Sometimes family history discoveries involve a careful eye, and sometimes a bit of dumb luck. Or, as in this case, a little of both. While searching for some city directory information on the web site of the Cudahy Family Library, I started watching a 36-minute film about life in that suburban Milwaukee County city. Titled “Life in Cudahy,” the film was made in 1938.
About six minutes into the presentation, I spotted a teenage face that looked really familiar. The young man was a mechanic working on a car at Koehler Service. In another shot, he stood in the background as a man and (presumably) his young daughter, look at their vehicle. This just had to be my mother’s older brother, Earl J. Mulqueen Jr. (1923-1980). The film was posted to the library’s YouTube channel. I formatted the excerpt below for wide screen and applied some color correction.
Station attendants wore pinstriped coveralls with Wadhams Oil Company black caps and ties or bowties. It was an era when service stations delivered actual service (with a smile) to every vehicle that came in for fuel: checking fluids and wiper blades and cleaning windows. Koehler’s also offered emergency service, as evidenced by the attendant who drove off on a motorcycle carrying a gasoline can in one hand. This was no doubt before the EPA and OSHA were around to clamp down on potential dangers.
Earl was the second-oldest of the 11 children of Earl J. Mulqueen and the former Margaret Madonna Dailey. The Mulqueen children were taught hard work, so it’s not surprising Earl had a job at age 14 or 15. Money was tight during the Great Depression, so any extra income was no doubt a valued help to the family. My mother, Mary Mulqueen, was 6 or 7 years old at the time the film was made. Earl was either a student at St. Frederick’s Catholic School in Cudahy or a freshman at Pio Nono High School in St. Francis.
Earl was brand new on the job the year the film was made. He worked as an automobile serviceman, according to his U.S. military file. He greased, lubricated and fueled automobiles, assisted with transmission and differential repairs and engine overhauls.
Just a few years after the film was made, Earl enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the outset of World War II. He went on to fight with the 2nd Marine Division in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including at Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He lost his left leg in May 1944 when a massive chain-reaction explosion at Pearl Harbor’s West Loch blew up dozens of ships and injured hundreds of sailors and Marines who were preparing for the Allied invasion of Saipan. Dozens were killed.
After returning from the Pacific, Earl spent his last months in the Marine Corps making promotional appearances at War Bond drives around Wisconsin. His accounts of the battles in the Pacific kept audiences spellbound and helped put a number of war-bond drives over the goal line.
After the war, Earl got married and went on to a long career in automotive repair. Once he had recovered enough to begin working, his parents purchased Koehler Service station for him and the name was changed to Earl’s Automotive. This not-so-little detail was shared by my aunt and Earl’s sister, Joan (Mulqueen) Haske. Earl ran the business until about 1960, when he moved his family to Colorado. After his wife Evelyn died of cancer in early 1963, Earl returned to Cudahy to again take up work in automotive service.
It is amazing to think his first job was documented by a film crew in 1938, only to be rediscovered in 2020, 40 years after his death.
The images are grainy and slightly out of focus, but four digitized reels of old 8mm film from the late 1950 and early 1960s are like priceless time in a bottle. The films were shot on the 8mm film camera owned by Earl J. Mulqueen Sr., my maternal grandfather. They were loaned by my Aunt Joanie so we could get them scanned and made into digital video for all to enjoy.
Seeing these silent moving images reminded me of the 1970 hit song Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce, although the video predates the song by at least seven years. It also made me think of the wonderful Kodak commercial song The Times of Your Life by Paul Anka:
“Look back at the joys and the sorrow. Put them away in your mind.
Memories are time that we borrow.
To spend when we get to tomorrow.”
Even with the technical flaws, the video is amazing. I had never seen moving pictures of my Grandpa Earl, and I had just a few seconds of video showing my Grandma Mulqueen. This batch of 8mm film fixed all of that, giving us a peek back more than 50 years at a Christmas morning, a visit to the folks house in Cudahy and times at my parents house in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It also provides the first video I’ve seen of my Aunt Evelyn (Deutsch) Mulqueen, who died of brain cancer at age 33. That was more than a year before I was born. There are shots of Earl J. Mulqueen Jr., Evelyn and their six children. As you can read elsewhere on this blog, Earl was a war hero U.S. Marine who fought at Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He lost his leg in the West Loch Disaster in May 1944 at Pearl Harbor.
