Friday, December 26, 2014

PHOTOS FROM OUT OF THE PAST - Mary Cecelia Kennedy

I will never forget how excited my parents were when John F. Kennedy was elected president.  My family loved JFK and watched and read everything they could about the president and Jackie.  I also remember how excited they were when someone in the family said that we were distantly related to the Kennedys through our relatives in New York - specifically through our cousin Mary Kennedy.  

I vaguely remembered Mary Kennedy from my childhood as a cousin of my grandmother.  The last time I saw Mary was at my grandmother's funeral in 1966, although we did exchange letters in the 1970s when I started researching my family tree.  But Mary Kennedy is someone I have not thought about for a long time, and I doubt if many of my relatives around today even remember her.  So, imagine my surprise when I recently received the following email through

RE: Mary Cecilia Kennedy - Hi, I work at the Longwood Public Library in Middle Island NY. In our local history collection, we have 2 photos of Mary Cecilia as a nurse at Camp Upton. If you would like us to email you a copy of the pictures, please contact Melanie@xxxxxxxxxx and she would be happy to send it to you.  

Wow!  Talk about a Blast from the Past!  I quickly emailed back and told Melanie that I would love to have copies of her photos of Mary Kennedy. Before we look at those wonderful photos from long ago, let's see what we know about Mary Kennedy. 

Mary Cecelia Kennedy was born May 5, 1893 in Wappingers Falls, New York to William J. Kennedy (1857-1894) and Cecelia, nee Mulligan (1860-1894).  Note:  The American spelling of the name is "Cecilia" but the Irish usually spelled it "Cecelia."  Mary was a second generation American inasmuch as both of her parents were born in New York from parents who had immigrated from Ireland.  William Kennedy worked in a print shop.

Tragedy struck the young family at the end of 1894 when both of Mary's parents died within days of each other.  Cecelia Mulligan Kennedy died December 7, 1894 and her husband William followed her on Christmas Day - December 25, 1894.  The cause of their deaths is unknown.  I could not find any record of any epidemic in Dutchess County, New York at the end of 1894.  There had been a serious outbreak of influenza, but that was the winter of 1893-1894 and Mary's parents did not die until the end of 1894.  However, in those days cholera and typhoid fever were widespread.  No matter what the cause of their deaths, Mary was an orphan before her second birthday.

In those days families came together in times of crisis and Mary's family was no exception.  My grandmother's older sister Maria had married James Kennedy, the brother of Mary's father.  I know from family lore that Mary Kennedy was brought up by a myriad of relatives including my grandmother and her immediate family.  My grandmother always said that Mary was more like a sister to her than a cousin.

I was unable to locate either Mary Kennedy or my grandmother in the 1900 US Census.  My grandmother was in Europe when the census was taken, making the grand tour as a companion to a wealthy older lady. Mary was only seven years old in 1900 so it is doubtful that she was on the trip with my grandmother.  Why Mary doesn't show up on the 1900 Census will have to remain a mystery for now.

By the 1910 US Census Mary Kennedy was living with her uncle James Kennedy and his family in the Town of Washington, Dutchess County, New York on Daheim, the 2000 acre Dieterich Estate.  James Kennedy was the estate manager for the Dieterich family.

Here is the entrance gate:

Here is the main house:

Not too bad for the little orphan girl from Wappinger's Falls.

But Mary Kennedy couldn't stay at Daheim forever - she decided to become a registered nurse, and as a nurse she enlisted in the US Army during World War I.  Her enlistment date was September 30, 1918, and she was stationed at the base hospital at Camp Upton on Long Island.  

We can be sure that Mary was kept very busy during the Spanish Influenza epidemic which struck Camp Upton during the highly fatal second wave (September-November, 1918).  The first case was reported at Camp Upton on September 13, just 2 weeks before Mary's arrival. During the second wave, 27.5% (437,224) of over 1.5 million men in U.S. Army training camps were hospitalized for respiratory illness, with a case-fatality rate that peaked at 5.1% in September, while in the week of October 4, the highest number of deaths from influenza was reached with 6160 fatalities from the training camps alone.

It is not known whether or not Mary caught the flu, but we do know that she was discharged from Active Duty to the Reserves on July 14, 1919. 

By this time Mary was ready for a change of scenery.  I could not find her in the 1920 US Census but it was during this time that she lived in Chicago.  She came out for a visit and decided to stay.  She quickly got a job at St. Joseph's Hospital:

Mary was very smart and a hard worker, so it wasn't long before she began moving up through the ranks, ultimately becoming the Director of Nursing at St. Joseph's.  All was going well until one day she abruptly left Chicago and moved to Miami, Florida.  What happened? There were rumors about Mary being interested in a married man...but then the man's wife got involved and told Mary to "hit the road."

