Irish Ghosts of America: The ghost of Maid Molly, Forepaugh’s, St. Paul

The Irish servant: Their experience went mostly undocumented, but that doesn’t keep them from hanging around after they die.

There is a restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, called Forepaugh’s. It’s in a Victorian mansion and is named after the man who built it in 1870, Joseph Forepaugh, who was a dry good dealer during the Civil War. In 1892, for his own reasons, Forepaugh took a morning walk, ducked into some bushes, and shot himself in the head. “No reason is known,” wrote the Tacoma Daily News.

Locals think they know, and still speak of it. They say Forepaugh had a maid, often identified as Irish, and her name was Molly. They say Forepaugh and Molly had an affair, and when it ended, Molly killed herself, an earlier suicide that went unrecorded. And they say Molly still haunts the house. In 1998, the website Ghosts of the Prairie claimed that the restaurant’s owner, James Crnkovich, had seen her ghost in antique clothes at an event where the servers were likewise wearing period costumes. She wasn’t one of the servers, though, and she walked down a hall and disappeared.

There’s a lot of stories about Forepaugh’s floating around the web, and, as is usually the case with these things, they are unsourced. I prefer to know where my stories came from, so I’ll ignore those in favor of the frequent mention of the supposed ghost in the local papers. The St. Paul Pioneer Press had a few tales in 1989, but they were … unspectacular. Here’s one:

Several years ago, a waitress had just finished her shift and was preparing to leave. She went to a storage closet under the first-floor stairs, and just as she was about to open the door, she heard three loud knocks from within – such hard knocking that the door rumbled. She summoned help in the classic manner, with a scream, but when the door was opened, no one was inside.

The story also mentions cold spots and flickering candles, but then interviews an employee who had worked at the establishment for almost a half a decade who ruefully confessed that he had never seen anything.

The stories didn’t improve much for years, but in 2003, as reported by the Start-Tribune, a psychic named Gina Booth, cofounder of the Minnesota Paranormal Investigative Group, visited the restaurant and made contact. “I feel very cold,” she declared. “She’s right on my lap. She’s about the age of 4, wearing turn-of-the-century clothing.”

Nobody knows who this spectral child is, and so nobody really makes mention of her anymore. I could find no reference to her in any online site about the restaurant, and so there is a lesson here to budding psychics — if you’re going to meet a ghost in a dark house, make sure it’s one people already know about.

The book “Haunted St. Paul” by Chad Lewis offers up a lot more stories, including an insistence that Molly hung herself from a chandelier on the third floor, which you can now get a table underneath at the restaurant; Lewis says that sometimes the chandelier will sway back and forth, as though a body were hanging from it. He also interviewed staff members who likewise claim to have seen the ghost of Molly, dressed in old clothes and nearly translucent.

Michael Norman wrote of the restaurant in “The Nearly Departed: Minnesota Ghost Stories & Legends,” and interviewed a staffperson who relate a strange story he heard at a dinner. A woman found out where he worked and told him her grandparents had lived in the house. “Crazy things happened when they were there,” she said. Her grandmother had been levitated in a rocking chair. She also claimed a military friend of her grandfather showed up one night, unannounced and in full uniform, even though he was long dead.

There was also a wedding photo where ghostly arms seemed to be reaching out to the bride and groom, and Norman interviewed the photographer, who insisted the photo was real and that there had been nobody on hand who might have provided the reaching hand in the photo. It is my understanding that several years ago somebody stole the photo.

There is, as usual, no evidence that a Molly ever worked for Forepaugh, or an affair, and while Forepaugh certainly killed himself, there is no evidence of a maid who did likewise.

I don’t know why people say Molly was Irish, except that Molly is an Irish name. But, if there was a Molly, it’s not too bad a guess. There’s a marvelous book called “The Irish Bridget: Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America, 1840-1930” by Margaret Lynch-Brennan that details the long history of young Irish women coming to America to work in domestic roles. It was a common job for young Irish women — according to Hasia R. Diner more than 60 percent of Irish immigrant women worked as servants.

In 1880, 10 percent of St. Paul’s workforce was Irish, but Irish women tended to be overrepresented as maids, in part because they were an immigrant group who already spoke English, and in part because other immigrant groups had traditions that discouraged women from working outside the home, while the Irish had a long history of female employment in the domestic sphere.

And while Molly’s affair and suicide is undocumented, it is not impossible. There were examples of unhappy affairs ending in suicide, such as the story The Daily People of New York ran in August 22, 1902. They told of one Maggie Keane, an Irish maid, who checked into the Delaware Hotel, attached a rubber tube to the gas jet, placed the other end in her mouth, and climbed into a bed to die. The cause of her suicide? She had frequently visited a man named Opperman, who had no intention of marrying her, and it had ruined her reputation.