I found myself choking back tears to see video of my late father holding my older brother, David C. Hanneman, in the summer or fall of 1963. For the loved ones of all the dear souls who appear in the video, the images are like spun gold. You can enjoy the full 11 minutes 47 seconds below. [We’ve also added a second volume in the viewer at the bottom of the page.]
We’re able to add some details to our Mulqueen family story from the 1894 marriage license of Charles Henry Chase and Bridget Elizabeth Mulqueen. A copy of the document was obtained from the Wisconsin Historical Society.
The couple were married September 4, 1894 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Askeaton, a hamlet in southern Brown County, Wisconsin. The wedding Mass was said by the newly ordained Rev. Gervase J. O’Connell, pastor of St. Patrick’s. Witnesses to the marriage were James Clancy and Mary Mulqueen, sister of the bride.
Charles Henry Chase is described as the son of Horace Chase and Catherine Whalen. He was a resident of Marinette, Wisconsin, at the time of the wedding. His occupation is listed as “farmer, then butcher.” He was born in Bangor, Maine. His residence in Marinette lines up with the long-held belief that his son, Earl J. Mulqueen Sr., was born in the seat of Marinette County. However, the Marinette County Register of Deeds can find no record of Earl’s birth (January 7, 1895) under any surname. The Wisconsin Historical Society’s pre-1907 vital records database does not have any birth record for Earl in any Wisconsin county.
Charles’ birthplace on the marriage record contradicts what is listed on U.S. Census and other documents. Those records said Earl’s father was born in Vermont. A search of U.S. Census and other genealogy databases turned up no documents of a family headed by Horace Chase with wife Catherine and son Charles. Milwaukee once had a mayor named Horace Chase, and there was a man by that name living in Bangor in La Crosse County, Wisconsin. But neither fit the bill of the Horace we’re seeking. So it would seem that each answer we find generates several more in return.
The Mulqueen surname is listed as Micqueen or M’cqueen on the 1894 marriage record. Daniel and Mary (Corcoran) Mulqueen are listed as Elizabeth’s parents. The McQueen and Mulqueen surnames were used interchangeably in newspaper articles, U.S. Census records and church documents. We believe Mulqueen to be the correct Irish usage of the surname. If you go back far enough in Irish history, you will find the Gaelic Ó Maolchaoin, which according to the 1923 book Irish Names and Surnames by Rev. Patrick Woulfe, means “descendant of Maolcaoin (gentle chief).” This version of the name appears to date to before the year 1096. Another very similar Gaelic variant, Ó Maolchaoine, means “servant of St. Caoine.” I’ve not found any Catholic saints by that name, but perhaps there is an English translation that will provide a clue. The Mulqueen clan appears to have originated from an area that includes counties Clare and Limerick in Ireland. I have no memories of my grandpa Earl, but from what my mother has told me, “gentle chief” is a moniker that would fit him well.
Our quest to track down Charles Henry Chase continues. We were always told that both of Earl’s parents died when he was very young. Elizabeth died in March 1897, when Earl was 2. Earl and his sister, Elizabeth, chose to take their mother’s maiden name. Charles had at least one other child, Mary Chase, outside of his marriage to Elizabeth Mulqueen. Our most recent documentary evidence of Mary was in Earl’s September 1965 obituary, which lists his half-sister as living in Pleasant Hill, California.
– To see the complete 1894 marriage license, click here.
It is indeed a sad situation to be buried in an unmarked grave, seemingly forgotten by the world. Worse yet, to have no one document the burial, or have the records lost or destroyed. That is the apparent reality for five members of the Daniel Mulqueen family of Askeaton, Wisconsin. This includes Bridget Elizabeth (Mulqueen) Chase, the mother of Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. (1895-1965).
We know the family patriarch, Daniel, is buried at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in Askeaton. We also have every reason to believe these five Mulqueens are buried in the same cemetery:
Mary (Corcoran) Mulqueen (1827-1913), wife of Daniel
Daughter Bridget Elizabeth (Mulqueen) Chase (1866-1897)
Son Thomas Mulqueen (1855-1913)
Son James Mulqueen (1853-1917)
Son Daniel Mulqueen Jr. (1865-1926)
Newspaper obituaries either directly state or strongly suggest these Mulqueens are indeed buried in the parish cemetery. Yet the only monument is for the father, Daniel, who died in March 1893. Worse yet, there are no cemetery records for the four siblings and their mother. A recent site inspection confirmed the situation, and deepened the mystery.
