Death By Clutter

Death By Clutter

Yesterday being Friday, an incoming e-mail from WordPress alerted me to their First Friday site, where new bloggers can publish their first post and get feedback on their writing, their layout, any tips on what could improve their site. I enjoy spending half an hour or so checking out some of the new blogs and sometimes leave a tip or two for newbies.

One of the sites I came across on First Friday was this one from a Nebraska poet: A Life Simply Lived. While she appears to have other blogs already, her first post on this site was about the how and why of dealing with clutter. She offers some fairly standard advice; The FlyLady would approve. 🙂  Click here to read 8 Steps to Simplify Your Life

Reading her post reminded me of this story from years ago:

When we lived in SW Ontario we read a news item one day describing a tragic account of the deaths of two elderly men who lived alone on a farm or an acreage in Perth County.

It seems these two brothers subscribed to the daily papers and never threw any away. Who knows exactly why hoarders hoard? There’s usually some valid reason that starts it off, but then something clicks in a person’s brain and they become helpless to stop themselves. So it was with these two. Possibly they thought they may someday need to look up some information.

Anyway, they stacked their old papers against the walls of their little house, and when those spaces were all filled, they moved in a row. This process kept on until they had newspapers stacked as high as they could reach in every room of the house, with tunnels going through like a maze.

By this time the one brother was bedfast and the other was caring for him, going out for groceries, cooking and such. Then one day one of the walls of newspapers came down in a avalanche on top of the caregiver brother and killed or completely mobilized him. At any rate he died fairly quickly, while the other brother, unable to leave his bed, likely died of thirst.

They’d been dead for some weeks before their bodies were discovered. A self-inflicted tragedy.

Here Girl, Take This Doll!

Christmas Shopping– 1934 Version

Oh, how Mabel hated those dolls! In January, as she and her fellow salesgirls packed the unsold ones away, the staff was so glad to see the end of them.

She remembered the day they unpacked the new Shirley Temple dolls. Clerks from other departments all stopped to look, all the ladies ooo-ing & aww-ing over how cute they were. And the variety of outfits they came with! Toy department workers joked about buying one for themselves and playing with it on the sly. Some of the ladies were saving their money to buy one for a daughter or niece.

By the end of November miniature Shirley Temples were lined up in neat rows on the toy shelves, waiting for Christmas gift-buyers. They looked so appealing, but were pricey for the times; Mabel knew folks on Relief would never be able to afford one. She never dreamed she’d see this sad reality played out day after day for weeks.

Child actress Shirley Temple came along in the 1930?s, in the midst of the Great Depression. She was an instant hit with her sweet voice, big hazel eyes and bouncing golden ringlets; reviewers were saying she symbolized hope to Depression-weary people. She looked like “the good old days”: she wasn’t pale; her cheeks weren’t hollow; her arms and legs weren’t just sticks. She had the spunk to sing and tap dance her way into people’s hearts.

Someone in Hollywood decided a good way to market their child star was to put out replica dolls in time for Christmas sales. And Eaton’s, a big Canadian department store where Mabel worked, stocked these dolls just like a lot of others. Thus began a month of torture for the salesgirls who worked there.

Little girls started coming as soon as the staff put the dolls on display. All children, rich or poor, made the rounds of the huge Eaton’s toy display just to ogle, but the little girls would wander back to the doll shelves. there they’d stand and stare – sometimes for an hour – at those beautiful dolls.

Mabel wondered if every girl in the city was coming in. Some of them really tore at your heart, too. She’d see a little waif straggle by in a much-patched coat, wearing rubbers borrowed from someone they actually fitted. The next day some other girl – probably a sister or a cousin – would be standing there in that same shabby coat, wearing those same floppy rubbers. Relief payments covered food and housing, but recipients were given nothing for “extras” like clothing. A lot of these girls weren’t in school because they hadn’t shoes or clothes of their own fit to wear. But they could still dream.