It seems unfair that a domestic servant should suffer for these things, and, in the case of Molly, if she existed and has returned as a ghost, should suffer forever.

If it helps any, Joseph Forepaugh’s ghost is also said to wander the building. Although one would expect that were he consigned to spend eternity with his lover, there would be mention of the two of them together. Instead, according to stories, they seem unaware of each other, each knocking around the restaurant on their own time and pursuing their own ghostly agenda.

Perhaps, even in the afterlife, their affair is a secret.

Irish Ghosts of America: The Rocking Chair of James McGloin, Texas

Impresario James McGloin: He founded an Irish town that is more haunted than any town really needs to be.

So many ghost stories are filled with detail, but who knows where the details came from? The storytellers will offer dates, full names, and vivid descriptions of events that include minute-by-minute accounts, but it’s impossible to chase down any sources for these picturesque details.

I like the story of James McGloin’s haunted rocking chair, because I know exactly where it came from: The Dallas Morning News, August 9, 1975, and a columnist named Frank X. Tolbert. He says there is a rocking chair in San Patricio, it belonged to McGloin, and the specter of a girl is said to rock it. And I like Tolbert, because he doesn’t care about anything else. He doesn’t know who the girl is, and he doesn’t want to know. No, the ghost story is just an excuse for him to talk about Sligo native McGloin, San Patricio, and the fact that the town was created by the Mexican government as a place to settle 200 Irish Catholics.

Tolbert is a man after my own heart.

I will talk about McGloin and the town, but this is a ghost story, and so I must address the question of the ghost first. The closest current account I can find is a tale of a young Mexican Captain named Marcelino Garcia, who was friend with McGloin and would stay with him, and who loved a fair young woman. But Garcia was injured in the war for Texan Independence, and McGloin took the wounded man in, and before Garcia died the incorporeal figure of a young woman appeared to him. She stayed when he died, she stayed when he was buried, and perhaps it is still her, rocking a chair on McGloin’s porch. Or, at least, until 1969, when the then-owners of the house tore down the porch. “We didn’t tear down the front porch to get rid of the ghost,” the owners told the press, and of course they didn’t — they could just have thrown out the rocking chair!

Gacria was a real man — you can see his grave in the Old Cemetery on the Hill in San Patricio. As to his death and the ghost of his bride-to-be? John L. Linn wrote of Garcia in his memoir “Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas,” saying the he was gravely wounded in the Battle of the Nueces, 1835, and that he died at the house of his friend James McGloin. No mention of spectral apparitions, but, then, somebody must have been rocking that chair.

Fortunately, the girl wasn’t the only ghost associated with McGloin. In an earlier story, Tolbert told of John McMullen, McGloin’s father-in-law and the cofounder of the town.In January, 1853, McMullen was stabbed to death in San Antonio, by an intruder, and McGloin claimed to have seen his ghost that night. McGloin wrote in his journal, “The bloody-faced ghost of the Old emperor appeared before my eyes as I was sitting there on me front gallery the night of Jan. 21, 1853, and that was the very day The McMullen was murder in San Antonio!” By “the Old Emperor,: McGloin meant his father, so apparently his house was something of a weigh station for departing spirits.

In fact, that can be said of San Patricio in entirety. The town was also supposedly haunted by the spirit of Chipita Rodriguez, the first woman hanged in Texas. There were, as Tolbert puts it, “one or more ghostly horsemen,” one missing his head, which doesn’t so much recall the legend of Sleepy Hollow as it does the Irish dullaha, a horrifying spirit that rides headlessly through the streets, whipping those he passes with a lash made from a human spine. The McGloin residents also was supposed to have a girl ghost in a night gown, although nobody seems to know who that might have been.

So there are the ghosts, and here are the facts. The whole name of the town was Villa de San Patricio de Hibernia when it was founded in 1829, and, as you can guess, all that was in reference to St. Patrick, and, as mentioned, the original settlers were Irish Catholics. Most lasted little more than a decade, chased away by the Texas Revolution. They weren’t the only Irish colony in Texas — the town of Refugio was settled by Irish in 1831, most of whom fled five years later when the town was the site of the battle of Refugio. Copano, Texas, was likewise founded for Irish settlers, and managed to make a good run of it, avoiding decline until the Civil War and even then holding out until it was all-but destroyed by a series of hurricanes in 1888. There’s a Dublin, Texas, too — it wasn’t built for the Irish, precisely, but has more than its share of Irish-Americans, including legendary golfer Ben Hogan; as of 2005, Dublin is the Irish Capitol of Texas.

