day, December 25, 1967. Her birth date was January 14, 1898, and her mother's name was Sarah Gleason, according to Washington Births, 1889–1929 on Ancestry.com. She was buried in grave 6 of the McGough family plot at Calvary Cemetery on December 27, 1967. Here is an obituary from page 50 of the Seattle Times of Tuesday, December 26, 1967:
"DyerSarah E. of 1920 1st Ave. West. Member of Third Order of St. Francis. Rosary this evening 7:30 p.m. at Manning & Sons. Requiem Mass. Wednesday. 9:30 a. m. St. Anne's Church."
Thomas F. McGough, a Captain in the Seattle Fire Department, was born on June 19, 1901 (according to Washington Births, 1889–1929 on Ancestry.com), died in Seattle on June 8, 1963, and is buried at Holyrood Cemetery in Seattle. Thomas F. McGough, age 28, born in Washington, who married at age 28, a fireman with the Seattle City Fire Department, is listed in the 1930 census of Seattle with his new wife, Helen McGough, age 18, born in Oregon to parents born in Russia, More details about Thomas will be found in the next section.
Daniel McGough was born and died on February 1, 1909. He was the first of the McGoughs to be buried in the family plot at Calvary cemetery. Washington Births, 1907–1919 on Ancesry.com lists: Daniel Mc Gough, born February 1, 1909 in Seattle; father's name: James Mc Gough; mother's name: Gleason.
James McGough himself was a fireman in Company No. 1 of Seattle's city-sponsored volunteer fire department at the time of the great Seattle fire, and answered the call to fight the fire. After the fire, the city acted to create a paid professional department. The City Council passed Ordinance No. 1212 on October 17, 1889, creating such a department.
James McGough's fourth child and second son, Thomas F. McGough, was born on October 17, 1896, served 38 years on the Seattle Fire Department, and became a captain. Thomas' son, James H. McGough, also became a captain in the Seattle Fire Department. James H. McGough was a founding charter member of the Seattle Fire Chiefs Association in March of 1983.
Thomas F. McGough died in Seattle on June 8, 1963. Here is an article from page 21 of the Seattle Times of Sunday, June 9, 1963:
"2 Neighbors Collapse, Die at Same Time
"Fire Capt. T. F. McGough, 61, and a neighbor, Richard B. Taft, collapsed and died in front of Taft's home at 2608 W., Crocket St., about 8 o'clock last night.
"McGough collapsed first and Taft was stricken when he went to aid McGough.
"Families of both men said they had heart ailments.
"Hal Noif, a fireman in charge of a life rescue unit, said he found both men lying side by side. Firemen and police were unable to revive the men and they were dead on arrival at Providence Hospital.
"McGough's son, James, also a fire captain, said his father had been walking the family dog. McGough resided at 2617 West Boston St.
"The men, although neighbors, did not know each other.
"McGough had been a fireman 38 years. Taft was president of Seattle Knitting Mills, Inc."
Here is an article from page 36 of the Seattle Times of Monday, June 10, 1963:
"McGough Funeral Tomorrow
"Rosary for Thomas F. McGough, 61, 2617 W. Boston St., long-time Seattle fire captain, will be said at 7:30 o'clock this evening at Manning & Sons Chapel.
"Requiem Mass will be said at 9 o'clock tomorrow at Our Lady of Fatima Church. Burial will be at Holyrood. He died Saturday evening of a heart attack while walking his dog. A neighbor, Richard B. Taft, 62, who went to his aid, also collapsed and died.
"Mr. McGough was born in Seattle. He attended Franklin High School. He joined the Fire Department in 1925.
"Mr. McGough was a member of the Holy Name Society and the Seattle Fire Department Relief Association.
"Surviving are his wife [Helen], two daughters, Mrs. Elio Ridolfi and Mrs. Gary Wingert, a son James H. McGough; two sisters, Mrs. John Peter and Mrs. Jack Dyer, and a brother, John M. McGough, all of Seattle, and five grandchildren."
Thomas F. McGough was buried on June 11, 1963, in Holyrood Cemetery, grave 1, lot 1513, section N. Here is an obituary of his wife, Helen Lorenz McGough, from the Gresham Outlook (Oregon) of January 12, 2007:
Helen Lorenz McGough
Feb. 20, 1911-Jan. 8, 2007
Former Gresham resident Helen Lorenz McGough, 95, died Monday, Jan. 8, in Poulsbo, Wash.
A funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at Beck’s Funeral Home, 405 Fifth Ave. S., Edmonds, Wash. Interment will follow at Holyrood Cemetery, 205 N.E. 205th St., Shoreline, Wash.
Helen was born Feb. 20, 1911, in Portland to Henry and Elizabeth (Lorenz) Lorenz. She earned an associate of arts degree.
She lived in Gresham from 1968 to 1996 and worked in retail sales and nursing.
Helen created Faberge-inspired eggs and was a founding member of Egg Artists of Oregon and Questers Antique Club. She was also an avid gardener and enjoyed bowling and traveling.
In 1963, Helen was preceded in death by her husband, Thomas F. McGough.
Survivors include her son, James McGough of Seattle; daughters, Carol Ridolfi of New Jersey and Katherine Dickerson of Indianola, Wash; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Beck’s Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
James McGough's wife, Sarah Gleeson McGough's, had a cousin named William O'Leary who lived near her in Chehalis county, Washington, and who was born in Ireland in about 1821 or 1822 (see above). Patrick O'Leary, in whose barn started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, was born in Ireland in about 1825 to 1827, and, if he was related to William, it would be an interesting factoid of history. Because of that possibility, and because of similar treatment by the press of the stories that the Chicago fire started when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a kerosene lantern and that the Seattle fire started when James McGough's glue pot spilled over, I include these notes on the origins of the Chicago fire.
On the windy evening of Sunday, October 8, 1871, a fire started in the barn of Mrs. Patrick (Catherine) O'Leary on their property at 137 DeKoven Street, Chicago. See: Site of the Origin of the Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire spread rapidly to the northeast, burned for twenty-seven hours, destroyed over three square miles of Chicago, killed at least 250 people, and left 100,000 homeless. (On the same evening, forest fires destroyed more than a million acres of timberland in Michigan and Wisconsin, giving rise to a theory that the common cause of all the fires was Biela's comet. See: Biela's Comet, Humboldt, an 1887 Chicago document. There is no truth in statements that "Sparks from the fire started forest fires that destroyed more than a million acres of Michigan and Wisconsin timberland"—from All about the Windy City ... Chicago, Illinois!—or "Sparks from that fire destroyed more than a million acres of Michigan and Wisconsin, killing 1000 in the town of Peshtigo, WI." from In Perspective - Rockford College in history. Peshtigo is about 250 miles north of Chicago. Despite being incredible on its face, the story of the flying sparks has taken on a life of its own, has been repeated innumerable times, and has bcome an urban myth in its own right. Another example: "Sparks from the Chicago Fire started forest fires that would continue from October 8 to October 14. The fire would destroy more than a million acres of Michigan and Wisconsin timberland. More than 1,000 die in the logging town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and in 16 surrounding communities in the worst fire tragedy in the recorded history of North America." Literary Links, January/February 2003—published with an article entitled Avoiding the Pitfalls in Research. See: Disasters—Great Peshtigo Fire, October 8, 1871.)
