Undone by a Hat: The Drowning of Frank J. Donahoe

On the night of June 4, 1895, a message arrived in Lowell, Massachusetts for 75-year-old Peter Fitzpatrick, informing him his 30-year-old son, Philip H. Fitzpatrick, was dead in Savannah, Georgia. Peter instructed authorities to send his son’s body home to Lowell, however, Savannah replied, no way.

In a haze of grief, the elderly Fitzpatrick began packing a bag for the thousand-mile trip south. The dreadful news spread across the familial network of Fitzpatricks, Rileys and Donahoes, and, perhaps, his sister Bridget Donahoe, realized Peter should not undertake the journey alone. Frank J. Donahoe stepped up to accompany his uncle. From the downtown depot, the men took the train to Boston. They may have gone on to New York by rail, in order to board the first steamship bound south.

On arrival in Savannah, Peter and Frank had their grief compounded, as they learned Philip Fitzpatrick’s remains had already been buried in the interest of public health, and exhuming the body was forbidden.  the men were certainly shown to Savannah’s Catholic cemetery on Wheaton Street. There, they said their goodbyes and offered prayers over a mound of freshly-turned earth. Their mission a failure, the bereaved father and cousin left for home.

Their ship had covered hundreds of watery miles northward when a squall hit off New York City. The Lowell Daily News of Thursday, June 13, 1895 reported what happened:

THE DROWNING OF FRANK J. DONAHOE.

A GREAT WAVE SWEPT HIM OFF THE STEAMER’S DECK.

There was a High Wind and a Heavy Sea–his Hat blew off, and he Reached for it Just as the Big Wave swept over the steamer.
—-
Last night a dispatch was received from the agent of the steamer on which Frank J. Donahoe and his uncle, Peter Fitzpatrick, sailed from Savannah for New York. It stated that a man named Frank Donahoe was lost overboard from the steamer.

Peter Fitzpatrick arrived in Lowell on the nine o’clock train this morning and full particulars of the sad affair were made known. Mr. Fitzpatrick is looking well after his rough voyage, but he is terribly agitated at the sudden taking of his nephew. The steamer is supposed to be the Algonqula of the Clyde line, Capt. Pratt in command, but Mr. Fitzpatrick is not sure of this. The steamer had a very rough voyage, the passage being unusually severe, the captain informed Mr. Fitzpatrick and his nephew [who] were standing on deck. The sea was very rough. A gale of wind blew Frank Donahoe’s hat from his head at about 11 o’clock. He attempted to catch it before it fell overboard. It was a fatal attempt. A great wave swept across the deck and he was carried into the ocean. No help could be given him.

For the heartbroken Peter Fitzpatrick, there were two deaths, two bodies he could not bring home, yet the resilient old man lived 85 years. What of his nephew whose fate decreed he’d get just half that time on Earth?

Francis “Frank” J. Donahoe – Lowell businessman and politician

H.A. Thomas & Wylie. (ca. 1896) Man Wearing Tuxedo, Holding Bowler Hat. , ca. 1896. [N.Y.: H.A. Thomas & Wylie Litho. Co] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress

Man holding a bowler hat, circa 1896, Library of Congress [9]

Frank was born in 1852, an older brother of my great-grandmother (Mary J. (Donahoe) Roane), the fourth of ten children of Patrick and Bridget (Fitzpatrick) Donahoe. [1] As a young man, he started working in a woolen mill, but he had higher aspirations and, for at least eight years (1881-1889), he was a grocer on Lowell’s Kinsman Street. [2, 3]

Civic minded, Frank got involved in Ward Three politics. He just missed being an elected representative in city government in 1879. [4] He was a recognized democratic leader in 1893 as he planned to stand for a city council seat. It was reported he had “presided at caucuses and other political gatherings.” [5] In May 1894, he was voted chairman of the Ward Three Committee. [6]

Having focused on his grocery business and democratic politics, Frank didn’t marry until 1889, when he was 37 and well enough established to support a family. His bride was [3] 22-year-old, Mary A. Donahoe (likely, a distant cousin).