But back to San Patricio and James McGloin. He stayed on in the town he started until 1956, when he died, and is buried in the Old Cemetery on the Hill near his friend Garcia, and his house eventually became the property of the Corpus Christi Area Heritage Society. e is honored every year during St. Patrick’s Day, which also includes rattlesnake races, which helps support the restoration of the town, as well as will eventually contribute to the town’s surplus of ghosts.

Irish Ghosts of America: The Irish Body in Cheesman Park

The Henry Treat Rogers Mansion, formerly in Cheesman Park and the inspiration for the movie “The Changeling.”

“Denver’s Chessman Park was once the city cemetery,” wrote Stephanie Waters in “Colorado Legends and Lore: The Phantom Fiddler, Snow Snakes and Other Tales,” and already in her first sentence there is a substantial error. The park is called Cheesman, not Chessman, and I would credit her error to being a typo but for the fact that she repeats it. Knowing this, let us proceed with her tale:

She tells of the cemetery being renovated in the 1890s, and bodies moved by an unscrupulous undertaker, who “pocketed removal fees and plundered many of the burial sites.” He would have gotten away with his diabolic plans as well, were it not for a grave that contained the still-intact remains of an unnamed Irish woman. The smell of rose blossoms came from the grave, and her hair was festooned with flowers. The workers panicked, the church investigated, and the undertaker was found out, whereupon he “was promptly arrested.”

Now, in fairness, the book is called “Colorado Legends,” not “True Stories from Colorado History,” so one cannot go into this expecting it to be true. And much of it isn’t. There is no record of a Irish girl’s corpse whose unpolluted state brought the authorities. There was no reported smell of rose, nor flowers in a body’s hair. No undertaker was arrested.

This could be another of those stories about Cheesman Park. It’s full of them: A worker named Jim Astor who claimed to have been tapped by a ghost and fled; there is no record of this ever having happened. Stories of disturbed dead, their graves despoiled, still haunting the location of their burial. There used to be a mansion in the Park, the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion, and a playwright and composer named  Russell Hunter was so affected by his stay there that he wrote a horror movie inspired by it called “The Changeling,” about a buried child whose grief turns to madness.

This could be one of those stories, but it isn’t. Not entirely. Because the scandal Stephanie Waters described was unproved but real. The undertaker in question was a man named Edward P. McGovern, and he was given a contract in 1893 to move the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 bodies buried in the old city cemetery.

On March 20, 1893, the Denver Rocky Mountain News ran a story titled “GHOULISH WORK,” responding to charges printed in an unnamed competitor’s paper (the Denver Republican) that McGovern had been bilking the city in an especially ugly fashion:

Bodies are taken, it is claimed, from their resting places in the city cemetery, distributed each among three boxes, carted off to Riverside and charged as three bodies. It was maintained that a contract to move full-sized bodies in boxes forty-two inches in length was a job on the face of it, and then, with most disgusting detail, descriptions were circumstantially added of particular instances where bodies were cut down and broken up to make them fit.

The Rocky Mountain news queried McGovern, who shrugged it off. “I didn’t think anybody needed to say anything,” he said. “The whole story is a maliciously garbled and utterly false fabrication.” He explained that there were on occasion small boxes, but they were built to replace the coffins of children whose original coffins had rotted away.

He also pointed out that there were always dozens of spectators watching the disinterment of the coffins, and so it would be impossible for him to remove a grave, hack up the body, and move it to another cemetery without being noticed. Newspapers declared the charges to be slander intended to discredit the current political administration, which was responsible for hiring McGovern, and he went on to have a long career as an undertaker.

The Denver Republican, which had originated the story, had been lurid in its coverage — here is an oft-cited paragraph:

The line of desecrated graves at the southern boundary of the cemetery sickened and horrified everybody by the appearance they presented.  Around their edges were piled broken coffins, rent and tattered shrouds and fragments of clothing that had been torn from the dead bodies… All were trampled into the ground by the footsteps of the gravediggers like rejected junk.

But it was lurid to a fault — no other newspaper could confirm these stories, and they seem like the sort of thing that should be easy to confirm.

So if we have no ghost in this story and an undertaker was likely guilty of nothing but political slander, what is left? Well, a few things. First, it is worth noting that the old city cemetery did have a lot of Irish in it, including its former gravedigger, John McGlinn. The cemetery had a Catholic section, called Calvary, and if you go through the list of the dead who were buried there, you quickly become overwhelmed with Irish names: Doyles, Finnegans, Sweenys.

