Thankful Thursday: “The One”

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)
Phillip C. McCormick (1892 – 1981)

93 years ago this week, my great-Aunt Detty – Benita McGinnis – mailed a rather flirtatious, if not somewhat mysterious, penny postcard to a certain Mr. P.C. McCormick:

(Postmarked May 14, 1921)
Mr. P.C. McCormick 
#112 W. Adams St.
Chicago, Ill.

Dear Egg,
Just here for the night – walking up and down this yere ole alley, thinking of you.  When I’m in Chicago for a right while I’ll look you up.  If you’re ever in our town give me a “ring.” $1.00 down bal. on delivery.      – B. 


* * * * * * * * * *

The meaning of this postcard remains a secret between the sender and the recipient. Based on the postmark, though, Benita clearly was in Chicago, her hometown, when she wrote this.    

“Egg” was Phillip Columbus McCormick. He had, in fact already given Benita a “ring,” all right.  A wedding ring.

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you already know my great-aunt Detty, or Benita McGinnis, fairly well. You’ve learned she was an outgoing, larger-than-life Ohio native who moved with her family to Chicago, Illinois, at the turn of the 19th/20th century, studied art there and in Paris, had her first serious relationship in Ireland that later left her with a broken heart, and was chief of the motion picture Censor Board in Chicago.


Army Sgt. Phillip Columbus McCormick
Circa 1918.  From Benita (McGinnis)
McCormick’s scrapbook.
While Phillip Columbus McCormick was certainly Benita’s opposite in temperament and ambition, he proved able to hold his own and then some.  Born on October 24, 1892, in Camden Township, Minnesota, he was one of eight children born to Patrick McCormick and the former Margaret Craven.   When he was about four years old, the family moved about miles away to the town of Hopkins, where Patrick McCormick was appointed postmaster.  
On June 5, 1917, two months after the United States entered World War I in Europe, Phil registered for the newly created Selective Service. At age 24, he was one of many young American men ages 21 – 31 years who did so on that very same day. He was working as a freight service agent in Saint Paul, Minnesota, for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, also known as the B & O. 
He was called up a year later and served in the United States Army for about nine months.  He never went overseas, serving most of his term in Washington State, where he worked his way up the ranks to the title of sergeant.

Upon his discharge at Christmastime in 1918, Phil returned to work for the B & O, this time as an assistant general freight manager in Chicago.  While living there, Phillip and Benita were introduced by a mutual friend named George Butcher.

“George came to see me one day,” Aunt Detty told me in May 1981, just two months after Uncle Phil’s death.  “He told me he’d learned there was a saint named Philip Benitius.  George thought it was a sign that his two friends – Phil and Benita – should meet.”

She was skeptical at the time, not just about George’s story but also about his friend.   But it turned out there really was such a saint.  “George was very anxious about this,” she recalled.  “He said Phil was ‘just my type,’ so of course I was wary.  I remember when I finally met this fellow, he had brown eyes. I thought, ‘I couldn’t trust brown eyes!'”  

She decided her sister (my grandmother) Alice would like him, and arranged for them to meet.  

It turned out the entire boisterous McGinnis clan liked him, especially Tom and Janie McGinnis, Benita and Alice’s parents.  Whenever he visited the McGinnis home, he was well-mannered, responsible, and respectful of both their daughters. Though from a large family himself, he was quiet and modest, the perfect complement to a family of unique and sometimes competitive individuals who were used to lively conversations around the dinner tableTom was pleased that Phil was a fellow railroad man and a hard worker. As he had worked on the Nickel Plate Railroad in Conneaut, Ohio, some years before, he and Phil probably got along famously, comparing notes about railroad service and the changing industry. 

Benita’s younger brothers Eugene and John enjoyed Phil’s easygoing personality and dry sense of humor.  John especially enjoyed talking to Phil about history and his own experiences in the Great War as a cavalryman.  He became a regular visitor to the McGinnis household.

While Phil was kind to Alice, she was not particularly interested in him. On the other hand, he was especially drawn to Benita. Benita, for her part, began to pay more attention to the “man with the brown eyes,” and their friendship blossomed into romance. The entire family rejoiced the day she ran into the house one evening and announced breathlessly that Phillip Columbus McCormick was “the one.”


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Awkward Family Photo

The Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis Family

What was going on in this picture? 

The best photos are sometimes the awkward ones, the ones that went slightly wrong and no one did what they were “supposed” to do.

The time would have been about 1920 or so.  Imagine the McGinnises, sitting comfortably at the table after dinner one Sunday evening and engrossed in conversation, when someone apparently had an idea to capture the moment. 

Clearly, not all were amused. 

Here are some possible captions for this photo:

“That’s right, we won the right to vote!”
“But we’ve never been to a speakeasy!”

“Next year, let’s all wear matching t-shirts.”

“Johnny’s in loooove!”