As befitted a man rising in the world, Frank would have carefully maintained his appearance. Susie Hopkins, in History of Men’s Hats, explains:

…the nineteenth century heralded a new age for men’s hats in the Western world, which reached its zenith at the turn of the twentieth century, when no gentleman would ever step out of his house without wearing a hat. Men’s clothing was dictated by sobriety and egalitarianism and hats fulfilled an important role in subtly marking differentials, personal and professional ones, as well as social class distinction. Top hats, bowlers, derbies, boaters, fedoras, panamas, and cloth caps were all created during this century and lasted well into the twentieth century. [7]

I can’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet Frank wore a bowler, also called a derby. It was the most popular hat worn by men in America in the 19th century, including Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. Lowell had at least one store dedicated to male fashion in the 1890s, “Wm. P. Brazer & Co. Hatters & Mens Outfitters,” at Central & Market streets, advertised in the city directory.

In his personal life, the the family he hoped for never happened. The reason may have been Mary’s health. She died of tuberculosis in April 1894, leaving Frank alone.[8] Two months after Mary died, Frank’s younger brother Patrick followed her to the grave.

How Frank handled these tragedies is unclear. He left the grocery business at some point after 1889. The Lowell directory for 1895 lists Frank living on Keene Street with his widowed mother. His occupation was – janitor.

Frank wouldn’t have been the first man to fall apart on losing his life’s partner. Maybe he fell apart before the end. “Consumption” (tuberculosis) is a cruel wasting disease, and we don’t know how long Mary was sick and Frank surely suffered along with her. If he tended her during a protracted illness, he may have been unable to keep up with the demands of a grocery store. He may have sold out or lost the business. It’s possible Frank took to drink to ease the pain.

When the news of Philip’s death arrived in Lowell, it had been a year since his wife Mary and his brother Patrick died. Having so long felt powerless to help the people he loved, Frank rallied. Proven articulate and persuasive in city politics, he could assist his uncle with officials in Savannah. He could be of use to his loved ones.

Frank may have dressed hurriedly to make the train, but he took care to make a good appearance, from the shine on his shoes, to the finely made hat on his head.

 

Sources: 

  1. “Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FXC4-NTL : 1 March 2016), Francis Donahue, 1852.
  2. Lowell, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1881. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  3. Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook). Lowell, MA, 1889. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  4. The New Democratic City Committee Indulge in a Midnight Session – Recount of Ward Three Votes; More Lowell Daily Citizen and News Saturday, Sep 13, 1879 Lowell, MA Vol: XXIX Issue: 7247 Page: 2. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  5. Lowell Daily Sun, The (Lowell, Massachusetts), 1893 October 25; Page 1, Col. 3. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  6. Lowell Daily Sun, The (Lowell, Massachusetts); 1894 May 1; Column 2: Caucuses. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  7. History of Men’s Hats, Susie Hopkins; LoveToKnow: Beauty and Fashion; https://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-accessories/history-mens-hats
  8. Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840-1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. Lowell Deaths, 1894. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  9. H.A. Thomas & Wylie. Man Wearing Tuxedo, Holding Bowler Hat. , ca. 1896. [N.Y.: H.A. Thomas & Wylie Litho. Co] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014636873/.

Resources: 

 

 

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Murder in Thunderbolt

A murder in the family always comes as a shock, even when you learn of it a more than a century after the fact. The victim was a first cousin (thrice removed), Philip H. Fitzpatrick, who was just 30 at his death in 1895. To make the matter worse, the affair was a nationwide scandal. The salient points appeared in newspaper headlines like the following from the June 5, 1895 issue of the Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, GA):

A TRAGEDY AT THUNDERBOLT

The Proprietor of a Leading Gaiety Saloon

Killed By a Mount Vernon Lawyer. A Handsome Gaiety Girl Caused the Difficulty

Newspapers across Georgia, in South Carolina, Illinois and California published versions the tale. On June 6, 1895, the story hit Philip’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. The evening edition of the Lowell Daily News reported it like this:

WANTED THE WOMAN
——————————————-
Particulars of Murder of Philip Fitzpatrick.
——————————————-
QUARRELED WITH ANOTHER MAN ABOUT A GAIETY GIRL.
Fitzpatrick Broke into a Room, and in Return Received Two Bullets in His Body -The Murderer Arrested and Locked Up – Father and Cousin of Dead Man Go After the Body. 