Secondly, there is one Irishman in this story who has gone unacknowledged, and that was was undertaker Edward McGovern himself, who had come to Denver as a carpenter for the railroads and was a charter member of Denver’s Ancient Order of Hibernians. But more than that, even if McGovern was not crooked, he wasn’t entirely competent either.

In 2010, CNN did a report about the park, as workers digging a new irrigation system had unearthed four bodies. Apparently, this was a recurring issue: “Every few years workers stumble across skeletal remains,” the story reported.

So maybe there are uneasy dead in Cheesman Park, left behind by an incompetent Irish undertaker when they were supposed to be moved, tied to their forgotten bodies, waiting for the moment when they are accidentally discovered.

Irish Ghosts of America: Ghost of the railroad bridge, Indiana

White Lick Creek trestle; an unhappy Irishman is said to be entombed beneath it.

White Lick Creek is a stream in central Indiana that rolls for almost 50 miles before feeding into the White River, and there is a railroad trestle in Danville that crosses that creek, and embedded in that trestle there is supposed to be an Irishman, still pounding on the pylon that entombed him, screaming to get out.

Danville seems to be pretty haunted in general. The Evansville Courier published a story in 1911 about Frank Baker, who surrendered himself to the Danville police. He had killed a man in Belleville a few years earlier, chloroforming him, rifling his pockets, and then flinging him down a flight of stairs. The man’s ghost had haunted Baker ever since, and so he went to the police, hoping to get some relief. There’s also a story of a woman who foolishly tried to cross the trestle with her infant child, and both fell to their deaths escaping an oncoming train. The infant’s cries, they say, can still be heard.

But it is the Irishman we will concern ourselves with. He has a name in these stories — Dad Jones — although sometimes he is said to be an African-American man and not Irish. The story is simple: They say a wooden platform collapsed and plunged him into the still-setting pylon, and he was entombed before anyone could save him.

Ghastly though it may be, this is the sort of thing that actually happened. In 1912, in Keokuk, Iowa, workers found a human hand extending from a one of the pillars of a government dam across the Mississippi River. It was a missing laborer, and they decided to leave him there, as removing his body would have involved blasting the pillar, which supported the dam. As late as 1955, one Mr. Joseph Lombardi disappeared while working on a colosseum building in New York, and was found to be entombed in the cement used to build the structure; his widow was awarded $24 a week for the rest of her life as recompense.

Looking back, Dad Jones wasn’t even the first of these unlucky workers who is supposed to have come back as a ghost. In 1930, the San Diego Union ran a story about Pasadena’s Dry River Bed, which they dubbed the “suicide bridge.” The newspaper claimed an unnamed and undocumented Greek laborer had been entombed in cement while building the bridge, and his horrific, screaming ghost actually caused people crossing the bridge to leap to their deaths in fear.

But back to Dad: Certainly Irish immigrants died building bridges. Bridge-building was dangerous work, as was any job involving construction and rivers. Many of the men who built the Brooklyn Bridge were Irish, and maybe 30 men died building that bridge, and hundreds were crippled by it. Further, just a week after it opened, rumors that the bridge was going to collapse caused a panicked rushed of pedestrians, and 12 were crushed. The Hoover Dam cost the lives of 112 workers, the first one being Irish-American Harold Connelly, part of the survey team, who fell off a barge. He was shortly followed by Irish-American J.G. Tierney, who likewise drowned while scouting locations of the dam. The last person to die was also Irish-American and also named Tierney: Patrick W. Tierney, who died 13 years later to the day. Weirdly, he was J.G. Tierney’s son.

So the story of Dad Jones dying in concrete while building the White Lick Creek Bridge is credible, but is there any evidence for it? I haven’t found any, and while newspapers didn’t always report on workmen’s deaths (they still don’t), a man trapped in concrete was novel enough that when it happened, newspapers tended to write about it. Perhaps the story was suppressed, and if so, I must say I am impressed that it has come down through urban legend in such detail.

But whether it happened or not, the story is an instructive one, as it really does reflect the sort of backbreaking and frequently lethal work early Irish-American immigrants found themselves doing. The railroads were metaphorically laid over the graves of Irish workers (and other workers, including, to a large extent, Chinese), and sometimes literally were built over their bodies, as at Duffy’s Cut. This story takes the metaphor a step further, actually entombing an Irish immigrant inside a pylon that supports the railroad.

More than that, the story expresses the inhumanity of the tale. Dad Jones didn’t merely scream and beat on the pylon in terror and outrage as he died. He does so forever, an eternal reminder that part of the cost of the railroad was paid in Irish death.

