Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

CHAPEL STREET - Chapter 1 -

Another sample chapter of my novel Chapel Street.  Keep checking back for more!

Chapter 1 

June 2016. 

I am a cemetery junkie.

My obsession was an outgrowth of genealogy. As a bachelor with no children of my own, I turned my eyes backwards toward my ancestors. I traced all of my familial lines back at least a couple of centuries. In the process, I talked to hundreds of cousins while compiling my extensive family tree. They tended to be elderly women happy to share the stories that their own children and grandchildren had grown bored of hearing. As the years passed, I found myself attending their funerals out of gratitude for the stories and photos they shared with me.

Perhaps because of all of the funerals I attended, I developed a desire to visit the graves of all of my ancestors. I would visit the overgrown cemeteries, thorns and stickers tearing at my khaki pants and tennis shoes. I often felt an acute, practically supernatural, sense of connection to my kin as I stood upon their graves looking down at their weathered monuments. I knew they were all once just like me. They lived. They loved. They fought. They laughed. They worked. Then they died. But part of them remained: Me. Did they imagine when they bought their little oblong plots that a hundred and twenty years later a great-great-great grandson would stand above them in respect? Were they looking down at me from heaven? Or up from hell? Was there even a heaven or hell? Or did we, as I suspected, just disappear into nothingness? It was maddening to think we lived in vain.

How many people in this world truly achieve a legacy that would outlive them? None of my ancestors, that’s for sure. They were just worker bees, living in little houses and toiling endlessly at jobs to fulfill the dreams of men who the world considered greater and more important than they. What did they have to show for their labors in the end, aside from generations of progeny they would never know and who would never know them? A tombstone. That was it. A slab of granite or marble with their names etched into it.

In theory, those stones could last for centuries, far longer than the once living bones beneath them. That was encouraging, but what did it really say about them? Occasionally, a short poem or Bible verse had been inscribed into the cold stone. That was better than nothing. Most of their markers only recorded their names and the dates of their birth and death. I hated seeing my ancestors, whom I had painstakingly researched over the years, reduced to a mere string of facts. A human being is more than the sum of their name and dates. I wanted the world to get a taste of their individual humanity: their personalities, their struggles, and even their small triumphs, as insignificant as they might have been in the overall scheme of human history. 

I found the perfect place to honor my family at, a vast online database of millions of graves slowly compiled by thousands of volunteers around the world. I began building online memorials to all of my relatives. I wrote short biographies of them and included plenty of photographs. The website even allowed me to link them all together by familial relationship. A person could easily click through my entire family tree person by person. Now my ancestors were no longer simply names and dates carved in stone. You could look into their eyes and get a sense of their identity.

In my own way, I granted my family cyber-immortality, which was probably the only actual form available. I couldn’t bring myself to accept any sort of spiritual continuance, despite my nominally religious background. My parents were both Catholics. They were not necessarily weekly churchgoers, but they took their faith seriously enough to send my brother Lenny and me to St. Dominic Elementary School.

After my father Stan’s death in an automobile accident, my mother took us out of the Catholic school and unceremoniously dropped us in the Baltimore City public school system. It was probably an economic decision, but I suspect it was also her way of rejecting the cruel God who prematurely stole away her loving husband. She attended church much less frequently as the years passed. In the end, she only went for weddings and funerals and the occasional Christmas when she was feeling sentimental. Still, my mother did not reject all spirituality. She believed in signs and omens and became obsessed with charlatans and fortunetellers who played her like a violin.

My religious beliefs also changed with the death of my father. I stopped believing in a loving God who took a personal interest in the lives of his people. It wasn’t until college that I pretty much closed the door on the very concept of God itself. I wasn’t an atheist. Atheism was too intellectually arrogant for me. I accepted a limit to human knowledge. I could concede that an entity we could define as God could possibly exist somewhere in some unknown dimension. However, for all practical purposes, I believed we human beings were on our own. When we died, we just blinked out of existence. That reality fired my resolve concerning Resting Place. In the absence of God, I would provide the human race what little measure of immortality I could muster.

I began documenting the graves of strangers when I ran out of my own relatives, starting with a small Methodist cemetery a few blocks away from my apartment. One sunny Saturday afternoon I walked through it and photographed every tombstone. I spent the rest of the weekend uploading the photos and documenting the graves on the website. Whenever I came upon a name I found particularly interesting, I would research the individual on various genealogical websites and include the information I found.

