Friday, October 1, 2010

Ned McAdoo and The Molly Maguires, Chapter Seven

My nightmare visit by Black Jack Kehoe that morning, followed hotly on its heals by the equally nightmarish events which had just occurred, culminating in my visit to the Montgomery County Jail --- an antiquarian structure, like so many county jails in Pennsylvania, not much changed on its outside since the days of the Mollies --- all conspired to throw my mind back upon memories of our western trip a decade earlier. Perhaps, as I waited anxiously in the anteroom of the court administrator, hoping that Charlie Anderson would see fit to see me, I needed the comfort of pleasant old memories as a shield against the fiery emotions that were blazing in my poor brain on this disastrous Monday morning.
As I camped uncomfortably in Anderson's cramped waiting room, his aged secretary making a point of ignoring me while exchanging pleasantries with everyone else who stopped by with a piece of business for the administrator, I conjured up again the face of that Celtic beauty, Maggie Mulhearn, the chief benefactor of our famous (within the McAdoo family at least, and maybe within the Mulhearn clan for all I knew) journey into the West.
The way it happened was that, throughout the late winter and early spring of '87, Archie researched the Molly Maguires. He recruited me to help out. My task took me to various local libraries, which I was old enough to reach by car. The work was pretty appealing to me, especially after having seen the movie. And I was glad to earn the four bucks an hour that Archie was paying me as what he termed his "research assistant." But the real appeal for me was the (otherwise rather rare) opportunity to drive the Old Man's Caddy around.
Additionally, after getting my first look at Maggie Mulhearn, when I was working in Archie's little law library, which doubled as a conference room (discounting the reception area where he had Ruthy crammed, this and his office comprised the entire suite), where he brought her for one of their periodic progress assessments, my enthusiasm soared.
"Ned, I'd like you to meet Ms Mulhearn, our client," he had announced, startling me from my perusal of some trial transcripts which we had obtained in Xerox form from the Schuylkill County Historical Society just a day or two before.
I remember looking up from the papers before me and going speechless when my own rather limpid blue eyes met her startling emerald green orbs. Obviously having had that effect on callow young men before, Maggie Mulhearn recognized my mooning expression immediately and flashed me a sympathetic and appreciative smile. From that day to this, that look is the way I have chosen --- aw, come on, what choice do I have? --- to remember the most attractive woman I have yet to meet in the flesh.
Anyway, during another progress meeting after that, Archie advised "Ms Mulhearn" that he had concluded that our research required a trip to Idaho, where a sequel to the Mollies' story had occurred some 25 years later. By that time --- mid May --- our research had brought together all the surviving trial transcripts and most if not all the extant published materials, available regarding the Mollies and the Pinkerton agents who had brought them to book. These extensive materials now filled the desk and much of the floor in Archie's office.
"Have you found anything that proves my great grandfather's innocence?" Maggie Mulhearn had asked him in her earnest manner, which he noted never seemed to vary from meeting to meeting.
Archie shuffled some of the historical documents on his roll-top desk. I sat off to one side and waited to contribute something if asked.
"Maggie," he began, "there's plenty here that supports a decision to pardon your great granddad. The trial transcripts, the jury lists, the newspaper accounts... they all point to the denial of a fair trial for him and the other nineteen Mollies who were hanged. But a 'due process' argument based on unfair procedures isn't as compelling as some proof of innocence."
Archie cleared his throat, as was his habit before delivering any sort of disappointing news or an unhelpful legal opinion.
"A pardon is justified where, due to bias or prejudice or some other miscarriage of justice, the defendant was denied a fair trial. The pardon points out in effect that the state was never forced to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, because the prosecutor was given an unfair advantage over opposing counsel. Obviously that's what happened here: jurors carefully chosen to exclude all Irish Catholics, testimony from informants who probably had been bribed, the lead witness a Pinkerton agent who likely had functioned in the coal towns as an agent provocateur who incited and even participated in some of the killings personally."
