Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seedlings for a Promise

In 1924, at the age of 18, John Dennis Fitzgerald left his hometown Price to pursue his dreams.  He had graduated from High School at the ripe young age of 16.  He had been active in his High School.  The 1923 annual, The Carbon, lists some of his pursuits, "Yell master,'21, Athletic Manager '22, President of the JFF club "21, President of the K.O.L. club'22, President of Senior Class 1st semester '23."

Clearly a young boy with this much zeal could not be satisfied in a quiet, remote town.  So off he went to New York, Denver, Los Angeles, CA. and more.  He worked as police beat reporter, then later as a foreign correspondent for United Press.  He went on to work for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and in between time he tried to become a successful writer.  The writing was the biggest dream, and the least successful part of his life, in his eyes.  Eventually he gave up.  In April of 1940, Mamma passed away and the disappointing tide began to turn.

The six Fitzgerald children had not been together for at least 16 years.  A lot had changed in all of their lives.  They were all now adults.  Each had suffered heart ache and loss.  Now for a few short days they were together to bid farewell to their parents.

Following  Mamma's service at the LDS chapel and the city cemetery, the Fitzgerald children returned to the house on 100 West, which had belonged to

The Families Thoughts on the Books

The other day Mary asked what the real Tom thought of the books.  Unfortunately I have no direct answer from Tom.   He gave no interviews so no clues were left.  We do, though, have some family responses. 

The first family response comes from Isabelle, the oldest, she was very pleased with the books.  She had helped John with Papa Married a Mormon.  Later, John dedicated Mamma's Boarding House to "Belle F. Empey for help in research."

In subsequent interviews various relatives have stated, "the brothers were all very proud of John."  They tend to stand divided on who was the real Great Brain.  That is one of those mysteries that will be debated for a long time. 

I know it's short answer, but I hope it helps.  Keep the questions coming.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A chance to say Thanks

Last night I checked my FindingFitzgerald email and received a word of praise. Tim Kane at wrote, "It is only a month old, and I hope Carrie never loses her enthusiasm no matter how small the updates are." I was thrilled. Thank you. And if any of our readers are looking for economics help, check out growthology.

As I continued to re-read the emails I've received I marveled at the responses of support. Sandy wrote, "I can't believe I was just researching how to buy the next book and ran across this website and blog! You are fantastic for doing this."

I love it - to be called fantastic makes me sing.

Kathy said, "I have visited your webpage. Congratulations on it. It's a wonderful page." Doug added, "Thanks Carrie, I'm following your blog and plan to spend a lot of time at both sites."

I was so excited to have fans.

Joseph shared, "Stumbled upon your site quite out of the blue. Man, I used to love those books. Keep on keepin' on." The keep on support continued from Bob who added, "I really like your website. Keep it up."

These words of encouragement, as well as the questions from other posters, keep me enthused. I loved my research long before anyone else knew about it. I loved that I was ahead of the internet on so many of the finds. I love sharing this story with all of you. Thank you for making my dreams of sharing my finds so much fun. I'll "keep on keepin' on" if you promise to "keep on keepin' on".

Thanks everyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Papa - The Patriarch

There would not have been a Great Brain Series or a Papa Married a Mormon book, if it wasn't for Thomas Fitzgerald.  Thomas Fitzgerald in life and literature is a delightful man.  Tender and devoted to his wife in both arena's. I was lucky enough to find information on him early on in my search.  Nine years ago, when I began my hunt, very little was found online.  In fact, practically nothing.  I was so excited when a library sent me a brief 4 paragraph biography of Thomas Fitzgerald.  It was eye opening.  I re-read it for days trying to decide what to do with it.

The biography I believe is now accessible online.  I will post sections of it here.  It is part of a multi-volume book series entitled, Utah Since Statehood.  Published in 1919, these books were compiled to share the history of Utah through the biographies of prominent people who helped it develop into a booming state.

The "Old West" is rapidly passing.  Few men are now living who can recall the days of the old Concord coach, the Pony Express rider or the red-shirted miner that depended more upon his "six-gun" than upon the law to protect his claim.
Papa, Thomas Fitzgerald, appears in Volume 4  on page 27.  Who submitted his biography is unknown. His inclusion however supports the idea of Papa being larger than life and vital to the success of his town and state.

