The Sheehans come to America: Bridget

Patrick and Bridget Sheehan had eleven children, and six of them emigrated to America- at least as far as I know at the moment. Here’s a short history…

I believe the first of the Sheehans to come to the US was Bridget, who was also the first born child in the family. Bridget was born in 1871, and probably emigrated in 1891- that’s the date given for her arrival on the 1900 US Census. In 1893 she was living in Worcester, Massachusetts, and in November of that year married Michael Greene, who was also a recent immigrant from Ireland. Their first child was a son, named James, born in 1894. A daughter, Mary, followed in 1896. Mary died from cholera infantum, shortly after her first birthday. Continue reading “The Sheehans come to America: Bridget”

The death of Mary Greene

Mary Greene was the first daughter of Michael and Bridget (Sheehan) Greene. Born in Worcester on 8 May, 1896, she died just a little over a year later, on 7 August, 1897. According to the Worcester death registry, the cause of death was “Cholera Infantum”. You might think that Cholera Infantum is just plain cholera when it infects a child, but in fact it was a specific disease, also called “Summer Complaint”, that could reach epidemic proportions among babies and very young children, especially in the overcrowded tenements of the late 19th century.

about-us-bottleIf you Google “Cholera Infantum”, you will eventually come across references to Pepto-Bismol. That’s because Pepto-Bismol was originally a concoction called “Bismosal Mixture Cholera Infantum”, which was specifically aimed at treating this disease.

This is from the Pepto-Bismol History Page:

Today, we think of how Pepto-Bismol soothes the digestive system after we’ve overindulged at a meal or eaten unfamiliar foods while traveling. But in its early days, Pepto-Bismol did more than comfort; it actually helped treat a very serious illness.

The medicine we now call Pepto-Bismol was originally developed at the start of the 20th century, when high standards of hygiene and sanitation weren’t as widespread as today. Looking to cure a frightening disease called “cholera infantum,” which struck infants suddenly, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes death, a doctor concocted a formula in his home that proved effective against these symptoms. The formula was made from pepsin, bismuth salicylate, zinc salts, salol, and oil of wintergreen, along with a colorant to make it pink, and he called it Mixture Cholera Infantum. (Researchers would later learn that cholera infantum was caused by a bacterial infection, treatable with antibiotics.)

Little Mary succumbed to the disease before Pepto-Bismol, and long before antibiotics. And she wasn’t the only one- of the twenty or so names on the same page of the death register, four were infants who died from Cholera Infantum.

Tragedy on Lake Quinsigamond

Greene family grave at St. John's WorcesterIn my last post I mentioned that St. John’s Cemetery had no record of Bridget (Sheehan) Greene, Grandfather Sheehan’s eldest sister, being buried there. This despite the fact that the Telegram death notices for Bridget and her husband Michael, both said that they were interred there.

I decided to give it another try last week, checking on the sons and daughters’ names as well, and guess what? The person I spoke to on the phone found Bridget right away!

Better still, she told me that there were a number of people buried in the plot- in addition to Bridget and Michael were their sons Harold and James, and daughters Nellie and Julia and their husbands. There was also an additional daughter- Mary, born in 1896, and died the following year. I visited the grave Saturday, and it occurred to me looking at the stone that Julia, who died in 1999, was buried there 102 years after her sister.

The stone also disproved one thought I’d entertained- that one or both of Bridget’s sons had died in World War I. I’d been unable to find either Harold or James in the 1930 census. I eventually found Harold in the 1920 census, living with his parents, but not James.

The cemetery records revealed that Harold had in fact died in 1930. I found his obituary in the Telegram, and learned that he died at the Rutland Heights Hospital, which was a veterans’ facility at the time. The newspaper story didn’t specify the cause of death, saying only that there had been a long illness. It did confirm that Harold had fought in “the Great War”, and that he had also seen action on the Mexican border in the hostilities that preceded that war.

The big surprise was James. Continue reading “Tragedy on Lake Quinsigamond”