Maggie Mulhearn's magnificent green eyes had grown even larger than normal, sparkling I thought in my adolescent adoration with the intensity of... of... of.... Suddenly all the research materials that had been stacked in my lap spilled onto my corner of Archie's Oriental carpet. He and his client turned to look at me. To my blushing embarrassment I realized I had been unconsciously leaning forward, craning to get a better look at those beautiful eyes, and had become oblivious to the angle of my legs, allowing everything to tumble to the
Archie looked annoyed by the interruption of his discourse. Maggie Mulhearn looked quietly amused, as if once again, being used to causing such helpless reactions from men and boys, she sensed immediately that she had been the cause of my minor (no pun intended) disaster.
My father resumed, swiveling his chair to an angle at which he could show his broad, disdainful back to his son and still manage to face his client.
"As I've said, all this supports a gubernatorial decision to grant a pardon. Not only the victims of the miscarriage of justice, but also the perpetrators --- such a Franklin Gowen, who left his presidency of the Reading Railroad to personally prosecute your granddad --- are long since dead and buried. A retrial is of course out of the question. Only a pardon will suffice to right the wrong the Commonwealth committed."
"But...", Maggie Mulhearn prompted my Father to continue, while she lit up another of those tiny, unfiltered cigarettes she smoked.
"But," Archie said, "since John Kehoe was never retried and actually acquitted, and since we've done no better than anybody else in our search for a piece of evidence that proves his innocence, the pardon will not really attest to his innocence, but only to the state's wrongdoing at his trial."
Maggie Mulhearn was disappointed but resigned. After all, for more than a century this had been how the historical record stood.
"Is there then no hope?" she finally asked. Though still exiled to the land behind my Father's broad back, I readily imagined his full, pink lips spreading, almost seeming to inflate, into that sly smile he usually reserved for opposing counsel or a hostile witness, the smile that said, "I'm glad you said that. I'm ready for that one."
Archie made a bit of a show of searching around on his desk top before handing over to Maggie Mulhearn a short memorandum I could proudly claim to have written concerning the 1907 trial of Big Bill Haywood, president of the Western Federation of Miners. The bedazzling "Ms Mulhearn" took my humble memo in her delicate white hands and quickly skimmed over it, turning the pages with her long, artistic-looking fingers.
When she looked up from the brief document without comment, my Dad continued, "I believe that if I were to travel out to Idaho and Wyoming and research this Haywood trial, the effort might provide the 'smoking gun' evidence we need to establish inferentially the high likelihood of John Kehoe's innocence. If so, then not only would the governor be more likely to consider a pardon, but the basis of the pardon would go to the substance of the charges and not just to the state's procedural errors. In other words your great granddad wouldn't just be forgiven his sins due to technicalities."
Maggie Mulhearn drew on her cigarette and exhaled through her slightly flared nostrils. My adolescent heart pounded. Had my memorandum proved convincing? Did she like it?
"I believe I see," she said at last. "Since James McParlan was the Pinkerton detective who built both cases, and since Clarence Darrow unmasked McParlan's chicanery in the second case by expressly drawing the parallel to McParlan's tactics in the Molly trials, the record in the second case might..." Her voice trailed off and suddenly she seemed puzzled. "Might what, Mr. McAdoo?"
"Well," replied my Pop. "Darrow, as everybody knows, was a great trial attorney... smart enough to have drawn the inference and made the case without a smoking gun from the Mollies' trials to do it. Certainly if the Haywood trial transcripts reflected any physical or documentary evidence concerning John Kehoe, historians would have brought that out a long time ago."
"So then why go way out there?'
"I believe," replied Archie, "that there may be a number of sources of documentation that haven't been sufficiently explored with the precise purpose of proving the innocence of the Mollies. Ned has attached a list, as you can see. Union records, Pinkerton records, perhaps personal papers of McParlan himself. I think nobody has really looked, since the Haywood trial isn't all that significant in the grand scheme of things, even to labor historians. And the Mollies have been even less so.