Maybe some of them are Maria’s sisters, she thought sadly. How many of these girls are the daughters of immigrants, surviving on whatever they can scrounge?

Mabel and Maria became school friends soon after Maria’s family arrived in Winnipeg. Maria’s father had accepted a job in the city back in the early ‘20s when city was welcoming immigrants. The economy was booming and Canada needed more workers, so the Canadian government had streamlined the immigration process for many Europeans.

Maria’s father had worked hard to get ahead. They were saving to buy a house when the Stock Market crashed. When jobs started dying up immigrants were the first laid off and he got the axe, too. Then when those same immigrants applied for relief, they were handed a form to sign…

“I’m sure glad my brother Joe went with him,” Maria told her later. “Dad can’t read English well enough to understand it all. He didn’t know he’d be agreeing to have us all sent back to Poland. We don’t want to go back! This is our home now.

“He refused to sign, but then he was told if he didn’t, he couldn’t get any Relief. Dad came home and just sat down and cried. Joe said they hadn’t had food in the house for two days before Dad was desperate enough to apply – and then he was turned down!”

Maria was married by then; she and her husband were on Relief themselves and couldn’t help much. But her Canadian-born father-in-law – bless his heart– faced the ridicule of his neighbors and allowed her family to live in his basement rent-free. Still, Mabel wondered how a family could survive on nothing.

By the first week in December every time Mabel walked down that aisle she saw the wistful eyes of a dozen little girls looking up at her. Girls who badly needed food but dreamed instead of a beautiful doll for Christmas. To see those thin little girls standing in front of the display day after day, with eyes so full of longing – dreaming an impossible dream – finally broke her heart.

One day she snapped. She managed to hold on long enough to make it to the staff room before she burst into tears. “ I can’t stand it!” she shrieked. “I just can’t do this anymore. Get rid of those dolls – every last one! I can’t bear to see them one more day.”

Pearl, one of the other sales girls calmed her down. “Most of us feel that way. But Christmas will soon be past; try and hang on just two more weeks.”

Vera was in the staff room, too. “I may have a break-down, too,” she told them. “I’m so tempted…one of these days I’m just going to start grabbing dolls off the shelves and handing them out to every little ragamuffin I see. When the police come and arrest me, I’ll plead insanity.”

“Oh, I’d love to see that,” Pearl said with a laugh. “But you need your job. We all need our jobs to make it through these times. Maybe next year things will start to look up.”

“Yeah, maybe next Christmas there’ll be jobs for dads and presents for children again,” Vera replied, without enthusiasm.

How much longer could this Depression last?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Historical note:
I’ve invented Mabel and her thoughts, but the setting was very real. According to one Eaton’s sales girl, they had all they could handle watching those starving girls wander in every day and just stare at those dolls. She’s the “Vera” in this tale.

I sis a search for when Shirley Temple dolls first came on the market; they seem to have made their appearance for the 1934 Christmas season. Whether they were introduced in western Canada that Christmas or the next I’m not sure.

To our national shame, when things got tough in Canada immigrants with odd-sounding names or strange accents were usually denied Relief. Many were whisked away on trains to Halifax, put on boats and shipped back with no legalities, not even allowed a phone call.

As to Maria’s father-in-law, I’ll quote one Manitoba politician of the time:
“When those foreigners from across the tracks apply for Relief, we just show them a blank application for voluntary deportation. Believe me, they don’t come back. It’s simple, but it has saved the city a lot of money.”

Word Press Daily prompt: Tempted

A Chinook Wind

Back when we lived in Moose Jaw, I awoke one morning and noticed right away that the air had an unusual scent. I took a deep sniff and smiled. A chinook was blowing.

This weather pattern is born in the air currents moving from northwest to southeast across the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Winds suck up moisture from the water’s surface and carry it along in billowing white clouds until the air mass crashes into the North American coastline. And there the air-land temperature difference causes the clouds to dump their payload on the hapless residents below.