Left to right, back row:  Edith (Hoag) McGinnis, Thomas and Mary Jane Gaffney)McGinnis, Eileen Kelly; front row:  Benita, John and Alice McGinnis. Photo
may have been taken by Eugene McGinnis, one of the McGinnis siblings. McGinnis family home, 8336 Drexel Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, between 1919 – 1921.
From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

Come on, readers.  What do you think the caption should be?


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully


Workday Wednesday: Chief of the Censor Board of Chicago

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)


Benita McGinnis, circa 1921.
Chicago, Illinois.  From Benita’s scrapbook.
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, my great-aunt Detty, was not afraid of a little controversy.  In fact, she believed that if you did nothing else in your life, you should always stand up for your convictions, whether or not they were popular.
Sometime around 1915, she applied for and was appointed one of 12 members of the Censor Board of Chicago.  The Censor Board was a civil service board, established in 1907 by the Chicago Police Department, as part of its effort to enforce laws and ordinances governing all matters affecting public morals.  
Its charge being to protect the sensibilities of the Windy City, the Censor Board reviewed movies to determine their moral suitability.  This involved cutting out “any and all objectionable parts of every film submitted to them” that might either be morally offensive or promote delinquency among the public, especially the young.
In a manual for would-be scriptwriters called How to Write for the ‘Movies’, the early movie columnist Louella Parsons explained,  “If (a film) is artistic, has educational value, they mark it as excellent; if it contains any objectionable features they order this particular part of the film cut out.  If the film is entirely unfit for public exhibition they order it suppressed.” (1)
This wire story,  from the Associated
Press,  quoted Benita, chief of the
Chicago Censor Board, as stating
that “censorship has come to stay.”
The Miami Herald, Sept. 12, 1921. 
Parsons cautioned scriptwriters against using objectionable subjects in films that would render them unfit for public consumption.  Among these were the killing of any human being; violent crime; suicide (or the suggestion of such); burglary (if it was depicted outright and not simply suggested); vulgarity, either outright or implied; lynching; malicious mischief; destruction of property; or racially motivated jokes or slurs.
Apparently some movies still managed to slip past the keen eyes of the Chicago Censor Board, most notably D.W. Griffith’s silent movie about the Civil War and Reconstruction, The Birth of a Nation.   
In 1915, the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) learned that a permit had been issued for The Birth of a Nation to be shown in Chicago movie houses before it could be submitted to the Censor Board for approval.   Citing the movie’s explicit racism and violence, the group convinced the mayor of Chicago to ban the movie. 

A Cook County Superior Court judge later reversed the mayor’s decision. By then, the mayor’s move had ignited renewed public debate on censorship. Similar public reaction to bans by other cities spurred high attendance nationwide as thousands of curious viewers flocked to theaters to judge the movie for themselves.

Local women’s groups applauded the Censor Board’s efforts to preserve and promote morality in society.  They credited the board with contributing to a dip in juvenile delinquency, racial strife, and violent criminal acts in the city.
Benita became the chief censor of the board and made the national news over the years as she discussed board decisions on various movies.  In this 1921 interview with the Associated Press about some of the odder challenges the board dealt with, she made an interesting remark that “censorship has come to stay.”


They Cut Out Things That the Censor Board Approves, and Put in Things That Are Disapproved

CHICAGO, Sept. 9. — When movie men take to censoring their films, they sometimes have some strange ideas, it is related at the Chicago censor board.


Distributors getting a picture they think will not pass the board now and then take a hand at fixing it up.  They have cut out funny parts that the censors think great, left in parts that the censors hold thumbs down on, and otherwise perplexed their judges.

“We have sometimes sent back and asked them to give us the whole picture, as we did not find anything wrong in it,” remarked Miss Benita McGinnis, Chicago’s acting chief censor.  “At other times we have rejected a whole film after their hopeless attempts to doctor it up.

The Chicago censors sit as sort of a humane society on the city’s films.  They are keenly averse to useless brutality.  Their “Cut-out Book” contains frequent injunctions to eliminate scenes in terse terms as these:

“Cut kicking and striking man on floor.”

“Cut slugging man.”

“Cut two close views of choking.”

The number of violent movie deaths in Chicago has been reduced by millions annually since the censor board took a hand in reducing the film murders.  They cut them out with a strong hand.

Another aspect of the censors’ work is indicated by this line from the Cut-out Book:

“Cut all scenes of white children chasing negro boy and throwing stones at him.”

An incident like that was credited with starting a race trouble.

Disregarding of the law is another suggestion that the censors try to offset.  Glorification of lawlessness on the plains is one of the most frequent forms in which this comes up.

“A censor should be able to put back something as vital as he takes out, only less offensive,” is a principle at the Censor Board.

“We are doing constructive work in censoring today that we did not know could be done seven years ago,” Miss McGinnis said.

“One reason for this betterment is that the moving picture people realize that censorship has come to stay.”  (2)


Not everyone agreed with my aunt. Many, including Louella Parsons, acknowledged that while the practice of censorship succeeded in giving the public movies of higher quality, it risked the chance of being too strict and having too much power.

