‘Such Friends’: The Quinn family, my brother and me

John Quinn was born in 1870, the first of eight children to Mary Quinlan, who had come to Ohio from Ireland as an orphan almost 20 years before, and James W. Quinn, whose family emigrated from County Limerick around the same time. Only five of the other children survived—a good percentage for those days—one younger boy, James, and four girls, Anne, Jessie, Clara and Julia. I haven’t been able to track down birth dates for any of them.

When my brother Patrick and I went searching for John Quinn in his hometown of Fostoria, Ohio, we naturally started with the graveyard, where we found a large Celtic cross and plain flat headstones for most of the family members.

Here’s me again with the Quinn cross:

Me and Quinn

I was particularly interested in the Quinn plot because family deaths are what sparked John’s first trip to Ireland, leading to all of his other international adventures.

Quinn’s father died in either 1896 or 1897,

James W Quinn

when Quinn would have been in his late twenties, a successful lawyer in New York City with law degrees from Georgetown and Harvard Universities. According to one report, he took his father’s death quite hard, perhaps because he spent most of his time in New York rather than with the family back in Fostoria.

Right after the turn of the century, his mother,

Mary Quinn

 

and one or two of his sisters,

Annie

Jessie

died within either ‘days’ or ‘months’ of each other, depending on which source you believe.

Clara became an Ursuline nun, so might be buried with her order, and Julia married a local druggist, Will Anderson.

Julia Quinn Anderson

Have no idea what happened to his brother, James, but it sure looks as though he died:

James

One thing Patrick and I noticed was that John Quinn’s headstone had been there a lot longer than the others:

John

So he was probably first in and the others, whether deceased before or after him in 1924, were moved there later.

The deaths of the women in his family so close together is what motivated John to travel to Ireland for the first time, in the summer of 1902, when he met William Butler Yeats, then 37, Lady Augusta Gregory, 50, and other members of the Irish Literary Renaissance. This was the beginning of his life as a supporter of the arts and friend to the artists of his time.

After my Dad died in 1992, I too went to Ireland in the summer, 90 years later. It was my second trip, and I took part in an archaeological dig. ‘To find out if your roots are brown or red,’ as one friend told me.

On that trip I met Tony and the Dixons, the beginning of my life as an international traveller and Irish wife.

After visiting the graveyard, Patrick and I stopped in the Foster’s Museum on Main Street:

Foster's museum

and picked up a DVD about Fostoria that I have yet to watch.

It was created by Leonard Skonecki, so my brilliant brother decided to Google ‘Fostoria Historical Society,’ and was able to leave a message that we were researching Quinn and wanted to talk to him.

After we had seen what we needed to in Fostoria, we headed down the road to Tiffin, Ohio, where the Quinn family lived when John was born. They moved soon after, but we figured we might find something.

Halfway there, Patrick’s in-car phone rang. It was Mr. Skonecki! He was very helpful and suggested that we forget Tiffin and high tail it over to the Fostoria library. He told us which librarians are in charge of the Quinn collection, and gave us his blessing to use his name. Thank you, Mr. Skonecki!

Patrick did a quick U-turn in the middle of OH State Route 18 East and back to Fostoria we went.

The Lovely Helpful Staff of the Fostoria library showed us binders filled with papers and clippings and letters and print outs of emails, all related to Quinn. And then pointed to the clock to emphasize that we only had about one hour to deal with it before they closed.

So Patrick and I spent an hour in a whirlwind of skimming, copying, collating, and stapling. I came home with a whole pile of stuff to go through at my leisure.

One of the most interesting finds was an article, ‘Quinn—Unsung Fostorian,’ in a publication dated July of 1972. With this picture. Seems as though something has happened to the Quinn Celtic cross since then:

Quinn celtic cross3

Next time I’ll tell you what I found thanks to the Lovely Helpful Staff in the New York Public Library. And after that, about Quinn’s relationship with Charles Foster’s daughter Annie…

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.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

‘Such Friends’: John Quinn, my brother and me

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.

Birthday boy with grandchildren

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.

Fostoria bakery 2

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:

Quinn block

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.’

johnquinn

John Quinn,  looking regal

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:

Me and Quinn

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.

‘Such Friends’:  John Quinn and me

Some of you are familiar with my near-obsession with John Quinn (1870-1924), the Irish-American art collector [to put it mildly] who appeared Zelig-like in all my research into early 20th century writers’ salons [Cf. ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man,’ on the right].

Last summer, on my trip to the States, I spent a tax-deductible day with the helpful staff at the New York Public Library, going through his papers. And thanks to my wonderful brother, Patrick J. Donnelly, we spent a whole day driving around Ohio where Quinn was born and grew up.

I owe it to all those who helped me, and to John Quinn, to finally embark on my long-planned work on his life and his role in the birth of modernism.

For the past 15 months in this blog I’ve been chronicling ‘my writers’ with stories of what they were doing before and during their times as ‘such friends’ hanging out together in living rooms and cafes in Ireland, England, France and America. My original plan was to keep going and tell the stories of what happened to them after their time in these groups. Let me know if you are heartbroken that those blogs are now on hold.

Instead, I am going to chronicle my search for Quinn. I could just write and self-publish a standard biography of him on Amazon. But—why? He’s an interesting guy, but there is a bigger picture.

Quinn was both an observer of and participant in the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Armory Show and the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He was in Dublin, London, Paris and New York when the salons were happening. What a point of view!

And, even more important, he supported the arts and the artists. In unusually creative ways. I think we can learn a lot from him that would help today’s W B Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Parker. And Joyce.

Come with me on my journey. John Quinn and me. We are ‘such friends.’

johnquinn

John Quinn      1870-1924