Every cemetery has unmarked graves. Sometimes, families did not have funds to create a headstone. Some burials were marked by wooden crosses or other temporary markers that were destroyed by the passage of time. Small footstones could be swallowed by the earth, lying unnoticed just beneath the surface. Records were often nothing more than index cards. Over more than a century, these records could be lost, misfiled or destroyed by fire.
The lot maps for St. Patrick’s cemetery clearly show the plot for Daniel Mulqueen, along the western property line in the oldest section of the cemetery. Underneath his name are the names Mary and Mike. Mary is Daniel’s wife. He had a son named Michael, but he is buried in Dickinson County, Michigan. It is clear upon visual inspection that there are burials to the north of Daniel’s monument. Depressions in the ground often indicate very old burials, since pressure from the earth eventually crushes and implodes wooden caskets. Today, burials in Wisconsin require use of a concrete burial vault to prevent this situation.
There is a good chance all of the “missing” graves are immediately to the north of the Daniel Mulqueen marker. The map is blank for that area, so it appears no one else holds a deed for that space. Other, similar size lots on the cemetery map contain as many as eight burials, so there would be room for a family. About 75 feet north of the Mulqueen lot, there is a small metal cross marking burial of an unknown parishioner. This makes it clear there are at least some undocumented burials at St. Patrick’s cemetery.
There are ways to find unmarked burials. Sunken grave markers can by found using a steel earth probe. The same earth probe can indicate unmarked burials, since the earth in the burial location is less compact than surrounding, undisturbed ground. Those methods can be tried on a future cemetery visit. Other methods, including use of ground-penetrating radar, are too expensive to be practical.
We plan to examine the record books for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, which should include death, funeral and burial information. Those records are most likely held by the Diocese of Green Bay, where we have already filed a request for access.
The Mulqueen family that came from Ireland to settle near Askeaton, Wisconsin, donated today’s equivalent of $15,000 to help build St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in 1908. The donation amounts from four Mulqueen family members are etched into a marble monument in the narthex of the church in southern Brown County, Wisconsin.
A recent visit to the tiny hamlet of Askeaton unearthed more details of the Mulqueen family that settled there in the 1850s. These pioneers are the ancestors of Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. (1895-1965), who grew up on his grandparents farm just a couple miles from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
On the southern wall of the narthex of the church is a beautiful marble monument with the roll of donors who put up the funds to build the new St. Patrick’s that was dedicated in 1908. It replaced the previous church structure that had been across the road on land that is now part of the parish cemetery. The family matriarch, Mary (Corcoran) Mulqueen, donated $100, while her sons Daniel Jr., Thomas and James donated a total of $500. The $600 Mulqueen family donation represents at least $15,000 in 2017 dollars. For this hard-working farm family, this was no doubt a major sacrifice. Overall, parishioners raised the 2017 equivalent of $475,000 to build the church.
One thing is clear looking at the monument and examining some of the early church books: the family name was Mulqueen, not the McQueen that appears on headstones in St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery across the street. The two surnames seemed to be used almost interchangeably, but the Mulqueen spelling is what appears in church records.
St. Patrick’s is a stunning church with an arched ceiling and a collection of some of the most beautiful stained glass windows you will ever see. The windows depict saints and scenes from the New Testament, including Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, the Resurrection, the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes,St. Michael the Archangel, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Guardian Angel, St. Patrick and more. Mass is still said here twice a week.
It is very clear looking at the church, the two former school buildings and the well-kept cemetery that the Catholic Church has always been at the heart of life in Askeaton. Even before the Irish immigrants could build the first church in Askeaton, they attended Mass in each other’s homes. Before long, though, they built the original St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and had a full-time resident priest. Earl Mulqueen and his younger sister Elizabeth no doubt received First Holy Communion and Confirmation in this church.
Exterior of St. Patrick’s.
Exterior of St. Patrick’s.
Mulqueens on the donor roll
Donor roll of St. Patrick’s in Askeaton.