In Engines of our Ingenuity No. 1266: Chicago Fire by John H. Lienhard, the author says:
"My 1970 Encyclopaedia Britannica says the cause (of the Chicago fire) was unknown. My 1897 Britannica says the cause was an overturned lamp. When I was young, the great urban legend told how the fire began when Mrs. O'Leary milked her cow, and the cow kicked over her lantern. ..."
The October 9, 1871, issue of the Chicago Evening Journal reported that "the fire broke out on the corner of DeKoven and Twelfth streets, at about 9 o'clock on Sunday evening, being caused by a cow kicking over a lamp in a stable in which a woman was milking."
In fact, Patrick and Catherine O'Leary were in bed when the fire began. The reporter who originated the "cow-kicking-over-a-lamp" story later admitted that he had made it up. Here is an excerpt from the Great Chicago Fire from Wikipedia:
"The fire's origin
"The fire started at about 9 P.M on Sunday, October 8, in or around a small shed that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street. The traditional account of the origin of the fire is that it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O'Leary, but Michael Ahern, the Chicago Republican reporter who created the cow story, admitted in 1893 that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy. ...
"Questioning the fire
Catherine O'Leary seemed the perfect scapegoat: she was a woman, immigrant, and Catholic—a combination which did not fare well in the political climate of the time in Chicago. This story was circulating in Chicago even before the flames had died out and was noted in the Chicago Tribune's first post-fire issue. However, Michael Ahern, the reporter that came with the story would retract it in 1893, admitting that it was fabricated" (citing The Great Chicago Fire by Robert Cromie, published by Rutledge Hill Press ISBN 1-55853-264-1 and ISBN 1-55853-265-X).
Here is an excerpt from The O'Leary Legend 2:
"On the fortieth anniversary of the great conflagration a police reporter named Michael Ahern, who was working for the Chicago Republican at the time of the fire, boasted in the Tribune that he and two now-deceased cronies made the whole thing up. The O'Leary's, he reminded readers, lived in the rear of 137 DeKoven, renting the front to a family named McLaughlin, who were hosting a party that evening. Ahern opined that one of the revelers went out to get milk for some punch and ended up burning Chicago down. To make the mystery murkier, the invention of the cow story has also been attributed to others, and after Ahern's revelation appeared a long-time colleague wrote to members of the O'Leary family telling them that he had ghost-written the Tribune story under Ahern's byline. As for Ahern himself, this other reporter confided, 'The booze got him many years ago, and he has not been able to do any newspaper work.'"
"All sit here and write whatever comes into your heads!" the Tribune's City editor supposedly said to his reporters, according to John McGovern and Daniel Trentworthy in their book: A Tale of the Great Fire of Chicago (1889) quoted in Media Event.
Here is an excerpt from: CountHerHistory, October 2006, AAUW-Illinois, by Barbara Joan Zeitz—Mrs. O’Leary Cowed (PDF):
"As years passed, Mrs. O’Leary continued to be tormented relentlessly by the press and meddlesome spectators. She and her family moved away from their home. Still, each year until her death, on the anniversary of the fire, reporters would besiege her house and attempt to get a statement from her. Though she never agreed to speak with them nor permit herself to be photographed, bogus interviews and pictures of her milking the supposed cow, appeared in numerous publications. Some wrote she was an Irish drunk who started the fire because she was taken off welfare, a program she never was on. As written abuse of her and of journalistic truth prevailed, Mrs. O’Leary became a virtual recluse who died in shame in 1895.
"In 1900, Michael Ahern confessed that he and two male co-reporters, James Haynie and John English, had concocted the 'cow-kicking-over-the-lantern' hypothesis during their investigative reporting after they had seen a broken kerosene lamp in the O’Leary barn.
"In 1997, a resolution of the Chicago City Council, acquitted Mrs. O'Leary and her cow from the cause of The Great Fire. Albeit neither the men responsible nor the reporters who altered the news, have been duly accused ... yet. But accusations can loom until the cows come home."
For a careful analysis of the facts surrounding the fire, see: Did the Cow Do It? A New Look at the Cause of the Great Chicago Fire by Richard F. Bales. For more on the Chicago Fire, see: The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory, especially The O'Leary Legend; and an excerpt from The Great Fire by Jim Murphy (with a photograph of the O'Leary house and barn) Scholastic Canada Ltd. 1995.
In the 1880 census of Chicago, two prisoners in the House of Corrections on California Avenue were listed side-by-side: Cornelius O'Leary, age 20, single, laborer, who had been unemployed for 10 months during the current year, who was born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland (T-9, roll 189, page 639, line 9; Family History Film 1254189); and Daniel Scully, age 20, married, laborer, who had been unemployed for 10 months during the current year, who was born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland (line 10).
Cornelius O'Leary was the son of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary in whose barn started the Great Chicago fire of October 8, 1871. Daniel Scully had married Cornelius' sister, Mary O'Leary. Cornelius and Daniel were also originally listed in the 1880 census of Lake, Cook county, Illinois, in the home of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary, but both of their names are crossed out because of the duplicate listing in the Chicago House of Corrections.
Cornelius was later indicted for murder. "Her (Catherine O'Leary's) son James later became a gambling kingpin of the South Side Stockyards district in the not-so-Gay 90s. Another O'Leary boy named 'Con,' was indicted for murder." Interview with Richard Lindberg by John William Tuohy (April 2000). In Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster by T. J. English (2005), this statement is on page 97:
"Growing up, the O'Leary boys were endlessly taunted. The oldest of the brood, Con 'Puggy' O'Leary, was so haunted by the family's stigma that he became a brawling, hard drinking, n'er-do-well who, in 1885, killed a woman and injured his own sister for refusing to give him a dollar to buy a pail of beer."