By the time of the 1930 US Census Mary Kennedy had left Chicago and was living and working at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, Florida

Mary did not stay long in Miami, and by 1935 was living in Verona, New Jersey at the Essex Mountain Sanatorium.

Essex Mountain Sanatorium

Founded in 1907 amidst protests and a burgeoning suffrage movement, Essex Mountain Sanatorium was the result of two Montclair, New Jersey, women who successfully lobbied local government to establish a tuberculosis sanatorium in a then vacant cottage for wayward girls. From these humble beginnings, the hospital grew to become one of the finest treatment centers in the nation, expanding into a complex of 20 buildings that encompassed nearly 300 acres.

Mary was still living at Essex Mountain (Ward 5) when the 1940 US Census was taken, and from that we can learn a few interesting things about her.  For "Highest Grade Completed" she indicated "High School, 4th Year".  Why she did not include her nurse's training I do not know. "Weeks worked in 1939: 51" (Only one week of vacation!);  "Hours Worked Week Prior to Census: 60" (Wow!); "Income $1400", "Income Other Sources: Yes".  Now that is interesting.  If she was working 60 hours per week at the Sanatorium, where did she find the time (or energy) to work somewhere else? She could have made additional income as a Private Duty Nurse, but we know for certain there was no family trust fund sending her checks every quarter.

On May 5, 1958, Mary Kennedy turned sixty-five which in those days meant mandatory retirement. About that time Mary moved again, this time to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she was living when I became aware of who she was.  She had lived frugally and between her government pension and Social Security she was financially secure. She used to come to Chicago often to visit and every year she went at least once to Atlantic City, New Jersey with her cousin, Sister M. Eileen, OP (Ann Kennedy).

Here is a photo of Mary from Easter, 1960 when she was visiting in Chicago:

You could never miss when trying to figure out Mary's ethnic background.  With her red hair and freckles, she had the map of Ireland all over her face, as they used to say.

In the mid-1970s, when Mary was in her mid-eighties, she moved back to the Hudson River Valley - to Millbrook, New York, with her cousin Katherine A. Kennedy who the family always called "Kak" because of her initials.  I mentioned earlier that when I started getting interested in genealogy I wrote to Mary with a list of family-related questions.  Mary was my living connection to my grandmother's family, so I figured I had better get to her while she was still alive.  I received a nice letter from her dated July 6, 1977 where she told me she had just gotten out after spending a few days in the Health Center.  She answered most of my questions but it was obvious that by the end of the letter she thought I was one of my uncles because she kept saying that my mother and father had raised nine children, when it was my grandparents who had done that .

In June of 1978 we received word from Millbrook that Mary Kennedy had died at the age of 85 at the VA Hospital in Castle Point, New York. Here is her obituary from the Millbrook newspaper:

Here is where she was living with her cousin:

274 Hooker Avenue, Millbrook, NY

And here is her memorial card from the wake:

In 2005 while on a business trip to New York, I made a pilgrimage to Millbrook to see where my grandmother had grown up, and to visit the graves of my great-grandparents and my grandmother's siblings. Grandmother had always said that the area where she grew up was beautiful country and it was - and still is.  Beautiful winding roads through horse farms, forests and streams.  While in the Hudson River Valley I decided to visit Mary Kennedy's grave as well.  I knew from her obituary that she was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Wappingers Falls, New York.  It was a beautiful summer day when I made the twenty-three mile drive from Millbrook to Wappingers Falls.  Mary is buried with her parents, who died before she even got a chance to know them.

The writing on the original tombstone is almost obliterated by age and the elements, but I was able to reconstruct what it says:

Dec 25, 1894
Aged 37 Years

Dec 7, 1894
34 Years

Rest in Peace

At the bottom of the tombstone they added:


And Mary had a military issue tombstone as well:

So you can imagine how excited I was when I was contacted by the Longwood Public Library about the photos they had of Mary.  And here they are:

On the back of the first photo it says:

March 1919, Mary C Kennedy, Poughkeepsie, NY Nurse, Camp Upton, NY

The second photo listed the same information but also included "Patient-Mumps" and the name of the other nurse as a Miss Haimly.

So now you know the story of Mary Kennedy, who lost both parents as an infant, but as part of a loving family went on to live a rich and full life.

Oh - and our relation to JFK and Jackie?  If it does exist, it is so remote that it's not even worth mentioning.

Mary Cecelia Kennedy - may she rest in peace.  

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