Interior of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Askeaton.q
Bridget Elizabeth (McQueen) Chase, the mother of Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. (1895-1965), died of typhus on March 12, 1897, just two weeks after giving birth to her daughter Elizabeth. That fact is revealed in a death certificate just received from the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.
The death certificate says Elizabeth was just 20, much younger than the age listed in her newspaper obituary. That is most likely an error, as the 1870 U.S. Census puts her birthdate at about 1866. That means she died at about age 31. Two weeks prior to her death, on February 26, 1897, she gave birth to daughter Elizabeth in Green Bay. Earl was just over 2 years old when his mother died.
Typhus is a bacterial disease characterized by a rash, fever, cough, headaches, rapid breathing and confusion. Before the widespread availability of antibiotics such as doxycycline, typhus was often fatal. The disease has several forms, although the most common form was spread by body lice. It is different than typhoid fever.
The Brown County death certificate helps shed a little more light on Elizabeth’s story. Until recently, we had no idea who Earl’s mother was. Earl was raised on his grandparents’ farm near Askeaton, Wisconsin after the death of both parents. He took his mother’s maiden name. His father, Charles Henry Chase, is still largely a mystery — one we hope to solve with help of Charles and Elizabeth’s marriage certificate. The couple were married on September 4, 1894, about four months before Earl’s birth. Earl was said to be born in Marinette, while his sister Elizabeth was born in Green Bay. The young Chase family was living in Green Bay at the time of Bridget Elizabeth’s death.
While progress has been made, the mysteries keep piling up. St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in Askeaton has no record of Bridget Elizabeth McQueen Chase’s 1897 burial. Her newspaper obituary clearly states her funeral was at St. Patrick’s church. No burial records seem to exist for four other members of the Askeaton McQueen family, including Mary (Corcoran) McQueen (1827-1913), Thomas McQueen (1855-1913), James McQueen (1853-unknown) and Daniel McQueen Jr. (1865-1926). Newspaper obituaries for most of those individuals state that the funerals and/or burials were at St. Patrick’s in Askeaton. A planned visit to the cemetery could clear things up, but right now there does not appear to be a paper trail for those burials.
Key questions that still need answers regarding Earl and his ancestors:
What became of Earl’s father, Charles H. Chase? The 1898 Green Bay city directory lists a Charles Chase as a chef at Hotel Christie, but it’s not clear if this is the same man. The only death records for a Charles Chase for this time period are for a much older, already married man who farmed in Greenleaf, not far from Askeaton. That man died in 1905 at age 65.
Who were Charles Chase’s ancestors and what was their heritage?
Where is Earl’s birth certificate? No record seems to exist under the Chase or Mulqueen/McQueen names in Marinette or Brown counties. In fact, there is no birth certificate for him in state records at all.
Did Earl’s maternal grandparents, Daniel and Mary Mulqueen, come from County Limerick, Ireland, as did most of the settlers of Askeaton, Wisconsin?
Growing up in an Irish family of 11 children during the Great Depression and World War II left Mary K. (Mulqueen) Hanneman with vivid memories. The seventh child born to Earl James Mulqueen Sr. (1895-1965) and Margaret Madonna (Dailey) Mulqueen (1895-1982), she has tender memories of her parents and life in Cudahy, a southern suburb of Milwaukee.
In April 2009, she sat down for an oral history interview with granddaughter Ruby Hanneman, 9, and son Joe Hanneman. The discussion covered subjects like how the big family made ends meet during the Great Depression, how having four siblings serving in World War II changed family life at home, and the lasting impressions left by her late parents. The presentation lasts 23 minutes 6 seconds.
The photo above shows Margaret Mulqueen and husband Earl across the table for Sunday dinner in the late 1950s. The photo embedded in the SoundCloud player shows Mary with sisters Ruth (Mulqueen) McShane and Joan (Mulqueen) Haske outside the Mulqueen home on East Cudahy Avenue.
Every family historian has come up against the dreaded brick wall. Something that stops or stalls a genealogy search and prevents you from making progress in writing your family history. So it’s a joyous occasion to smash down one of those brick walls, which is just was I did this week related to my maternal grandfather, Earl J. Mulqueen (1895-1965).
I had been stymied for years trying to learn about Earl’s parents and other ancestors. The story I’d been told was that his parents both died before he was 4 years old and he was raised by two bachelor uncles on a farm near Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was able to find him and his younger sister on the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Census in the Town of Holland, Brown County. But despite years of searching, I could not find any record of his parents, who I was told were named Charles Mulqueen and Mary Chase.