Here is a quotation from Chicago's Pride: The Stockyards, Packingtown, and Environs in the Nineteenth Century by Louise Carroll Wade (page 296) (University of Illinois Press 2003):
"Even more deserving of restraint was the township's most notorious criminal, Cornelius O'Leary. His father, 'old man' O'Leary was a quiet drinker who spent his days in the Halsted Street saloons, willing to talk about anything except the Chicago fire, a topic which turned him into a sphinx. But Cornelius, nicknamed 'Puggy,' was an 'uncouth ruffian' in chronic trouble with the police. One hot August night in 1885, he staggered out of a saloon, encountered his mistress and his sister, recently widowed in a barroom brawl, and continued drinking with them. When the trio ran out of beer, Puggy asked his mistress for money to buy more. She refused and he shot and killed both women. Cornelius O'Leary was already behind bars in Joliet when Cronin's murderers ... entered the penetentiary."
The 1880 census return shows that Cornelius O'Leary was in the Chicago jail in 1880, 5 years before the incident described here. See: In re Scully and O'Leary, 11 Chicago Legal News 27, November 12, 1878.
Patrick O'Leary is listed in the 1880 census of Chicago in Lake township (the website History & Genealogy of Lake includes a map). "Lake township includes the southwest side of the city" "South of the loop (south of the Bridgeport neighborhood) and west of Hyde Park." "This is also referred to as the 'town of Lake' in the 1880 census." (One source says that the O'Learys sold their house at 137 DeKoven to Bohemians and moved to the town of Lake in 1879 to "escape prying reporters and give their youngest child, ten-year-old James Patrick O'Leary, a normal childhood. The father, an unskilled laborer, soon became a fixture in the Irish-owned saloons in the Stockyards, but he refused to talk about the Chicago fire." Chicago's Pride: The Stockyards, Packingtown, and Environs in the Nineteenth Century by Louise Carroll Wade, page 156. University of Illinois Press 2003). Richard Bales says the O'Leary's sold their property to Anton Kolar and his wife in 1879, and that the Kolar's tore down the buildings and built a two-story house on the land. [In the 1880 census of Chicago (district 49), Anton Kolar was living at or near 93 Steward Steet. He was 30 years old, born in Bohemia, and worked in a lumber yard. With him was his wife, Kate, age 30, also born in Bohemia, and 4 small children, the oldest of whom was 7, all o whom were born in Illinois (T-9, roll 188, page 245, line 34; Family History Film: 1254188).
(1880) Patrick O'Leary (indexed by Ancestry.com as Leary), family 227, age 55, husband, married, works in a Pck. H. (packing house), could neither read nor write, born in Ireland (T-9, roll 200, page 302, line 11; Family History Film 1254200).
Catherine O'Leary, age 45, wife, married, could neither read nor write, born in Ireland.
Katie O'Leary, age 24 (possibly 14), daughter, married (?), at school, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland (line 13).
Cornelius O'Leary, age 20, son, single, in prison, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland. [This entry is lined through and marked a duplication, and the name of Patrick O'Leary, age 9, is filled in on the same line 14.]
Patrick O'Leary, age 9, son, single, at school, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland (line 14). [Also called James Patrick O'Leary (see Wade supra). In the 1900 census of Chicago, Patrick O'Leary, age 29, single, born in February, 1871, in Illinois, to parents born in Ireland, a steam fitter, was a boarder in the home of Norah Sullivan, a widow, age 48, born in March, 1852, in Ireland. The home was at 148 Ashland Avenue. Also in the household was Norah's son, Denis Sullivan, age 23, single, born in Illinois in February, 1877, to parents born in Ireland, a clerk. One theory was that a Daniel "Peg-Leg"Sullivan, who lived across he street from the O'Leary's (and whose mother kept feed for her cow in the O'Leary barn that Peg leg occasionally picked up) started the fire. He was called "Peg Leg" because he had lost a leg in the Civil War.* He was a 27 year old drayman at the time in the fire, and first sounded the alarm to Mrs. O'Leary, who was in bed. See: Peg Leg Sullivan—The Guy Who Started the Great Chicago Fire. "Peg Leg" was found innocent of perjury in his testimony to the investigating commission in a mock trial at the John Marshall Law School at Northwestern University in 1999.]
*American Civil War Soldiers on Ancestry.com lists several Daniel Sullivans from Chicago who served in the Civil War. Among them were:
(1) A Daniel Sullivan of Chicago enlisted as a private in the Union Army on January 5, 1862; enlisted in Company A, 23rd Infantry Regiment Illinois on May 14, 1862; and deserted from Company A, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Illinois on October 19, 1862. (Most of the members of this company were from Detroit, but a few were from Chicago. The members of most of the other companies within the regiment were predominantly from Chicago. "The organization of the Twenty-third Infantry Illinois Volunteers commenced under the popular name of the 'Irish Brigade,' at Chicago, immediately upon the opening of hostilities at Sumter." 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiment History.)
(2) A Daniel P. Sullivan of Chicago enlisted as a private on December 12, 1862; enlisted in Company K, 14th Cavalry Regiment Illinois on January 7, 1863; and was mustered out of Company K, 14th Cavalry Regiment Illinois on July 31, 1865, at Nashville, Tennessee.
(3) A Daniel Sullivan of Chicago enlisted as a private on March 17, 1864; enlisted as a recruit in Company K, 12th Infantry Regiment Illinois on April 18, 1864; and was mustered out of Company K, 12th Infantry Regiment Illinois on July 10, 1865. (See History of Twelfth Infantry from Illinois in the Civil War.)
(4) A Daniel Sullivan, of Chicago, enlisted as a private in Company K, 134th Illinois Infantry Regiment, on May 31, 1864, and was mustered out as a private on October 25, 1864, in Chicago. "The One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Infantry Illinois Volunteers was organized at Camp Fry, Chicago, Ill., by Colonel Waters W. McChesney, and was mustered in May 31st, 1864, for one hundred days. Left Camp June 3d, for Columbus, Ky., where it was assigned garrison duty. Mustered out of service October 25th, 1864, at Chicago, Ill., by Lieutenant Joseph Horr, Thirteenth United States Infantry." ]
James O'Leary, age 17, son, single, works in a packing house, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland (line 15). [Later known as "Big Jim" O'Leary.]
Dan. Scully, age 26, husband, married, prisoner, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland (line 16). [This entry is lined through and marked a duplication.]
Mary Scully, wife, age 23, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland (line 17). [This is the wife of Daniel Scully, and doubtless the Mary O'Leary who is listed as Mary Leary, the 14 year old daughter of Patrick and Kate Leary in the 1870 census of the 9th ward of Chicago (see below).]
Mary Scully, g daughter, age 3, born in Illinois, to parents born in Illinois (line 18). [The daughter of Daniel Scully and Mary O'Leary Scully.]
