John O’Connell and Mary Ann Sweeney

John Francis O’Connell and Mary Ann (Mamie) Sweeney

mami-and-john

Mamie and John

811-conemagh

811 Conemaugh St

John continued as a motorman for the Railway Streetcar Company working out of the Craft Ave car barn whose motor routes ran through the Shadyside District, Oakland and on to the downtown part of Pittsburgh and back.  Mamie settled in as a domestic servant. The family she was working for became very fond of her. Winter was in full swing with occasional snow on the ground. The wind was very strong at times and the weather could be hard to bear.  Twice a week she had to make a trip into the marketing part of Oakland to purchase food for the meals she would be preparing. She took the Streetcar to stay out of the cold. On one of the trips she was greeted with a happy “Good Morning” from the motorman. The next time the street car had very few customers and she was seated near the front of the car. He noted that she had a bit of an Irish accent. He asked what part of Ireland she was from. She told him from Dongloe and he said he was from a farm district between Coleraine and Belfast. During the discussion they became aware that they had both come to the U.S. the same year. From that day on she made sure when she was making her marketing trip to Oakland that she got on the same street car on which John was the motorman.  Then on a Sunday morning at Mass, at St Paul’s Cathedral he noticed her in the church. After Mass he waited for her and introduced himself to her. He found out that they were going home in the same direction. This became a Sunday custom with John and Mamie. Then as spring arrived John asked Mamie if she would accompany him to his sister Susan’s home in Lawrenceville for Sunday dinner. She agreed, and the following Sunday she invited John to Sunday dinner at her Aunt Ann O’Donnell’s home in West Homestead. Mamie’s employer then asked Mamie to bring John to dinner at their home. After their courtship had been going on for quite a while, John asked Mamie to marry him.  On a Wednesday the 26 of July 1916, John age 24 and Mamie age 21 completed the “Application for Marriage License” form, paid the $1.00 fee and received the Sacrament of Matrimony from Father Joseph T. Byrne at St. Paul’s Cathedral. John and Mamie rented a house in Homewood at 8111 Connemara Street. During this time John’s sister Susan age 34 passed away. Mamie was grieved because she was just getting to know her.

Their first child Patrick Neil is born at the end of March in 1917.  The United States decides to enter WWI. John registers for the draft in April of 1917.

st-james-place

St James Place

In 1918 they decided that they were living too far from John’s place of work, so in 1918 they moved to 3488 St. James Place in Oakland. It was here in September of 1918 that their daughter Annette was born. On the 17th of December 1919, John applied for, and was granted his citizenship of the United States.

226-robinson

226 Robinson St

In 1920 the United States Government passed the 19th Amendment to the constitution granting women the right to vote. Since John had received his citizenship and Mamie as his wife was automatically granted her citizenship, she was able to vote in the American elections. In 1920 John still maintained the job as a motorman. The street cars were still the primary mode of transportation, however now there  were more automobiles on the roads. Their second daughter Mary Margaret was born in July of 1920. Sadly she passed away in January 1921 at the age 7 months. In January of 1922 their third daughter Susan was born. In 1924 the small house they were renting at St James Place was not big enough for the family. It was time to mfind a bigger place to live. They settled for a three story house at 226 Robinson Street.   It was here in September 1924 their second John (Jack) was born, and two years later in April 1926 their third son was born.

In 1928 John was promoted from motorman to the job of a street car inspector.insp-johnThis job required him to operate a motor bike and solve the problems of keeping the street cars operating on time schedules. It was during this year they changed residences and rented a house at 325 Morgan Street for $50 a month. The next year 1928, the country was hit with the Great Depression. Many banks and the American Stock market failed. Although many people lost their jobs, John was able to continue working for the street car company. In August 1930 their fourth son was born.

335-atwood

335 Atwood St

In 1931 John was promoted to foreman and the following year, 1932 they finally purchased their own home at 335 Atwood Street in Oakland for $6,500. The last three of their children were born in that house, 3rd daughter in March 1934, 5th son in April 1936 and 6th son in August 1938.

In the 1940 US Census, John is shown as a dispatcher for the street car company. His duties were to assign motormen to routes and distribute money change boxes and transfers.

In November 1941 their daughter Susan was married. This was also the year of John and Mamie’s 25th Wedding Anniversary. One month later the U.S. was involved in WWII with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In April at the age of 51 John registers for the draft. Two sons along with two sons-in-law were called into military service. All returned safely at the end of the war. During the Korean War their 4th son  was called into military service.

In the 1950’s more people were able to afford their own automobiles. The use of the street car declined. John still worked as a dispatcher, but was assigned to slow street car barns.   With 41 years of service with the Street Car Company, at the age of 65, on the 26th of July, 1955 John retires.

Not to let grass grow under his feet, John takes on employment at the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital in Oakland as an elevator operator.

During the years of raising a family which included 6 sons, John became a good amateur barber. Not only did he trim his sons’ hair, but also some of his grandsons who lived within walking distance of his home. He also liked to listen to country western and blue grass music.

John was a true and loyal Pittsburgh Pirate Baseball fan. He frequently attended their games. He saw great players such as Hank Greenburg, Ralph Kiner, Danny Murtaugh and Roberto Clemente perform, but the Pirates never could put together a winning season until 1960. That year the Pirates won the National League Pennant and ended up playing the New York Yankees in the World Series. The Yankees came to Pittsburgh and said that they were going to take the series in four straight games, but the series went the full seven games. In the bottom of the 9th inning, with score tied, a Pirate player by the name of Bill Mazeroski hit a home run over the left field wall. As the city of Pittsburgh erupted in wild celebration, John quietly thanked the Lord for answering his prayers.

Mamie as well as being an excellent wife, mother and grandmother, had a love of crocheting and knitting. Along with the knitting sweaters for the children and some for the grandchildren, every new born baby left the hospital with a pair of knitted booties. She was very active in the Catholic Womens organization that helped support school children and host bridge parties to raise funds for the Catholic clergy.

On the 26th of July 1966, John and Mamie celebrated their 50th wedding adversity. mami-and-john-older As the years passed, John found it hard to get around, and had to settle for watching his baseball games on a black and white TV at home, as well as sitting on the front porch and talking to neighbors as they walked by. The steps in the house became hard to navigate, and in 1967 they sold the house at 335 Atwood Street and moved into a ground floor apartment at 331 Devonshire Street.

On July 16th 1969 America was very excited about a space ship called Apollo 11 that was taking three astronauts out of the earth’s orbit and into outer space.  The following day on the 17th, John went to meet the Lord. Three days later on the 20th of July, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon.  John’s time on earth started when Queen Victoria was on the throne in England, and ended with the moon landing. Nine months later on the 20th of April 1970 Mamie also went to be with the Lord and John. They are both buried in Calvary Cemetery on a hill high above the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. John and Mamie were the parents of ten children, 48 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

This is the story of John Francis O’Connell and Mary Ann Sweeny, two people who came from different parts of Ireland, during the peak of the industrial revolution, who made their way to Pittsburgh, were married and raised a large family.

In writing this story I tried to use known proven information, to develop the story around them. If you are a descendant of one these individuals or have the O’Connell Sweeny blood in you, it is my wish that you use this as a starting block to build your own family history.

Ray O’Connell

oconaill@earthlink.net

2015




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