James McQuade, a contributing editor of the publication The Moving Picture World, called the question in 1914 in his Chicago Letter: “How far one set of people shall decide what is proper for another set of people to do; and conversely, how far the second set of people may conduct themselves to suit themselves in violation of the feelings of the first people, is as old as history, and will last as long as the world. . . The public has shown by its withdrawal of patronage that it is eminently qualified to protect its own morals.” 


But even he allowed that there were exceptions.  “Censorship at all times and of all kinds is dangerous, and can only be permitted to exist when it is exercised with the utmost forbearance and the utmost common sense.”  


By 1922, public opinion had swung away from the need for censorship as a way of ensuring quality films, especially as people began to realize they could contribute in their own way to the success or failure of a film simply by voting with their feet.  Even more important was growing concern for the protection of First Amendment rights.  
This was something that even Benita, now Mrs. Benita McCormick, could not ignore.  As firmly as she had believed in the good of censorship during her tenure as Chicago’s chief censor, she also was just as wise and open to reason.  As an artist and writer herself, she placed a high value on freedom of speech, in her own subjective way. She began to realize she could no longer condone the work of the Censor Board and made up her mind that it was time for a change. 


That year, The Film Daily announced that Benita was quitting the board, of which she was the chief censor. “Mrs. Benita McCormick, chief censor of the Chicago commission, has resigned.  Chief of Police Fitzmorris has appointed Edith E. Kerr, Mrs. McCormick’s successor.” (4)


Censorship continued for many years in Chicago, finally coming to an end in 1961.  Censor boards eventually gave way to the formation of what would become the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a self-regulating organization not connected with any government agency. In 1968, the MPAA created a ratings system, ostensibly to provide viewers (particularly parents) a way of deciding which movies they should allow their children to watch.


(1)  Parsons, Louella Oettinger, How to Write for the Movies, September 1915, A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.

(2)  “Movie Men are Queer in Censoring Films.”  Associated Press, as appeared in The Miami Herald, September 12, 1921.  

(3)  McQuade, James, “Chicago Letter,” The Moving Picture World,

(4) The Film Daily, Vol. XXI, No. 13.  July 14, 1922.  New York City


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully


Talented Tuesday: Doing Her Bit

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

As the Great War (later to be called World War I) broke out in Europe in 1914, barely a year after arriving home from her trip there, my great-aunt Detty (Benita McGinnis McCormick), like most women of the era, threw herself into a flurry of patriotic activity. 
Her efforts took on renewed urgency after her youngest brother, John, an officer in the Army cavalry, returned with horrific stories from the front, having fought in the Battle of the Somme.  Feeling a personal call to increase the public’s awareness of wartime suffering abroad, Benita turned to her artistic talents.  One of her projects was to paint a poster for the Red Cross.
The Chicago Tribune profiled her contribution twice, one in a feature story on November 10, 1917, and a second time in a brief mention during World War II.  Benita later pasted copies of both articles in a scrapbook  she created of her life’s memories.

Article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, “Instead of Knitting,” as it appears on a page from Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.


Instead of Knitting

One of Maj. Funkhouser’s
Censors Paints Red Cross Poster as her War Contribution. 

“I wanted to do my bit, that was all,” Benita McGinnis said modestly yesterday as she exhibited the poster that she had painted for the Red Cross. “All the women I knew came to me and suggested that I knit while I was censoring the movies.  I am on Maj. Funkhouser’s staff, you know. 

 “I couldn’t see it that way. I knew I would probably drop half the stitches if I tried to give both “Camille” [a popular silent film] and my knitting my attention. All my friends seemed to think that there was no reason on earth why I shouldn’t do Red Cross knitting all day because, as they did their knitting, they always did it at the movies.  

 “I paint a bit – I studied in Paris and I graduated from the Art Institute. I decided to serve by doing some public work, and I made up my mind that I would rather give up my Saturday afternoons and devote myself to the painting for a couple of weeks so that I could be free to give my undivided attention to the movies.” 

 Miss McGinnis, who lives at 8336 Drexel avenue (sic), has presented the poster to the Red Cross through the women workers in the auxiliary established by the Political Equality league. Copies of the poster, which represents suffering Belgium, will be distributed in the near future.

 If you caught the reference to Benita as “one of Major Funkhouser’s Censors,” you’ll want to come back tomorrow to learn more.  She was full of surprises.


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: Sunday Dinner

Making Memories Around the Table

Left to right:  John Charles McGinnis Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, Alice
McGinnis, Thomas Eugene McGinnis, (John’s wife) Edith (Hoag) McGinnis,
cousin  Eileen Kelly, and Benita McGinnis.  Photo taken at the McGinnis home,
8336 Drexel Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, sometime between 1914 and 1920.