Daniel Scully, g son, age 1, born in Illinois, to parents born in Illinois (line 19). [The son of Daniel Scully and Mary O'Leary Scully.]
The O'Leary family is listed in the 1870 census of ward 9 of Chicago as Leary:
(1870) Patrick Leary, age 43, laborer, born in Ireland (M-593, roll 204, page 86 (or 171), line 16; house #1156; family #1438). [The cannot-read-or-write box is not checked.]
Kate Leary, age 40, keeping house, born in Ireland. [The cannot-read-or-write box is not checked.]
Mary Leary, age 14, at school, born in Illinois.
Katie Leary, age 4, born in Illinois.
Cornelius Leary, age 12, at school, born in Illinois.
James Leary, age 8, at school, born in Illinois.
Living in the front of the same house (#1156; family #1438), the 1870 census lists:
(1870) Pat Glaughlin, age 40, laborer, born in Ireland, who could neither read nor write (M-593, roll 204, page 86, line 13 ; house #1156; family #1437).
Catharine Glaughlin, age 35, keeping house, born in Ireland, who could neither read nor write.
Mary Ann Glaughlin, age 2, born in Illinois.
In her testimony about the fire, Mrs. O'Leary said she was living in the rear of her property at 137 De Koven with her husband and five children, the oldest of whom was her fourteen year old daughter (Mary). This means that her son Patrick, who was is listed as 9 in the 1880 census, was probably an infant at the time of the fire. She identified the family who occupied two rooms at the front of her house as Laughlin. (The press consistently reported the name as McLaughlin.) The family next door (house number #1157; family #1439), whose property is mentioned in Mrs. O'Leary's testimony about the fire, was that of of James Dalton, age 40, carpenter, born in Ireland, with his wife Kate, age 33, also born in Ireland, and their 6 children, randing in age from 12 to 2. The Dalton house played an important part in the reconstruction of the fire by Richard F. Bales, for Bales concluded that the house would have obstructed the view of Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan from the front of the house of William White, and thereby attempted to show that Sullivan was lying. See: Did the Cow Do It? A New Look at the Cause of the Great Chicago Fire.
Living nearby in Ward 9 in the 1870 census of Chicago was the Sullivan family (house #1169, family #1467). The house was across the street from the O'Leary's, but is two pages removed from the O'Learys in the census returns because of the order in which the census was taken:
(1870) Catharine Sullivan, age 50, keeping house, real estate valued at $1500, born in Ireland, could not read or write (M-593, roll 204, page 87, line 25).
Daniel Sullivan, age 25, drayman, born in Ireland, could not read or write, citizen of US (line 26). [This is Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan who first sounded the alarm of the Great Chicago Fire.]
Michael Sullivan, age 24, drayman, born in Ireland, could not read or write, citizen of US.
John Sullivan, age 22, drayman, born in Ireland, could not read or write, citizen of US.
Bridget Donovan, age 30, no occupation listed, born in Ireland, could not read. or write. (There is also a Bridget Donovan, age 30, born in Ireland, who did washing, living in the house next door, with Dan Donovan, age 28, laborer, born in Ireland.)
[Earlier census information indicates Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan may have been five years older than the 26 or 27 that he was reported to be at the time of the fire. In the 1860 census of the 10th ward of Chicago, this family was living with Dennis and Bridget Ryan (both 30 and both born in Ireland): Catharine Sulivan, age 37, born in Ireland, could not read or write (M-653, roll 168, page 0, line 38; page numbered 202 by Ancestry.com); Daniel Sulivan, age 21, laborer, born in Ireland, could not read or write; Mike Sulivan, age 20, laborer, born in Ireland, could not read or write; John Sulivan, age 17, laborer, born in Ireland, could not read or write. They were living next to William White, age 30, laborer, born in Ireland, who could not read or write; Margaret White, age 35, born in Ireland, who could not read or write; and these children born in Chicago: Thomas White, age 6; Mary White, age 6; William White, age 3; and Margaret White, age 4 months. In an apparent duplicate listing, the following family is also listed in the 10th ward of Chicago in 1860:
(1860) Catharine Sulivan, age 39, born in Ireland, could not read or write (M-653, roll 168, page 0, line 30; page numbered 207 by Ancestry.com).
Daniel Sulivan, age 21, laborer, born in Ireland.
Mike Sullivan, age 19, laborer, born in Ireland, attended school within the year.
John Sullivan, age 16, laborer, born in Ireland, attended school within the year.]
There are several postings about the O'Leary family and the Chicago Fire in the O'Leary Family Genealogy Forum on GenForum. Maria Tierney, in a posting of March 20, 2000, says:
"Catherine and Patrick O'Leary are my great-great-great grandparents on my father's side. I agree they had 5 children. Their names are Mary, James, Thomas, William, & Catherine."
This same listing of the names of the O'Leary's five children is repeated in other postings on Gen Forum. The 1870 and 1880 census returns, however, show the names of the five children to be Mary, Cornelius, James, Catherine (Katie) and Patrick. In the Gen Forum lists, Thomas and William are substituted for Cornelius and Patrick, who are on the census returns.
There are a few clues in the postings on Gen Forum as to the origins of Catherine O'Leary. A posting of April 13, 2002, by Cora Ayers, seems to imply that Sarah Conway, wife of Daniel Conway and mother of Alice Conway (born in Chicago in 1870), was a sister of Catherine O'Leary. Daniel and Sarah Conway are listed in the 1880 census of Libertyville, Illinois. In a later posting of March 3, 2004, Cora Ayers says that "My grandmother, Alice Conway b. 1870, daughter of Daniel Conway and Sarah Kinsela (?) told me Catherine O'Leary was her great aunt or something like that." Here is part of a posting by Sharon O'Leary on April 5, 2001:
"I went to Chicago about 3 yrs ago and did a lot of searching in the Historical Center for the O'Leary's because I have been told by family members those O'Leary's were my husband's great aunt or something. I got Catherine's maiden name. They think it is Donagon or Donnigan or Dunnigan and they think she was from Cousane Townland, Kealkil, County Kerry."
Donegan was the most common form of the name in Ireland at the time of Griffith's Valuation (1848–64), according to Irish Ancestors. Twenty variations of the name are listed by Irish Ancestors, all of which end in an (18) or ain (2).
