Bob Sughrue: A Lonely Baker

“Did you ever see him again after he left?”

“One more time…

I was a young working girl–maybe I was working for the Silton Brothers at that time.  I was riding the trolley and he came on and we saw-reachother.”

“What did you do? Did you say hi?”

“No!  I turned and looked out the window.  I could see him looking at me out of my peripheral vision for the en-TI-uh ride, until he got off.”


My heart sunk, but it was then that I knew the depth of my mother’s rejection of her father.  A rejection based on her understanding that they went hungry because of his “loafing” and that she missed out on college because of the same.

My mother and her brother, sister, and mother lived in Somerville, Massachusetts in an apartment over a “bowling alley and a bah-room,” in Teele Square. Here it is today.

 

Her father, Robert Emmett Sughrue, also lived there when he was not working at seaside resorts up and down the New England coast.

“Bob” had been baking since he was in 6th grade–or since he left the 6th grade to help support his large family.

peterjsughrue_missing_27_may_1914His mother Hannah (Murphy) and father Peter Sughrue had 12 children, with Bob being the 6th, and his father seems to have disappeared and left the family when Bob was 16 years old.

The Sughrues of 5 Wilbur Street (now called Harrington Road) were often in the newspapers.

I look forward to writing a larger post one day about what my cousin Terry calls, “The Wild Bunch of 5 Wilbur Street.”

They had numerous struggles and misadventures, but a couple hit the family hard:

They lost their oldest brother to a seizure while he was working as a janitor at Harvard.

The second oldest brother, Peter Joseph Bernard, was lost in World War I, just under a year after he joined the cause.

These losses hit the family hard, as these eldest sons helped provide for the large family.

Big brother James Sughrue brought Bob into baking.  They are found in a 1920 census at the agricultural college at Amherst, with James as a baker, and Bob listed as a servant.

I do not know how Bob established himself at resorts, but once he did, that was his line of work by all accounts until he retired.  My grandmother had a photo and a postcard of two places he worked.

 

robertsughrue_withcoworkers

Bob in the middle with co-workers and unknown child

This work took him north in the summers and south in the winters.

Sometimes his family was able to join him.  As my mother recollected to my niece when Casey was at a summer camp:

bob_resorts_battleship_cake

Mum is clearly proud of his skill here.

Another charming item in our collection from my mother’s childhood is this menu.  Bob had managed to get work for his kids and wife in the resort! (Helen F. is his wife, and Anna May my mother, with my Uncle Bobby and Aunt Helen rounding out the crew.)

forest_hills_house_franconia_nh_resort_menu_1942

I wish that they could have enjoyed much more time together, as her memories of these times are good.  But the reality was that the kids needed to be at school, with a stable life outside of summers, so they either didn’t see him, or if they DID have him at home, during the great Depression of the 1930’s…

“He was loafing.”

It seems he didn’t work when he was in Somerville with the family. Her memories of him at home are not all bad.  She would tell me about how he was keenly interested in the news of the world, very curious and engaged with the radio news.  She told me that he didn’t know his birthday, but picked February 12 “because he liked Abraham Lincoln.”  I did find that his late return of a birth in 1910 did give his birth date as February 12th, according to his Irish-born mother, so it appears he actually told his little daughter the truth about his sharing Lincoln’s birthday.

She did resent until the end of her days that he teased her with a nickname “Annie-old-rags!”   There was a rag-man who went down the street with his cart, calling out “Any old rags!” and she said his accent made it sound like he was saying, “ANNIE OLD RAGS” — a fact my grandfather exploited to tease his little daughter.  Perhaps if they hadn’t been so poor it might have sat better with Anna.

I understand that even when he was working, the money disappeared before it could get to the family back home in Somerville.  They would go hungry, and sometimes went to bed really early just to save energy.

They ran out of coal sometimes and were cold. Mum recalls brother Bobby having them in stitches in the night, describing them all going down to the basement to huddle around one burning piece of coal.

Their mother was angry with their father, and little Anna May knew about this strife. She would tell me later that he lost his money gambling.  My cousin, a daughter to Anna’s big brother Bobby, explained that in fact he was also drinking heavily.

I found a letter in my grandmother’s collection that she had written to Bob that opens angrily with, “So what is the story now…”

Still, Mum teared up a couple times during my childhood remembering that her father was sentimental, and that he must have been lonely for his little family…

 

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No matter how angry my mother remained toward my grandfather, she was not able to make him a monster.  I always felt almost desperate for him, and his permanent mistakes.  My cousin Deb described it well, saying that he “…just got in his own way.”

There was the letter from a priest Reverend John Brown, putting a good word in with Bob’s fed up wife about what an “exemplary catholic” Bob was these days:

Reverend John Brown from Sacred Heart Church of Pinehurst, North Carolina, puts in a good word for Bob.