In western Canada this means the British Columbia coastline, including Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria. Terrific rainfall ever year! But then the now-lighter air mass rises upwards over the mountain range leaving the clouds behind to dribble onto the coast. The interior of British Columbia is desert-dry a lot of the time.

canada-map

L to R: BC, Alberta, Sask, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces

These air currents climb the mountain peaks and pick up speed sliding down the other side into Alberta. Still warm from the Pacific this air blow across the southern prairies. The Indians called these winds chinooks. If it’s winter here, a chinook can melt a lot of snow in a day, picking up the resulting moisture and carrying it along at almost ground level until the wind plays out.

Under the map of Canada above I’ve listed the southern provinces that border the US. The Rocky Mountains, for the most part, follow that squiggly line between BC and Alberta. Because of the way the Rockies angle as they run along the border of the two provinces, the southernmost chinooks sometimes blow as far east as central Saskatchewan. Moose Jaw, dead center in south SK, gets the tail end of some, whereas Regina, 44 miles east, rarely ever feels a Chinook wind.

When one is blowing, we get that classic “chinook arch” along the western horizon. Our sky is clear except for an arc of grey cloud hovering at the western edge of our world.

It was this warm, moisture-laden air I got a whiff of that morning. In the dead of winter a chinook has a pleasing smell to it! Later, when I was outside, I saw the accompanying chinook arch. A chinook means a sunny day, a rise in temperature, melting snow. We get a tiny respite from frigid winter’s grip. We prairie folks love our chinooks.

Word Press daily prompt: Interior

Martyrs to the Net?

A Martyr to Pain

I find it intriguing how the older English books use today’s Word Press prompt, martyr, in a rather unique way. Unique to folks in this part of North America, that is.

“My wife wasn’t able to come today. She’s a martyr to headaches,” the character in one book explained. Someone else may be a martyr to back pain or varicose veins. We here in Canada tend to phrase this type of affliction as, “She suffered from chronic headaches or back pain.”

Can’t you just imagine them lying in bed, moaning in pain? So why doesn’t this bring a rush of sympathy to my heart? Because the word martyr, while it has a legitimate sense of suffering unjustly, also carries the sense of someone putting on a show of suffering. Letting the whole world know about their grief or pain to gain sympathy. My folks called this “putting on the dog” and had no patience for that.

Got Your Martyr Pin?

When I was young, volunteering to suffer, and usually letting everyone around you know about it to gain sympathy, was called “putting on your martyr pin.”

A martyr pin can actually turn into a much-admired fashion accessory. “Judy has to slave away all day long because her husband and children expect so much of her and none of them will lift a finger to help. What a hard worker she is — and so brave about it! I’d have laid down the law to my family long ago.”

A martyr pin may be the only thing holding some people together. I remember reading the account of the poor abused wife of an alcoholic. When her husband had a serious accident and subsequent encounter with God, he was convicted of his erring ways and gave up boozing. He quit beating his poor wife. Was she thankful? No. She’d lost her moorings, her role in life. So she kept taunting him, trying to make him hit her again, telling him he wasn’t a man anymore. Sad.

A Martyr to Blogging?

But back to chronic suffering. I could say my housework is a martyr to my blogging and/or writing. The house suffers constant neglect while I’m off on a cyber-voyage around the globe, or editing my latest WIP. Just this morning I woke up enthused, ready to give something a good cleaning, but got lost on a ramble around the Internet instead.

Oh, well. I met two nice Irish gentlemen on my travels. The one, Niall O’Donnell has a blog about the joys and confusions of our beloved English. Among is posts is one about one of my pet subjects, the SEMICOLON. Read his post here at English Language Thoughts.

The other, Robert Doyle, is an enthusiast of music and photography. You’ll find him at Soundtrack of a Photograph. We discussed his photo of Halifax and my great-great-grandfather’s arrival there back around 1850.