Kealkill and Cousane are towns (and townlands) in the western part of county Cork south of the Cork/Kerry border. "Located in Kilmocomoge civil parish (in the barony of Bantry and Poor Law Union of Bantry). The townland of Kealkill (now, probably also considered a town) lies at the junction of the R 584 and R 585 roads, nearly 6 miles NNE of Bantry town. Cousane lies along the R 585, 5 miles due east of Kealkill." Both Kealkill and Cousane show up as towns on map 4 of Frommer's Road Atlas of Ireland (First Edition April 2004). Cousane and Kealkill are listed as separate townlands in the civil parish of Kilmocomoge in county Cork, W. R., by The IreAtlas townland data base. (There is an area of real estate sales known as kealkil-cousane northeast of Bantry, county Cork.) There are three Donegan land holders listed in Griffith's Valuation of Ireland - Kilmocomoge, County Cork; 5 O'Learys, and about 76 Learys, including several in Cousane, and one in Kealkill. Guy's Postal Directory 1914 - Kealkil lists several Learys as landholders, including a Patrick J. Leary in Cousane North. The nearest money order office is listed as 7 miles away in Bantry.
The Conways listed in the 1880 census of Libertyville, Lake county, Illinois, are: Daniel Conway, age 65, born in Ireland, married, farmer, (T-9, roll 221, page 513, line 35); Family History Film 1254221); his wife, Sarah Conway, age 42, keeping house, born in Ireland; and 8 children, all born in Illinois: Katy 18; Briget (sic) 16; Miles 14; Jane (daughter) 11; Alice 9; Mary 8; Daniel 4; and Sarah 2. Daniel Conway is also listed in the 1870 census of the 6th ward of Chicago, age 48, a flour and feed dealer, with real estate worth $800 and personal property worth $400, born in Ireland, a US citizen (M-593, roll 201, page 439, line 32); with his wife Sarah, age 40, keeping house, born in Ireland; and these children, all born in Illinois: Catharine 9; Bridget 7; Miles 5; and James (male) 1. Daniel Conway is also listed in the 1860 census of the 10th ward of Chicago, age 35, a laborer, with real estate worth $1000, born in Ireland (M-653, roll 168, page 0, line 1); with his wife, Sarah Conway, age 25, born in Ireland, who could not read or write; and daughter, Catharine, age 2, born in Chicago.
Patrick O'Leary died suddenly at the age of 71 in September of 1894 at 5133 Halsted Street (see the Washington Post of September 17, 1894). The report says he as died suddenly while "sitting on the front steps of the celebrated cottage, No. 5132." Catherine O'Leary died on July 3, 1895 (of acute pneumonia at her home at 5133 Halsted Street). They are buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Chicago. Their children James and Anna (? probably James' wife) are buried there as well.
The story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow that kicked over a lamp and caused the Chicago fire followed Mrs. O'Leary to the grave. Here is the report of her death from the Buffalo Evening News of Friday, July 5, 1895:
"She Owned A Famous Cow"
"Chicago, Ill, July 5 - Mrs. Catherine O'Leary died Wednesday afternoon. She was the owner of the fractious cow, which in a barn in the rear of 137 Dekoven Street on a memorable night in October 1871, kicked over a lamp and started a blaze which cost Chicago $190,000,000."
The false story would continue to haunt her family.
A son of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary, James O'Leary, also known as "Big Jim", was one of Chicago's most notorious gambling house owners in the early part of the 20th century. James O'Leary is listed in the 1920 census of Chicago (30th ward, near 55th and Halsted, at 726 Garfield Boulevard) as 51 years old, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland, a saloon keeper and an employer, owner of his home (T-625, roll 347, page 11A, line 1). Living with him was his wife, Mrs. J. (Anna) O'Leary, age 49, born in Illinois to parents born in Ireland; two daughters, both single and both born in Illinois, Anna 17, employed as a switchboard operator, and Mayme 17, employed as a music teacher; and a son, Patrick 23, single, born in Illinois, a bookkeeper in a saloon.
The 1910 census of the 30th ward shows this James J. O'Leary, age 42, operator of an amusement park, in his first marriage, who had been married to his wife for 23 years, Anna A. O'Leary, age 42, born in Ireland, mother of 7 children, 5 of whom were living, and 4 of whom were living with their parents: Mamie 11, Patsy (son) 16, Gertrude 12, and Anna 9. Living with them was a widow, Johanna O'Leary, age 50 (?), described as the mother (?) of the head of the family (James), mother of 3 children, 2 living, born in Ireland, immigrated in 1893. (Johanna is listed as only 8 years older than James and in Ireland when James was born in Illinois. I don't know who Johanna was, but James' mother was Catherine O'Leary mentioned above.) There were two servants in the household, both single, and both born in Illinois: Walter Able, age 40, a barn man; and Lena Winkoske, age 18, a maid for the family. The family was living at 726 Garfield (on this page, the boulevard name looks like Grand, but on the previous page the name correctly appears as Garfield) Boulevard (T-624, roll 276, page 6B, line 77).
The book Chicago's Mansions (Images of America, Arcadia 2004) by John Graf, at page 38, contains a photograph of the 33-room mansion built by James O'Leary at 726 W. Garfield Boulevard. The house was designed in 1901 by architect Zachary Taylor Davis who also designed Wrigley Field and Old Comiskey Park. Look under Google Books Result.
Here is an excerpt from Who Caused the Great Chicago Fire? A Possible Deathbed Confession by Anthony DeBartolo" (a feature story in the Chicago Tribune of October 8, 1997, that reports a story by Louis M. Cohn that the Great Chicago fire started when he and several boys, including a son of Mrs. O'Leary, were shooting dice in the O'Leary barn when a lamp was overturned—see below):
"James grew up to be 'Big Jim' O'Leary, a notorious gambler and pioneer off-track betting operator. In his DuPage County OTB (off-track-betting) parlor, he took bets on races run at five tracks. His Long Beach, Ind.-based OTB, meanwhile, had barbed wire, armed guards, vicious canines and secret tunnels.
"O'Leary's largest city operation, a sportsbook and casino at 4183-85 S. Halsted St., was near the Stock Yards' main gate. As his 1925 Tribune obituary noted, the 'gambling resort was the best known place of its kind in Chicago.'"
See: Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster by T. J. English (2005)—beginning at page 97; Big Jim O'Leary, Sporting Gent. ; and "Big" Jim O'Leary - Chicago's First Big Racketeer. See also: James "Big Jim" O'Leary (c. 1860-January 22, 1925) in Wikipedia. Big Jim O'Leary's gambling place on South Halsted was called the Horn Palace Saloon.