Thomas Fitzgerald is a member of the city council of Price and is devoting his attention largely to his official duties, for he has practically retired from business, deriving his income from judicious investments which he previously made.  He was born in Pennsylvania, June 27, 1851...In the acquirement of his education...through to the high school.  In early manhood he came to the west, seeking the broader opportunities which he believed were offered in this section of the country.  He took up the business of placer mining and was thus engaged in Idaho, where he conducted a restaurant for several years.  In July, 1895, he established his home at Price,Utah.
Isabelle Fitzgerald Empey, Thomas' daughter, described him, "Dad was 21 years older than Mom.  He had night black curly hair and deep blue eyes-real Irish."  These characteristics ring true to the Papa readers love. However, Thomas Fitzgerald also carried similarities to another Fitzgerald in the book-Uncle Will. Isabelle's own written words show this.
After dad's graduation from college as a druggist, he got the wanderlust and went to Alaska and Canada as a prospector.  Later he came to Nev. where he struck a claim at Contact...The West intrigued him, he love the mountains and after his father's death, he went to Ida. (Shoshone).  There he had a cafe and Saloon.  He sold out and came to Price, Ut.
No record indicate when Thomas Fitzgerald met Minnie Nielsen, his future wife.  Only the dates of his arrival and their wedding date tell that it was a quick courtship, less than a year.  Wanderlust though continued to drive Thomas even after he was married.  The local paper, Eastern Utah Advocate wrote on Oct. 9, 1902, Thomas Fitzgerald went from Evanston, Wyo., where he is investigating a hotel proposition that has been offered him."  Fitzgerald though decided to remain in Price.

His life, like all of ours had it's ups and downs,  though brief biographies paint a rosy glow, he suffered his share of frustrations and set backs.  One of the biggest was a lifetime battle with rheumatoid arthritis.  With so many cures for disease in our lifetime it is hard to remember that just a century ago more people suffered than we do.  Some newslippings about Thomas Fitzgerald shed a bit of light on that subject.
June 25, 1903 - Thomas Fitzgerald is still in a nurse's care at Shoshone, Ida., suffering from rheumatism.  His doctor tells a sister who has been to see him from Mountain Home, Ida., that he is in very bad shape." A month later - July 30, 1903-Thomas Fitzgerald arrived Tuesday from Shoshone, Idaho, on a visit to his family and to recuperate from an attack of rheumatism.  Tom is barely able to move around with the aid of a crutch and cane and his many friends in Price hope to see him out in a short time.

It is conjecture on my part, but when I read the deed to the Fitzgerald's final home and found that Minnie alone was the original purchaser, I wondered if the arthritis was so crippling that Thomas Fitzgerald was incapacitated more than history would tell us.   Besides  Mamma buying the house under her name, I looked more carefully at the photograph of the Fitzgerald family in Papa Married a Mormon.  Papa remains in a chair on the porch, was it a wheel chair,  or just a porch chair where he could sit and watch.  Lastly his daughter Isabelle's biography clarifys that his saloon closed because, "Utah went dry."  My conjecture is that J.D. didn't have to look much farther than his own dad to help create the convincing character of William Dennis Fitzgerald, saloon owner, cripple, civic pioneer.  (Again these are my thoughts)

Either way when Thomas Fitzgerald left this life the entire town of Price mourned his passing.  Dear friends from both "sides of the tracks" were pall bearers.  The church "Notre Dame de Lourdes" in Price was filled to capacity to bear the grief.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Saying Good-bye and the Beginning of a Promise

On August 7, 1940, Price, Utah eulogized Lorimine Christine Nielsen, known to her community as Minnie. She had moved to Price in 1895 to work at L.M Olsens Mercantile.  Where she was a buyer and bookkeeper.  Her daughter Isabelle recalls,
"Mom was a beautiful penman and at one time her copy book was used as a writing manual."
Sometime during 1895, Minnie was introduced to Thomas Fitzgerald.  By October of 1896 the couple had eloped to Salt Lake City where they were married by a Justice of the Peace. 