Like many a family in the early twentieth century, my maternal McGinnis ancestors reserved Sundays for family gatherings and dinners.  It was a ritual, understood by all that no matter what everyone did during the rest of the week, they came together at the family home on Sunday afternoons.  
It was the weekly after dinner custom of Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis and their children Benita, Eugene, John, and Alice, to linger for hours into the evening to tell stories, read aloud correspondence from far-away relatives, share personal news of the week, and debate politics. 
Extended family and other guests were always welcome. More often than not, my great-grandfather, Thomas, held the room spellbound as he recounted dramatic stories of his adventures around the world while he was a merchant sailor on the high seas. 
Someone must have told a joke right before this picture was taken, because everyone is smiling or laughing, seemingly unaware of the camera.  The exception is Eileen Kelly, a cousin, who is looking at the photographer.  We can surmise that the person taking the picture was a member of the group, as a chair has obviously been pulled away from a place setting at the end of the table.  My guess is that it was my great-uncle Gene, who is missing from this picture.  
I will never forget the first time I really looked at this image.  It was in the mid-1990s, and my husband, our three small children, and I were living in a tiny 1925 Spanish bungalow, our very first home.  It was well after midnight, and despite having tucked our three children into bed, washed the dishes, and started a load of laundry, I was still wide awake. I pulled out my scrapbooking supplies and some old family photos and sat down at the dining room table.  
When I came to this picture, I stared at it in disbelief.  Except for the McGinnises, it could have been taken in our very own dining room.  It had the same built-in buffet and the same large window to the left of the table. Looking at the door next to the buffet, I knew it led to the McGinnises’ kitchen, just like ours.  And I was certain that there was a large opening into the living room, right about where the photographer would have stood.  
I thought back to when we bought our house, when something about it that I could not pinpoint seemed oddly familiar, and I knew I wanted to live there right away. It was quaint but looked nothing like any of the homes I had lived in, except that it had a breakfast nook that reminded me of the one in my childhood home in Chicago.  Despite living far away in California, I felt an inexplicable closeness to my ancestors in that house.
Left to right:  Erin, Kevin, Charles, Welner “Bing, Patricia (Fay), Michael,
and Linda (Huesca) Tully.  Photo taken by my father,  Gilbert Huesca, at the Tully home,
San Jose, California, in November 1996.


That evening, as I studied the photo of the McGinnises and another of them from roughly the same time, I understood.  Though my great-grandparents’ home had been a Craftsman bungalow, its interior design and floor plan was roughly the same as our little house, even down to the built-in furnishings in the dining room, living room, and kitchen.  The funny thing was that as far as I know, I have never been there.
I framed that old photograph and kept it on our buffet in our look-alike dining room while we lived there, next to a similar, more recent photo of us at our own Sunday dinner, some 70 years later.  
We no longer live in that house, but to this day when I see the pictures, I can still hear the laughter of our families as they meld together through time and tradition, the stories still as earnest, the news just as urgent, the political debates just as fervent, and the laughter around the table still hearty and memorable.  
Surely some day, our children will think of these as the good old days.


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

Friday’s Faces from the Past: The Man She Almost Married – Part Three


Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Edward Michael “Ned” Savage

          (1886 – 1915)

Last of a three-part series

Ag éirí na gréine agus a chuid ag dul síos, cuimhin linn duit.


(At the rising of the sun and its going down, we remember you.)
 – Gaelic proverb


Ned Savage, Ireland, 1913.  The exact location  is unknown. From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

Whether Ned Savage began courting my then 21-year-old great aunt Detty, (Benita Elizabeth McGinnis), during his stay in Chicago in 1910, we will probably never know.  But even if they had been just friends, something magical happened during her visit to Ireland in the summer of 1913 that transformed their relationship into a serious romance.

I am unable to find how long Ned remained in Chicago, nor any details about his work there beyond what he told the census taker in 1910.  In late June of 1911, he sailed alone on the Cunard ocean liner R.M.S. Franconia to Queenstown, Ireland. Among other things, one purpose of his trip may have been to visit his older brother James, who was studying for the priesthood in a Dublin seminary.

Ned arrived to an Ireland that was still consumed by its struggle to rise from poverty and secure “home rule,” as independence from Great Britain was called at the time. Weeks before his arrival, a fledgling political group called Sinn Fein (Gaelic for “We” or “We Ourselves”) had burned Union Jacks in Dublin in a symbolic protest of the coronation of England’s King George V

With Sinn Fein and many other groups working toward independence, it was only natural that there should be a dramatic surge of pride in the native culture and language of a country that reluctantly had become more anglicized during British rule.  In late 1886, John Fleming, editor of the Gaelic Journal, wrote a long article in The Irish Fireside about the Gaelic revival.  In it, he urged young people to learn about their language and heritage so they could be effective Irish leaders when the time came to lead their country

And you, young man or young woman, what will you do for your country?  You are a patriot no doubt.  You are ready and willing to make sacrifices for your country, but the country does not require any great sacrifices from you just now. Educate yourself; that is the way in which you can most effectually serve yourself and your country.  Make yourself acquainted as well as you can with the industrial resources, the history, and literature of the country. You then will be a patriot, and able to serve the country. (1)

Ned Savage was one of many young people swept up at the time by the wave of the Gaelic revival and the home rule movement.  He must have realized that although he had left Ireland many years before, Ireland had never left him. His passion awakened, he found new purpose in the movement.  He joined Sinn Fein and began to study Gaelic.

