The Children of Annie Keenan

     In 1882 Annie Keenan and her children moved once again  – this time to 816 Dean St. (between Vanderbuilt and Carlton). You will recall that by this time both Mary (Smith) and Joseph H. had married and moved out on their own. In fact Joseph was living nearby at 819 Dean St. himself. Over the next few years as each child married they would set up homes of their own – leaving Annie with an ever- shrinking household.

      Mary and Thomas Smith, who had married in 1871,  had eight children over the course of their marriage, two of whom died in childhood. Thomas eventually ended up in the printing business, working as a blocker. They remained in Brooklyn, living always in the Bedford Stuyvesant section, moving every so often, but always within a few blocks of where they had lived before. Thomas passed away in May of 1924, and Mary in July of 1933 at the age of 82 years.

     James, the oldest male,  married Cecelia (Daisy) O’Hara in 1881.  Their first son, Eugene Leo was born in March of 1882 while still living with other Keenans at 816 Dean St.. They went on to have seven more children over the next twenty years. James lived in Brooklyn his whole life. He worked as a policeman for a while (1898-1905) in the Bath Bay area,  then went into construction, eventually becoming a superintendent. Daisy died in 1928 and James continued on living with his daughter Gertrude and later his daughter Edna. He died at the ripe old age of 89 in 1942.

     Barbara Peters, a descendant of James, located the following Brooklyn Eagle account of one escapade towards the end of his law enforcement career, dated April 5, 1905.


                    Keenan Comes to Son’s Rescue When Youth Is Placed Under Arrest

                                          BOTH GET BADLY TROUNCED. 

                       Disgraceful Condition of Affairs at Bath Beach Station

                                           Exposed by the Encounter.

    Eugene Keenan,  23 years old, son of Precinct  Detective James N. Keenan, of the Bath Beach precinct, was held for further examination, this morning, by Magistrate Voorhees in the Coney Island court on charges of intoxication and disorderly conduct,  and the arrest brought out what many of the residents of that locality call a disgraceful condition of affairs. It was said this morning that Detective Keenan interferred with Roundsman Dobson, who made that arrest, but was soon quieted by the young roundsman, who was forced to use his stick in order to defend himself, he said, from being assaulted by Detective Keenan and his son. It was further stated at the Bath Beach station today that Detective Keenan had a black jack in his hand when arrested.

      It was about 2 o’clock when a telephone message was sent in from Eighteenth ave and  Eighty–sixth street, by a business man at the corner, for a policeman to stop a fight.  Roundsman Edward J. Dobson hurried  to the spot and declares he found the two Keenans fighting. He said this morning, when telling his story to Magistrate Voorhees in the Coney Island court, “ I  separated the father and son, and ordered young Keenan to go home. Then,” he says, “ young Keenan became abusive, and was placed under arrest.” Dobson declares that Detective Keenan drew a blackjack and attempted to use it on him, and the roundsman was forced to draw his club and use it. When young Keenan appeared in the Coney Island court this morning, his head was in bandages and it was also said that his father was ordered by his superiors to report sick. The police station blotter at Bath Beach stated that “Eugene Keenan resisted arrest aided by his father, who had a black jack in his hand and that prisoner and father wrestled the roundsman and when brought to this station were attended by Ambulance Surgeon Moore, of the Norwegian Hospital.”

    Roundsman Dobson said this morning in court that he had preferred charges against the detective to the commissioner and it was also said that the charges would be prepared and sent down town today.  Some of the policemen attached to the station say they have been expecting trouble for some time. Roundsman Dobson was attached to the bicycle squad in Manhattan, when made a roundsman, and has a good record. It has been learned on excellent authority that some of the police do not pay any attention whatever to the saloon trade, and when Roundsman Dobson recently closed a big barroom up at 1 o’clock Sunday morning his action caused considerable comment. It has been said by one of the officials attached to the precinct that boxes of cigars, as gifts to the policemen, are numerous. A short time ago. according to a member  of the uniformed force, a certain saloonkeeper who does business every day in the year, sent a box of cigars by a patrolman to the police station. The box was to be delivered to a certain official, but some one else located the cigars in tho policeman’s rubber coat and the smokers vanished”.

      Detective Keenan was seen later today at his home on Sixteenth avenue. He had a bad cut over his right eye and plainly showed the effects of rough handling. Keenan declined  to make any statement In regard to the affair, saying he would tell his version of the story when the proper time came.

Family of James Keenan and Bridget O’Hara
(Click image to enlarge)

      Matthew T., the second son of Ann and James Nicholas Keenan had successfully established a florist business while living in the Keenan household. You might recall he originally located his business on Vanderbuilt Ave. near St Joseph’s Church. But in 1880 he moved it to Park Ave. and shortly thereafter to Myrtle Ave. in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, which was more convenient to downtown Brooklyn.  Around 1884 Matthew himself moved to 392 Myrtle Ave. taking with him his mother and Elizabeth ( the youngest daughter)  his only sister who was still unmarried.

