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It is 1860, and slavery is tearing the nation apart. In the rough-hewn Third Ward of Milwaukee, the law is treated casually by the mostly Irish immigrants who live there and by those charged with enforcing it. People are safe enough by day, yet trouble brews beneath the surface. As the Lady Elgin, a luxury paddleboat steamer, docks at the waterfront, Irish immigrants are preparing to secretly set into motion a plan that will put them on a collision course with history and ...
It is 1860, and slavery is tearing the nation apart. In the rough-hewn Third Ward of Milwaukee, the law is treated casually by the mostly Irish immigrants who live there and by those charged with enforcing it. People are safe enough by day, yet trouble brews beneath the surface. As the Lady Elgin, a luxury paddleboat steamer, docks at the waterfront, Irish immigrants are preparing to secretly set into motion a plan that will put them on a collision course with history and forever alter the political and ethnic makeup of their city.
Wisconsin is divided politically. With the Democrats splitting and the South recruiting its own candidates, the members of Milwaukee's Union Guard, led by Captain Garrett Barry, decide to attend a political rally for Lincoln's opponent, Stephen Douglas.
As the fear of war hangs in the air, hundreds of Irish men, women, and their children board the Lady Elgin for Chicago, unaware that their journey is about to take a tragic turn.
In this compelling tale based on true events, Irish mythology and American history are interwoven into an unforgettable story of intrigue and heartbreak that provides a glimpse into the lives of those lost on a September night in 1860 in the greatest maritime disaster on open water in the history of the Great Lakes.
"You know how I worry when you're down there."
"No need to worry, Ma."
Blevins mounted the old steed and waved to his mother, who stood at the entrance of the family home in a residential district of Milwaukee. "And stay away from O'Mara's grocery store." Blevins grinned and said nothing. His mother's eyes twinkled. Dorothy Morgan, younger in spirit than her seventy years, had a Gaelic wit, a mixture of Welsh and Irish.
"But if you must visit O'Mara, Blevins Morgan, do give my regards to his pretty young daughter Flynn and tell her she's not to be stealin' away my son."
Blevins chuckled. "Bye, Ma." He nudged the old steed, who headed reluctantly down Wisconsin toward the center. He didn't plan to go to O'Mara's today. Today he had work to do. He would have to forego the pleasure of being with Flynn. He directed the old steed past various business establishments that constituted downtown Milwaukee. There were the usual fancy carriages and stylish dressers associated with any downtown area, but this was not London, New York, or Boston. Even Chicago was staid compared with the frontier town of Milwaukee in the mid-nineteenth century.
Milwaukee had a rough-hewn atmosphere in which success was measured by hard work. The affluent had gained their wealth by earning it or stealing it. There was no scarcity of fortune dishonestly gained. The law was treated casually even by its enforcers. People were safe enough during the daylight, but trouble was never far beneath the surface.
Blevins's old man, "Wild Bill" Morgan, was a blustery, two-fisted Welshman who owned a print shop, the success of which enabled the Morgans to own a home in a middle-class neighborhood. In the shop, Blevins printed a weekly newspaper he hoped to expand into a daily.
He arrived in the heart of the roughest section of town, a neighborhood of Irish immigrants, most of whom were first generation. The monthly arrival of Irish fleeing from famine and workhouses made this the fastest-growing section of Milwaukee. Politically, the section was designated the Third Ward. People called it the "Bloody Third."
Although Blevins lived in another part of town, his newspaper, the Third Gazette, focused on the people and events of the ward. There was never a scarcity of news. It was Blevins's hope to gain the support of the politicians in the predominantly Democratic district. To get ahead nowadays, a small newspaper had to be partisan. Even most large newspapers were committed. Of course, the fact that Blevins was courting Flynn O'Mara, daughter of an influential Democrat, didn't hurt. Blevins wished that grocer Dan O'Mara was more enthusiastic about the alliance.