James Savage was ordained to the priesthood in Dublin for his home diocese of Portland, Maine in June of 1913.  I do not know if Benita McGinnis was present for the ordination, but  Jeremiah and Mary Savage, the brothers’ father and older sister, came from their home in Somerville, Massachusetts.  (I have been unable to find any travel records at the time for their other brother, John Joseph; maybe he was unable to come.) The occasion would have been cause for tremendous pride for the entire family, as it was considered a blessing for an Irish family to produce a priest to serve the Lord. 

Benita arrived in Ireland during the summer of 1913.  From the looks of her scrapbook, Ned showed her around the Éire of his birth and of her grandparents and introduced her to his new friends, many from the popular Gaelic movement. Her scrapbook contains many photographs of Ned. Some are labeled specifically, “Ned in Ireland.” Unfortunately, others such as the one below of him posing with his football team, provide no clues as to the time or place they were taken.

“Ned’s football team,” the caption reads under this photograph, from my great-
aunt’s photo album.  Gaelic football, dating back to 1308 A.D., gained popularity
in the early 20th century with renewed focus on Irish sport by the Gaelic revival.

The photographs depict Ned as an attractive and engaging young man, six feet tall and 150 pounds, fair-skinned and with brown hair, blue eyes, and fine features. (2)  According to my aunt, he was also charming, kind, outgoing and idealistic, a natural leader among his peers and the kind of person everyone wanted to know.  Some seventy years after their first encounter, she still recalled his soft yet sure Irish lilt that made her want to swoon when he spoke.

For her part, Benita, with her intelligent mind, expressive eyes and slender form, had her own independent streak and an artist’s open mind. Confident and witty, creative and stylish, she had a bevy of admirers who loved her ready laugh and unabashed pluckiness. Ned was one of them.

Edward Michael Savage, or
“Ned, the wonderful Savage,” as
Benita playfully called him.  Year
unknown.  From Benita (McGinnis)
McCormick’s scrapbook.
Benita Elizabeth McGinnis.  Yearunknown.  Caption reads, “Me
again.”  From the scrapbook of Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.


Caption reads, “Gaelic crowd picnic.”  Ned is in the center
foreground, in white shirt and tie; Benita, in dark sweater,
is right behind him.  Ireland, 1913.


One can envision Ned and Benita falling under the spell of the sights, sounds, and sensations of an unforgettable Irish summer.  The cool veil of the morning mist; the contrast of bright red poppies swaying in green fields, flanked by the endlessness of ancient stone walls that had defied would-be conquerors and harsh elements through the ages; Benita’s breathlessness and the whisper and whoosh of her dress as she moved through the tall grass; the damp smell of a haystack after an afternoon downpour; the comforting heat of a campfire on a windy night, made warmer still by a chorus of young voices echoing the Gaelic songs of their ancestors; the stirring lyricism of a Yeats poem; all of these things made for a magical time for two young people in love.

When the time came for Benita to return home to Chicago, she did so reticently, buoyed only by Ned’s proposal of marriage and the promise that he would follow her soon back to America.  Bidding goodbye to her “beau,” whom she playfully nicknamed “Ned, the wonderful Savage,” she boarded the R.M.S. Franconia (the same ship that brought Ned to Ireland) on August 19, 1913, at  Queenstown, bound for the port of Boston.  Others traveling with her included her cousin, Eileen Kelly; her friend, Katharine Cronican; and Ned’s father Jeremiah and sister Mary Savage.

But Fate had other ideas, and it would be the last time the two young lovers would see one another.  As Benita’s wait for her beloved stretched from months into years, she must have wondered, consciously or not, whether his affection for her was eclipsed by his passion for Ireland and it struggle to claim its rightful identity. 

We do not know what transpired during this period.  Remembering that Ned had already been a naturalized American citizen for four years by now, we might expect that he planned to return to the United States eventually and marry Benita.  Did he change his mind?   Did he think he could marry Benita and bring her back to Ireland to live? Or did he ask her to be patient for a little while longer, while he took care of his unfinished business?

Whatever the explanation, one thing is clear.  Regardless of who was Ned’s choice in the end, it was Ireland who ultimately won.  One of Ned’s nephews would later write to a relative that he moved to the Blasket Islands in an effort to immerse himself in the Gaelic, or Irish language. (3) 
The remote group of islands, off the coast of County Derry, were known for their rugged landscape and stormy weather.  More important, the Blaskets were revered for the pureness of the Gaelic language and culture of their insular community of farmers and fishermen.  (You can view a documentary about life on Great Blasket Island and its last inhabitants here.)


