John Francis Keenan – Part 2

     As we have noted previously,  after John Keenan  and Bridget Hanlon married in 1883, John took a job with Crawford and Valentine as a construction foreman. The Keenans had relocated to Ryerson St. in the Crown Heights area to be closer to Matthew, Elizabeth  and their mother Annie, who were living nearby on Myrtle Ave.

     Bridget’s family had remained on  Classon Ave., but apparently the liquor store was not doing as well as anticipated. This article appearing in the Brooklyn Eagle of  Jan. 11, 1884 marked the beginning of the end.

     Then a legal notice appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle of June 16, 1884 calling for a sale at public auction of the building at 740 Classon Ave. pursuant to a judgement of foreclosure. I have not been able to find the records pertaining to the outcome of this  foreclosure, but in the following year’s Directory (1884-85)  there is a William Hanlon (laborer) and Margaret Hanlon (varieties) living at 133 Gold St. in the Dumbo section of downtown Brooklyn. However the following two years show William back at 740 Classon Ave, although at this point he was probably only renting the residence again, since his profession was thereafter listed as a Driver or Truckman.

     It is likely that in the process of all this disruption Bridget’s mother was taken in by  the Keenans, because in  the fall of 1886 we find in the Brooklyn Eagle, the following notice:

By this time John and Bridget had two toddlers – Mary Loretto (known to my family as my Dad’s Aunt Retta) , born in 1884, and James Nicholas (known as Uncle Jim), born in 1885. In 1889 John and his family moved to 386 Myrtle Ave, a few houses down from Matthew and his mother, then the next year to 417 Myrtle, on the same block as Matthew’s Florist shop.

Mary Loretto and James Nicholas Keenan  (circa 1900)

     In the 1892 Census we find that Bridget’s older siblings, William and Mary, had both moved in with the Keenans. This arrangement was to continue until the death of Bridget Keenan in 1929. The Keenan children would never be without an uncle and aunt in their lives.

    The youngest  Hanlon sibling, Margaret, had met and married a young man named Thomas F. Callahan around 1886. They were living in Flatbush, and Thomas ran a liquor store as well. They had one daughter named Margaret in 1887 who didn’t survive, and another named Mira, who was born in December of 1890. Unfortunately Margaret died in 1896, followed by Thomas in 1898. Mira was then raised by her Aunt Mary Callahan, Thomas’s older sister.

    In 1984 Uncle Jim (James Nicholas) Keenan wrote a letter to his niece Barbara Fay reminiscing about his youth.

     Myra Callahan was a cousin, younger than Retta or me. I never met or knew her parents. She was on my mother’s (O’Hanlon with the O dropped”). I never heard any family talk about her or her parents. I understand she lived with an Aunt whom Retta must have known or met. She visited our home often in her late teens or early twenties. She and your mother [Margaret Keenan Fay -Ed]) were close. I last saw her during a college vacation (1904-09). I have occasionally wondered what was the story behind her mother’s absence from the family scene – was it estrangement or perhaps death? Myra worked for the telephone company.  

     As it turns out Mira, too, suffered an early death, in 1925,

     1892 was also the year when Bridget Hanlon’s entreaties prevailed, and John Francis stayed in Brooklyn and started working for his brother Matthew at the florist shop. John worked at Matt’s till after their mother Annie Keenan died in 1903. By then John and Bridget had had three more children – my grandmother Margaret, born on Sept. 1, 1892, (Baptism Sponsors William Hanlon and Ann O’Connor),  Matthew, born in 1896, and William (Billy) born in 1899.

     Uncle Jim Keenan reminisced about his father John:

     “He settled down to city life and became a grand knight of the John Loughlin Council of the Knights of Columbus and Council Chief of the local Royal Arcanum, a fraternal order of that day. Both organizations had a  life insurance feature which was a big attraction for gaining members. After several terms as Grand Knight he was defeated for reelection, which I think he took very hard.

     An old friend of his whom I met later after Robertson Co. had sent me to New York told me that over the years the character of the Council had changed with the times, a younger generation (Young Turks) with many professional men had come in with ideas of their own and they took over.” 

   In 1905 John moved his growing household off of busy Myrtle Ave to 184 Washington Ave., a more residential neighborhood. It is pictured below, the last row house before the faceted  building that juts out towards the street.          

     By that time Retta was a public school teacher. And Jim would enter Cornell University the following year to study Engineering (Class of 1909)

     It was also about this time that John had his falling out with Matthew and decided to open his own florist business.  John’s shop was located at 386 Myrtle, less than  a block away from Matt’s, which was located at 406 Myrtle. This rift between the brothers apparently was carried through till Matthew’s death in 1918. However John didn’t stick with the Florist business very long. By 1910 he was back doing what he had done previously, and had always loved – working as a foreman for a contracting company.

     The 1910 Census shows that Mary Loretto was still teaching, and James N., having graduated from the university, was working as a Civil Engineer for the Public Service Commission. The other children were still in school. Uncle Jim recalled those days:

     “In my sophomore year I had seen a poster advertising civil service exams for draftsmen at $5/day. I took the exam, got on the list and as a result had jobs on the Barge Canal  Commission ( I counted rivet heads on lock gate steel shop drwgs one summer in Rochester, N.Y. This was for checking the billed weight by the fabricator. The State bought the steel work by the pound).  Another summer I worked for the State Highway Dept. at Albany figuring the volume of earth moved for contractor payments. Then at graduation I got a job with the N.Y. State Rapid Transit Commission working on the design of subway structures; the office was in the Tribune (Horace Greeley) bldg. at the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge. I lived at home in Washington Ave. that summer.”

     “A pleasant feature of my stay in New York City at that time was lunching with Pop and my younger brother Matt…Pop was a foreman on a subway project excavating Church St., behind Trinity Church and Matt was an office boy in the area…Anyway we three got together for lunch at least once a week. Those were the happy days!”

     Unhappily though, on April 14,  1915 Matthew Leo Keenan, John and Bridget’s second son, died at the age of  19 years old of peritonitis. By then the Keenans had moved to 658 Lafayette St. in Bedford Stuyvesant.

    Then on Dec 24, Christmas Eve, of that same year, John and Bridget Keenan’s second daughter, Margaret, my grandmother, married William Fay Jr., my grandfather. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    But before we look at that particular history it is very important to come to an understanding of  the lineage of  William Fay Jr. When I was growing up my grandfather’s name  was never mentioned, and because of that, nothing was known of his people. It was not until the summer of 2017, over a hundred years after he married Margaret Keenan, that I was able to penetrate the silence surrounding my grandfather’s life.