"Of course," he continued, "frankly, my efforts to date have amassed time and expenses totaling almost five thousand dollars. So I'll certainly understand if you wish to terminate this engagement and have the remainder of your retainer returned."
Archie and I held our breath. Maggie Mulhearn finisher her cigarette and tamped it out in the "Ocean City, N.J. -- the Family-Friendly Shore Resort" ashtray Archie had provided.
"No, Mr. McAdoo. In for a penny, in for a pound. If you think there's a chance." We both exhaled.
And so about a month later, there the four of us were in our new minivan, cruising along U.S. highway 90, Katy trying to entertain us with her dramatic readings of weird state statutes, and Mom continually coaching my driving.
We'd left Minnesota and hadn't been in South Dakota long when looming up ahead off to the left of the highway was one of the strangest collections of buildings and billboards we had ever encountered along an interstate highway. The billboard shouted, "Buffalo Ridge: Ghost Town and Gold Mine."
Consulting her half-comic, half-serious guidebook, Katy quickly declared that the Black Hills, where discovery of gold in the 1870s led to Custer's Last Stand a couple of hundred miles away in southeastern Montana, were "way over on the other end of the state." But we were tired, our bladders were full, and we were hungry. So a quick poll of my three passengers made my vote to visit Buffalo Ridge unanimous.
I piloted our minivan up the exit ramp.
"You should have used your turn signal," Mom muttered, not missing one last chance to criticize my driving before the end of my current shift.
"Mom...," I began to say there wasn't a car in sight behind us, just one trailer truck maybe half a mile or more away in the rearview mirror. But I stopped myself, and just let it go... then quietly, smugly congratulated myself for my mature self-restraint. For once I hadn't gotten into a sniping contest with my Mother.
The exit ended at a blacktopped road. No cars were coming from either direction. But I came to a complete stop and used my signal to avoid colliding with another one of Momma Karen's crisp little comments. Then turning left I cruised casually down to the collection of shacks and fences which collectively called themselves Buffalo Ridge. Two gas pumps, vending something called Dakota Blend, stood in front of signs saying "Restaurant" and "Fireworks."
I pulled up to the pumps, and true to the travel rules laid down by my Dad, I completed my shift behind the wheel by filling the tank in anticipation of the next leg of our long journey. We had left Philly at four A.M. the day before. The first day's run had taken us through Pennsylvania, Ohio, past Gary, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois, and dumped us --- dog tired, except for Katy, our only non-driver --- in a dingy Holiday Inn near Madison, Wisconsin. This morning had moved us through the lower reaches of Wisconsin and Minnesota and placed us at Buffalo Ridge in the eastern Dakotas for a late lunch at around two PM on this cool June day.
The family climbed one by one out of the van, stretched and sauntered into the peeling, white plaster building. I pumped 16 gallons of gas into our van's tank, pulled the van into a parking spot directly in front of the "Fireworks" entrance and went in myself. At a lunch counter, beside a cash register, stood a man of about Archie's age, smoking a filterless cigarette that dangled from a sour looking mouth. He hadn't shaved in a couple of days, judging from the black stubble on his tan, leathery cheeks. His thinning black hair was uncombed.
I walked over to him and proffered Dad's Visa card. "Twenty one sixty two," I said.
"All righty," he replied, looking at me as if I had just been beamed down and materialized in front of him at that instant. I imagined what Mom would have said to him: "Which planet was your mind on?"
As he rang up the gas sale, I studied the bill of fare hanging on the wall above an ancient looking grill. The restaurant offered the usual selection of fat-filled, greasy treats: burgers, dogs, fries, onion rings. But also buffalo burgers. "Oh, yeah," I thought. "Now we're out West. Cool."
I was the one who had to be brought back to reality this time. "Want to sign right here?" asked the man behind the counter, his voice deep and resonant, his tone halfway between friendly and indifferent.
"Oh... sure, " I responded, taking the pen he proffered and signing my name to the credit card chit. "Uh, how are the buffalo burgers?" I inquired.