On September 28, 1944, the news service of Northwestern University in Chicago announced a gift of $35,000, from the estate of Louis M. Cohn. The press release contained this statement:
"Mr. Cohn had an interesting connection with the origin of the Great Chicago Fire. ... He steadfastly maintained that the traditional story of the cause of the fire—Mrs. O'Leary's cow that kicked over a lantern—was untrue. He asserted that he and Mrs. O'Leary's son, in the company of several other boys, were shooting dice in the hayloft ... by the light of a lantern, when one of the boys accidently overturned the lantern, thus setting the barn afire. Mr. Cohn never denied that when the other boys fled, he stopped long enough to scoop up the money" ..
"Cohn's alleged involvement in the disaster was not publicly acknowledged again until gambling historian Alan Wykes' 1964 book, 'The Complete Illustrated Guide to Gambling.' In a chapter headed 'Seven Come Eleven,' Wykes reports Cohn's $35,000 gift to Northwestern, adding that the estate was handed over 'together with the full story of the 'truth' about the Chicago Fire.' Wykes explains that Cohn's alleged admission is unverified, 'but, true or not,' he writes, 'it has taken its place in the colorful history of craps.'
"In his retelling of Cohn's claim, Wykes also significantly expands upon it. 'In his will,' the author writes, 'Cohn added a postscript to his story in the form of a deadpan comment that could have been made only by a man with the unswerving single-mindedness of the dedicated gambler: `When I knocked over the lantern, I was winning.' "
Cohn was born was born on March 10, 1853 in Breslau, Prussia (part of modern-day Germany), and would have been 18 years old at the time of the fire. His father, reportedly Marcus Cohn, was also born in Breslau and, according to Chicago's 1869–70 city directory, (as reported by Anthony DeBartolo) lived at 10 4th Avenue, less than a mile from the O'Leary house. Louis died in 1942, a few weeks before his 89th birthday. Cohn survived his wife Bertha, by 18 years.
Anthony DeBartolo published two feature articles in the Chicago Tribune about Louis M. Cohn and his story of being in O'Leary's barn when the fire started. The first of these was Who Caused the Great Chicago Fire? A Possible Deathbed Confession, published on October 8, 1997; the second was Odds Improve that a Hot Game of Craps in Mrs. O'Leary's Barn Touched Off Chicago Fire, published on March 3, 1998. The articles are well-researched and well-written, and leave an impression that Louis Cohn was a prosperous and credible citizen who consistently told his story of the origin of the fire throughout his long life..
The first article points out that Cohn was a "renowned traveler" who crossed the Pacific 42 times, the Atlantic 29 times, and "boasted of having been in every country in the world at least twice." The second article adds that soon after the first story:
"This newspaper was contacted by Stuart L. Cohen (no relation), an expert in Chicago Jewish history and genealogy. Cohen supplied the previously unknown name of Cohn's father, Marcus, who, according to Chicago's 1869-70 city directory lived at 10 4th Avenue. That was less than a mile from the O'Leary house, around what is now Dearborn Street and Jackson Boulevard."
Ship lists on the Internet confirm that Louis M. Cohn was a world traveler. A sample of entries in ship manifests is included below. One of these, the manifest of the SS President Grant, which arrived in Los Angeles from Honolulu on March 22, 1931, lists Louis M. Cohn, age 78, born in Germany, and indicates that his father was naturalized in Detroit, Michigan, in 1856. This entry, plus the information that Louis's father was named Marcus, supports my conclusion, below, that the Cohn family was in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1860, and in Detroit, Michigan, on June 18, 1870.
Judge Michael Feinberg was a good friend of Louis M. Cohn's, and executor of his estate. Anthony DeBartolo's second article in the Chicago Tribune contains this quotation from Judge Feinberg's 82-year-old son, Stanley K. Feinberg, a former Chicago attorney, who also knew Cohn, and who was then living in La Jolla, California:
"O'Leary's son (and Louie) and two or three others were in the habit of playing craps in the hay loft of the barn. I got the impression this floating craps game didn't float very far from there. ...
"(Louie) said Mrs. O'Leary was always after them. On the night of the fire—and he told me it was a Sunday night—they were playing craps when Mrs. O'Leary came up and chased them away. In running, they tipped over a lantern. Lou said he went back to pick up the money."
Feinberg adds that Cohn
"was kidded about the story from time to time. `'Did you knock over the lantern because you were losing' someone would ask. His only response to the kidding was a knowing smile. I never heard him admit he knocked it over."
This is the only time I have seen a statement that Mrs. O'Leary chased the crap players out of the barn at the time one of them tipped over the lantern. If Cohn said this himself, he would have been contradicting Mrs. O'Leary's testimony that she was in bed, but not asleep, at the time the fire started.
Louis is a form of the German name Ludwig. Louis Cohn arrived in the United States at the port of New York on October 26, 1857, as Ludwig Cohn, age 3, aboard the Borussia from Hamburg, Germany. Next to him on the passenger list was his mother, Therese Cohn, age 34, and his older brother, Sigman, age 8. They all intended to become citizens of the United States. New York Passenger Lists, 1820–1957.
The family is listed in the 1860 census of Grand Rapids City (ward 2), Kent county, Michigan:
(1860) Marcus E. Cohn, age 41, a saloon keeper, with a personal estate of $400, born in Prussia (M-653, roll 550, page 354, line 14).
Teresa Cohn, age 41, born in Prussia.
Regina Cohn, age 15, born in Prussia. [Regina Cohn married Lewis H. Watson*, a physician, who is listed in the 1870 census of Grand Rapids as Lewis H. Watson, age 28, physician, with a personal estate of $250, born in Maine, a boarder in the house of Nancy C. Reed (M-593, roll 681, page 252, line 26). Regina married Dr. Watson and settled in Chicago before December, 1874, when she is reprted as the pianist at a concert by the Beethoven Society in Chicago. Musical Memories: My Recollections of Celebrities of the Half Century, 1850–1900 by George Putnam Upton (A. C. McClurg 1908), page 292. In the 1880 census of Chicago, at 296 Ohio Street (district #190), were L. H. Watson, age 38, a physician, born in Maine (T-9, roll 199, page 468, line 16; Family History Film: 1254199), and his wife, R. V. Watson, age 35, keeping house, born in Germany; and two servants.]
*In the 1850 census of Bangor, Penobscot county, Maine, Lewis H. Watson, age 8, born in Maine, is listed in the home of his parents, Lewis Watson, age 38, born in Maine, a physician, with $2500 worth of real estate (M-432, roll 264, page 139, line 27); and Martha M. Watson, age 35, born in Maine.
Sigmar (or Sigman) Cohn, age 12, born in Prussia, attended school within the year. [This is the Sigmar Cohn, age 62, born in Germany, listed as the proprietor of a saloon in the 1910 census of Chicago (ward 3).]
Louis Cohn, age 6, born in Prussia, attended school within the year.