Fast forward to this week. I met with two of my mom’s younger sisters, to see what information they might have about their father. Only three of 11 siblings in the Mulqueen clan of Cudahy, Wisconsin are still alive, so I was eager to finish this research now. One of the things we reviewed was a family bible originally belonging to my grandmother, Margaret Madonna (Dailey) Mulqueen (1895-1982). A small notation in the family tree section of the bible listed Earl’s parents as Charles Chase and Elizabeth McQueen. McQueen is a common spelling variant of the surname Mulqueen, and the Wisconsin branch of this family used the names almost interchangeably.
At this point, the information started to make sense. If Earl took his mother’s maiden name, it would explain my difficulty finding his parents in the records. On his 1965 death certificate, Earl’s parents were listed as Charles Mulqueen and Mary Chase. Was that information incorrect? I was about to find out. I turned to my trusty subscription to Newspapers.com, a subsidiary of Ancestry.com. I ran the obvious name searches, but turned up nothing. Then I tried a search just for the words “Chase” and “Askeaton,” the latter being the hamlet in Brown County settled by Irish families in the 1850s. Up popped a headline from the March 15, 1897 issue of the Green Bay Gazette: “Death of Mrs. Charles Chase of This City.” Bingo. One brick in the wall fell.
According to the article, Mrs. Chase died of fever after giving birth. I knew my grandfather’s younger sister was born in 1897, so this made sense. Next I turned to the Wisconsin Historical Society and its index of pre-1907 death records. Again, the typical name searches did not find anything useful. I then did a broad search for all Brown County deaths from 1890 to 1900 and manually looked through them. There I found a death record for Bridget E. Chase on March 12, 1897. Bridget? I recalled the U.S. Census records for a McQueen family in the Town of Holland, Brown County, had a Bridget listed. Her age was a close match for Bridget Chase. The Elizabeth McQueen listed in grandma’s Bible was actually Bridget Elizabeth McQueen.Boom. Down came more bricks.
I used the same search strategy with the Wisconsin Historical Society’s marriage records. I found a Charles Henry Chase who got married on September 4, 1894. This sounded promising. But when I clicked on the “search for possible spouse matches” feature on the web site, it came up blank. That usually does not happen. So I again took the long road, calling up all Brown County marriages from 1890 to 1900 and zeroing in on the letter M. There I found two matches, both with the same September 1894 wedding date as Charles H. Chase. The first was for “Bridget Micgreen” and the second was for “Bridget E. Mcinween.” Whoa. What merciless butchering of the McQueen/Mulqueen name! As I quickly ordered paper copies of these documents from the WHS, I could hear that brick wall rumbling and crumbling.
Based on the information in these documents, Bridget Elizabeth was pregnant with my grandfather at the time of her September 1894 marriage to Charles H. Chase. Grandpa was born on 7 January 1895. Now I had confirmation of my grandfather’s parents, whom he never really knew. I’m still waiting for the marriage and death certificates from Madison, and I hope they shed further light on this couple. There are still big questions needing answers. Why did Earl take his mother’s maiden name, Mulqueen, rather than his father’s name, Chase? Again, this is not typical, so there must be a significant story behind it. What happened to Charles H. Chase? I had often been told he died while my grandfather was young. But I had also been told his surname was Mulqueen. I am in the process of tracking down his story.
While I was on a research roll, I turned to Elizabeth Mulqueen’s parents. I easily located them on the 1860 U.S. Census for the Town of Holland in Brown County. Daniel and Mary Mulqueen, parents to James, 9; Thomas, 5; Margaret, 3; and Michael, 1 month old. On the 1870 U.S. Census, new children appeared, including Margaret, 7; Daniel, 5;Bridget, 4; and Mary, 1. That makes two Margarets with different ages, so either the 1870 Census is in error, or the first Margaret died and a new daughter bore the same name. The Census put Earl’s mother’s birth year at around 1866.
I next used my Family Tree Maker software (powered by Ancestry.com databases) to look for more information on this family. I found little Mary Mulqueen’s Wisconsin birth record, which listed the mother’s maiden name as Corcoran. So now I knew Daniel Mulqueen married Mary Corcoran, likely prior to 1851, when the family lived in Ohio. But I could find no birth or death records on file for any of the couple’s other children.