Newspaper clippings record many of Mrs. Fitzgeralds activities. Everything from births of new babies, to trips out of town.  Mrs. Fitzgerald was also a dedicated hostess.  Entire columns are written about the games
played, the home decor, often with a guest list included. 

"Mamma's hands were always busy."  Many of the "prize ribbons won at fairs" belong to Mrs. Fitzgerald. In the areas of stitchery and home canning she succeeded multiple years in winning blue ribbons.  In 1914 she added a state fair ribbon to her collection.

As a civic leader Mrs. Fitzgerald may have been second to none. 
"On July 4, 1904, she directed the first sidewalk parade ever to be presented in the state."
In her obituary we read the following:
"...being a talented actress and dramatic director.  In 1912 she gave the first benefit performance for the L.D.S. tabernacle, which was constructed that year, and the same year directed a similar production for the newly constructed Community church."
Her number one joy though was her husband.  In a brief family history written by Isabelle she shares,

"I'll always recall how happily in love my parents were.  I remember how on Valentines we kids were warned not to answer the bell at certain times.  My dad would leave a bouquet or candy with a Valentine at the door for Mom.  She'd run to look for him and laughingly catch him.  Then she'd reverse the act on him."
As romantic as their lives sound Mamma faced challenges, too.  Papa was struck with recurring rheumatoid arthritis.  Sometimes he would be gone for extended periods to seek treatment or take ill on a trip and not be able to return. 

Mrs. Fitzgerald was also strong and independent.  In 1921 Mrs. Minnie Fitzgerald purchased the families last home for $1000 deed.  She is the only purchaser.  No mention of Thomas exists.  The next time the deed was recorded in 1922 Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald's name are listed.  The year before she died the property was deeded to Minnie, Thomas and Thomas H. Fitzgerald.  The home still stands today and is happily occupied.

After Minnie's service the Fitzgerald children returned to this home.  Here they opened the five trunks that held the mementos that fueled the story outline. That outline eventually became the book series, we all love.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Once Upon A Time

It is hard to imagine the beautiful City of Price as a tough western community. Nothing in the present city gives you the image of gunslingers, outlaws, saloons or roughian. The town is quiet and quaint. I can easily see why visitors and historians disregard the town as John Fitzgerald's inspiration. On a cursory look it is impossible to see. But historic photographs and a bit of driving show the truth. The above photo hangs in the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper Utah. The marquee dates the image. Putting it closer to the era when J.D. was alive. His sister Isabelle wrote that at that time Papa owned
"3 buildings known as The Fitzgerald Block. He rented one for Meat Market and Grocery Store, one for a Cafe and had his Saloon and Pool Hall in one."

From 1896 to 1904 Thomas Fitzgerald, Sr. or Fitz, as his friends called him, ran the Fitzgerald & Co. Saloon and billiard hall. In 1904 the Eastern Utah Advocate, the local paper records:
"Thomas Fitzgerald has dedicated his saloon the White House since giving the building a fresh coat of paint."
J.D. clearly knew the life on the other side of the tracks. The stories his dad brought home as well as other reknown events easily shape themselves into his work.

That hard side of life remained with Price for many years. Butch Cassidy and his gang hung out there. Other less infamous to us outlaws rode through town. It would be the story of death of well known western outlaw, C.L. "Gunplay" Maxwell, that became the basis for the Laredo Kid in "Papa Married a Mormon."

Two events ended Fitzgerald's connection with the lawless west. The first was a fire that burned his saloon, the second was his election to the city council. Price however, retained it's wet image. One of Butch Cassidy's gang, Matt Warner, a Price resident purchased a saloon long after the hey-dey was done. History books and newspapers record western town life existing in certain forms up until WWI.

If you ever visit Price, you can drive over the railroad tracks, heading south, turn right and drive till you run out of road.
Still painted on the sides of a few standing buildings are the remnants of days gone by. One building still retains the facade front made famous by old western towns.

Monday, October 26, 2009

John Dennis Fitzgerald's children

In an interview Fitzgerald gave toward the end of his life he stated that every child who read his books was his child.