Irish Ghosts of America: Givins Castle, Chicago

Givins Castle in Chicago: Come on, how can this not be haunted?

This is the story: Robert G. Givens, a Chicago real-estate developer turned novelist, wanted to build a castle. He had visited Ireland and sketched a castle on the River Dee between Belfast and Dublin — possibly Ardee Castle, a Medieval tower house. And so he built his own castle in 1886, built from local limestone.

They said the castle was intended as a gift for Given fiancee or wife, who was Irish, and that she died before she could move in. And they say she now haunts it. And of course they do — Givens castle looks like it should be haunted.

Or perhaps it is somebody else who haunts it. There are also stories of influenza killing a young woman there when the castle was the Chicago Female College, starting sometime in the 1890s and the 1990s. When the castle later became a church, a caretaker claims he met a young woman there, and she mentioned living there and how much it had changed. The caretaker left her and then realized that the building had not had anybody living there for at least 20 years, so the young woman could not possibly have been a resident. He rushed back in to find her, but she was gone. This is the story.

Here’s what we know. Firstly, his name was not Robert G. Givens, but Robert Cartwright Givins. He was indeed a developer in Chicago. He was also an author, and his titles were delightful. They include “The Millionaire Tramp” from 1886 and “Around the World With Three Girls Or Jones Abroad” from 1911. He also sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Snivig C. Trebor — his own name spelled backwards.

There does seem to have been a Mrs. Robert Givens, who was injured in Denver by a runaway carriage in 1897 — the Denver Post confirms this. She was still alive in 1930, according to the Evansville Courier Press, while Robert is reported to have passed away in 1915.

As to the Chicago Female College and the young woman’s death from influenza? Well, firstly, the timeline is often claimed to be the 1930s, which is too late — the castle had a private owner, Dr. Miroslaw Siemans, at that time. There was a 1889–90 flu pandemic, and it’s possible that the school was in the Castle at this time and that a young woman perished of it. If so, newspapers of the era declined to report on it, which is an extraordinary oversight considering Chicago newspapers reported on Miss Genvieve Green of the West Point female college, who produced a gun from her cape in 1990 and put a bullet through her own heart.

I feel like a monstrous debunker now, so I will close with one more story. The Register Star reported on rumors of the building’s hauntings in 1983, and instead of a ghostly women, they said witnesses had seen a little girl with an Irish brogue who appears and disappears. The building is now a church, and it was parishioners who claimed to have seen the spirit, and then-pastor Reverend Roger Brewin told the paper, “In my view, they saw or heard something.”

If a man of the cloth says so — and, indeed, another says so. The  Daily Northwestern ran a story on October 30 of 1996 that told of the little girl and the castle, and they interviewed Leonetta Bugliesi, the minister. She descibed the wee girl as often showing up at social events (“She’s kind of a party girl,” was the exact quote), and said she had witnessed the girl herself. In February 1994, at a party in the old castle, Bugliesi saw two ghostly arms reach out and embrace her husband around the waist.

Irish Ghosts of America: George M. Cohan, Times Square, New York

George M. Cohan: He gave his regards to Broadway, and reportedly never left.

In 1995, there were stories of a ghost in Times Square for years. He was said to haunt one of the old theaters — the Harris, in particular. The New York Times ran an article about the ghost. Maria Alvorado, the manager of a tourist business that had recently moved into the Harris, said she had looked up one day to see a tall, elegantly dressed man watching her. A local resident said his dogs howled every time they passed the theater, and that he, too, had seen the ghost.

That same year, psychic Elizabeth Baron visited the theater. She declared it to be the ghost of early theatrical impresario George M. Cohan, and, in her account, as soon as she did so one of Cohan’s most famous songs, “The Yankee Doddle Boy,” could be heard coming from the stage.

Of all of America’s Irish-American stage performers, Cohan was probably it’s most boisterously Irish and proudly America. These twinned themes appeared in endless permutations in his stage musicals, which were frequently about fiercely patriotic Irish-American boys, often played by him. He wrote popular songs that drew from from Irish melodies about Irish-American character. There was, as an example, his song “Harrigan” from “Fifty Miles to Broadway,” which included the following lyrics:

H – A – double R – I – G – A – N spells Harrigan
Proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me; Divil a man can say a word agin me.

Cohan got his start in Vaudeville as part of a family of entertainers called The Four Cohans, including his parents Jerry and Nelly, who started their careers billed as “The Irish Darlings.” George joined the act as a boy playing violin and then performing buck and wing dance numbers, a clog dancing style imported from the British Isles and Ireland that was popular among both Irish-American and African-American youth; it quickly evolved into tap dancing. Cohan was enormously adept at the dance, and was most famous for a gravity defying trick that would have him launch himself at a wall and then literally leap over his own extended leg.

