Last June, 2015, I visited the States with the express intention of researching John Quinn. This made my time with friends, family and the Lovely, Helpful Staff of the New York Public Library mostly deductible. [H & R Block agreed.]
My wonderful brother, Patrick, who has absolutely no interest in early 20th century writers and artists socializing in groups, generously volunteered to spend a day driving me around Fostoria, Ohio, a few hours north of where he lives in Columbus, and where Quinn grew up. God bless ya, Patrick.
My brother celebrating his birthday with two of his gorgeous grandchildren, Avery and Finn. Beer and cake—Yum!
So we took off in the morning in his Ford Explorer, with a good map and a print out of my notes. We started at St. Wendelin church because Quinn’s mother and paternal grandparents were Irish Catholic immigrants. The Lovely, Helpful Staff pulled open an old index card drawer and dug out a typed card that showed where the Quinn plot is.
The graveyard is a few miles outside town, so–lunch first! We headed for the center of square, flat, sunny Fostoria, to pig out on burgers in a great diner.
Quinn’s father, James, was a baker in the town, and in the diner we found photos of a bakery from that time period.
M & M Bakery and Restaurant, Fostoria, Ohio
We walked around the town, looking for buildings that would have been there when Quinn was growing up, and found quite a few. This ‘Andes block’ looked particularly promising:
Main Street, Fostoria, Ohio
Only later, when I was going through the pictures, did I notice that the building directly next to it says ‘Quinn Block’ on it. Crack detective work on my part!
In my notes for 1878, I found that Quinn’s father had indeed added two stories above their bakery and restaurant as living quarters for his family.
Quinn probably went to St. Wendelin’s school, a few years after the frame structure was built in 1873. But he graduated from the public school, Fostoria High School, in 1887. I did the same, switching from Catholic to public school as a teenager, because St. Elizabeth didn’t have lockers. Not sure if that was his reason.
In high school, Quinn was known as an ‘avid reader,’ like me. But he also started collecting first edition books, after he ‘gave my marbles and bicycle away,’ as he remembered later.
Fostoria was named after Charles Foster who helped to found the town in 1854, a few years after Quinn’s paternal grandparents and orphaned mother had moved to Ohio from Ireland. Foster’s son became Governor of the state twice, and, in 1888 was made Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Benjamin Harrison. Secretary Charles Foster, Jr., invited his young protégé, 18-year-old John Quinn, to leave the University of Michigan after just one year to become his private secretary in Washington, DC.
Quinn’s future was tightly entwined with the Foster family, starting with this move to the nation’s capital to embark on the legal career that supported him and his art collection for the rest of his life.
But we will see that Quinn always stayed in touch with his family in Fostoria and visited quite a few times. Although, according to the bicentennial history of the town,
He was remembered in town for his regal bearing and his unusual style of dress, often making him look out of place in a country town where clothing was largely homespun and overalls. He felt that the Midwest was very backward and provincial, and as a result found little in common with his old friends.’
After strolling around downtown Fostoria, Patrick and I drove to the St. Wendelin parish cemetery, a ways out of town, and it wasn’t hard to find the Quinn plot. There are markers for his parents and all his siblings. The deaths of his mother and sister so close together is what lead him to explore his Irish roots in his early thirties.
When he died in 1924, only 54 years old, he was brought back to St. Wendelin’s:
John Quinn and me in St. Wendelin cemetery
Next time, I’ll tell you more about Quinn’s relationships with his family—and Charles Foster’s daughter…
This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn (1870-1924). Read more about him on the link to your right: I Want to Tell You About an Amazing Man.
Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions. Manager as Muse.
To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.