The catalyst of the tragedy was Helen (or Helene) Stockton, a singer and dancer who grew up in Washington, DC and whose real name was Emily Lazelle.[1]  We don’t know when Fitzpatrick hired her for his Savannah music hall, the Gaiety Theater, but she  became a fast favorite with the male patrons and Philip himself fell in love.

Anna Held was about Helen Stockton’s age in this 1899 poster from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. [2]

About six weeks before the murder, Helen left the Gaiety. Why? Philip might have popped the question out of the blue, sending the girl into shock. Or, in a less gentlemanly move, Philip might have pressed her to engage in an illicit affair. Either of those would be excellent reasons to quit a workplace. As it turns out, virtue and scruples didn’t play a big role in Helen’s decision.

At 19, in the bloom of youth and beauty, and a hit on the music hall stage,  why would marriage have any appeal for Helen? Wives of working men and tradesman faced a life filled with the endless drudgery of  housework, childbearing and child-rearing. The rare exceptions to the rule were wives who married into wealth, and Helen might’ve had that angle in mind when she hooked up with a Gaiety admirer named Charles Dixon Loud.

Loud was a somewhat shady attorney, [3] a 42-year-old Georgia native, [4] twice Helen’s age and married, [5] a fact he may or may not have told Helen. He set her up in a room at the Warsaw Hotel in the Savannah suburb of Thunderbolt. Loud provided horses enabling the couple to go riding in the countryside.

Meanwhile, back in Savannah….

Philip Fitzpatrick was dealing with romantic rejection (and, if reports are accurate, the loss of his theater star) by drinking. However, although intoxication was a critical factor in the events that led to his demise, it’s unlikely Philip was an alcoholic (another possible reason for Helen’s flight). The reasons lie in the ambitious young man’s history.

In 1890, at the age of 25, Fitzpatrick moved away from family in Lowell, MA to make his way in Savannah, GA. Within five years, he established a profitable saloon, and expanded into popular entertainment. [6] By all accounts, the saloon and theater were thriving.  A habitual drunkard wouldn’t have the self-discipline essential to secure financing and licenses, to select locations, hire staff, manage operations and cash flow. 

However, there’s no question that on Tuesday, June 4. 1895, Philip Fitzpatrick stewed his brain in alcohol and fatally compromised his decision-making ability. He convinced himself that if he could only talk to Helen, face to face, she would agree to marry him.

The blow-by-blow of what happened was reported in the June 5 issue of The Constitution (Atlanta, GA):

This afternoon [June 4] Fitzpatrick, accompanied by some friends, went out to Thunderbolt, where he drank heavily. He declared that he would marry Miss Stockton, willing or unwilling. He first sent a friend to prevail upon her, but as she refused to consider the proposition, he determined to see her himself. Butler, the proprietor of the place, endeavored to keep him out, declaring that Miss Stockton had left the house. He found that she was still there, however. But still refused to let him see her, and the two engaged in a hand to hand fight in which Butler got the worst of it. The two were arrested by the marshall and were taken to the lock up, where they gave bond. Fitzpatrick promised not to go back to the house.

IN MISS STOCKTON’S ROOM
About 8 o’clock Colonel Loud, who had an engagement to go horseback riding with Miss Stockton, arrived, Fitzpatrick heard that his rival was in the house and became frantic. He forced his way in, and learning that Loud and Miss Stockton had gone to the latter’s room in order to avoid him, he rushed upstairs to the room and kicked and broke the door. He had a heavy stick in his hand and rushed at Miss Stockton with the stick upraised. He turned from her, however, toward Colonel Loud who was standing in the window of the small room, pistol in hand. As Fitzpatrick advanced, Loud fired a shot over his head to warn him. Fitzpatrick still advanced, and Loud fired a second shot striking him in the body. Fitzpatrick continued to advance when Loud fired the third shot, striking Fitzpatrick in the mouth and passing upward through the brain. Fitzpatrick fell and died in a few moments. Colonel surrendered himself to the marshall, who brought him to the city and turned him over to the police.

