My great, great grandmother Ann M. Sullivan, born November 1861 in a mining town in Wayne County, Pennsylvania to Irish parents, was still a teenager when her family moved to Jersey City. There she married an Irish-born fireman, Daniel McMahon.
About a year after his death, the Daily Times (New Brunswick, New Jersey) reported on February 27, 1899:
„Two children of Mrs. (Ann) Mary McMahon, of 44 Bleecker street, were romping about the rooms on Saturday night when they upset a kerosene lamp, which exploded and set fire to the furniture. Fortunately neither child was hurt. The fire was extinguished without an alarm.“
Annie knew how to raise kids and put out fires. Her sister was even married to John F. Conway, long-time fire chief of Jersey City.
The following summer, the oldest sister, Ida, my great grandmother had brought a problem into the household, namely her new husband, who at the „insistence of (his) mother-in-law“ was sentenced by Justice Murphy to sixty days in the county jail for „assault upon his (pregnant) wife“ (Jersey Journal, June 14, 1900). Despite six births in the family during the next decade, things got weirder over the following years. My grandmother, who spent her childhood residing at her aunts‘ homes, thought it best to avoid Irishmen.
After apparently four years of constant advice from friends and family to remarry, Annie McMahon took humorous revenge.
Widow’s Practical Joke
Invited 30 Importunate Friends to Her Wedding to „Mr. Wydemann,“ a Tailor’s Lay Figure
„I was tired of being ridiculed by my friends because I did not remarry,“ said Mrs. Annie McMahon of 44 Bleecker Street, Jersey City, yesterday, in explaining a practical joke she had played on thirty of her friends last Wednesday night. „I have been a widow several years and my kind friends thought it time I provide my three children a second father. I thought differently, but they persisted, and I resolved to teach them a practical lesson, if possible. They call it a practical joke, I believe.“
„I sent out thirty invitations to my wedding, which I set for 7:30 o’clock P.M. Wednesday, Feb. 18. I called the bridegroom „Henry Wydemann.“ I knew no one of that name, neither did any of my friends. For that reason my announcement caused a commotion among them. They were on hand promptly at the time named- some of them came earlier, in fact. Naturally, they were all anxious to see „Mr. Wydemann“. I told them he lived in the West and had sent me a telegram saying his train was delayed and he would not arrive until 8 o’clock.
„When the time came I had the servant ring the door bell. Closing the parlor door I hurried to the street door where I pretended to meet „Mr. Wydemann,“ rather effusively, and smuggled him in by a side entrance into an alcove at the rear of the parlor across which I had drawn a heavy curtain and announced „Mr. Wydemann.“
„For reasons I will explain presently „Mr. Wydemann“ did not advance to meet my friends. He remained silent and motionless. For a moment the silence was fairly oppressive. Then curiosity got the better of my friends and two or three of them cautiously stepped forward for a nearer view of the bridegroom. When they got near enough to see him distinctly there was a roar of laughter, and two them unceremoniously dragged „Mr. Wydemann“ out under the chandelier. Poor fellow! he made no objection, for he was simply a wax figure attired in evening dress, a bogus bridegroom I had hired from a nearby tailoring establishment.
„I think my friends felt the rebuke, for after the first burst of laughter a deep stillness prevaded the room. It was not broken until I told them that I had evoked Mr. Wydemann“ solely to please them; that I did not want him or any other husband, and if any other unmarried woman wanted „Mr. Wydemann“ she was welcome to him. Then I appeased them by inviting them to a „wedding supper“ in the dining room. After that they went home.
„I think the lesson was effective for not one of them has since asked me why I don’t get married again.“ (New York Times, Feb. 21, 1903)
Only months afterwards, her three youngest daughters were in guardianship and placed in adoptive Jersey City families. Annie never remarried and passed away at the age of 43 in early 1904.
St. Patrick’s Day 2018