Ned Savage and Irish horse.
From Benita (McGinnis)
McCormick’s scrapbook.

While living in the Blaskets, Ned fell ill and was diagnosed with Phthisis Pulmonalis – infectious tuberculosis.  In the fall of 1914, accompanied by his brother, the recently ordained Father James F. Savage, Ned somehow managed to convince the authorities that he was in good enough health to travel home to Massachusetts. The brothers booked passage on the White Star Line ocean liner S.S. Arabic and docked in Boston on September 30th.  Coincidentally, the date happened to be Benita McGinnis’ 25th birthday.

As his condition worsened, Ned entered the Lakeville State Sanitorium, a hospital for tubercular patients.  He was there for a little over seven months before the same disease that took his mother some 15 years before claimed him, too, in an almost surreal twist of Irish tragedy. He died on October 12, 1915, two weeks after his 29th birthday and a year after he came home. 
My great aunt talked about Ned a lot, but she never mentioned how she heard of his death.  I gather she was back home in Chicago at the time but might have received the news from Mary or Jeremiah Savage.  Surrounded and supported by her extended family and many friends in her grief and strengthened by her faith, she  eventually moved on with her life.  Ned was gone, but he would live on in her memories for the rest of her life, forever young.  
The Certificate of Death for Edward Michael “Ned” Savage shows 
he died on October 12, 1915, of Phthisis Pulmonalis (infectious 
tuberculosis), from which he had suffered for two years.

I think Ned would have been happy to know that Benita married another wonderful young man six years later.  He was Phillip C. McCormick, a kind and gentle soul who I knew as my great-uncle Phil. And an amazingly wonderful man he was, indeed. Unlike other men who might have felt threatened by mention of an old suitor, Uncle Phil  never seemed bothered by my aunt’s memories of Ned. Instead, he allowed Ned to claim those five years of Aunt Detty’s life, secure in the notion that he was the lucky one who got to share the rest of it.

In the end, as special as Ned was to my great-aunt’s story, he had a story of his own, a life that was special and sweet and passionate, a life that was cut short much too soon.  Though he left no direct descendants, he lived on in a young woman’s memory all the way through to her old age, coming to life again in the imagination of another who heard his story decades later.  “The life given us, by nature is short,” said the Roman philosopher Cicero, “but the memory of a well-spent life is eternal.”
For all he did, all he stood for, and all whose lives he touched, may the memory of Ned Savage’s well-spent life endure.


(1) “The Revival of the Irish Language,” by John Fleming.  The Irish Fireside, Volume 6, Number 133, 1886.  

(2) Declaration of Intention for United States Citizenship by Edward Michael Savage, September 11, 1903., Massachusetts Naturalization Records, Originals 1906 – 1929.

(3) Letter from John Casey to Margaret Evans, mid-1960s.  From Peter Hannan’s account, Edward Michael Savage, 1886 – 1915, February 2014.

To read the other installments in this series, please click on the links below:

Part 1:   Sentimental Sunday:  The Man She Almost Married, Part 1

Part 2:  Mystery Monday:  The Man She Almost Married, Part 2



Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully



Mystery Monday: The Man She Almost Married – Part Two

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Edward Michael Savage
          (1886 – 1915)

Second in a three-part series

Ned Savage plays in a haystack, Ireland 1913.   The man and woman with him are unidentified.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.

As I began to search for what happened to Edward Michael “Ned” Savage, I found others who were also researching the Savage family.  I was fortunate to connect with one of them, Peter Hannan of Australia.  I am grateful to Peter, a descendant of Ned’s maternal grandparents, for sharing information about Ned and his family.  It has been wonderful to be able to share with him copies of my great-aunt Detty’s (Benita McGinnis McCormick) photographs of Ned.

Born in Bruree, County Limerick, Ireland on September 28, 1886, Ned Savage was the youngest of four children of Jeremiah and Annie (Hannan) Savage, Irish immigrants who met in America but returned to their homeland to marry and start a family.

Jeremiah had first arrived in America between 1868 and 1870, while in his twenties. A farmer and laborer by trade, he traveled extensively and was one of the early founders of Dickens County in east Texas, where at one time he owned a ranch with 22,000 head of cattle. (1)  He had good business instincts and invested in and traded enough railway shares, real estate and livestock to provide his family a comfortable life.

Tragedy touched the family in the early 1900s, when Annie fell ill and died, leaving her husband to raise their four teenagers singlehandedly.  The date and cause of her death remain unknown, though some Hannan-Savage family stories point to tuberculosis as a possibility.  The children, Mary, John, Francis, and Ned were all still in their teens.