Wow, there it is, grim and gritty.  The above details are consistent across the dozen newspaper versions, but for a single element, that Philip threatened Helen before he attacked Loud, and I don’t believe it. Considering how well the scandal played across the country, had Philip actually tried to beat the girl, this affair wouldn’t have been billed a tragedy. I suspect the local paper steered the narrative in an effort to justify a violent homicide by one of their own, as an act of southern chivalry.

Charles Loud equipped himself with a loaded gun and shot his “rival” for Helen’s favors twice, the second shot to Philip’s head. After learning more about Loud’s behavior, both before and after the murder, I’m skeptical of the assertion that Loud’s first shot was intentionally aimed over Fitzpatrick’s head “to warn him.”

Loud was held by law enforcement, and went to trial for Philip’s murder in August 1895. He had a sympathetic judge and was acquitted.[ref] Loud continued to practice law and engage in land schemes, even managed a banana plantation in Honduras. He got to die of natural causes in 1927 at age 74.

Charles Loud’s legal wife, Rebecca Ann (McGregor) Loud, died in 1901 and in the decades that followed, Charles is found with a variety of “wives” on census records and newspaper notes. None was the woman over whom he killed a man. Helen Stockton, aka Emily Lazelle, the “Gaiety Girl,” or “vamp of Savannah,” if you will [7], likely changed her name again and disappeared.

 

The tragedy was doubled for Philip’s Fitzpatrick’s Lowell family

In the second headline about the Fitzpatrick murder in the Lowell Daily News, the last line reads,Father and Cousin of Dead Man Go After the Body.” It’s a clue to the next awful thing to happen to my Lowell, MA ancestral folks. I’ll share the fresh bad news with you in my next post.

Advertisement for the Hotel Charles in Lowell, MA

Lowell’s St. Charles Hotel, with the “best service in the city,” was young Phil Fitzpatrick’s first employer. Here he learned of a world beyond Lowell’s textile mills. [8]

References:

[1] GenealogyBank; Evening Star (Washington, DC); 26 Aug 1895; Col. Loud Acquitted.

[2] Picture credit: Anna Held (v 1877? – 1918); Digital ID: (digital file from intermediary roll copy film) var 0179 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/var.0179; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

[3] Evidence for Charles D. Loud’s questionable character includes the following:

  • Charged with opening letters…held for examination before the United States commissioner. Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, GA), Wednesday, Dec 15, 1886.
  • A Tragedy at Thunderbolt. Head of a syndicate that tried to sell 400,000 acres…to Gov. Northern’s old soldiers’ colony. Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, GA), Thursday, June 6,  1895.
  • Alleged Mexican Swindle. Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA), Monday, May 8, 1911.
  • Sheriff Brings Lawyer [Loud] Into Court To Try Case. Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, TX), Friday, June 2, 1911.

[4] Ancestry.com; Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. Year: 1900; Census Place: Mount Vernon, Montgomery, Georgia; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 0079.

[5] In addition to the 1900 US Census enumeration above, Find A Grave MEMORIAL ID 77229130 shows the couple’s son, John McGregor Loud who died in 1886; also MEMORIAL ID 77229158 for Rebecca Ann McGregor Loud who died in 1901.

[6] Ancestry.com; Savannah, Georgia, Licenses and Bonds, 1837-1909. Research Library and Municipal Archives City of Savannah, Georgia; Savannah, Georgia; Clerk of Council, Liquor Bond and License Books, 1890; Series Number: 5600CL-220, 230; Reel Number: 223111.Original data: Record Group 5600, City of Savannah, Georgia Records. City of Savannah, Research Library & Municipal Archives, Savannah, Georgia.

[7] Wikipedia.com; “Hard Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah” is a popular song with words by Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow, and Charles Bates, and music by Milton Ager, published in 1924.

[8] Picture credit: Ancestry.com; US City Directories; 1886 Lowell City Directory