I found it a very rewarding hobby, much more interesting than my day job as an accountant at Johns Hopkins Hospital. My primary responsibility consisted of checking physical inventories throughout the hospital: counting all the essential implements of modern medicine. The doctors and nurses got the glory. I got the clipboard. By the time I finished my rounds, it was time to start walking those same corridors again. At least I got some fresh air when I documented the graves, and people really appreciated my genealogical efforts. Every week I got emails from happy people thanking me for finding the graves of their relatives. No doctor ever thanked me for making sure there were rubber gloves nearby when he needed one. No patient did either for that matter.

I also made it a habit to fulfill photo requests that people submitted to the website. I would drive out to the cemetery and get the location of the requested grave from the office. Sometimes the cemetery had no record of the loved one in question. In that case, I would send the submitter an email saying so. If I found their loved one, I would photograph the grave and upload the picture to the website for them. They were generally very grateful. In a world defined by death and sorrow, it felt great to do something nice for strangers.

Other Chapters:
Prologue - My Mother
Chapter 1 -

While you're waiting for the next chapter of Chapel Street, feel free to read my memoir:

Monday, May 21, 2018

CHAPEL STREET - Prologue - My Mother

I will be temporarily posting a few chapters of my next book Chapel Street over the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy them.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against 
the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers 
over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of 
evil in the heavenly places.” 

Ephesians 6:12 


My Mother

My name is Rick Bakos and my story began on September 27, 2011.

I arrived home at Rueckert Avenue right around midnight. The drafty five-bedroom Victorian house was nearly a hundred years old. It sat on the second highest hill in northeast Baltimore sheltered by oak trees. You could see every thing from the skyscrapers in the Inner Harbor to the smokestacks of the steel mills at distant Sparrows Point from the upstairs windows. We moved into the house when I was three years old. It was a considerable upgrade from my maternal grandparents’ basement. To me, it was a veritable castle with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Now, however, its size seemed to mock the diminished state of our family.

Lights still illuminated my mother’s front bedroom as I pulled into the driveway. No voice greeted me when I stepped inside, but I could hear her television playing. I called to her, but she didn’t answer. I went to the door and gently knocked. Once again, no response.

I announced myself before quietly opening the door. I didn’t want to wake her up if she was already asleep. In that case, I would just turn off her lights and television as I frequently did. Her doctors proscribed her a dizzying array of drugs since her battle with lymphoma began a couple of months earlier. Her nighttime dosage often sent her on a peaceful night’s sleep, provided her television didn’t wake her back up.

As expected I saw my mother, Alice Bakos, lying in bed. Her head was cocked toward her nightstand. Her eyes were open. I assumed she was awake.

“Hi,” I said.

No response. Nothing. She didn’t even turn to me. Now I was worried.

I crept forward. A thick comforter and more blankets than the mild fall night demanded covered her. Her head and shoulders were exposed. She wore red plaid flannel pajamas. One of her arms hung stiffly off the side of the bed. It was motionless. In fact, there was no motion anywhere. The blankets were not rising and falling with her breath. Nothing was.

I turned to her brown eyes as I walked forward. They were wide open, and appeared dry. Sticky, even. They didn’t blink. Not once. A little pinpoint somewhere deep in my mind registered the truth: She was dead. The rest of me couldn’t accept it. My mother was fighting a losing battle against lymphoma with chemo. I knew that much, but the doctors assured me she still had months to live. She couldn’t be dead. Not now.

Her mouth was wide open, too. Crookedly. There was a dry, white substance around her lips. It wasn’t vomit. It was like she had been foaming at her mouth in her last moments.

Now I was close enough to touch her. Her neck was exposed. I reached out to check for a pulse, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch her white skin. I had a sudden, overpowering thought that it would be deathly cold, and that the cold would never leave my fingers. I hated myself as I pulled back my hand.

What if she was still alive? What if she was just unconscious?

What could I do anyway? I wasn’t a doctor.

I had to call nine-one-one.

I took out my cellphone. As I dialed, my eyes went to the nightstand. All of her yellow pill bottles were on their sides. My first thought was that she knocked them over while she was dying, but where were the pills? They should have spilled all over the place, but I didn’t see a single one. Some the bottles should have been full. I refilled two of the prescriptions on my way home from work that very evening.