By digging more through news microfilm, I discovered that Daniel Mulqueen spent his final years at the Brown County Asylum, having been judged “insane.” Unfortunately, I have no information on his case, which could have simply been dementia. People with infirmities that could not be handled at home often ended up in county asylums, sometimes called “poor farms” or “insane asylums.”
Dan first entered the asylum on June 7, 1888. He was in and out of the institution over the next few years. He died at the Brown County Asylum on March 30, 1893. The only obituary, in the Daily State Gazette of Green Bay, read thusly: “Daniel McQueen, an insane man, died at the county asylum yesterday afternoon. He was 74 years of age. The funeral will be held tomorrow in the town of West Holland.” How sensitive. This man emigrated to America from Ireland, raised a large family on a successful farm in Wisconsin, yet the local paper only remembers him for an illness in his final years.
My Grandpa Earl and his sister moved to the Mulqueen farm near Askeaton after their mother died in March 1897. Their grandmother, Mary, lived on the farm until her death in 1913. The men of the farm included Daniel Mulqueen Jr. and his older brother James. I believe Dan and James are the bachelor uncles about which I’d been told.
Determined to start a life of his own, Earl left the Mulqueen farm and moved south to Racine County around 1916. He spent time as a farm hand in Kansasville, where his good friend Howard Gilson lived. Earl later moved to Racine and worked for J.I. Case before starting a long career for Wisconsin Electric. He met and married my grandmother, the former Margaret Madonna Dailey, at Racine on Nov. 23, 1920. They moved to Cudahy, Wisconsin, in the mid- to late 1920s.
The little hamlet of Askeaton, Wisconsin, is named for a village in County Limerick, Ireland. Farmers from County Limerick emigrated to America starting in 1844 and eventually made their way to Brown County, Wisconsin. Askeaton, Ireland, has a fascinating history, with ruins of a medieval castle that dates to about the year 1200 and a Franciscan abbey founded in 1389. It was once a large walled town, but in 1846 was described in an Irish gazetteer as “a poor lumpish village.” The population at the time the group of farmers left for Wisconsin was about 4,400.
In the span of just a few days, I’ve unearthed more information on Earl Mulqueen’s ancestry than I found in more than 10 years of searching. Now that the brick wall has come down, I look forward to fruitful research in the coming days and months.
SHAWNEETOWN, Illinois — Children skipped happily along the streets of this southern Illinois town on the afternoon of Sunday, April 3, 1898. Sunday school had let out and the rest of the sunny day was theirs to claim. A large crowd of adults ambled along the walk, crossing Market Street and continuing on their way home. At the north end of Market Street, the levee that protects the town from the Ohio River was badly strained by rising water. But if the townsfolk were worried, it did not show on this spring day.
About 4:45 p.m., a 10-foot section of the levee collapsed and river water began pouring through the breach onto Market Street. The hole in the levee quickly grew to a half-mile wide, exploding into a wall of onrushing flood water that raced into the center of town. The flood rush hit the town like a blast from a double-barrel shotgun. Dozens of homes in the immediate path, many nothing more than shanties, were suddenly swept away. The small buildings were thrust along, some of them smashing against sturdier structures like the courthouse. Within mere moments, a quarter of Shawneetown’s homes were gone, the remains of which tumbled along in the rolling boils of a massive flood.
The people of Shawneetown were no strangers to floods. They had waged war with the Ohio River for generations. The Ohio always won the battle, but the people rebuilt time and again. As heavy spring rains swelled the Ohio again in March 1898, the older folks in town knew it could mean big trouble. But the relatively new levees were supposed to prevent it. Levees were built in 1884 after back-to-back years of devastating floods that twice wiped out much of the town. Today, the Ohio River again claimed its superiority with the ferocity of a jungle cat.
“About 50 small frame houses along the line of the levee to the south were crushed like toys,” witness T.J. Hogan of Omaha, Illinois said. Stunned residents scrambled for higher ground. Women on the streets struggled through the muddy waters, holding their babies aloft as the flood waters reached neck level. “The strongest houses, built especially to resist floods, went down like corn stalks,” wrote photographer Benneville L. Singley. “There was a wild rush for the hills. None had time to secure either treasure or clothing.”