A Martyr to the Press Gang

I could say my great-great-grandfather was a martyr to the English navy, like many young men in his era. He suffered much at their hands, losing every connection with his family. The roots of our family tree stop at him.

John was a nine-year-old lad on the streets of a large English city — he thinks it was London — when a navy press gang got hold of him and dragged him on board a ship, forcing him to serve as cabin boy. One can only imagine what all he must have endured. Seems he must have been a husky lad for his age; surely they wouldn’t have taken a puny little thing? Was his name actually John Smith, did the sailors dub him that to make it harder for relatives to find him, or did he not even know his last name?

At any rate, they kept him aboard, never allowed on shore, for over four years. At age fourteen, while his ship was docked in Halifax harbour, he managed to escape. The sailors saw him and turned the ship’s gun on him, trying to shoot him down as he fled, but he escaped by hiding in the woods. From Halifax he made his way to Ontario, married Ruth Dobson in Oxford County, and settled down on a farm near Listowel.

How We Suffer!

Someone has said that we in North America today have so much more going for us than people ever have had, yet we’re the most discontented bunch ever. We are freer than any other people ever have been, but get so bogged down by all our options. We expect life to deliver more goodies than any other people in history ever have.

Personally, I think folks today suffer much from not knowing history. Perhaps if we studied history more we’d see just where we fit into the big picture. And we’d realize just how good we have it. When I get to feeling like I suffer from a lack of life’s little pleasures, or haven’t been treated very well by my peers, I try to remember what John Smith had to endure.

A Panoply of Gray

Our Word Press daily prompt word today is panoply, one I am familiar with, but will probably never have a use for. Unless I talk about our personal panoply of books (as in impressive or complete collection.) However, we’re not the Library of Congress yet. Now that place can boast a panoply of books!

The word immediately brings to mind the old hymn, “The Promises of God”, with the one verse ending… “but with panoply and shield and the Spirit’s sword to wield, I have conquered through the promises of God.” An inspiring thought.

Maybe I could use it to describe our gray heaven above. A panoply of cloud (full suit of armor) has protected us from the piercing rays of the sun all week. One day we had just a faint white streak on the SW horizon where the sun was obviously favoring the next country with a polite visit, but we haven’t seen it here for so long. We’re not in Saskatchewan anymore, Toto.

On the other hand, it’s not snowing. Our ground is bare and so far the temp has stayed above freezing in the daytime, dropping just below at night. The weather man says this is going to change next week and we’re going to KNOW it’s December.

My husband and I haven’t been as well protected from germs as we have from sunshine. Bob’s been fighting a sinus cold for a week now and my own throat was sore this morning, too. Now I have a headache. I may wake up with one occasionally but they’re a rare daytime occurrence for me.

For the past few days I’ve been working on a story I wrote three NaNoWriMo’s ago. My grandson wanted me to write a story similar to the Hardy Boys mysteries so I made a stab at it as my 2013 Nano project. I finished the first draft, then left it sit, my health issues occupying the center of my attentions since then. Now I want to get back at it, get it polished up and ready for the grands to read.

I have four chapters done and ready to go, but have the awfullest feeling I’m going too have to delete two of them. The experts say you must plunge your main character into trouble practically on the first page. My story hints at trouble right off, but the characters aren’t being tossed into the soup pot yet.

I’ve been told the main character has to be in Terrible Trouble by page 2. A 95% chance of being fatal-type situation. “Hanging from a bridge by his fingernails,” says Jerry Jenkins. (This better be a him; these days girls with their glued-on nails would have no hope at all.) With the villain pacing up and down the bridge, releasing the safety on his gun — and the crocodile below filing its teeth in anticipation.

Or a romance where Act One opens with Trish and her sweetie walking down the street and he’s just starting to propose. Suddenly this drop-dead gorgeous thing, jumping back from a speeding car veering her way, throws herself into sweetie’s arms. And he says, “Well, hello! Where have you been all my life?”