It would seem she had been ill for some time.  The 1901 Irish Census notes that Jeremiah Savage was still “married” and head of a household that included the four children and a servant.  By that time, the family had moved from Bruree to Dublin, where they lived in an eight-room home in Rathmines, a suburb of well-to-do families.  Jeremiah’s marital status and Annie’s absence suggest the possibility that she was still alive and possibly interned in hospital.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that mainly attacks the lungs, but it can also affect the other organs of the body.  Known archaically as “consumption” because of the way it consumes the body from within, the illness thrives in unsanitary conditions and spreads through the air from one person to another. Until the discovery of the antibiotic Streptomycin in 1946, TB was incurable. Its sole treatment consisted of fresh air, healthy food, and rest.

The leading cause of death in Ireland in the early 20th century, TB was killing 277 out of every 100,000 persons in that country and often claiming the lives of entire families.  It had a stranglehold on Dublin, due to terrible living conditions and lack of effective treatment available.  However, its reach obviously was not limited to the poor, as Annie Savage’s family could attest.

The social stigma attached to having a family member afflicted with tuberculosis was devastating, if not unfair.  Many people during this time viewed victims of diseases like TB as “failures” and avoided their families, in case they were contagious. Hence, Annie’s illness probably had wider repercussions on her family’s relationships with their friends and neighbors.

Moreover, the separation of the ailing person from the rest of the family often caused pain, embarrassment and confusion  among the survivors.  Some chose not to discuss the person’s illness or even share memories about them, as if they had never existed or lost their place in the family, even after they died.  This could leave all parties feeling a mixture of grief, guilt, anger, shame, and confusion. (2)

Modern day Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, was known as Queenstown from 1850 – 1920 and was the port of embarkation for thousands of Irish immigrants.  The town has probably changed little since the Savage Family left Ireland for America in 1903.  Photo by William Murphy, 2012.  Courtesy Flickr, Creative Commons.

Jeremiah and the children left Ireland in mid-September of 1903 aboard the S.S. Commonwealth, bound for the United States – without Annie. Jeremiah’s marital status was still “married” on the passenger list.  Was that simply an error, or had Annie died?  In normal circumstances, it seems unlikely that a father would move his children across the ocean if their mother was still alive or in failing health. If she had died, then it would make sense that an overwhelmed Jeremiah needed a fresh start and a healthier place to raise his children.  Having lived in the U.S. and knowing he would be greeted by family there made his decision all the easier.  Maybe he was not ready to call himself “widowed.”

Another plausible explanation is that Annie’s condition left no hope of her ever coming home. Jeremiah might have brought the children to America for health reasons, but maybe he also wanted to protect his children from the pain of their mother’s condition and eventual loss. Either way, it had to be a trying time for him and the children.

Imagine the mixed feelings the family experienced during this trip.  They had lost a beloved wife and mother.   Their native land was in turmoil, struggling with the ravages of poverty and the tensions of the brewing home rule movement.  The children probably swung through the poignant arc of adolescence, excited at the adventure before them, yet sad about all they were leaving behind.

When they disembarked in Boston ten days later on September 18, 1903, their senses must have been overwhelmed. A light rain had fallen the day before, leaving the rich smells of fall in its wake. Temperatures hovered between the high 60s and low 70s, and the trees were  in the midst of their masterpiece palette of royal oranges, reds, purples, golds, and browns.  You would have thought Mother Nature had staged a riotous parade to welcome them.

Jeremiah’s sister Mary and her husband, William Shanahan, were waiting to take the weary travelers to their home in nearby Charlestown. Jerry Savage eventually settled his family in a two-story clapboard house with a wraparound porch at 24 Bradley Street, in Somerville, a neighboring town.

Somerville had been the site of an notorious theft of colonial gunpowder by British soldiers in 1774.  The popular outcry that followed the act was a major factor in subsequent events that led to the start of the American Revolution.  Jeremiah’s children undoubtedly grew up surrounded by a fierce sense of justice and independence among the people of Somerville. Those values must have resonated deeply in the Celtic hearts of a family whose beloved homeland was still ruled by the British.  One day nearly ten years later, that influence would change Ned’s life.

Though Jeremiah probably had little formal schooling, it is clear that educating his children was a priority for him.  He sent the boys to prestigious universities:  Harvard, Boston College, Villanova, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) among them.  John Savage became a professor of the classics at Harvard, James became a Catholic priest, and Ned became a civil engineer.  Mary was the exception.  Instead of going to college, she seems to have taken her mother’s place as the woman of the household and her father’s caretaker and travel companion in his later years, not an uncommon path at the time for the sole daughter of immigrant families.

Ned was naturalized as an American citizen in 1909, a year after graduating from MIT with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering.

Ned Savage’s Petition for
Naturalization, filed in
Boston, Massachusetts,
on October 1906.
Page two of the Petition
shows he was sworn in as an
American citizen on
August 16, 1909.


In 1910, he left home for a job in Chicago, Illinois, as a civil engineer for one of the railroad companies there. He rented a room in the home of Mary (Gaffney) McGoorty, an Irish widow, and her children. It would be interesting to learn how he came to live with this particular family. Was it random, or were his  parents connected in some way to the Gaffneys or McGoortys through their Irish roots?