A few miles northwest of Shawneetown, the Daniel J. Dailey Jr. family was preparing for Sunday supper on their farm in North Fork Township. Florence (White) Dailey, 30, prepared the meal while the children helped ready the table. The Dailey home was a busy place, with Delia, Millie, Daniel and Maggie scuttling about. Maggie, just 2 ½, grew up to become our own Margaret Madonna (Dailey) Mulqueen of Cudahy, Wisconsin.
The Dailey and White families had farmed this area of Gallatin County since the early 1860s. Daniel J. Dailey Sr. brought his young family from Ohio about 1860. The 1860 U.S. Census shows the Dailey family consisted of Daniel, 30, Hannah, 26, Mary, 4, and Daniel J., 2. The White family, from which Florence (White) Dailey came, settled in Gallatin County nearly a decade before her birth. The 1860 census showed the White family included father Don, 24, mother Sarah, 24 and children Mary, 5, Wiley, 3, and James, 6 months. Florence was born in November 1869.
We don’t know how long it took word to reach North Fork about the massive breach in the levee. It was most likely the next morning. The news no doubt sent Daniel Dailey towards Shawneetown with other area farmers, while Florence (White) Dailey gathered supplies for what would soon become a massive relief effort. By nightfall on April 3, the river had flooded dozens of square miles in and around Shawneetown with water up to 15 feet deep.
By morning, the town was devastated. Those who could scrambled to the roofs of their homes to escape the rising terror. Dozens raced into the Gallatin County Courthouse, the Riverside Hotel and the Ridgway Bank, seeking shelter on the upper floors of these sturdy structures. A few early rescue boats and canoes drifted into town and began rescuing the stranded. “Hundreds of those who escaped the rush of water were perched on roofs, trees and along the top of the levee,” a newspaper dispatch read. “They were taken from their dangerous positions as rapidly as possible.” Survivors were taken to nearby Junction City, where an emergency camp was established.
Upstream, carpenters, farmers and any able-bodied men began building flat boats that would be used to ferry supplies and people. When word reached dry land in nearby towns, frantic wires were sent to Springfield for help. The situation was pure panic. Newspapers across America carried dramatic headlines; FLOOD AT SHAWNEETOWN. Some predicted hundreds of deaths. One paper even pegged the toll at 1,000.
Meanwhile, rescuers shortly had weather to battle. The cold rains had started again, whipped by 30-mile-per-hour winds that made the sheets of rain cut like glass. Relief efforts were being coordinated at Ridgway, some 12 miles from Shawneetown. The governor sent more than 100 tents and rations for more than 1,000 people, but initially the displaced could rely only on the charity of neighbors and strangers. It would be weeks before the deep flood waters began to recede. Doctors hurried to the area to help prevent sanitary conditions from sickening the townsfolk.
On April 5, the Shawneetown relief committee released a statement and called for donations: “The whole town is submerged. One tract of twelve acres is about 15 feet under water; this was formerly covered with small dwellings and is now absolutely bare. On this tract the greatest loss of life occurred. It is evident that bodies cannot be recovered, nor any absolute knowledge of the number of deaths obtained until the waters abate.”
When the waters finally receded, the full toll of the disaster could be chronicled. There were 25 killed by drowning. Some 143 houses were demolished or rendered untenable. About half of those floated away on the rising river. The relief committee distributed more than $22,000 and helped rebuild many homes. Losses were estimated at in excess of $300,000.
Gallatin County Sheriff Charles R. Galloway suffered particularly stunning personal loss. After learning his daughters Dora, 19, and Mary, 12 were killed in the flood, he then learned of the drowning of his wife, Sylvester. Photographer Singley wrote that the sheriff’s hair “turned suddenly white from grief at the loss of his wife and two daughters.” In some cases, entire families were wiped out, such as Charles Clayton, his wife and their four children.
Until 1883, Shawneetown was completely at the mercy of the river. That year, after floods had again wiped out much of the village, construction was begun on a levee system. The levee was still incomplete in February 1884 when the river overpowered it, pouring floodwaters into the town. “Within 24 hours from that time, all the poorer people of Shawneetown were homeless, their houses drifting about and away in the turbulent flood,” read a report prepared for the Illinois legislature.