Blevins waved to Father Delaney, who was on his way from St. Patrick's parish hall to the church to hear confessions. St. Patrick's was the social hub of the ward. Dinners, picnics, and other gatherings were well attended. Father Delaney himself was an immigrant from the county of Knock. Young and personable, he was the object of wistful sighing among the ladies, who considered it a shame that such a catch should be wasted on the priesthood.
Dances were held Saturday nights at the parish hall, frequently attended by the young bucks of Barry's Irish Brigade, the local division of Wisconsin's Union Guard. On such nights, traditional Irish jigs and reels were played. The melodic sounds of tin whistles, bagpipes, and drums filled the air. The old Celtic ways were hard to set aside. After years of Christianity, the church had been unable to completely eradicate ancient pagan influence.
Blevins was not Catholic. He considered it ironic that the only cathedral in Ireland named after the patron saint was Protestant. St. Patrick's in Dublin was Church of England. Its dean had been Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels. Many Protestants despised England's policies toward Ireland. Dean Swift wrote a scathing tome condemning England's inhumanity. The issue of Irish independence was not religious. Wolfe Tone, martyred leader of the United Irishmen in the Rising of 1798, had himself been Protestant. Blevins made his sympathies known and was welcome everywhere in the Third Ward.
A banner waved over Feeney's Pub declaring: Ward Three for the Little Giant. It was an election year. It was Lincoln vs. Douglas, as the issue of slavery raged across the land. Stephen Douglas held overwhelming support from the staunchly Democratic Irish.
It was too early in the day for a pint, so Feeney's would have to wait. The pub was a good place to pick up gossip. Feeney himself was an odd duck who had arrived from the old country carrying nothing but a tattered leather satchel. In no time at all, Feeney had established the most frequented watering hole in the Bloody Third, patronized by an assortment of unsavory characters. How Feeney had raised the money in the first place was a dark secret.
"Blevins, you auld Welshman," shouted Sergeant Flaherty. Blevins dismounted in front of the police precinct. "When are you going to get yourself a decent horse?"
"I have one," Blevins laughed and patted the rump of the old steed.
"At least get yourself a sweeter rump to pat. I know where you can get one."
"Have you no shame, Officer, have you no shame?"
They entered the building. Lieutenant Hogan sat behind his desk, chewing on a fat cigar. "Flaherty! Where the hell have you been? You're supposed to be out protectin' the good people of the ward. Here you are, strollin' in one hour late."
"In the line of duty, Lieutenant. I had to stop a catfight between two colleens at Mrs. Murphy's boarding house. Good thing for them I happened along." Flaherty winked.
"In the line of duty, is it? Knowing you, I'd guess you started the fight. I hear you're on intimate terms with the widow Murphy."
"Oh no, sir, not at all."
Hogan sighed, releasing a billow of cigar smoke that drifted to the ceiling, forming an ugly black cloud. "Head to the waterfront, Sergeant. Coupla' ships due in from Chicago. May be trouble." Flaherty shrugged and sauntered out of the room. Blevins's ears perked up.
"Not really. Say, you're not going to report that crap about Mrs. Murphy, are you?"
"That depends. Can you give me a better story? What's going on?"
"Just the usual, Morgan. A domestic quarrel or two. The brawls at Feeney's. Oh, and someone tried to deface the Little Giant poster in front of the pub. Probably a German from the other side of town. Say, there's a story for you."
"Doesn't sound like much of a story to me. Isn't this the Bloody Third? Have the lawbreakers moved to another ward, or are you lads just not doing your jobs?"
"We always do our jobs." Hogan puffed on the cigar, flicking hot ash into a standing ashtray next to his desk. "Nasty habit," he grinned, "but it won't hurt if you don't inhale. Did you know about the fire?" There was no window to ventilate the room. Blevins wondered how Hogan could avoid inhaling.
"The Buckley residence burned to the ground. Did you know them? No? Terrible loss. Thank God no one was killed. The thing is, it didn't need to happen. The conflagration was avoidable." Hogan didn't have many fifty-dollar words in his vocabulary. Blevins supposed "conflagration" was one of them. If Hogan wasn't careful with his glowing cigar, there would be a conflagration in the police station.