Cohan sidelined as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter when the sheet music industry was dominated by Irish-American songwriters producing an endless stream of sentimental songs about Ireland, and also made a name for himself as a Broadway star who wrote, produced, directed, and played the lead in many of his own shows. He wasn’t a critical darling, but was an audience favorite, and many of the songs he introduced in his shows went on to become standards. Cohan also occasionally appeared in plays by other playwrights —  his earliest starring role was the title character in “Peck’s Bad Boy,” a wildly successful story about a misbehaving child, and many years later he starred in the play “Ah, Wilderness” by the great early Irish-American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Cohan’s life was the subject of a musical biopic in 1942 called “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and starring James Cagney as Cohan. Cagney himself was ideally cast, as he was one of the most famous Irish-American performers onscreen at the time, and was himself a former song and dance man. Cohan was then dying of abdominal cancer, and so the filmmakers screened the movie for him privately. Watching Cagney, Cohan is said to have declared, “My God, what an act to follow!” The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three, included netting Cagney an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Cohan was gone by then, having died in November of 1942, four months before the ceremony. But perhaps he saw it anyway, from the stage of the Harris theater, which, in 1916, had been called the Cohan and Harris thanks to a partnership with George M. Cohan that lasted until 1921. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” billed itself as the story of “The Man Who Owned Broadway.”

Maybe he never left Broadway.

Irish Ghosts of America: Billy the Kid, New Mexico

Billy the Kid: Outlaw, legend, a part of the Irish history of New Mexico.

William Henry McCarty, Jr., sometimes called William Antrim, or William H. Bonney, or most often Billy the Kid, has had his experiences with the supernatural. In 1966, he battled Dracula on the silver screen in a film appropriately titled “Billy the Kid vs Dracula.” In 1976, he ended up in hell in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell’s novel “Inferno.” In 1991 he appeared in a science fiction novel called “The Illegal Rebirth of Billy the Kid” by Rebecca Ore. He even appeared on a Halloween episode of the Simpsons, leading an army of the undead.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised to discover he’s also supposed to roam the earth, haunting the places he once habituated: The prison in Lincoln, New Mexico, where he shot down two guards and escaped a death sentence. Some say you can see a foggy mass above his grave at Fort Sumner, although the exact location of his grave is a guess, and there are several that claim to be it. And then there are some who claim the Kid was never killed, not by Pat Garrett, as the history books claims, but survived long after.

And I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Billy the Kid has a troubled death. After all, he had a troubled life. We still aren’t sure whether he was an outlaw hero or a murderous psychopath — all we can say for certain is that he participated in a brutal New Mexico range war and killed at least eight men, the first when Billy was just 16 or 17 years old. He wound up with a price on his head from the governor of New Mexico, which launched him to national fame, and he was shot and killed by Garrett, who may have shot in self-defense or may simply have executed Billy the Kid.

And we know he was an Irish-American. His childhood is the subject of some debate, but he seems to have been born in an Irish neighborhood of New York to a woman, Catherine McCarty, who likely moved to America during the Irish famine. Billy the Kid’s paternity is uncertain, but his mother moved the family to Indiana, and there she married a man named after a county in Ireland: Antrim. When Billy the Kid was in his teens, he took to stealing horses, and the other thieves called him Kid Antrim. It was here that he found himself bullied by an Irishman, Frank P. “Windy” Cahill; Billy the Kid responded by killing him.

I mentioned a range war, and that too was Irish: Now called the Lincoln County War, the main players were a Scottish businessman named Alexander McSween, an Irish cattle rancher named John Chisum, an Irish sheriff named William Brady, and Pat Garrett, a probable Irish-American.

Irish-Americans had flooded New Mexico in the mid-1800s, attracted, in part, by the fact that Spanish rule meant that they could practice Catholicism freely, whereas Irish Catholics suffered sometimes repressive anti-Catholic sentiment back east. The Irish also followed the railroad west, settling along the way, and traveled with the army during the Spanish-American war, which had a large number of Irish-American soldiers. (There were also Irish soldiers who fought against the US during the war: The Saint Patrick’s Battalion.) Some Irish-Americans developed a tremendous affinity for Mexican culture, learning Spanish and taking Mexican wives — Billy the Kid himself spoke fluent Spanish and was said to favor a sombrero with an orange/green ribbon.