         Sometime around 1882 Anna Louise, the Keenan’s second daughter, had married Charles O’Connor and left the Keenan household. Charles worked as a steamfitter for most of his career. Although they never had children of their own, both the 1910 Census and the 1920 Census shows Anna’s niece Kathleen Keenan living with them. (Kathleen was the daughter of Anna’s brother Joseph Henry). The O’Connors lived on Waverly Ave and Washington Ave. in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, very close to where Mathew and his mother were living. Anna lived till 1926, Charles till 1930.

          As I stated earlier, Joseph Henry Keenan, the fourth and youngest son,  had married early (1879) and he and his wife Cora had had two children, James N. in 1879 and Cora L. in 1883. Unfortunately his wife died in April of 1884, and eventually Joseph remarried to Wihemina (Minnie) Maurer in August of 1895. They subsequently moved to New Jersey for a couple of years, where they had a daughter Marion and a son Charles. Around 1898 they moved to Wilkes Barre, Penn., her hometown, where they remained. Their daughter Kathleen was born there in 1898 and another son Joseph in 1900. However Minnie passed away of stomach cancer on February 11, 1910 and  John tragically died of  cirrhosis of the liver just two days later on February 13. It was this misfortune that resulted in Kathleen being sent to Brooklyn to be raised by her Aunt Anna O’Connor. The other children stayed with their aunt Kate Maurer in Wilkes-Barre.

Family of Joseph H Keenan
(Click image to enlarge)


     Annie Keenan’s third daughter, Catherine (Katie) also married around 1882. Her husband was Joseph Michael McCaul. Although they had five children together, theirs was a troubled marriage. Joseph McCaul had a maple syrup manufacturing business in New York City but they resided at 365 Myrtle Ave near the other members of the Keenan family. Sometime in early 1886  Katie  had left her husband and moved down the street to her brother Matthew’s place.  But in April she decided to return to him. However later in the year she left again. Joseph McCaul filed suit in Brooklyn, as reported in the New York Times of October 28.

   Unfortunately this was not to be a singular occurance .  Again in 1890 John McCaul was back in court.

     In the February 1892 Census Catherine and three of her kids were  found living with her sister Anna O’Connor, who at the time was renting on Pilling St. And her son Joseph was found living once again with his uncle Matthew T.  Whether this was due to marital strife as before or because of a medical crisis we are unsure. We do know that on April 7 of 1892  Catherine’s youngest child, a three-year old named Elizabeth, died of pneumonia and acute meningitis. Two years later her first-born, John, died of diphtheria at the age of 11. And in 1898 her eldest daughter, Marion, died at the age of 10. What a life of heartbreak. The children were all laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery.

     In 1910 the McCaul family moved in with Matthew Keenan at his residence at 114  Willoughby Street. Catherine was sick and required an operation in October of 1913. Unfortunately she passed away on December 7, but her husband and children continued to live at Matthew’s residence. Joseph McCaul died in 1921. The children,  Joseph F. and Anita lived full lives. Joseph died on June 18, 1949 ( the day your author entered this world) and Anita lived until 1955.

The Family of Joseph McCaul and Catherine Keenan
(Click image to enlarge)

     I have avoided talking about John F. Keenan, the third of Annie Keenan’s sons, because he is my great-grandfather and I want to give a more thorough account of his history at a later date.

     Matthew T. Keenan, like his grandfather (and namesake) appears to have had a large influence on his extended family. He was perhaps the most successful of the Keenans in business, and managed to accumulate quite a number of real estate holdings by the end of his career.  He never married, and probably because of that,  he assumed the responsibility of caring and providing for his mother and sisters when they were in need. When he made the move to Myrtle Ave. in 1884  it seems many of the others eventually followed – the McCauls, the O’Connors and even John Keenan.

    When Annie Connell Keenan finally died on April 30, 1903, in her early 70’s, she was living with Matthew and his sister at 170 Clinton Ave., and nearby to much of the rest of her family. We know so little about this woman. We have no first hand accounts, and yet the loving words written to her by her husband James Nicholas, and the apparent care and devotion to her by her children stand as a testament to her spirit. It is no small accomplishment to raise eight children virtually on your own, and to successfully usher them into adulthood and out into the world.     

    After his mother’s death Matthew continued to support his sister Elizabeth. But all was not necessarily harmonious as we shall eventually see.

     With financial success in a growing, thriving Brooklyn at the end of the century, there came an increased social mobility as well. Gone were the days of scraping out a living in any way possible, while living with a large family in cramped quarters. For Matthew at least, there was now the time and the means for leisure and social engagement, as evidenced by these clippings from the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper.

July 22, 1888         .

 Sept. 2,1888          

 Dec 21, 1893                               

April 25, 1897

     Euchre was a popular card game at the time, and was apparently interspersed with other entertainment supplied by the participants. It appears that Matthew was often accompanied by his sister Elizabeth (Lizzie) at these Brooklyn social events.


We also find that Matthew had a fondness for dogs, which, as it appears, were always a bit of a difficulty to manage in the city. 

