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.