You get the picture. Dire Distress.

I’ve been feeling a lack in my writing life lately. I’m a moody person by nature and my muse is even more so, plus I’m having a hard time keeping her enthused when the skies are so dull and gray. I have lots of stories I’d like to write, both short and long, but for some reason I just can’t seem to get motivated.

Would the discipline of a group help, I wonder? The pressure of needing some new work to present every week? I started searching on-line for a writers’ group where participants exchange writing samples and get feedback. Do any of you readers belong to a group like that, or are you interested in joining one? Is anyone interested in reading and giving some feedback on a story for teen boys?

On the up-side, it’s December and we’ve already gotten a few Christmas cards. Last night we went to Bob’s office Christmas supper. He actually only works at this office one day a week, doing book-keeping for a local veterinarian, but we get an invite to the feast. Everyone’s friendly and the meal’s a tasty one — the last couple of years it’s been a potluck. They draw names for gifts and the exchange is done after the meal.

Have you all got your plans made for the holidays and your Christmas, Year-end, or New Year’s greetings written up, ready to send? Since we’re both retired it’s needless to plan for “holidays,” especially with only one child and her family to arrange a meal together with. I’ve always had it easy this way — no big crowd to arrange for. And a lot of our gift-giving these days can be reduced to gift certificates.

How Black Were the Donnellys?

As a child growing up, at times I heard the expression, “the Black Donnellys.” Myths had grown up around this family until they sounded like the most treacherous bunch in Canadian history. As an adult I got a chance to explore this tale of tragedy and will share the details in response to yesterday’s WordPress daily prompt: mythical. (Better late than never. My internet was down by the time I got done writing this.)

Warning: this is one l-o-n-g account.

The Scales of Justice Didn’t Always Balance

In the latter 1800s law and order had broken down in Biddulph, a township in southwestern Ontario just north of London, Lucan being the main town. Settled largely by Irish Catholics like the Donnellys, the area had become known for feuds and unsolvable crimes. Justice, administered haphazardly at best, was sometimes more of a farce as some people were convicted on flimsy evidence while others were acquitted in spite of obvious guilt.

James Donnelly had brought his family from Tipperary, Ireland, and after some years in London, moved into Biddulph as a squatter in 1847, when the area was mostly wilderness. Claiming a parcel land belonging to the Canada Company, he made this his farm for some years. Robust and hot-headed, he wasn’t one to avoid a quarrel and held his own in quite a few.

After some years the Company ignored Donnelly’s claim to the land and sold fifty acres to another farmer named Farrell. Bitter feelings between these two men led some years later to an argument at a work bee, which led to violence. In the struggle Donnelly killed Ferrell. Though some witnesses testified that he acted in self-defense, he was convicted of willful murder and sentenced to be hung.

James Donnelly had been a well regarded man in the community; now his neighbours took up his cause, pleading on his behalf to have this sentence commuted. In the end he was sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary. His wife Judith, a capable woman with a strong, almost masculine nature, ran the farm during these years, supporting their family of six sons and a daughter. Thus James’ sons grew up without a father to guide them.

Details get confused here, but it seems when Donnelly returned from prison he carried on farming, claiming more land and farming it as a squatter. A few years later he lost his squatter’s rights claim and was evicted from this land, which was later sold to a James Carswell who proceeded to build and farm the land. One night after Carswell had harvested and stored his crop his barn was torched. Local speculation laid this crime at the feet of the Donnellys.

Painted Black

The Donnelly sons participated in their share of the feuds and fisticuffs in the area. Michael was killed in a brawl in 1879 and James died of consumption the same year. (It didn’t help that he’d had an altercation with a law officer and caught a bullet while fleeing capture.) Robert was sent to jail for attempting to shoot a Constable, but was released early when it was discovered he’d been framed. Will received nine months for wounding another Constable during a scuffle. John, Tom and James, were all brought up before the courts for larceny, assault, and attempted arson, but not convicted.