The truth flooded into my brain: She killed herself.

I dropped my phone as I staggered backwards out of her bedroom. I couldn’t believe she actually did it. My older brother Lenny killed himself a year earlier by jumping off a sixth floor balcony at a hotel in the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland. His death was not a surprise. He suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for nearly his entire adult life. Still, his suicide crushed our family emotionally. My mother most of all. She was never the same afterwards.

And now she decided to inflict the same pain on us again herself.

How could she?

I couldn’t go back into her bedroom and retrieve my cellphone. I went downstairs and called nine-one-one on the ground line in the kitchen. Afraid they wouldn’t consider it an emergency if I reported her dead, I told them I thought she was in a coma. Then I called my kid sister Janet and gave her the news. I dreaded that call. Janet and I were not close. I resented her decision to escape to college in California, leaving my mother and me to deal with Lenny. Still, there was no one else left to call her. It was my responsibility. When I got her, I told Janet that Mom was dead but I didn’t mention suicide. I didn’t want to freak her out completely. She was always the emotional one in the family, and I couldn’t handle that now. Not alone.

Next I called my girlfriend Gina Holt. She rushed over from her comfy downtown apartment, where I had spent the evening. She arrived after the ambulance, but thankfully before my sister. Gina was perfect. She stayed glued to my side the entire time, always keeping a supportive hand on my shoulder, back or arm. Gina seemed genuinely upset about my mother’s death, despite the fact that my mom had tried every trick in her considerable playbook to ruin our relationship.

My sister arrived right before the paramedics came downstairs to give us the bad news. They also noticed the bottles. Apparently, when a person dies of natural causes, the paramedics have you call the funeral home to remove the body. However, since they now suspected suicide, they were taking my mother to the hospital for an autopsy. Just as I feared, Janet became hysterical, alternating almost equally between mournful moaning and angry rants. After they removed my mother’s body, the three of us sat up all night and drank every ounce of alcohol in the house. Janet left at dawn. I left, too. I couldn’t stay at the house. I went back with Gina to her apartment.

I took the week off from work to take care of the funeral arrangements. Gina took off the week, too. For the next month I rarely returned to the family home. For the first time in our nearly five-year relationship, Gina and I actually lived together. I assumed it was a preamble to the marriage both Gina and I wanted, but from the beginning our life together was marred by vivid nightmares. Each night, I imagined waking up to find Gina dead beside me. Sometimes, it was present day. Sometimes, it was in the distant future. It didn’t matter when. The truth was undeniable. If Gina and I stayed together, the day would come when one of us would awaken to find the other one dead.

I couldn’t face that prospect. Claiming I needed space to mourn, I moved out of her apartment and got my own place in a high-rise in Towson. The dreams stopped, but with them the relationship. I was heartbroken, but I let it happen anyway. Call me a coward, but I knew if I stayed alone I could limit my future pain.

Gina deserved better.

Ironically, my mother won. The sight of her dead in bed ultimately shattered the relationship she had long desired to destroy.

Other Chapters:
Prologue - My Mother
Chapter 1 -

While you're waiting for the next chapter of Chapel Street, feel free to read my memoir:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

OPEN MY EYES now on Amazon Prime.

Open My Eyes, a film I wrote with Tim Ratajczak for director Gabriel Alfonzo, is now available on Amazon Prime. This is a good thing. The film was initially released by CMD Distribution Inc, a company headed by Byron Jones, one of the original founders of PureFlix. Sadly, having your film released by CMD proved to be the cinematic equivalent of having a bear going into hibernation. Now, our little film has been freed to crawl out of its cave into the sun. If you are so inclined, please check it out. If you like it, please give it a good rating or a kind word.

To check it out on Amazon: Click Here.

Here's the trailer:

Since no blog would be complete without a little self-promotion, be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

You check out a few sample chapters for free here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Writer Tip #21: Contracts

As a screenwriter, you will be asked to sign many contracts and agreements. I've signed most of them myself. Here's my take on them, but keep in mind, I'm not a lawyer so take my advice with that proverbial grain of salt.