"Aren't most fires caused by carelessness?"
"Ah, me boyo, you haven't heard the half of it. Who knows what caused the fire? At first, it was a small blaze. It was the firemen themselves let things get out of control. Donnelly and O'Farrell. It was their fault, really."
There were two volunteer fire departments in the Third Ward, and they were fiercely competitive. Blevins had an inkling of what Hogan was about to say. "Tell me, Lieutenant, which of the two groups arrived first?"
"Well, that's the thing, you see. Both volunteer gangs arrived at the same time. They got into a hell of a brawl, threw buckets at each other, stamped and cursed, and while the donnybrook was raging the house burned to the ground."
"Talk of too much of a good thing. The Buckley family, what became of them?"
"They're holed up in the parish hall until a suitable replacement home can be found. That should be soon. Father Delaney held the volunteers responsible. You should have heard Father at church. He said that Donnelly and O'Farrell better call a truce or they'll be dealing with eternal fire, if you know what I mean."
"It might be worthwhile to visit St. Patrick's, if I have time."
"While you're there, maybe Father will hear your confession."
"He'd have to beat it out of me. If that's all you have, I guess I'll be going. I was hoping for a murder or two."
"Come back tomorrow. Maybe you'll get lucky, you bloodthirsty prod." Hogan pulled a huge sandwich out of the desk drawer.
"Are you going to eat that whole sandwich right now?"
"What of it?"
"Maybe I'll stay and watch. It may be the big story of the day. Police lieutenant chokes on sandwich after inhaling foul-smelling cigar."
"I don't inhale. Get out of here, Morgan. Go peddle your papers."
Hogan had mentioned that there were ships due today, so Blevins headed down to the waterfront. He liked to watch the bustle of activity when the Great Lakes ships arrived. Several dock workers acknowledged Blevins, who was a familiar face. He ignored Sergeant Flaherty, who leaned on a mooring post and gabbed with two women who were always around when a ship arrived.
"Hey, Mick!" Blevins shouted. Several Irish dockers turned to glare at him. When they realized that he was addressing a coworker and not hurling an ethnic insult, they returned to their work. Mick, a burly, bare-chested youth with an anchor tattooed on his left bicep, nodded. "What's on the schedule this morning?"
"The Lady," Mick pointed. Sure enough, a speck appeared on the Lake Michigan horizon. The Lady was what the dock workers called the Lady Elgin, the most popular passenger ship in the Midwest. Owned by the Gordon S. Hubbard Company of Chicago and named after the wife of Lord Elgin of Canada. The Lady Elgin was a three-hundred-foot luxury paddlewheel steamer, a floating hotel that made pleasure cruises along Lake Michigan.
"Stick around and watch her dock," said Mick. "It'll only be a half hour, and she's a magnificent sight."
"I wish I could, but I have to go." The morning had been a waste, but the afternoon held promise. Hogan had given him a lead. There had been an outbreak of fires in the ward. Maybe there was a story in that. He nudged the old steed into a reluctant trot and headed for St. Patrick's.
Flynn tried to imagine her temperate, seventy-year-old da at play. A man of immense energy, he had dedicated his life to hard work as a grocer. Like many men of Ireland, he had married late and had been in his forties when Flynn was born.
"Would you hand me a bag for that candy, darlin'?"
Flynn watched him fill the bag and hand it to a little girl with blonde curls and a radiant smile. Flynn helped the girl's mother take the groceries to a wagon outside the store. This was her brother's job, but Jack was at a Union Guard drill.
"'Tis a fine girl you are, and the apple of my eye."
Flynn was indeed the apple of her da's eye. The O'Maras had been childless the first few years of marriage. Just as they were about to give up hope, along came a baby girl. Mother Marion named her Flynn after her maiden name. (Flynn and her beau Blevins thought it hilarious that they both had "last-name first names.") The proud father had doted on Flynn. Nothing was too good for her. If it had been his to give, he would have given her the world. She was tiny, an attribute inherited from both parents. She had long, blonde hair.