They weren’t layabouts; several of the brothers ran a stagecoach business while others farmed. But obviously they weren’t the most law-abiding bunch, which made it easy for popular opinion to hold them responsible for various violent incidents in the township. Barn burnings, theft and/or maiming of animals — these crimes were often laid at their door. Their reputation for violence and crime grew to mythical proportions and they became known as “The Black Donnellys.”

One son, Patrick, kept his hands clean, joined a carriage-making firm, and became a respectable citizen. Apparently he tried at times to persuade his brothers to leave all this animosity behind and relocate elsewhere as he had done. Their sister Jennie, youngest in the family, married James Curry and moved to St Thomas. At the time of the tragedy she was 22 and already had three children.

Setting the Stage for Murder

Father Girard, the Catholic priest in the community, worked hard to soothe fiery passions and end the various feuds going on among his people. Finally he abandoned his post and a new priest, Father Connolly, was appointed. Because of all the crime and the authorities inability to deal with it, Connolly encouraged the formation of a Vigilance Committee to combat this. Many in his church signed the Agreement to keep peace, to search for stolen goods, and to aid each other in preserving the best interests of the neighborhood in a lawful manner. Some, members of the congregation, including the Donnellys, did not sign.

Father Connolly had visited the Donnelly home as part of his parish rounds and wasn’t impressed by the reception he received. First off the dogs snarled viciously at the wolf-skin coat he was wearing. Then Mrs Donnelly hadn’t realized who he was, hadn’t given him the proper greeting due a pastor, and his nose was put out of joint. Likely by this time he’d also heard his other parishioners’ complaints and accusations about the family. So there was some static between the Donnellys and the priest from the get-go. How much his feelings influenced the Committee is hard to say, but Father Connolly did fear retribution after the tragedy until Will Donnelly set his fears at rest.

One of the Vigilance Committee’s first steps was to petition the County Judge, requesting that he appoint Committee member James Carroll as a Constable in the district. Carroll had already quarreled with the Donnelly boys and declared that he was going to drive them from the township. Now invested with legal authority, he promptly arrested Tom Donnelly on a old charge he’d already been acquitted of. Next John was arrested and tried for perjury, the accusation supported by the testimony of several Committee men. The Crown Attorney in London advised dismissal of the case for lack of evidence but the Committee ignored his advice and sent John for trial. Thus began the attempts to harass the Donnelly family.

Like an electrical charge in a thunder-head, tensions were building up in the community. Crimes occurred, nobody knew who had done the deeds, but folks pointed fingers at “the Black Donnellys.” It had to be them again. Finally some of the committee got together secretly and decided that something drastic must be done — for the sake of the community.

A Late Night Horror

On the night of Feb 3rd 1880, a group of at least a dozen men, some dressed as women, some with their faces blackened, approached the Donnelly home. James, in his mid-sixties, Judith, age 54, her niece Brigitte (a teen?), and Thomas, age 21, were home preparing for bed. John had gone to spend the night with his brother Will.

Armed with clubs shaped from firewood, axes or spades, the attackers bludgeoned the four family members. Tom was killed outside the house and his body dragged in. Brigitte ran to hide but was found and dispatched, so as not to bear tales. The unconscious parents were left for dead. Coal oil was poured on the beds and the place was torched.

A young lad named John O’Connor was also spending the night with the Donnellys in order to help on the farm the next day, since Mr. Donnelly had to appear in court to answer a charge of barn-burning. Young John was in bed already when the door opened and the men came in; he managed to crawl under the bed and stay hidden while the murders took place. He was able to clearly identify three of the assailants, one being Constable Carroll. After the men set the house on fire and left, John wriggled out of his hiding place and ran outside. He passed the bodies of James and Judith, hearing them still breathing as the fire spread. He headed for the nearest neighbors to get help.

