Presenting at the Glucksman Ireland House in October

GIHFrontHouse

The Glucksman Ireland House

I learned yesterday that my most recent paper has been accepted for the Mid-Atlantic regional meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies. The conference is being held at the Glucksman Ireland House on the campus of New York University. NYU has an outstanding Irish Studies program and it is exciting to be on their campus for this conference. Below is a description of my paper:

The Butte Bulletin: Ireland’s Voice in the Western Labor Camps

The Butte Bulletin held the largest circulation and reach of any paper in Montana between 1918 and 1921 – a period rife with labor unrest and a time when entire communities were shackled by martial law. At the center of the conflict was the State’s rich deposits of copper and the corporations that mined, processed and transported the precious metals to munition companies arming America’s allies. The Butte Bulletin was labor’s organ during this tumultuous time, reaching mining and timber camps throughout the West – but it also held an equally radical pro-Irish agenda, a focus that has been given little attention by historians. Past research into the paper’s origins and operations has focused on ties to the IWW and Communist Party, and the intense focus of the Military Intelligence Division on the paper’s seditious editors. In this paper I look specifically at the Irish roots of the paper’s start-up. Two of the principal promoters of the paper were James A. Murray and his nephew, NYU alum James E. Murray. My recent article in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, titled “Rocky Mountain Radicals; Copper King James A. Murray and U.S Senator James E. Murray, and Seventy-Eight Years of Montana Politics, 1883-1961” provides a political biography of the pair, and reveals their role with the Butte Bulletin. Here, I delve further into other Irish connections to the paper, and consider the influence the paper had in promoting Ireland’s cause during the final push for freedom.

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Murray’s 1908 restoration of the Carmel Mission

Monterey-Big-Sur-013-Edit-Edit-9.jpgEfforts to restore the badly deteriorated Carmel Mission started in the 1880’s with the construction of a new roof. Murray’s work was the next significant improvement to the mission and coincided with his dedication of a monument to mark the location of Father Serra’s first mass. Here is an article, published in Murray’s newspaper, detailing the scope of his contribution to the church:

Restoring of Church Floor

Carmel Mission Is Like When Indians Attended There

Monterey Daily Cypress, March 29, 1908

The work of restoring the floor of Carmel Mission, undertaken by James A. Murray of this city has been completed. As it is now the lower part of the church is almost the same as when thousands of Indians went there to attend services.

A cement floor has been laid all over the church, which is 49×125 feet. The floor is laid in diagonal blocks and is colored red to represent the old mission tiling. A new floor has also been placed in the chapel and sachristy (sic).

Inside the chancel the floor was laid with old tile which remained unbroken on a bed of cement.

The tombs of Junipero Serra and the several of his fellow priests were raised and the old stones that covered them replaced. Leading to the altar massive cement steps have been built.

The old stone stairway leading up to the little pulpit has been repaired with the identical stone that the builders of the Mission used. Stone for the purpose was quarried on the Gregg Ranch a couple miles away and brought to the the church and cut. It would take an expert to determine whether the steps had been repaired.

The stairway leading up to the old belfry tower, which was built of chalk rock, has been repaired with the same material.

For about four months this work of restoration has been going on under the direction of Charles W. Meader. Instructions from Mr. Murray were to replace the work as nearly as possible to the original, and this has been carefully done. Over 5000 square feet of cement work has benn (sic) laid.

The diagram below shows the likely location of the restoration work. Meader, the project manager, was the son of another well known Montana pioneer, Charles T. Meader. After Murray’s work, the next significant renovations were conducted by Harry Downie after 1920 – much of which replaced Murray’s work.  The stairwork completed to the small pulpit and the outside stair to the belfry are likely remains of Murray’s contribution at the mission. His monument marking the location of Serra’s first mass still stands in the Lower Presidio Historic Park.

Murrays Mission Renovations

 

Letters of heartbreak and hardship worth the visit

After two days researching documents in Monterey, I moved north and spent a day at the Bancroft Library on the U.C. Berkeley campus. There I reviewed the papers of famed sculptor Douglas Tilden. My subject, James A. Murray, commissioned two base reliefs from

Base Relief

Created by Tilden for Serra’s Cross

Tilden in 1904. Both adorn the monument Murray placed at the spot of Father Serra’s first mass in Monterey, California. One is a profile of Serra and the other a likeness of Mission Carmel. I quickly realized that I would not find anything of significance relating to Murray’s monument, but left with several hours of spare time on my hands, I started reading through random letters in the collection. I’m glad I did.

After reviewing several folders, I was struck by the heartbreak and hardship in Tilden’s life. Before Tilden garnered great success in his late thirties, his collection of papers includes terse correspondence from bill collectors, associates in desperate straits pleading for payment from Tilden, and even Alexander Graham Bell’s handwritten note expressing regret he could not afford to buy any of Tilden’s wares. I approximate that half of Tilden’s professional arc was a flat line of despair and agony. Adding to his hardship was a hearing impairment that rendered his world silent.

I wondered why Tilden held on to these reminders of suffering, and then it occurred to meDouglas-Tilden-WPA-by-Peter-Van-Valkenburgh I had seen this before. I’ve reviewed the papers of two other individuals at University archives and both of them, despite having a public perception of great success, also left a trail of papers documenting the darkest days of their careers. In the biographies that treat their lives you might read that they experienced early hardships, but in their papers – in their own hand and those of others – you feel excruciating pain. Willis Polk, who went on to become a noted architect, wrote Tilden a note on a small piece paper in the late 1890’s pleading for a payment of a few dollars. Family members had taken ill and he desperately needed payment to take care of their medical needs.  Tilden saved none of his responses, but three additional notes from Polk over six months, each escalating in desperation, indicate that Tilden could not make ends meet.  In the other papers I reviewed, those of Ed Fletcher and Frank Brown, I also read desperate pleas from men, all whom showed a strong public face, needing money to take care of their wives, children and parents.

So despite coming away empty in new facts, I did gain additional perspective on the wreckage caused by subject’s like mine, when they leverage desperation to meet their business goals. Perhaps this is the reason, in part or in whole, that my three left their papers for others to see.

If you have a historical figure of interest I strongly encourage you to see if they, or their partners, donated papers to archives. If they did, they left a trail for you to follow to gain additional perspective on their lives, and their interactions with others. Seeing for yourself, the steadiness of their hand, their choice of stationary, and most importantly their own words, will give you valuable insights that even the best biographer is want to capture.  It will be worth the trip.

Picture in banner: Tilden’s Mechanic sculpture amidst the ruins of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Tieing up the last loose end…

I’m travelling to Monterey this week to look through court records from the early 1900’s involving James A. Murray’s lawsuits against famed artist Charles Rollo Peters. It appears Murray held a substantial mortgage against Peter’s Gate, the artist’s popular retreat. Hopefully the court records and local newspaper accounts of the trial will review the nature of thier partnership. I’m hoping there is more to the story than Murray’s typical loan sharking practices. This is the last loose end in my research on Murray’s activities in Monterey.Murray v. Rollo.jpg