I’ll close by pointing out that this echoes an earlier relationship between the Irish and a Spanish-speaking country — specifically, Spain. Irish mythology has the Irish people in Spain before Ireland, and Ireland long made use of this mythology to bolster alliances with Catholic Spain against Protestant England. Irish soldiers joined the ranks of the Spanish army, and Spain trained Irish priests when such training was impossible in Ireland. One of the most famous members of the O’Neill dynasty of kings was Owen Roe O’Neill, who fled persecution Ireland and grew up in Spanish Netherlands, becoming a commander in the Spanish army.

In this way, Billy the Kid was always a sort of ghost, a wild-west reincarnation of his Irish forbears, who likewise fled oppression as Catholics into a Spanish-speaking world, and likewise distinguished himself as killers of men. In the Wild West, it made Billy the Kid an outlaw. Two centuries earlier, it might have made him a king.

Irish Ghosts of America: John Berryman, the poet on the bridge

Poet John Berryman.

John Berryman, the poet, took his life by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis on January 7, 1972. He was a troubled man, haunted his entire life by his own father’s suicide, and struggling with the twinned demons of depression and alcoholism. He had a job at the University of Minnesota, and it was here that he conceived and wrote much of “The Dream Songs,” his masterpiece, a complicated, idiosyncratic, and wide-ranging autobiographical collection of 385 poems.

Berryman was at least a quarter Irish, thanks to a grandmother from County Cork. The influence of this background on his writing had been the subject of some debate — editor Daniel Tobin included Berryman in his 2008 collection “The Book of Irish American Poetry,” and made a case that Berryman’s Irish-American identity informed him as a writer. There are certainly hints of it in “Dream Songs,” such as when Berryman’s autobiographical narrator refers to himself as “Henry,” and the fact that Berryman includes in the book references to a 1965 trip to Dublin, and his fascination with Yeats.

The most startling, and most hidden, Irish-American element of his writing is his frequent use of a interlocutor who speaks in an affected black dialect, and explicitly identifies himself as a blackface performer. The presence of this character is informed by Berryman’s reading of Carl Wittke’s “Tambo and Bones,” a book that, in part, identifies the Irish-American roots of the minstrel show, where virtually all of the earliest and best-known troupes were started by and made up of Irish-American performers.

Berryman’s suicide on the Washington Avenue Bridge wasn’t unprecedented — the high bridge spans the Mississippi River between two campuses of the University of Minnesota and is heavily foot trafficked, and so has been a popular sport of bridge jumpers. As a result, the bridge has a reputation for hauntings, mostly represented by unidentifiable footsteps and cold spots, but also occasional claims of figures that approach pedestrians and then disappear. Is Berryman among these restless spirits?

Author Thomas M Disch thought so. Late in his career, he wrote a series of horror novels set in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the first of these was 1984’s “The Businessman: A Tale of Terror.” The book’s monster is its eponymous businessman, an amoral, ruthless psychotic, but when he kills his wife she enters an invisible spirit world filled with the trapped remains of the unhappy dead. Among these is John Berryman, still on the bridge and fastened to the spot by his misery.

Irish Ghosts of America: Haunted bricks from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Chicago

Perhaps the most famous gangland massacre in history, it cursed even the bricks that the bullets hit.

You probably already know about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: On February 14, 1929, Chicago gang members from Al Capone’s South Side gang, dressed as police, targeted boss Bugs Moran of the North Side gang, executing seven men in a garage with a spray of Tommy gun fire. The South Side gang was mostly Italian, the North Side gang was mostly Irish, and they had battled over liquor and control of various parts of the city for years. In fact, the founder of the North Side gang, Dion O’Banion, had been shot to death five years earlier, and the intervening half-decade had been all-out war between the two gangs.

Despite the North Side’s reputation for Irishness, the gang had plenty of Poles and Germans working with it — of the seven who died on the day of the massacre, only one was Irish-American, John May, pictured right, and he wasn’t even a member of the gang. May was the son of an Irish immigrant and worked as a mechanic. He had a background as a safecracker, but was trying to go straight, and so his work with Moran and associates was limited to fixing their trucks. The rest of the victims were Germans, but for a Jewish eyeglass fitter named Reinhardt Schwimmer who just liked to rub shoulders with mobsters. The target of the assassination, Bugs Moran, wasn’t Irish either — his family was French — and was in a coffee shop. He had seen Capone’s assassins, and because they were dressed as police assumed there was a raid in progress. The assassins saw another gangster, Albert Weinshank, and reportedly mistook him for Moran. Weinshank was shot nine times and died in the garage. The only survivor of the shooting was May’s pet German Shepherd, whose agitated barking alerted neighbors.