Aug. 9, 1890  

April 9. 1894      

     Matthew’s florist business prospered, and he continued helping out his sisters. As you will recall, he shared his home with Catherine McCaul’s family, starting in 1910 and that continued  even after her death in 1913.

     Elizabeth Keenan eventually met and subsequently  married Howard Mason Bennett on December 4, 1916, when she was 52 years of age.  Elizabeth  joined him in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he was working as a salesman.

    In 1918, at the age of 62, Matthew contracted pulmonary oedema,  following a history of chronic heart problems, and after a short illness he passed away on March 17. He was buried in Holy Cross cemetery with many of his Keenan relatives. His obituary in the Brooklyn Eagle of  March 18 read:

                                      MT Keenan Dies  Florist for 40 Years

      “Matthew T Keenan, 62 years old, one of the best known florists of the Hill section, died yesterday at his residence, 114 Willoughby avenue, after a short illness. Mr. Keenan was born in the old Ninth Ward, on March 31, 1855, the son of the late James and Ann Keenan. He started in the florist business forty years ago, in St. Joseph’s parish,and after a few years moved to a store at the corner of Clermont and Park avenues. In 1883 he opened a store at 406 Myrtle avenue, where he continued in business up to the time of his death. Mr Keenan was active in all the charities connected with the Sacred Heart R.C. Church. He was a life member of Brooklyn Lodge No. 22 B.P.O.Elks, and a member of Long Island Council 173, R.A., and John Loughlin Council No. 303 Knights of Columbus. He is survived by three sisters, Mrs Mary Smith, Mrs Annie O’Connor, and Elizabeth; two brothers, James and John Keenan; a neice Anita, and a nephew Joseph F. McCaul. The funeral will be held on Wednesday morning , with a requiem mass in the Queen of All Saints R.C. Church, Lafayette and Vanderbuilt avenues, interrment following in Holy Cross Cemetary.”

     His death however sparked a bit of a brouhaha amoung some of the family members.

    In a will dated Feb.1, 1911 Matthew had stipulated that aside from the costs of paying off  his debts and funeral expenses, and a bequeathal of $1000 to provide a suitable monument over his mother’s grave, all his real property, including contents, would be given to his sister Catherine and her children. Catherine was to receive the house at 114 Willoughby Ave. His nephew John McCaul Jr. was to receive the house at 406 Myrtle Ave, together with the Florist business located there, and his niece Anita (Anna) would receive the house at 411 Myrtle Ave. Should Catherine die before Matthew (as indeed was to be the case) the Willoughby Ave property would go to his niece and nephew as well.

     In that will Matthew had a specific clause addressed to his sister Elizabeth:

    “ I have made no provision in this, my last will and Testament for my sister ELIZABETH KEENAN, knowing and believing that for the last twenty-five years I have adequately, properly and sufficiently provided for her, and having reasons otherwise well known to my said sister Elizabeth Keenan, it is my will that my said sister Elizabeth Keenan shall not share or participate in any part of my estate hereinbefore given, devised and bequeathed.”

    Notification of the probate of Matthew’s will was sent out to all interested parties in April.  This included all of his living brothers and sisters, as well as the children of Joseph H. (deceased 1910), which included James N., Cora (Riggs), Charles, Joseph, Marion and Kathleen Keenan. In May,  both Elizabeth Bennett and John F. Keenan, using the same attorney, filed objections to the will, claiming Matthew was not mentally competent at the drafting of the will, and/or that he was unduly influenced by the recipients of his bequests. They called for a jury trial.

    The plea for a jury trial however was withdraw immediately before the trial date in June , but in the documents filed by Anna McCaul’s Special Guardian (Attourney Edmund Hennessey) a viable explanation for the dispute was tendered. Apparently a previous will had been drawn up by Matthew designating his sister Elizabeth as prime beneficiary, but they had had a dispute (subject matter not revealed) and  Lizzie had left his domicile on Willoughby Ave. The McCauls had subsequently moved in, and Matthew had drawn up the existing will designating them as the beneficiaries.

     As to John F. Keenan’s dispute  with Matthew, it was explained that John had been employed by Matthew in his florist business for a number of years, but a disagreement had ensued with his brother, who subsequently started a similar business within a block of Matthew’s place of business.

     Family dynamics always exist, and sometimes they are not pretty. But by and large the children of James Nicholas Keenan and Annie Keenan appeared to be a very close-knit bunch, and together they managed to transition out of a situation of poverty and insecurity and enter the ranks of stable working class Brooklynites.

411 Myrtle Avenue 406 MyrtleAvenue
114 Willoughby Ave

   As a footnote, the $1000 bequeathal in Matthew’s will to secure a suitable marker for his mother’s grave in Holy Cross cemetery was fulfilled. The eight foot long granite marker, as it turns out, was inscribed with the name of Matthew Keenan, so apparently Matthew was laid to rest beside his mother Annie Connell. Also buried in the plot was his sister Elizabeth (Bennett) and sister Catherine McCaul, together with her husband and four of her children. Today that marker has sunken into the ground, and had to be excavated to read the inscription.