John married a wonderful woman name Joanne. They had a long and happy life together, but no children. John and Joanne were a fantastic uncle and aunt to John's nieces and nephews. Nearly every Great Brain book is dedicated to one or more of his nieces and nephews.

I was only able to locate one nephew during my research. We wrote a couple of times. As the years went by the family lost touch with other, even today I cannot locate the other cousins who might fill in more of the later story.

One of my readers asked if he could write a note of gratitude to any remaining children, since your children are his children, wrap them in a bug hug and give them a kiss for reading the stories he left as his legacy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I've tried to decide what direction to run the blog from. Do I do it from chronological order as I experienced it, break it down according to Fitzgerald's books, or post from reader input.

So tonight I'm going to answer reader questions. I was asked why Adenville was not on the map.

Adenville is found only in the map of John Dennis Fitzgerald's mind. The reason it feels so real to us is because of his skill in creating it based on the towns up and down Utah. The state is covered in 'villes'. Adamsville, Taylorsville, Snowville. Beyond name uniqueness alone, Fitzgerald also created for his readers a history for the naming of Adenville. This history of naming is mirrored in his own hometowns name of Price. Price was named after a Bishop William Price, an early discoverer of the area. Other Utah towns carry similar histories.

When I began researching the history of Fitzgeralds work I ran into multiple historians who said that Adenville and it's literary neighbor were based on the mining town of SilverReef and Leeds.
Even some relatives gave that credit. After visiting Price I disagree. Price in it's early days was easily Adenville and Silverlode in one. The dividing line was the train tracks. The photographs posted on my website of the saloons is taken in 1900 in Price, Utah. Though I briefly describe it, Price had a deeply lawless side living side by side with saints from multiple denominations.

So if you want to visit Adenville, head to Price. The Advenville side of life still resides there in full measure. The deep gulley's that were dug by the pioneers still exist. Many of the original homes are happily occupied, but you can almost feel time roll back as you walk on the sidewalks under the shade of the trees. And the ditch, it's there, too.

The remnants of Silverlode are fewer. Mostly found in archival pictures. You can see some great ones at the Western Mining Museum in the next door town of Helper. One small piece of the oldest days exist in a small, forlorn cemetery in the southwest corner of the town. If you drive south over the railroad tracks, turn right and drive till you run out of road you will find a dingy, dirt laden cemetery from a time long ago.

If you get a chance take a visit to Price. You won't be disappointed. Stop by the city cemetery and leave a thought with Papa and Mamma. We have these stories because of them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Start of the Journey

My mom read me the first Great Brain book. We had a tradition of family reading. During the summer of my sixth grade year we went on a camping trip. While dad set up the tent or cooked, Mom read to us from a book she was given at a book fair. My brother and I loved it. That night my brother and I went to play by a drying creek bed. I couldn't get the story out of my mind.

As I stood staring into the receding water I kept thinking of my dad's childhood. He had grown up in Dixie Utah. The third boy in his family. As a family they lived on a farm, bailed hay, delivered milk, and ate delicious homemade bread. From a sixth graders point of view the stories were very similar.

Over the years my brother and I would re-read the Great Brain Series. One afternoon I read the back of one of the books it mentioned that John Dennis Fitzgerald had written a story about his parents, Papa Married a Mormon. I wanted to read more about this delightful family. Eager to find it Mom and I went searching. In the 1970's there were no Barnes and Noble, no Amazon, or internet. No bookshop had never heard of it. The two local libraries were the same. I assumed it would be the story I would never get to read. Thirty years later my luck changed. When my husband found it on a ebay auction.

I had hoped for a good story. I was not disappointed. What I hadn't expected was a fantastic research experience. So many discoveries, but one of the best was finding an unexpected link to my dad's hometown life.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


HI! Thanks for dropping by. I never imagined I would have blog site. I've loved reading friends and families sites, but couldn't find a reason to write one of my own then I read an article about writers who create websites or blogs about their work i.e. Julie/Julia. Then I realized what I could do with my favorite project - John Dennis Fitzgerald research - I could blog about it. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it. Stop by often. Comment, too. And visit my website, Have fun.