I’m offering this for Amanuensis Monday, and selfishly including it in my NewsClips file too. It was the most fantastic find from my unexpected bonanza of Troy, N.Y. newspaper clippings.
My great-great-aunt Maggie Haigney Roche and her sibs certainly had their share of publicity over various birthdays, but nothing topped the ink Maggie got in 1958, when a features reporter for the Troy (N.Y.) Times-Record sat down for a talk with her as she turned 88. The result? A personality profile that not only yields the date of Maggie’s parents’ marriage, but also gives an irreplaceable sense of Maggie’s lively personality. I so want to find out who Maggie’s PR rep was.
(Amanuensis Monday is the ongoing initiative by John Newmark at TransylvanianDutch in which participants transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts.)
For Maggie’s moment in the spotlight, read on:
Today’s NewsClips transcript is a great example of how the right newspaper article can save you lots of poking around. Here’s the scoop on the 90th birthday party given for my great-great-aunt Margaret Haigney Roche — and what it tells me, besides the fact that the party sounds like fun.
The Times Record, Troy, N.Y., Saturday Evening, January 16, 1960 • “Woman, 90, Honored At Verdoy”
Mrs. John Finch of Kelly Road, Verdoy, was hostess to friends and neighbors at her home Monday to honor Mrs. Margaret Roche of 2509 Second Ave. Watervliet on her 90th birthday.
Mrs. Roche, daughter of the late Sgt. Martin Haigney and Mrs. Haigney, was born in Watervliet on Jan. 11, 1870. Her father was stationed for 42 years at the Watervliet Arsenal.
Mrs. Roche is the widow of James Roche who died more than forty years ago. At this time Mrs. Roche moved to Island Park, L.I., and made her home with the late Mr. and Mrs. Robert Walker. After many years she and her sister, Mrs. Walker, came to Verdoy and made their home with their brother, Martin Haigney in Best apartment, Kelly road, and Kennette apartment. [sic] After death [sic] of Mrs. Walker in 1957, Mrs. Roche and her brother moved to Watervliet. The brother is a Spanish-American War veteran. His 90-year-old sister keeps house for him.
At Monday’s party the hostess presented the guest an orchid and the table setting was a beautiful birthday cake sent by the Pittard Baking Co. of Latham.
Following an afternoon of picture taking and gift openings, a lunch was served when Mrs. Roche cut her cake and blew out the candles. She has all her faculties and does all the business for herself and her brother.
Now, what helpful information does this article contain? Besides the part about the orchid? Just off the top of my head:
• Margaret’s address in 1960.
• Margaret’s exact birth date.
• Her father’s military rank and service (although from other records, it appears that “Sgt.” may have been an exaggeration).
• Margaret’s husband’s name and a time frame for his death date (“more than forty years ago” in 1960).
• Her sister’s death year.
• A rundown of Margaret’s other residences (contrary to what I’d thought, she moved outside the Troy-Watervliet area for a time).
• Information on her brother’s military service (“a Spanish-American War veteran”).
Not bad for a throwaway social item, right?
P.S. No Google result for “Pittard Baking Co.” in Latham, but there is still a listing for a “Pittard’s Cookie Jar Catering Co.” Just FYI.
Today’s NewsClips are in honor of the August babies of the family. That would include my sister Mary, my brother John and my daughter, Nora, who turns 13 today. (And who will give me a hard time for mentioning her in the blog. But Happy Birthday anyway, sweetie!)
These NewsClips feature another August baby in the Haigney family, my great-great aunt Mary “Mamie” (Haigney) Walker (1872-1956), who celebrated her birthday Aug. 16. As I’ve noted, I’m grouping these little local news snippets by year.
NewsClips is a recurring feature in which I share transcriptions of newspaper stories about my ancestors.
I owe today’s NewsClips to a mostly vanished newspaper institution, the social-happenings column in which all news, however minor, was fit to print. Reading it makes you feel as if you’re channeling Gladys Kravitz, the eternally nosy neighbor from Bewitched. In the Times Record of Troy, N.Y., the local news page carried many column inches of these snippets, headlined only by the name of the town or neighborhood whose business was being chronicled. I have found a couple of dozen of them pertaining to my relatives, and will group items by year.
Years ago someone at a family party mentioned that my great-aunt Anna Haigney had nursed burn victims from “that big fire up in Hartford — you know, the one at the circus.” I didn’t really know, which shows how the passage of time can dull the notoriety even of the most awful events.
More than 6,000 people (some estimates say as many as 8,700) had thronged the big top set up by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Hartford, Conn. on July 6, 1944. How the fire started remains a controversy. Early on, a carelessly discarded cigarette was the theory. In 1950, an Ohio man claimed to be the circus arsonist. He later recanted, and his confession is further clouded by his history of mental illness and officials’ inability to determine with certainty whether he was in Connecticut at the time.
Once the fire started, it spread with terrifying speed due to the construction of the tent — canvas coated with paraffin for waterproofing purposes, a common method at the time but a recipe for an inferno. Two of the regular exits were blocked by chutes that had been brought out for transporting the large felines who had just finished performing when the fire broke out. (They escaped with minor burns.) Many circusgoers were trampled and/or burned to death.
The official death toll is 167. With so many men away fighting overseas, this was largely an audience of women and children, and onlookers never forgot the horror of seeing so many young victims. A news photo of the eminent circus performer Emmett Kelly holding a water bucket by the smoldering ruins led to the disaster being known as “the day the clowns cried.”
Author Stewart O’Nan interviewed many survivors and witnesses for his 2001 account The Circus Fire: A True Story of An American Tragedy. It’s a must-read starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the fire.
One of the young circusgoers that day grew up to become the comic actor and theater director Charles Nelson Reilly. Here is a 1997 interview in which he explains how the memories of the fire affected him for the rest of his life:
Other links of interest:
The Hartford Circus Fire — July 6, 1944 (including an extensive collection of survivor accounts)
Today I kick off NewsClips, an ongoing series of transcriptions of newspaper clippings discovered in my travels. Some of them you’ll love only if you’re as obsessed with Haigneys as I am, which is why I’ll be posting them behind the WordPress Wall.
This first NewsClip, however, might be of interest even if you’re not a Haigney. It’s an interview my great-aunt Ann Haigney gave to the Brooklyn Eagle about volunteering her nursing expertise to help victims of the horrific 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Conn.
I gathered more background on this infamous fire, which I’ll put into another post. (For now I’ll just say that although the young burn victims Ann saw seemed to have put the ordeal behind them, many carried emotional as well as physical scars for decades after.)
Biographical note: Ann Margaret Haigney (1904-1979), known as Aunt Anna to her extended family, was the adopted daughter of my great-grandparents, Joseph and Catherine (Connors) Haigney. She graduated in 1934 from the Nazarene Nurses School in Brooklyn, N.Y. and embarked on a career as an R.N. After she died, one of my aunts was executor of Ann’s estate, and remarked that “as she was independent in life she was also independent in death. A nice human being who gave of herself to humanity.”