"Come here," he said, walking out from behind his Formica lunch counter and leading the way through the tiny dining area to a screen door at the rear of the building. Swinging the screen door open he pointed to the hillside beyond. The first thing I noted were my parents and Claire walking along the path between two parallel barbed wire fences. Then I spotted the buffalo lounging and grazing in the pens on both sides of the path.
"We raise 'em, butcher 'em and serve 'em right here on the premises," he promised rather proudly, yet with that mushy indifference in his voice, reflecting the nonchalance I found was affected by many Westerners we were to meet during our month out there.
"I guess I'll try one," I said. Then feeling the burning vacuum in my belly, I added, "Better make it two."
Without another word my host sauntered back to his "kitchen" and, as I perused the items scattered around the dining area I soon heard the happy sizzle of burgers on the griddle. I studied with a growing sense of adventure, even excitement, the buffalo and elk heads hanging stuffed on the restaurant walls, as the small room filled with the spicy aromas of the burgers. The operator of this eccentric hostelry had actually begun to whistle a merry little tune as he pressed and flipped the twin buffalo burgers with his spatula. I began softly to whistle the tune myself.
On one side of the dining room was a glass pane behind which a dozen or so human figures sat and stood in deep shadow. A device, just like the gadget that collects your quarters on the front of a pinball machine, demanded fifty cents to see what was masked in the gloom behind the glass. I fished in my pockets and came up with a couple of quarters. I fed them into the two round slots and pushed the slide firmly home. As I released the pressure and the slide snapped back toward me, the world behind the glass leaped to life.
The lights came up so fast and bright they practically blinded me. Simultaneously, a player piano began banging out the Beer Barrel Polka. The shadowy figures turned out to be cowboys, some huddled around a table playing poker, the rest bellied up to the bar. I hardly had time to take in this classic western scene when the dialog began.
"You cheated," said one of the figures, the head shifting jerkily toward the figure next to him.
"I didn't neither," retorted the other, a Bart Maverick-looking professional gambler type.
"Yeh, you did," came the reply. "You had that fourth ace up your sleeve."
"Nobody calls me a cheat."
"No? Well ah'm callin' you a cheat and a lier!"
Guns were drawn. The two other figures seated at the table jerked back as if to avoid being hit in the coming crossfire. The restaurant resounded with loud bangs, four or five of them, and as the Maverick figure tipped backwards toward the floor, chair and all, the tableau went suddenly black once again. I was smiling.
"I kind of like that one myself," said the low, mellow voice from behind the lunch counter. I turned to see him grinning back at me. In his mouth was another Lucky Strike, in his right hand a paper plate with two burgers on big, sesame buns bursting with lettuce and tomato. I walked over and took the plate from him.
"What do I owe you?" I asked.
"Get on over there to the reefer and pick yourself out a cold Dr. Pepper," he replied. "Pay when your finished."
I got my soda from the big cooler and covered my burgers with lots of ketchup before sitting down at a small, Formica-topped table, seating myself opposite a John Wayne dummy decked out in ten gallon hat, six shooters and bandana.
As I bent low to stuff the first bite of a bulging burger into my wide open mouth, Katy led our parents back into the restaurant.
Half walking, half skipping over to my table, she said, "Whatcha’ eating? Smells great." Without a 'by your leave' she picked up the other buffalo burger and stuffed a surprisingly large amount of it into her mouth, biting off what seemed to my horrified eyes to be the better half of it.
"Hey, get your own food," I mumbled, my own mouth now filled with hot, spicy meat, bread and lettuce.
"Oh, Ned, you can order another, if you're still hungry," said Mom, never one to miss a trick.
Archie for his part ignored us all, making a beeline for the lunch bar, where he promptly discovered the house specialty and ordered up two buffalo burgers all his own. Mom followed, having given me her two-cents worth. Katy sat down with me and the Duke and took a long pull from my bottle of Dr. Pepper. I stifled the urge to repeat my admonition, knowing Mom still had one ear cocked in our direction, though she appeared to be intently studying the menu on the wall.