Reverend John Brown from Sacred Heart Church of Pinehurst, North Carolina, puts in a good word for Bob.

I learned from Deb that Bob’s oldest daughter Helen sent him out of the house because his drinking was unacceptable.  This is something my mother never shared with us.  To this day, I do not know if she was ignorant of the cause of his departure, or if she was ashamed of the reason.

That would have been the last time my mother saw him until that trolley ride.

Bob, Jr. would visit his father at least once, out of compassion, I believe.

Still, by the time I was born in 1965, Bob the Baker’s obituary makes no mention of his wife or 3 children.

1965-11-30_obt_robert_emmett_sughrue

I was not able to find this until I was helped by Bill McEvoy, a retired magistrate who contacted me to tell me where my grandfather was likely buried.  I had hit a dead end since my family had no information on his whereabouts, but Bill did a study of Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery and found Bob with “Mary Normile” and family, and contacted me.  I am so grateful…

I plan to lay flowers at his grave the next time I am in Boston, hopefully with my cousins, so we can gently welcome him back into our clan and our memories.

 

 

Victor Vizard: A Self-Made Man

I laughed out loud at a stop light when I read Victor’s death certificate.victorwalkervizard

I’d just gathered the envelope from the mailbox on my way out of the house, and could not wait to see what Victor had left me to know about his ancestors.

The fine document from Stoningham, Massachusetts with an embossed golden seal lending it authenticity bore the two lies that had already set me on a futile quest to find my Cajun and Colonial Puritan ancestors in the preceding 4 years.

I laughed because I knew, just knew, that this lie was probably on its way to me riding in an official government vehicle.  But now I had it, with a personal flair dreamed up by a man gone since 1930, and it was almost wonderful:

“Lucien Vizard”

My own father Mark, Victor’s grandson, had written on a hand drawn family tree that our great grandfather Victor Vizard’s Cajun father came up on foot from Louisiana to New England.   I learned from Dad about the sad history of our Acadian diaspora family forcibly removed to ships by the British from Acadian Canada.  I had walked the streets of New Orleans one year telling friends that my ancestors might well have walked and worked in this very place.  I wondered if my ancestors had ever said, “Beignet.”

Victor’s mother was given as a “Pierce” from the clan of President Franklin Pierce fame in my dad’s tree. (Why that president, of all of them? For his relative insignificance, perhaps? Who would ever bother to question it and thereby discover the fib?) In this document, she was given as having been born in “Deering, Maine”, which lent a bit more American origin than Quebec, where I was destined to learn later was her birthplace, to Irish immigrants. In any case, my immediate family enjoyed looking at a picture of Franklin Pierce and seeing if we could find a resemblance (the curls, the deep-set eyes?)

Victor’s death certificate reflected what he’d told his Irish-born wife.  That his father was the majestically French-sounding…

Lucien Vizard.  The only person really bearing this name in North America was a young man who died in Ohio some years before Victor claimed to have been born. No such person existed anywhere near Buffalo, New York, where Victor claimed birth. Nor in Louisiana. Nor in New Brunswick where I suspect Victor was really born, as William, the only other son alive in 1881 with his brother Louis. A William who disappears completely after that 1881 Canada census. 

At this point, I’ve plenty of other evidence to tie Victor simply to brother Lou and mother Mary Rogers.  (“She was a RAW-juhs, not a Pierce” explained my dad’s brother. Pierce was guessed to be farther back though not known.)

And also to tie them to their actual father, Michael Vizard from County Mayo, Ireland.

Paper and DNA tests tie us directly to multiple 3rd cousins all sharing the same County Armagh Rogers couple in St-Roch parish in Quebec City. 

I thought for a moment in a bid to make “Lucien” make sense, “Maybe Michael the Irishman had a fancy French brother Lucien who randomly visited Mary on the sly one day around Christmas in 1876 during their 26 year marriage?”   

But of course, the Vizard surname is known to be English and Irish nowadays even if originally Norman, and DNA shows no Cajun or Canadian French heritage whatsoever.

Why the lie? The erasure of the father? Was it about Victor himself? Was it truly about his father Michael and shame about who Michael was? If Michael was so bad, why did Louis not also change the identity of his dad, or the birthplace of his mother?

The boys grew up under different conditions, this much I do know:

I’d had a great deal of frustration trying to find Victor with the family as he never shows up in censuses under the name Victor as brother Lou does.  When I asked my aunt, she lit up and said, “THAT’S right. Victor was put to live with another family.  A rich aunt and uncle.  He grew up in the lap of luxury, but learned no useful skills. They died when he was a young adult, and left him nothing in their will because he was not their own child. He was left to fend for himself with no skills, but still having his fancy tastes.”

Louis, on the other hand, had remained with his family. After their father Michael  Vizard disappeared around 1891, Mary lived with one wealthy family or another as a laundress, along with little Louis. 

Mary Rogers performed this arduous work her entire adult life until her death in 1916 at the age of  69 while in the employ of the Wolff family at 6217 5th Avenue (“Millionaire Mile”) in Pittsburgh, far from her birth in Quebec City, Canada to two immigrants from County Armagh, Ireland in 1847. Hard, honorable work.  (And yes, not related to the president nor the Mayflower passengers.)

Louis J. Vizard grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario, and after a time as a hotel clerk in Buffalo, he moved on to the stage, acting in both silent films and Broadway, mostly traveling with shows.  He settled in St. Louis and was married and widowed twice, with no children. He had a successful cigar store and enjoyed active participation in local magic scene with his second wife Marie Summa Vizard, even serving as president of the IBM Ring One (magic society) in St. Louis

1941-12-12_nws_louis_j_vizard_magician

Louis and wife Marie performing magic for charity in 1941
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri)21 Dec 1941, SunPage 81)
 
Something made Victor rewrite his family story. 

And something let Louis be at peace about it.

Maybe Louis got to see and perform hard work and struggle up close early on and through his adolescence until he could strike out on his own. Any advancement in life was a credit to him, so he owned it and his parents with pride. When his hard-working mother died, he brought her out to St. Louis, to be buried in his lovely family plot with a fine funeral procession with carriages provided for mourners.

1916-04-13_obt_mary_rogers

Maybe Victor viewed his own, more plush childhood with confusion.  A mixture of growing entitlement and shame about his actual origin. Without skills or an inheritance and a failure to match this experience, a new identity simply felt better. 

Whatever Victor’s failings, my uncle suggested thoughtfully, “He did manage to provide well for two daughters, even so.”

1920s_vizard_family_stoneham_1

What of Michael, though?  Who was this not-Lucien-the-Cajun?  

This I know about Michael:

  • Fled the Famine in Ireland as a 10 year old with his mother and father from the hard hit Kiltimagh parish in County Mayo, landing in Macclesfield — the silk center of England.
  • Worked as a child laborer in the silk mills until his mother died of consumption around his 19th birthday in 1856.
  • Joined the British Army right after his mother died, and just before his father Patrick remarried.
  • Traveled to Gibraltar, Malta, and ultimately what became Canada in the service of Queen Victoria in the early 1860’s. It seems likely this Irish-born soldier was sent there to help put down Fenian raids, to suppress the pro-Irish movement in British North America.
  • Met and married Mary Rogers, a local girl, in Quebec in 1865 in the Anglican Garrison. 
  • Discharged from the army in 1874 so he could move his family to the Niagara peninsula.  His officers rated Private Vizard a “generally good” soldier with two good conduct medals.  (He had earned 4, but lost 2 due to drunkenness, including losing a promotion once for the same cause.)
  • They had 3 boys by 1876, but lost two of them in one brutal summer to cholera and scarlet fever.  Only William born 1868 was left.
  • Gained and lost a little girl Louisa in 3 short months at the end of 1877 — the same time Victor claimed he was born.  He is nowhere in the Parish registry with Louisa.  He does not look to have been her twin. He is not in the 1881 census — unless Victor is really William… which seems most likely as of now.
  • Louis is born in 1880 and turns up with brother William in the 1881 census.
  • Civilian life meant one sort of job after another.  In every city directory and census he has a different job from the previous…
    • bartender, coachman, grocer (“Sold out by Sheriff” in 1884), tanner in 1891….
  • And the trail ends there, with Mary claiming to be a widow and living with just 10 year old Louis in another family’s home in 1891.

Victor/William may have been there for all the death and sadness in the 1870’s, and somewhere in the 1880’s missed the job-hopping and struggles. I do not know.

His daughter had described him as a ne’er do well who never held the same job for too long. She described never getting to see their uncle Lou except one time up on a silent movie screen. I know that Lou sent Victor at least one picture, which I hope to see one day.

As I reflect on Victor’s choice to change his history, I know that I absorbed his revisions and that it captured my imagination. This is the story that pulled me into genealogy to begin with.   We “felt” like just an Irish American family to me, and I was amazed to think that we had hidden Cajun flavor, and deep Colonial Founding Family roots.  It didn’t feel real, but I felt proud of it as a young person and hoped to confirm it with research.

What’s funny is that I did not experience any disappointment to find that, instead, Victor’s parents were just two more poor Irish immigrants out of nothing but Irish immigrants in our line. That they were just what we seem to be all along.