The warehouse is gone — if you’re in Chicago, it was at 2122 North Clark Street; it’s now a small fenced in lawn for a nursing home, and apparently a tree marks the north wall where the shootings took place. It’s the site of one of the ghost stories that have emerged from this event — reportedly passers-by still hear screams and machine gun fire, and dogs that pass the spot seem especially agitated. Al Capone is said to have complained that he was haunted by the ghost of one of the murdered men, James Clark; when he went to prison, guards reportedly heard him begging someone named “Jimmy” to leave him alone.

But by far the strangest story is that of one of the north wall of the garage. The company responsible for tearing down the building in 1967, the National Wrecking Company, salvaged 414 bricks from the wall. They auctioned them off to a Canadian publicist, George Patey, who originally planned to use them in a set in a shopping mall in British Columbia, with actors reenacting the massacre. Irate citizens complained, and so Patey scrapped the plans.

The wall makes it to the urinal of a Candian nightclub.

He came up with something weirder: Patey opened a 20s-themed nightclub in Vancouver called the Banjo Palace, and he installed the wall behind the urinals in the men’s room, allowing women to peek in a few days per week. The club closed in 1976, and Patey sold some of the bricks and put others in storage. After he died, the remaining bricks went to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, where the rebuilt wall can be seen today.

As to the individual bricks that were sold?  A persistent story, unconfirmed, is that there were people who bought the bricks who quickly returned them to Patey, complaining that they had brought bad luck, or that earlier bricks, smuggled out before Patey ever bought the wall, brought ruin to the owners. True? Who knows? The bricks certainly didn’t ruin Patey, but, then, they didn’t help him much either — every plan he made with them went bust, and even his nightclub only lasted a few years.

It seems that it just doesn’t pay to have a cursed massacre brick.

Irish Ghosts of America: Fatty Walsh, Coral Gables, Florida

Fatty Walsh, third from right, said to haunt a hotel in Florida.

Fatty Walsh seems to have been a relatively minor character in the history of American crime, but he went out with a bang. On March 4, 1929, on the 13th floor of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Thomas Walsh took a bullet. It was witnessed by a nightclub performer, Demaris “Hotsy Totsy” Dore, who claimed that a sudden argument had broken out during a gambling game and then bullets started flying.

Nobody in the press believed her at the time. They all assumed Walsh had been assassinated, and speculated it was a whiskey deal with Cubans that had gone bad, or, even more tantalizing, that Walsh had been a little to free in discussing an earlier shooting, and had to be silenced.

That earlier shooting was Arnold Rothstein, kingpin of the Jewish mob in New York and the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. Rothstein had been gunned down in a hotel in New York four months earlier and refused to identify his shooter, even as he lay dying, telling the police “Me mudder did it!” Nobody knows who killed Rothstein, but the first man arrested was Irish-American gambler George “Hump” McManus, who made have had a hand in a fixed gambling game that cost Rothstein a fortune.

Fatty Walsh had been Rothstein’s bodyguard, and New York detectives told newspapers that he had been marked for death for weeks. They had been tipped off that gunmen were following Walsh, hoping to get him into Rothstein’s former headquarters, where they had a machine gun stashed in a car parked outside the building that would be used to gun Walsh down. But Walsh didn’t stay in New York; he went to Florida, and he died there.

Fatty never really left the Biltmore Hotel, according to the stories. Author Greg Jenkins, in his book “Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore: South and Central Florida,” offers one of them: Women find the elevator takes them right past their floor and stops on the 13th floor, where presumably the ghost of Walsh awaits. Jenkins also tells of assorted doors opening, lights flickering on and off, and even a haunted television that refused to play sporting events for President Clinton when he stayed there.

There wasn’t much talk of haunting in the Biltmore, at least publicly, until 1985, when a ghost-hunter named Richard Winer visited the then-derelict hotel and declared it the “world’s largest haunted house.” Winer has made a career as a sort of paranormal travel writer, scouring the country for haunted places, and he identified numerous ghosts in the old hotel: Along with Fatty Walsh, there war veterans from the time the hotel was used as a veteran’s hospital. He described unearthly behavior in the hotel: alarms that sounded without cause, doors that opened even when the security system insisted they were closed, and wheelchair marks that could only be seen through security monitors.

Winer also conducted a seance, during which he claimed to have contacted the spirit of Fatty Walsh, who said he was surrounded by confused ghosts, many of whom had no idea they were dead.

Stories of spirits have continued since then. Recently, the filmmakers behind the haunted doll movie ­”Annabelle” stopped at the Biltmore to promote their film — they had been touring haunted locations in America. New Times Miami reported that “nothing out of the ordinary occurred while [the filmmaker] was speaking about the movie, guests whispered of a strange shadow appearing in their selfies.”