Swallowing the soda, Katy said, "You should see the gold mine, Neddy. It's really cool. There's this dead Indian floating in a barrel or a well or something. Red Cloud. And all these buffaloes and prairie dogs and antelopes."
She gobbled more of what had been my number two burger as she awaited my reaction to this description of Buffalo Ridge.
With all that help from Katy, I was done eating well before my folks even had their food. I was all for ordering another burger to replace what I had lost to "My Sister the Black Hole." But...
"Aw, come on, Nedster. Let's go check out the fireworks." So I satisfied myself with the purchase of a couple of Snickers bars before we went into the retail area of the building to see the instruments of death which were strictly verboten by state law back home in Pennsylvania.
Once there I had to admit to myself (if not out loud to my sister) that some of the colorful cartons, stacked high all up and down two long series of tables lining the walls, were pretty enticing. Katy for her part was a live wire filled with high voltage excitement.
"Ooh, look at this one," she would call to me again and again as she flitted up and down the aisle, fondling this rocket and that Roman candle, as if she were some sort of Mid-Eastern arms merchant on a petrodollar spending spree.
Finally, her heart settled on "Johnny Reb," which I had to agree appeared to be the best buy in the place... an awesome assortment of skyrockets and Roman candles, flower pots and fountains, plus lots of little stuff such as bottle rockets and firecrackers. The whole melange could be ours, the sign tacked to the plaster wall behind the two dozen or so Johnny Rebs piled there said, for the sale price of just $49.99.
"Come on, Ned, let's take one," pleaded Katy.
"I don't think Mom and Dad are going to go for this," I replied skeptically.
Katy gave me a look that, if there were any real justice for men in this world, wouldn't be learned by women until they were at least past thirty. How she could know at fourteen exactly how to use those beautiful green eyes of hers... yes, I admit it, not unlike Maggie Mulhearn's beautiful green eyes... well, it had to be some sort of female instinct handed down over eons of evolution. Besides, she wasn't suggesting anything I hadn't thought of myself, when she said, "We could make it a surprise for them on the Fourth of July."
She added enticingly, "They'll thank us for it."
I didn't believe that for a minute. But there was Johnny Reb in all its four-color, shrink wrapped glory, and here was Archie's Visa card practically burning a hole in my pocket.
"Neddy," Katy pleaded, cocking her head to one side and faking a pout with her lips.
"Okay," I shrugged.
"Goody." She grabbed one of the topmost boxes on the display and hustled up to the counter beside the register. I joined her and once again presented the Visa, furtively craning my neck around the counter to see what our parents were doing. Archie was communing very seriously with his second buffalo burger while Mom was nowhere in sight.
Always a faster thinker then her brother, Katy said, "Mom's probably in the ladies' room. I'll go make sure she doesn't come out too quickly. You get this thing under the back seat in the van."
And, so, that's how the Civil War in a cardboard, shrink-wrapped box wound up under the back seat of our minivan. Black Jack Kehoe, if he really was a terrorist despite all our efforts to exonerate him, would have been mighty proud, I thought as I secreted the Johnny Reb selection before Katy and our folks emerged from the home of the buffalo burger.
While Karen and Archie bickered quietly about which of them was on deck to drive the next leg of our journey, and Katy snuck a peak under the van's back bench to insure that I had packed our new pal Johnny Reb, I grabbed another glance at the back acres of Buffalo Ridge. If you called on all the powers of your imagination, working real hard to suspend belief, the grazing buffaloes and the weathered clapboard exteriors of the fake gold mine and its out buildings actually gave you the funny feeling of being back in the West of around a hundred years ago. I felt a little chill course up my spine, ending in a slight tingle among the hairs at the back of my skinny neck.
"Hey, Ned, let's go," my Old Man called. His voice snapped me out of it. I turned to see Archie squeezing his fat frame behind the wheel, obviously having lost yet another argument with my Mother. I took one last glance over my shoulder at the buffalo-burgers-to-be as I walked to the van, climbed onto the back bench (above you-know-what) and settled in for a nap.

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