On June 18, 1870, when the 1870 census was taken of precinct 1, ward 6, Detroit, this family was living in Detroit (ward 6) Michigan:
(1870) Marcus Cohn, age 51, traveling agent, with a personal estate of $400, born in Prussia (M-593, roll 713, page 355, line 35).
Theresia Cohn, age 52, keeping house, born in Prussia.
Regina Cohn, age 25, at home, born in Prussia. [Anthony DeBartolo tells me, in an email of July 9, 2007, that the married name of Louis's sister Regina was Watson, that she "ended up a rather well know high society pianist here in Chicago," and that she is buried a few feet from Louis in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago. The 1900 census of Chicago, 24th ward (North Town), lists Lewis H. Watson, age 58, born in August, 1842, in Maine, married 27 years, a physician, at 297 Indiana Street (T-623, roll 274, page 6B, line 62); with his wife, Regina Watson, age 48, born in Germany in April, 1852, mother of no children, immigrated in 1861 (?), 39 years in the US, musician; and two servants. The 1910 census of Chicago (21st ward) lists Lewis Watson (indexed by Ancestry.com as Lewis Wilson), age 67, in his 1st marriage, married 37 years, born in Maine, a physician, owner of his home free of a mortgage, and his unnamed wife, age not stated, place of birth unkinown, with no occupation, and two servants (T-624, roll 264, page 19A, line 21). Regina Watson was a famous piano teacher. Here is an excerpt from A Style of Her Own: The Patronage of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge by Cyrilla Barr (from Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists since 1860, edited by Ralph P. Locke and Cyrilla Barr. University of California Press Berkeley 1997):
"A second quality of her patronage ... is that Mrs. Coolidge was herself a musician, an accomplished pianist. While still very young, she began to study piano with Regina Watson, who had been a student of Karl Tausig's in Germany, and thus belonged to the distinguished pianistic genealogy of Liszt, Tausig's teacher.* Under Watson, Elizabeth made rapid progress and, in fact, appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony under the direction of Theodore Thomas at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, playing the Schumann Piano Concerto."
*"49. Watson (née Cohn) was born in Breslau, Germany, in 1845, and settled in Chicago after her marriage to Dr. Louis H. Watson in 1874. Her studio on the south side of the city rivaled that of Amy Fay on the north. Among her greatest friends and ardent admirers was Teresa Carreño, who gave much of the credit for her career to Watson's influence. See Carreño letters, MacDowell Colony Papers, MS Division, Library of Congress, box 74."]
[Dr. L. H. Watson, age 49, a physician, and his wife, Regina Watson, age 46, both US citizens and residents of Chicago, were aboard the SS Normania from Hamburg, Germany (with a stop at Southampton, England) when it docked in New York on August 24, 1891. Lewis H. Watson, age 61, and his wife, Regina Watson, age 48, both US citizens, were passengers aboard the SS. Friedrich Der Grosse from Bremen when in docked in New York on October 19, 1911. New York Passenger Lists, 1820–1957 on Ancestry.com.]
Sigismond Cohn, age 22, merchant, born in Prussia. [This is the Sigmar Cohn, age 62, born in Germany, listed as the proprietor of a saloon in the 1910 census of Chicago (ward 3). On the manifest of the SS Koln that arrived from Bremen, Germany, in the port of New York on August 29, 1872, was Sigmar Kohn, age 24, a merchant, a citizen of the United States, a 2nd cabin passenger.]
Ludwig Cohn, age 16, clerk in store, born in Prussia. [This is Louis M. Cohn.]
Sophia Luckman, age 22, domestic servant, born in Mecklenburg.
Counted in the 1870 census were persons whose place of abode was with the family enumerated on June 1, 1870.
Listed separately in the 1870 census of Detroit, 2nd ward, in an apparent duplicate listing, and living alone, was:
(1870) Sigmar Cohn, age 22, a pawn broker, with a personal estate of $5000, born in Prussia, a citizen of the United States (M-593, roll 712, page 65, line 15).
In the 1880 census, the family is in Chicago (district #188) at 203 Erie Street. The description of this family, other than Marcus, on the census return on Ancestry.com, is partly obscured but here is what I can make out:
(1880) Marcus Cohn, age 60, married, hides and furs, born in Prussia (T-9, roll 199, page 387, line 43; Family History Film: 1254199.) Louis is not in the home.
T... Cohn, age 62, wife, married, keeps home, born in Prussia. [Therese]
S... Cohn, age 33, son, married, hides and furs ... [Sigismond or Sigmar]
... Cohn, age 23, wife, married, keeps home, born in Russia. [Sigmar's wife; in 1907, he had married a second wife, Bertha, who was listed as 24 years old, born in Illinois to parents born Germany, in the 1910 census of Chicago (ward 3).]
I did not find Louis Cohn in the 1880 or 1900 censuses of Chicago. L. M. Cohn, born in Germany, of 25 (possibly 15) Hubbard Court of the 1st ward, 117th precinct, registered to vote in Chicago on October 14, 1890. He had been in Cook county and the state of Illinois for 20 years, and in his precinct for 3 months. He was a citizen by act of Congress, which means by virtue of the naturalization of his father. He did vote. L. M. Cohn, born in Germany, of 15 Hubbard Court of the 1st ward, 14th precinct, registered to vote in Chicago on October 18, 1892. He had been in Cook County and the state of Illinois for 22 years, and in the precinct for 3 years. He was a citizen by act of Congress. He did vote. Chicago Voter Register 1890 and 1892 on Ancestry.com. If this is the same L. M. Cohn we are looking for, he moved from Detroit shortly after June 1, 1870, since he had been a resident of Chicago for 20 years on October 14, 1890.
A Louis Cohn, age 42, a US citizen and a merchant, returned to the US aboard Furst Bismarck from Hamburg. The ship docked in the Port of New York on July 17, 1896. New York Passenger Lists, 1820–1957 on Ancestry.com. (line 121 on the manfest.)
Louis M. Cohn is listed in the 1910 census of the 3rd ward of Chicago at 3844 Grand Boulevard, age 56, married 18 years, born in Germany, emigrated in 1856, naturalized, a broker (T-624, roll 243, page 8B, line 61); living with his wife, Bertha L. Cohn, age 36, who was born in Georgia to a father born in Germany and a mother born in Louisiana; and a servant, Kittie Costello, age 26, single, born in Ireland, who immigrated in 1893. Louis Cohn is listed in the 1920 census of the 3rd ward of Chicago at 1148 East 45th Street, age 65, born in Germany, emigrated in 1858, naturalized in 1875, retired, could read and write (T-625, roll 313, page 3A, line 48), with his wife, Bertha Cohn, age 44, born in Georgia, whose father and mother were both born in Louisiana. Louis M. Cohn (indexed by Ancestry.com as Cahn) is listed in the 1930 census of the 5th ward of Chicago, living alone in a large apartment house at 1725 East 53rd Street, as age 77, a widower, with no occupation, born in Prusssia, who emigrated in 1853 and was naturalized (roll 421, page 1B, line 71).