The 1910 U.S. Census listed Edward Michael Savage as a lodger in the home of Mary (Gaffney) McGoorty, at 6446 Madison Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.  What was their connection? 

Though the answer to that question is not apparent, Mary McGoorty did have an interesting  and close connection to someone else.  Her niece, Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, Mary Jane’s husband, Tom, and their four children lived a mere two blocks away from the McGoortys. The eldest of the McGinnis children, a graceful slender brunette, was finishing her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago and was a regular visitor to the McGoorty home.

The young woman’s name was Benita McGinnis.  She was my maternal great aunt.


(1)  Letter from L. J. Varnell, County Clerk, Dickens County, Texas, to John J. Savage, dated April 20, 1951.

(2)  Susan Kelly, Stigma and silence:  Oral histories of tuberculosis.  Oral History, Spring 2011. 

NEXT:  Friday’s Faces from the Past:  The Man She Almost Married, Part Three

To read the first installment in this series, please click on the link below:


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: The Man She Almost Married – Part One

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Edward Michael Savage

          (1886 – 1915)


The life given us, by nature is short, 
but the memory of a well-spent life is eternal.
                                                              –  Cicero

First in a three-part series

My 90-year-old great-aunt “Detty,” Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, was in the middle of a story about her 1913 trip to Ireland when she lingered over a page in the large scrapbook of her life’s memories. Her elegantly manicured hands, now gnarled from arthritis, lightly caressed the portrait of a fair-skinned young man in a dark suit and bow tie.  His name was Edward Michael Savage, but my aunt called him Ned.  Ned the “wonderful Savage.”
Portrait of Edward Michael “Ned” Savage, date unknown, as it appears
 in Benita’s scrapbook.  Her caption, written in 1982, reads, “I thought at one
time that I wanted to marry darling Ned.  We were very fond of each other.”

“Oh, I had my share of beaus when I was young, yes,” she smiled, her moist eyes studying the picture, “but Ned was different from the others. We had great affection for one another, you know.  I might have married him, if only…” Her voice trailed off as she looked away through an invisible window of reminiscences that was hers alone.

It was a scene that played out occasionally during our visits in the 1970s and early 1980s.   Although Aunt Detty and my great-uncle Phil McCormick had been happily married for over 60 years by then, she could still open that scrapbook and travel back through time for a moment’s stopover to the glorious days of her youth.  If Uncle Phil was nearby, he would smile indulgently, having heard my aunt’s stories many times over.
I was in my early 20s, still trying to figure out the mysteries of dating young men, and my aunt was only too happy to share her own experiences.  “Today you call it dating, but back then we called it courting,” she would laugh with a wink at my uncle.

Aunt Detty’s scrapbook contains three pages of photographs of her and Ned, and many of Ned himself. She labeled some, but not all of them, so we know that a few were taken while she was traveling in Ireland in the summer of 1913.

When someone keeps a lot of pictures of a person they knew decades, even a lifetime ago, you can’t help but wonder about that person – who they were, where they came from, what they were passionate about, and what became of them.

I already knew the answer to the last question, but that had not seemed enough. As I began to write about Aunt Detty, I kept returning to these photos, a full century after they were taken. I wanted to know more about Ned Savage and his family, who might have been part of my own family if not for a twist of fate.

And, as sometimes happens when family historians start to wonder about these people of our past, something about Ned Savage seemed to say, “Find me.”

So I did what any self-respecting family historian would do.  I set off to find him.

Tomorrow:  Mystery Monday:  The Man She Almost Married, Part Two

Friday:  Friday’s Faces from the Past:  The Man She Almost Married, Part Three


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully


(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Dear Uncle Pat

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Benita McGinnis painted this watercolor rendering of her Irish uncle sometime during her visit with relatives in Ireland in 1913.
Unfortunately, we may never know more about “Dear Uncle Pat,” as she titled the painting, except that he was 93 years old at the time.  That would make his birth year either 1919 or 1920.  The likely county would have been Roscommon, where most of the family originated.

Some possible family surnames include Gaffney, Healey, Kelly, McGinnis, and Quinn.


“Dear Uncle Pat.”  Watercolor by Benita McGinnis, Ireland, 1913.  From her scrapbook.


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully


Travel Tuesday: Benita at the Gap of Dunloe

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Just couldn’t resist sharing this picture, which was given to my maternal great-grandparents, Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, by their oldest daughter, Benita. I love it so much that I have hung a copy as the centerpiece of a family photo gallery wall in our home.


Benita is on the white horse, riding sidesaddle on the trail of the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow glacial mountain pass in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. Her companions are unidentified. The souvenir photograph, number 400, notes the day was August 8, 1913.  
Her excited expression speaks volumes about a young woman who has gotten traveling under her skin. She is clearly relishing this trip. We can almost feel her exuberance as she  discovers yet another beautiful part of the Emerald Isle and resolves to make travel a way of life.


Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully