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O'Neill formed a community of Irish American musicians and enthusiasts, and his relationships with these people were complex: he often complained bitterly in his letters about the many favors he had done and the “ingratitude" he experienced after he retired. O'Neill also had to make alliances outside of the Irish community, and he worked in the midst of an "Information revolution." O’Neill’s interest in cataloging and defining Irish music comes out of this context. This page describes, in alphabetical order, some of the people who had the most significant impact on his career. For more information on the musicians specifically, see Nick Whitmer's "lives of the pipers;" the biographies given in the Dunn Family Collection at the Ward Irish Music Archives, and the exhibit on O'Neill and his work at Digital Chicago. Scott Spencer's "Capturing O'Neill" project collects the dedication pages O'Neill wrote to members of his international musical community
Edward Cronin. The history of Ireland, since the 1820s at least, has been a history of people having to leave. Edward Cronin was one of those people. Almost all that's known about Cronin comes from O'Neill's writing. Born in Limerick Junction, County Tipperary, in 1850, he had trained as a weaver in Ireland, but could find no work in the trade. He emigrated in the 1870s and lived for a time in Troy, New York, then moved to Chicago, where he got a job as a "grinder" at the Deering Harvester Works, making farm machinery. Francis O'Neill depended on him very heavily both as a source of tunes and as a musical scribe.Francis described him with a mix of admiration, gratitude, and peevish exasperation. O'Neill sometimes complained about Cronin's reluctance to participate in his projects and noted that while “Mr. Cronin’s memory proved a rich mine of traditional Irish melody,” “it took years of cultivation and suggestion to rouse his dormant faculties to their limit.” Eventually “temperament and professional jealousy brought it all to an abrupt end without apparent cause.”
But cause does not seem hard to find: in 1903 workers at the Deering factory went on strike, and O'Neill sent police officers to protect strikebreakers brought in to take Cronin's job. And Cronin must have wondered why, in his sixties, he still worked as a factory hand while James O'Neill and Barney Delaney, see below, enjoyed comfortable positions on the police force thanks to O'Neill. What O'Neill saw as "dormant faculties" might have just have easily been Cronin's resistance O'Neill's demands. Four recordings of Cronin survive, two playing with O'Neill and Tom Kirby, linked on the "music" page, and two playing alone. They show him to have been a distinctive, inventive and graceful player.
Barney Delaney was a piper of rare ability. O'Neill heard him shortly after he arrived in Chicago and was extremely impressed, so much so that with the help of an alderman, Michael McNurney, he got Delaney a job on the police force. Delaney later married O'Neill's sister in law Julia: a reel named "Julia Delaney" commemorates her.Though he always praised his playing, by 1910 O'Neill was complaining about Barney very frequently in his letters, accusing him of "ingratitude." "I found him in playing in a cheap public house," O'Neill wrote, and thanks to O'Neill's connections and suggestions Barney retired with substantial property and a comfortable pension, but he would no longer make recordings for O'Neill and seemed to have lost all interest in music. Delaney also suffered from the mental effects of tertiary syphilis, then termed "paresis." In a letter to his son in law, police Captain James Mooney, O'Neill described Delaney running amok in Havana and asked Mooney to cable police there to be on the lookout for him.
The letter makes O'Neill's sense of duty clear. Julia Delaney, the sister of O'Neill's wife Anna, had died in 1915. Though Barney was "ungrateful" and uncooperative, O'Neill still tried to take some care of him and treated him as family. Barney died in a mental hospital in 1923. A few recordings of his playing survive: two can be heard at the Ward Irish Music Archives.
Kate Doyle. Kate and her husband John, a fireman, frequently entertained groups of Irish musicians in their Chicago home. Francis spoke of her with a great deal of warmth and remarked on the couple's generous hospitality. Kate probably had a lot to do with O'Neill's appointment as Chief: starting in the 1860s, she worked as a governess or nanny in the home of mayor Carter Harrison the first, whose son appointed O'Neill as chief. Irish women frequently worked as domestic servants—O’Neill’s wife Anna was working in the home of a German family when she married O’Neill. But Kate Doyle “knew every Irish immigrant in Chicago” and served as the Harrison family’s liaison to Chicago's Irish voters. She was a "poll captain" for the Harrisons: “At voting places where there was no one to look after the Harrison interest Mrs. Doyle personally supplied voters with instructions until she could secure men to take her place.” (Chicago Inter Ocean 4/12/1911 p. 5). Carter Harrison the younger specifically named Kate Doyle's recommendation as the reason he picked O'Neill for Chief, and in its obituary of Kate Doyle, April 14, 1911, p. 11, the Chicago Tribune called her “Chicago's foremost woman politician through her activities in behalf of the members of the Harrison family,” while the Inter Ocean wrote that her work for the Harrison family had made her "famous" and "an important element in the political affairs of the city.”
The Tribune obituary shown here, which O'Neill pasted in his scrapbook, treated her as an Irish "mammy" figure, downplaying her political work but acknowledging her importance to his career and his community. Doyle, lacking education and social status, and at a time when women could not vote, used her native energy and ability to play a major role in Chicago politics.
Michael P. Evans Chicago’s police department led the nation in the science of forensics, the identification of people by physical marks and photographs. Under Evans the police formed a “Bureau of Identification” and started a “Rogues’ Gallery” of photographs of criminals in 1884. By 1888 Evans had begun adopting the Bertillon system of measurement, and during O’Neill’s terms as chief Evans had begun experimenting with fingerprints. He ran the Bureau until 1927, when he retired and his son Emmit took over.
The Bureau of Identification was part of a general revolution in information tracking and record management: better filing systems, better systems of bookkeeping, more accurate, precise and useful forms of bureaucratic administration. The clipping above extols Evans' ability to "tell the past" of a suspect. Evans patented at least one system for cross referencing photographs and identification cards in 1888, at the same time when Chicago inventors were developing new systems of electronic communication via police call boxes. O’Neill was quite an enthusiast of the Bureau of Identification. “When the Chicago police started their “Rogues Gallery” in the 1880s," wrote the Tribune, O’Neill assisted Captain Evans in his work “and got a great deal of practical experience in taking snap-shots of thugs.” O’Neill said of his time spent taking pictures of crooks “that is one of my sins that has not been found out.” The precise and scholarly O’Neill shared an interest in modern record keeping and objective management and wanted ways to break the pervasive cronyism that characterized Chicago life. As chief he was proud of Evans’ work and even established a “school” for demonstrating how Chicago tracked criminals. His interest in collecting, cataloguing and classifying Irish music has to be seen in this context, as much as in the context of immigrant community.
Carter Harrison. O'Neill's political patron came from a Chicago political dynasty. His father, also named Carter Harrison, was mayor from 1879-1887: he was elected to a fifth term in 1893, but was assassinated in October of that year by a disgruntled office seeker. Carter Harrison the younger took the mayor's seat in 1897, and appointed O'Neill General Superintendent of Police in 1901. Harrison had something of a reputation as a reformer because he opposed streetcar magnate Charles Yerkes. But during O'Neill's term Harrison had a generally relaxed attitude towards the city's notorious vice districts, arguing openly that he had little interest in cracking down on things, like gambling, that people wanted. In an article on "Wide Open Chicago" for Harper's Weekly, the journalist Franklin Mathews went to Harrison in high dudgeon:
The cartoon here shows Harrison as the puppet of alderman Michael Kenna, nicknamed "Hinky Dink." Harrison breaks open the door to a dive which had been ordered shut by Chief O'Neill. Harrison declined to run in 1905, then returned to the mayors' office in 1911, when he began a much more aggressive crackdown on the Levee district.
“Then you don't believe in enforcing laws not approved by public opinion?” Mathews asked, and Mayor Carter Harrison replied “No, I don't, and I don't intend to try to do so.” He told Mathews that the police required saloons to use discretion, and draw curtains over their windows on Sunday, but otherwise they could carry on as normal.
Douglas Hyde was an Irish Protestant poet and essayist who advocated what we might call “cultural nationalism.” He argued that Ireland should reject English culture: drop the English language and revert to Irish; play specifically Irish sports rather than English soccer; dance Irish dances: “an Ireland self-centered, self-sufficing, self-supporting, self-reliant; an Ireland speaking its own language, thinking its own thoughts, writing its own books, singing its own songs, playing its own games, weaving its own coats, wearing its own hats.” Hyde was largely uninterested in politics, feeling that political independence meant nothing if it did not include cultural independence: political independence would, he suggested, inevitably flow from cultural revival.Hyde and his Gaelic League often seem sort of fusty and old-fashioned to modern eyes, but in his day Hyde exerted a powerful creative influence, and when Hyde toured American on a fund raising mission in 1906 he met with Theodore Roosevelt, who endorsed the project of Irish cultural nationalism enthusiastically. Hyde’s version of cultural nationalism, linked to notions of ethnic or racial authenticity, appealed as well to Afro-Nationalists like Marcus Garvey.
O’Neill threw a private party for Hyde when he came to Chicago in 1906, showing off the city's Irish musicians and dancers, and he pasted clippings from Hyde’s speeches and essays in his scrapbook. Chicago’s Irish community was often deeply and very bitterly divided about Irish independence, over what an Irish republic might look like and over how it might be attained. Hyde’s focus on culture sidestepped much of that debate: it was sober, respectable and immensely appealing to O’Neill.
Kamehameha V was the King of Hawaii at the time of O’Neill’s arrival there on the clipper Minnehaha, on which O’Neill had sailed from Yokohama. Kamehameha V was also the name of the ship which rescued O’Neill after Minnehaha was dashed to pieces on the rocks at Baker Island. The King of Hawaii bought the ship in 1863 and named it Kamehameha V, after himself. The ship had earlier rescued American and Hawaiian sailors stranded on the island of Pohnpei after the confederate raider Shenandoah attacked their whaling vessels. At the time O’Neill sailed to Baker Island Kamehameha V, crewed entirely by native Hawaiians, was making regular runs to supply the workers on the guano islands of Howland and Baker. The ship symbolized native Hawaiian nationalism.O’Neill told the story of how he was rescued many times: it was one of there most significant events of his life. After eleven days marooned on Baker, the rescued sailors were crowded into Kamehameha V along with the crews of other ships wrecked on Howland island, about 40 miles away. The voyage back to Honolulu took about a month. The rescued sailors were very near starvation, some gravely ill, but O’Neill arrived in Honolulu well fed and healthy, because one of the Hawaiian sailors liked his flute playing and gave him extra rations. He was able to get on with his life while the other sailors went to hospital to recover.
Although O’Neill and the others would have died without Kamehameha V’s appearance, O’Neill told the story as if the primitive Hawaiian sailor, who he never named, was dazzled by O’Neill’s sophisticated musical repertoire, and he misremembered the ship’s name as Zoe, erasing the connection to Hawaiian nationalism. He might have seen the Hawaiian sailor and himself as kindred: both living on Island occupied by foreigners, their native language and customs steadily declining; both displaced from home by economic necessity. Instead the itinerant sailor O’Neill, threatened with starvation and death, cast himself as the enlightening civilizer.
Henry Chapman Mercer was an important figure in the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century. O’Neill corresponded extensively with Mercer in the process of writing his last book, Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody, and referred to him as “Dear Kindred Soul.” That book takes a much broader view, focusing less on music O’Neill could claim as entirely Irish and more on Scottish tunes and American fiddle music. The eccentric Mercer, born independently wealthy, was an archeologist and antiquarian. For much of his life he was obsessed with pre-industrial culture, and he roamed the eastern United States collecting artifacts of virtually every industry and trade Americans practiced before the Civil War. A man of genuinely democratic sensibilities, he loved Irish folk music and folk music in general, and he wrote O’Neill originally to thank him for the work he had done.Mercer, like O’Neill, was also a fan of the Taylor brothers, who made innovative Uilleann pipes in Mercer’s native Philadelphia: Mercer admired not just their music but their craftsmanship, and he tried to unsuccessfully to buy their tools after they died. Mercer’s collection, his letters to and from O’Neill, and a set of Taylor pipes and some tools are housed in the bizarre and delightful reinforced concrete castle Mercer built in Doylestown, PA. His reinforced concrete home, and the large workshop where he made decorative “Moravian tiles,” are located a mile away and open to the public.
Warden S. Minkler When O’Neill worked as assistant chief clerk at police headquarters in 1888, the title of Chief Clerk went to Warden S. Minkler, who O’Neill described as “a bank clerk.” Minkler got the job, O'Neill claimed, because he served as deacon in the church attended by one of the Police Commissioners. “But such was his ignorance of the complex duties of his position,” O’Neill wrote sarcastically, that all he ever did was “stand around and talk to people of interest to the [Democratic] Party.” O’Neill did all the real work but wisely treated Minkler “with all due respect and consideration.” Later, in 1895, Minkler returned the favor: in a moment of pretense at reform, when Republican Mayor Swift threatened to reduce the police rolls, “corporations upheld my record, and it developed that Warden S. Minkler… now Mayor Swift’s private secretary, was a loyal friend. He had not forgotten the kindly consideration shown him in the days gone by.” This story, taken from O’Neill’s memoir, shows how much of his career depended on alliances with the city’s business class.
Minkler was at the time not a bank clerk but superintendent of the city’s water pipe storage yard. To get the position as Chief Clerk of the Polcie Department his influential friends, listed in the clipping here, had him appointed as patrolman and then instantly promoted above O’Neill. But O’Neill “played ball,” and Minkler later rewarded him by protecting his job. Reformers often complained about "corruption" and favoritism among Ward bosses, but here the city's business elite simply handed their friend a plum.
James O'Neill Born in County Down in 1862, James, no relation to Frances, was "working as a coal heaver when I found him." Francis recognized his musical talent and got him a job on the police force. With O'Neill help James rose to patrol sergeant. Francis described the younger man's home at 3522 S. Washtenaw avenue as "mecca," meaning both a musical mecca and perhaps a respite from the demands of the job. James was vital to O'Neill's project and was listed on the title page of the first book.Eventually the two men had a falling out over, as with Edward Cronin, the question of key signatures. Francis destroyed an entire edition of Dance Music of Ireland (1907) because, he said, James had gotten so many of the key signatures wrong: “This little expense,” O'Neill added, “cost me $1,200.” By the 1920s Frances wrote about him with a terse coolness: he had done a lot for James, but when asked about transcribing tunes Francis wrote to a friend that James "could no longer be utilized for that purpose." The Scribe: The Life and Works of James O’Neill, by Caoimhín Mac Aoidh, explores his life in detail.
Selena O'Neill Born in Chicago in 1893, she had a degree in music from the Chicago Music College. Francis, who was no relation to Selena. very much respected education and her degree, so much so that she eventually replaced Edward Cronin and James O'Neill as his collaborator. She was a highly accomplished fiddle and piano player with greater knowledge of music theory. Francis called her "our greatest musician both expert and scientific."Selena won first prize at the two music festivals O'Neill helped organize in 1912 and 1913, although he also wrote that her younger brother John was the better traditional player but he never practiced. He praised her lavishly in his books and dedicated copies to her with a great deal of affection, including effusive poetry he composed himself. Eventually he willed her the printing plates for several of his books.Their relationship seems to have been complicated, as all O’Neill’s relationships were, but with the addition of the gender politics of the time. She was sometimes mistaken for his daughter, understandably given her age, her last name, and the intensity of his praise, and she may have wanted to distance herself from his possibly overbearing enthusiasms. According to O'Neill she suffered from deafness. In 1917 O'Neill told Bernard Bogue that Selena was "stone deaf," and in 1920 described her as "deaf as Beethoven" to Henry Mercer, adding a few months later that "she is so deaf now that conversation with her is impracticable." But Selena made eight recordings of Irish music for Victor in 1928, and in the 1930s Mae Kennedy Kane was advertising 33 1/3 records of Selena's playing. She later worked for the Pullman car company during WWII and her employee records show no evidence of deafness. Perhaps her hearing loss was intermittent, or responded to treatment.
Johnny Powers Chicago's government depended heavily on the greasy reach of elected aldermen, who represented a specific district or "ward." An alderman typically used a saloon or gambling hall as a power base, generating money to encourage reluctant voters, but an alderman's power depended especially on his ability to get his constituents jobs. Powers, nicknamed "Johnny Go-Pow," boasted that he had gotten city jobs for more than 2600 people in his district. In this cartoon, from the Chicago Daily News, 6/15/1901, Powers is writing an order to Chief O'Neill telling him "you can leave my joint alone." His instrument is Elbridge Hanecy, who ran as a reform candidate against Carter Harrison but lost.
O'Neill depended on the good will of several alderman early in his career, but by the time he had made captain he had decided to cast his lot with Carter Harrison and the city's business class. As a result he had many enemies among a faction run by Robert Burke, Chairman of the Democratic Party, aldermen Michael Kenna and John Coughlan, and gambler/saloon keeper James O'Leary. In this cartoon mayor Harrison hands newly appointed chief O'Neill a baton. The giant figure of Burke leans casually with whip in hand, ready to get "the mayor's hired man" to do what he wants.
O'Neill's alliance with what he termed "corporations" and "the capitalists" should be seen as strategic, rather than virtuous. It provided him with a different power base, and where aldermen typically supported organized labor, O'Neill could be counted on to aid in breaking strikes. It probably mattered as well that O'Neill was an abstemious man who did not smoke, drink, or gamble, and a man of scholarly rather than earthy inclinations, while the stereotypical ward boss smoked expensive cigars, dressed in gaudy clothes and wore diamond jewelry.
The Press O'Neill's career took place in the golden age of newspapers, when dozens graced every major city and competed vigorously for readers. Reporters generally praised O'Neill, and even their criticisms of him generally were softened by the claim that he was an honest and decent man whose hands were tied by corruption. In interviews he showed a very dry and ironic sense of humor which the press liked, and they often ran stories like the time a stranger rode by O'Neill's farm outside Chicago and tried to sell him a stolen horse, or the story quoted below in which a reporter allegedly came from New York City to interview O'Neill about police methods in Chicago. He asked about gambling, and assumed the chief had extensive knowledge of different games. O'Neill replies that no, he doesn't gamble and has no idea how.
O'Neill knew how to "work the press." His musical interest was widely known by 1905, but newspapers generally treated it as a charming hobby rather than a distraction and a waste of taxpayer's money. In 1909 the Tribune published a caricature of former chief O'Neill playing a harp, festooned with shamrocks and smoking a clay pipe
"But how do you find It possible to arrest them for playing faro, for instance, if you do not know the game?" O'Neill: Do you mean that I ought to be able to play it? " Reporter: Certainly. That that would seem to be the only way In which you could be sure of making no mistakes." "Carrying your proposition to its logical conclusion." responded the Chief dreamily, looking out of the window, "I ought not to arrest a man for arson until I have burned down a house. Now, had I?" (Chicago Tribune, 12/15/1901; story about the stolen horse in Tribune 9/23/1902)
Herman Schuettler The Chicago born Schuettler, about a decade younger than O'Neill, had nothing to do with O'Neil''s music collection but a great deal to do with his police career. The Irish were the dominant ethnic group in Chicago's police but German officers were close behind. Schuettler made his reputation in crusades against anarchists, who were a real presence in Chicago and capable of violence but who also served as a trumped-up excuse for police actions that violated the rule of law. Schuettler early on worked with Captain Michael Schaack, who fellow policemen regarded as something of a fraud for his exaggerated accounts of the anarchist menace. The anarchist Emma Goldman recalled Schuettler as a brutal man, torturing her in prison. O'Neill intervened in that case, and removed Goldman from Schuettler's custody, but he himself detested anarchism and was not above arbitrarily beating a saloon full of men he termed "anarchists" because they taunted his squad during the Pullman strike.Schuettler was an effective policeman but was happy to use forms of interrogation that amounted to torture. The journalist and playwright Ben Hecht remembered Schuettler telling him, about a suspect in the Car Barn robbery, "I promise you this. That murdering little squirt will go to trial with a broken jaw and an ear missing. I'm going to take the little bastard apart before I bring him in. You can quote me for that." O'Neill defended those practices. In his annual report as chief of police, he specifically defended Schuettler's use of torture on one of the suspects in a notorious robbery case. O’Neill declared “That if the ‘the stomach pump,’ as it is sometimes called, had not been applied” to one of the suspects he would never have confessed and “neither would he have ‘squealed’ on his accomplices in that and several other crimes.” O'Neill eventually named Schuettler as his assistant superintendent, and the two men worked together in the crisis of the Iroquois Theater fire. But in his private memoir O'Neill suggested that Schuettler's rash action in the Car Barn case had gotten one of his officers killed. Schuettler became chief of police himself in 1917 but suffered a nervous breakdown and died shortly after.
Julius Taylor edited the Broad Ax, the first African American newspaper in Chicago. An iconoclast, Taylor frequently attacked Booker T. Washington and defended Democratic Party candidates at a time when the Party was mostly hostile to African American voters.Taylor frequently praised O’Neill, particularly for his actions during the bitter and violent Teamsters’ Strike of 1905. Teamsters drove the work horses that hauled goods in Chicago. When the Teamster’s union called a strike, employers brought in strikebreakers, many of whom were African American. Rioting broke out, and 21 people were killed. Under orders from the Mayor, and at the urging of the Employer’s Association, O’Neill announced a call for “special policemen” to protect the drivers, meaning the strikebreakers, and included African Americans among the “special police.” This gave African Americans authority to act against white strikers or angry crowds. During the strike, which lasted for over 100 days, it then became difficult to tell a “scab” from a “special policeman.”
O’Neill, Taylor wrote, “could not be swayed by the tin-horn politicians and their lackeys,” and "absolutely refused to bow down in front of the altar of race prejudice.” “The sturdy and courageous Chief of Police of Chicago,” continued the Broad Ax, “boldly declared that as long as colored men were full fledged American citizens, they had the undisputed right like any other class of citizens to serve as extra or permanent policemen.” We could dismiss O’Neill’s action here as simply part of a “divide and conquer” strategy, common in American labor history, in which racial divisions undermine worker solidarity. Indeed employers quickly fired African Americans who had served their purposes: by 1910 there were fewer African American teamsters than there had been before the strike.
But Taylor did not see it this way, and he would go on to lavishly praise O’Neill’s first book on the history of Irish music on the front page of the Broad Ax, proudly noting that O’Neill, “one of our steadfast friends for a number of years,” had gifted him a copy of Irish Minstrels and Musicians inscribed “To Julius T. Taylor, Esteemed Editor of The Broad Ax, compliments of the author, Captain Francis O’Neill.”
Patsy Touhey was a virtuoso piper who made his living in Vaudeville, where he combined piping with comic skits and his wife's dancing. Henry Chapman Mercer saw Touhey when “Harrigan’s Double Hibernians” came through Doylestown, PA in the 1880s. Born in Galway in 1865, he came to America at age three, and began performing professionally in his teens. O'Neill admired him very much; not just his playing but his geniality, courtesy and humility: he was "a gentleman though a piper." Touhey was in many respects a "stage Irishman," performing stereotypes in costume, so much so that in 1904 a troupe of actors from Ireland refused to share the stage with him at the St. Louis World's Fair. O'Neill typically had little time for "stage Irish" characterizations but he made an exception for Touhey, who he first saw performing at the 3/4 size Donegal Castle thrown up for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Touhey's career is extensively documented by Nick Whitmer at his site, "Lives of the Pipers."
The harpist Marta Cook suggests Touhey should be compared to his contemporary, Bert Williams, an African American comedian and singer who performed in blackface. Like Williams, Touhey trafficked in stereotypes but was talented enough to transcend them.