The list of cabin passengers on the SS Siberia when it arrived in San Francisco from Yokohama, Japan, on March 30. 1906 included Louis M. Cohn, age 52, and Mrs. Bertha L. Cohn, age 32, both US. citizens, both with 8 pieces of luggage, with an intended destination of Honolulu. This probably means that the Cohns boarded the ship in Yokohama and disembarked in Honolulu from where the ship sailed to San Francisco on March 24, 1906. The ship had sailed from Yokohama on March 16, 1906. (The Ancestry.com index indicates that the port of departure was Hong Kong, China.) California Passenger and Crew Lists, 1893–1957, on Ancestry.com.
The list of United States citizens aboard the SS Korea Maru when it arrived in San Francisco from Yokohama, Japan, on April 1, 1921, included: Louis M. Cohn, age 67, born on March 10, 1854 (probably should be 1853), in Germany, whose address in the US was 1148 East 45th Street, Chicago, and Bertha Cohn, age 48, of the same address. Bertha was born in Savannah, Georgia, on February 14, 1873. After Louis' name, in the column asking for naturalization information, is the note: "Father an American citizen." California Passenger and Crew Lists, 1893–1957, on Ancestry.com.
The manifest of the SS President Jefferson that sailed from Honolulu on April 11, 1929, and arrived in San Francisco on April 17, 1929, lists Louis M. Cohn, age 76 years and 1 month, born in Breslau, Germany, of Chicago. The naturalization information indicates that Louis had arrived in the US at 6 months of age and that his father had been naturalized. The manifest pf the SS President Grant, which arrived in Los Angeles from Honolulu on March 22, 1931, lists Louis M. Cohn, age 78, born in Germany. The manifest indicates that his father was naturalized in Detroit, Michigan, in 1856. His address in the US was 1725 East 53rd Street, Chicago. California Passenger and Crew Lists, 1893–1957, on Ancestry.com.
Louis Cohn, age 81, was a US citizen and first class passenger aboard the SS Lurline when it arrived in Los Angeles from Honolulu on April 4, 1935; and age 83 aboard the same ship when it arrived in Los Angeles from Honolulu on March 21, 1936; and aboad th same ship at age 88 hen it arrived from Honolulu in Los Angeles on March 28, 1941. On the last manifest, his name is crossed out with the note: transferred to San Francisco.
Another connection between the O'Leary's and McGoughs is this. A James McGough is a well-known "Union Democracy Advocate" in Chicago. (Here is a biography of James McGough.) He maintains a website that reports on developments having to do with union democracy, corruption, and racketeering in the construction trades. One of the pages of this website is Mob Hits—an overview of prominent mob sanctioned killings in Chicago from 1919 to 1997. The first of the articles on this page mentions Big Jim O'Leary:
"Big Jim Colosimo—killed in his own cafe at 22nd and Wabash Avenue on May 11, 1920. Colosimo was then the top mob boss of Chicago. His death, believed ordered by underlings Al Capone and Johnny Torrio, Colosimo's nephew, made way for Capone's rise as Chicago's number one mobster. Colosimo had brought Torrio and Capone to Chicago from New York. The FBI believes Colosimo was set up for the murder by a friend and guard, Big Jim O'Leary, with help from Torrio. O'Leary is the son of the Mrs. O'Leary whose cow is believed to have knocked down a lantern that started the famous Chicago Fire many years before. Colosimo was waiting at his restaurant with O'Leary allegedly preparing for a business meeting. The unknown gunman, believed to be Capone, fired two shots from behind a glass-paneled telephone booth, hitting Colosimo in the head once."
Here is an obituary from Time Magazine of Monday, February 2,1925:
"Died. James Patrick ('Big Jim') O'Leary, 60, 'Prince of Gamblers'; in Chicago, of heart disease. He was the son of the 'Mrs. O'Leary' whose famed cow kicked over the lantern that started the Chicago fire of 1871. At his palatial combination saloon and gambling house he took bets on anything from horses to the weather, until Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (the now 'Baseball Tsar') ordered it closed in 1921, ..."
Notice that this story in Time Magazine, well over 50 years after the fire, repeats the long-ago discredited story that the Great Chicago Fire started when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern.
On October 7, 1997, one hundred and twenty-six years after the fire and more than one hundred years after Catherine O'Leary's death, the Chicago City Council approved a resolution absolving Mrs. O'Leary's cow of all blame for the Great Chicago Fire. Chicago Timeline. The resolution was formally adopted on October 29, 1997:
"Maybe it's a reflection of these forgiving times, of public apologies and celebrity confessions, of DNA testing, talk shows and tell-all memoirs. But after 126 years of humiliation and scorn, of having her name dragged through the mud by both history books and cruel limericks, absolution has come, finally, for Mrs. O'Leary's celebrated cow. Daisy, you see, was done wrong.
"The Chicago City Council officially said as much today with its resolution exonerating both O'Leary and Daisy of touching off the Great Chicago Fire of 1871." Washington Post, October 29, 1997.
A good history of the myths surround in Great Chicago Fire will be found in chapter 1 of Popular Culture and the Enduring Myth of Chicago, 1871–1968 by Lisa Beth Krissoff Boehm (Routledge 2004).
In a book published on December 1, 1871, less than two months after the fire, two associate editors of the Chicago Tribue press acknowledged that the story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern was false. The Great Conflagration./Chicago; Irs Past, Present and Future by James W. Sheahan and George P. Upton, Associate Editors of the Chicago Tribune, Union Publishing Company Chicago 1871, at page 64, says:
"Proceeding directly to the scene we discovered that it had originated in a cow-shed in the rear of a one-story frame building, on the northeast corner of Dekoven and Jefferson streets. The origin is a mystery. The story that an attempt to milk a cow by the light of a kerosene lamp, had ended in the overturning of the lamp, and the rapid firing of the cow-shed, is now known to be untrue."
Despite this early correction of a false story, the myth persists that the Great Chicago Fire started while Catherine O'Leary was milking her cow, the cow kicked over a kerosene lantern.
Great Seattle FireDon't Blame Jimmie McGough
Updated February 23, 2013
Site Search & Directory »
© 1999–2013 Hugh McGough »