There was something in the community’s DNA that willed the folks to rebuild. This was a longstanding feature of life in Shawneetown. Morris Birbeck, writing his 1817 Notes on a Journey in America, remarked: “As the lava of Mount Etna can not dislodge this strange being from the cities which have been repeatedly ravished by its eruptions, the Ohio, with its annual overflowings, is unable to wash away the inhabitants of Shawneetown.”
As true as Birbeck’s observation was, the Ohio struck at Shawneetown with disastrous results again in 1913. That year, more than 1,000 people took up residence in tent cities built on the nearby hills. An emergency hospital was built to care for the injured and sick. In 1932, the levee was raised to 5 feet above the high-water mark from 1913. But nothing would hold back the flood waters in 1937, when what was called a 1,000-year flood swamped the town. After more than a century of floods and destruction, Shawneetown would not rebuild on the lowlands. The state and federal governments helped move the village onto hills 4 miles back from the river.
Margaret Dailey, who was referred to in Census documents as Maggie and Madge, moved away from North Fork and went to school at Northwestern University. She finished her studies in June 1920, and shortly after married a young man named Earl James Mulqueen in Racine, Wisconsin. The Mulqueen family home, which eventually relocated to Cudahy, welcomed 11 children between 1921 and 1944.
— This post has been updated with an additional photo of the flood, and a correction on the location of the first photo to Uniontown, Ky., rather than Shawneetown.
Milwaukee was a key industrial production hub during World War II, and there was concern that spies or saboteurs would attack defense contractors or the public utilities that supplied them with power. As a master mechanic at Wisconsin Electric’s huge Lakeside Power Plant in St. Francis, Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. worked under tight security to ensure the war effort continued uninterrupted.
Nicknamed “The Governor,” Mulqueen was well known around his home in Cudahy as a Mr. Fixit. Whenever the boiler would go out at St. Frederick’s Catholic Church or school, they would call the Governor to come over and get things working again. When World War II broke out in late 1941, Mulqueen was just starting his third decade working for Wisconsin Electric. He put his mechanical skills to work keeping the turbines and other equipment at Lakeside in good working order.
Signs on and around the Lakeside plant carried a warning: “National Defense Premises. No Entry.” Armed agents guarded the plant 24 hours a day — part of a force of more than 1,000 men providing security at Wisconsin power utilities during the war. Because of his key role in keeping Lakeside in operation, Mulqueen received his own security protection. He often stayed at the plant for long stretches. When he came home to fetch clean clothes and pay a quick visit, he was accompanied by FBI agents. On occasion, an agent came alone to pick up clothes or other supplies for Mulqueen.
The security precautions were warranted. Milwaukee factories were converted to war production of artillery, fuel storage, engines, turbines and all sorts of mechanical parts. The build-up created huge demand for power. The nation could ill afford an attack that shut down a key plant like Lakeside. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wisconsin Electric officials expressed security concerns, and fears the Lakeside power plant could be attacked with explosives by boat from Lake Michigan.
Nazi Germany launched just such a plan when it landed eight special agents on the shores of New York and Florida in June 1942. The German agents carried explosives and were tasked with blowing up U.S. defense industries and terrorizing population centers. “They came to maim and kill,” said FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Codenamed Operation Pastorius, the plot was foiled when one of the saboteurs turned himself in to the FBI. Federal agents arrested the men and recovered high explosives disguised as pieces of coal.
Such an attack could have been devastating. Manufacturers like Allis-Chalmers, Falk Corp., Ladish, Bucyrus Erie, Case, Heil Co. and many others produced components and finished goods for the U.S. military. Everything from engines, to fuel trailers, to cargo and transport ships were built in eastern Wisconsin during the war. Wisconsin utilities scrambled to add generating capacity to keep up. Opened in 1920, Lakeside carried the burden of power supply as the other generation plants were being built.
Mulqueen left his job as a machinist at the Case plow works in Racine in February 1920 to work for the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. (later called Wisconsin Electric) as a machinist helper in the utility’s Racine operations. In November of that year, he married Margaret Madonna Dailey at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Racine. A former teacher, Miss Dailey had graduated in June 1920 from Northwestern University. Earl worked in Racine until 1925, when he was transferred to the Lakeside Power Plant. The Mulqueen family then moved to Cudahy. The couple had 11 children; six of whom served in the U.S. military.