Jack was born two years later, followed by Maggie. Growing up, they complained that Flynn was the favorite child, which was true. If Flynn had wished it to be otherwise, she couldn't have made it so. The truth was that she had no wish to change her favored status.
"Where's that big lummox?"
"Blevins? He's working."
"Working? Is that what you call what he does?"
"I do hope, darlin', that things aren't getting too serious."
"Blevins and I—"
"He'll never have a pot to piss in."
Flynn was silent. They had been over this before. She always backed down. Eventually there would have to be a major confrontation. She loved Blevins, and if he proposed she would say yes in a minute, in spite of the certain disapproval of friends and family. Blevins was Protestant, not a member of the Irish-Catholic community. He was ambitious and would someday move away, taking her with him. Flynn was an adult, not resigned to wasting her life in the confines of the Bloody Third. If she did not leave with Blevins, she would leave with someone else.
"Tall, dark, and not so handsome," Da joked about Blevins, who towered over Flynn. Maggie, in one of her spiteful moods, asked if Flynn used a stepladder when she kissed him. "Or do you lie down for him?" Flynn ignored Maggie, which was the only way to deal with her jealous younger sister.
A large, overweight man, balding and wearing red suspenders, entered the store. Da beamed. Councilman Garrity was an old friend, a crony. He was ward boss of the Democratic Party. Flynn sighed. She knew she'd be in for a talk marathon. Da loved politics and was highly regarded among the young partisans, who often sought his opinion. Councilman "Garrulous" Garrity, not much younger than Da, visited frequently, sometimes leaving the store without purchasing the groceries his wife had sent him to get.
"So, Councilman, how does it look for Douglas?"
Garrity lit his pipe and puffed on it before responding. "Wisconsin is divided. Douglas wants the states to decide on slavery. Well, you know, he spearheaded the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln, he wants it all one way under the federal government. The Democrats are split, and the South is putting up its own candidates. It doesn't look good for Douglas. I only say this to you, Dan. As you know, the ward is solidly behind the Little Giant."
"Doesn't personality count for anything? Douglas is the most eloquent orator in the nation."
"There are those who think Lincoln to be a man of the people. Not eloquent, perhaps, but down-to-earth and in touch with the common man."
"You wouldn't be thinking about switching sides?"
"Bite your tongue," Garrity laughed. "Say, Dan, I understand that Douglas is planning to speak in Chicago sometime down the line. What do you think of a group of us going? We could sail on the Lady Elgin. Make a day of it. Even take the ladies."
"I'd have to think about it. I don't know if I could leave the store."
Flynn sat behind the candy counter, half listening and half dreaming. She imagined herself cruising on the Lady Elgin, wind blowing through her hair, dampened by the cool fresh water spray of Lake Michigan. Flynn had never been anywhere. Oh, when she was a child she had come across the sea with the family, but she barely remembered that. She yearned to go to Chicago, but she knew Da would never let her go alone.
Garrity was still at it. "Did you know, Dan, that Governor Randall recently defied the law and refused to return fugitive slaves to their rightful owners?"
"Alexander Randall did that?"
"The governor is in constant battle with Washington. In Wisconsin, though, he's a hero. The federal government is deputizing marshals to come out here and track the slaves. It's a power struggle. Randall insists that it is up to the state."
"That damned Fugitive Slave Act." Da rested his backside on a pickle barrel. As he warmed into the subject, his nose reddened. Da had a bulbous nose, the result of a skin disorder and not, as some folks thought, the result of drinking. "A slave cannot become free by escaping to a free state. The slave must be apprehended and returned to slavery. I equate it with the idea of returning immigrant Irish to live under the oppressive yoke of English tyranny."
"I wish you'd return to politics, Dan. At one time you were a real force. You could be that force again."
Excerpted from Lady of the Night by Richard B. Hayman Copyright © 2012 by Richard B. Hayman. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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