“Open the Door, Will”

Around 2am that same night someone outside banged on Will Donnelly’s door, shouting “Fire, Fire! Open the door, Will.” But it was his brother John who opened the door to see what the shouting was about and got a shotgun blast in the chest and a bullet in his groin from another gun fired almost simultaneously. John fell backwards into the house, choking on his blood.,and lived only a few minutes longer.

Seven more shots were fired. The others in the house stayed low, frozen with fear. The assassins didn’t enter, seemingly convinced they’d hit their intended target. Will peeked through the blind and recognized three more members of the Committee among those gathered around his house, including his brother-in-law, John Kennedy. (There’d been bad feelings between the two ever since Will had married John’s sister Nora.) Investigators suspected the murderers didn’t enter the house so Will’s wife would be spared.

A friend staying with the Donnellys that night, told Will something to the effect of, “I’m going to forget about this and never say a word to anyone about it. If you’re smart you won’t either.”

Residents were shocked the next morning as news of the brutal murders was made public. Few had imagined that all the finger-pointing would have lead to such horror and locals who’d been opposed to the Donnellys now turned to supporters and called for prosecution of the assassins. People found the murders of the two innocent women especially revolting. Mrs Donnelly was known to be a kind-hearted person; to think of her and her niece suffering such a violent end really raised public outrage.

Fifteen people were arrested, evidence was gathered from their respective properties, and the case went to trial. However, various family members and employers gave alibis for the accused and finally all of them were acquitted in spite of eye-witness testimony. After the trial the lad John O’Connor was moved to a secret location for his safety.

“Vengeance Is Mine,” sayeth the Lord. “I will repay it.”

Four years later a reporter interviewed Will Donnelly and asked if he still had any hopes of seeing those responsible for the death of his family brought to justice. He replied, “You bet I have. There were too many in that conspiracy to keep it quiet always.” Unfortunately he never got this satisfaction.

Then he’d told the reporter about a number people who’d been involved in the murders and some of those family members who’d been involved in the cover-up, who had died in the four intervening years. Through accidents and various sudden illnesses, they had been called before the higher Court of Heaven. Will considered this the hand of God dispensing divine justice.

Knowing they were involved in the horrible crime, even in a lesser role of perjury, seemed to prove too much of a strain for folks who were basically honest and God-fearing. A father, after giving an alibi for his sons, was heard to say as he left the courthouse, “ One man damned his soul today…and had to do it.” He fell sick and died several days later. While he was ill the Vigilance Committee wouldn’t let anyone else visit him.

“And isn’t it strange that with all these deaths and accidents among them, there hasn’t been a death and hardly any sickness on our side,” Will said in conclusion.

So How Black Were the Donnellys?

Were they really the villains local myth made them out to be? And how much of the myth was simply “bad press”, as we say now — the cumulative tarring effect of local gossip. I trust the Court of Heaven has sorted all that out.

To outsiders they rubbed shoulders with, the Donnellys were considered intelligent, polite and well-spoken. They were never drunken — some were teetotallers — always fair in their dealings, paid their bills on time. “In every way conducting their business affairs as honest and true men.” Folks outside Biddulph township couldn’t fathom why the Donnellys had such a bad name in their own community.

A former Constable from London East, interviewed after the tragedy, doubted the Donnelly family had committed all the crimes attributed to them. “They were no doubt guilty of some of them, but many of the stories told about them by their enemy were untrue. Why, one time a telegram came to London saying the Donnelly boys were murdering everybody in Lucan, and assistance was wanted from the London police. Detectives Phair, Muprhy, and myself went out to the village and found a great commotion in the streets, but we found none of the Donnellys there except Mike, who was then living in Lucan.”

Apparently James Donnelly was discussing with his neighbor all the harassment his family was getting just the day before the tragedy. When the man urged him to move away and start fresh, James replied, “As soon is this trial about the barn-burning is over I intend to leave.”