Before we even start I want to remind you to copyright your script with the US Copyright Office and register it with the Writers Guild of America, west.  Both of them. Immediately. Before you send it out to anyone. Also, remember, you cannot copyright an idea, only an execution.

The first agreement you'll be asked to sign is usually a production company release. Most credible production companies will ask you to sign a release before they read your script.  If you take the time to read the release, and please do, it will seem like you have given up all legal recourse against the company in case they steal your script. Fear not. You haven't. On the bright side, you can always sue, regardless of whether or not you signed the agreement, if they steal your intellectual property. In fact, the signed release will be important evidence that they actually communicated with you about the script.  On the negative side, copyright infringement cases are notoriously difficult to win.  Bottom line: Sign the agreement.  If you are not willing to take that chance, you're in the wrong business.

If you write on assignment, you might be asked to signed a non-disclosure agreement which will prohibit you from discussing the details of the project with outsiders. I can go either way on these agreements. Usually I will quiz the producer about the project to see if I believe the non-disclosure agreement is warranted. If it is, I'll sign it -- depending on the terms. Once my then partner Tim Ratajczak and I were approached about a project. We were familiar with the filmmaker and we would have been happy to work with him. However, he wanted us to sign a particularly onerous non-disclosure agreement. It was ridiculous. Tim and I could be held liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars of damages if we mentioned any detail of the project to anyone even if there was no proven damage. And it was so vaguely-worded that I would be guilty even if I talked in my sleep.  Nope. We didn't sign. The project went away.

I have been represented by agents. I never had a signed agreement with any of them. For example, I was represented by the late Stu Robinson at both Weinstein Robinson & Gross and Paradigm. I never had a signed contract with him. When he agreed to represent a script, he would simply send me a letter stating that fact. No terms were specified or defined. The relationship between writers and agents is defined by an agreement between the Writers Guild of America, west, and affiliated agents. The agreement determines the nature of the work and the compensation. There is no real need for any further agreements.

I never had a manager, but the relationship between managers and artists is less defined and more freewheeling. They can charge more than agents, or, I suppose, even less (don't count on that.) You will definitely need a contract. Make sure you have an escape clause.

Another document a producer might ask you to sign is an option agreement. These agreements tend to be short and sweet -- lacking the boilerplate legalese you will find in a purchase or employment contract. The agreement will specify the amount paid for the option and the term of the option. The price for the eventual script is usually not included. It is usually noted that the price will be determined in "good faith" at a later date. My advice: Never agree to an option without money. Remember, if you don't put any value on the script neither will the producer. Also, I won't sign an open-ended option which allows the producer to keep automatically renewing the option. I usually give an option for one year for the agreed upon amount, and an additional year for the same amount.  Anything after that has to be re-negotiated from scratch.

Do I send these agreements to a lawyer before I sign them? Historically, no, because the real negotiating comes later. However, I have changed my mind for reasons I will explain later.

The final contracts are mostly legal boilerplate with the specific amounts, payment schedule, credits, residuals, rights regarding sequels and ancillary materials and arbitration options plugged in. This is where you need a lawyer. When I worked with Tim Ratajczak, a lawyer friend from his day job would go through the contracts. And, yes, you should get a lawyer as well before you sign a contract. For me, the main problem was never the contract, but what to do after a production company refused to honor the contract.

Here's a little Hollywood horror story for you. I was commissioned to write a script for a producer who shall remain nameless.* He called me and asked if I wanted two gross points, after distribution fee (in this case 10%), instead of my usual five net points. Being no idiot, I said yes. (I have to admit I discussed it with some folks first. It seemed too good to be true.) I wrote the script, they produced the film and it received wide retail release.  Walmart, Target, Red Box, Christian book stores, you name it.  So far so good, right? Well, keep reading.

Near the end of the first quarter after the release of the film I get a call from the company accountant about something else. Afterwards, I say, hey, I should be getting a check on the recent film soon. The accountant says no, it hadn't broken even yet. I said I had gross points. He said no, I had net points. I said check the contract. He repeated that I had net points. So I sent an email to the partners to report what the accountant had said. I immediately got a call back from the producer. He acknowledged I had gross points, but he wanted to change the terms. He wanted to change the contract from two points after the distribution fee alone to two points after the distribution fee and the freaking P&A! That, my fellow screenwriters, is a rather substantial change. By adding the P&A costs into the equation, I would essentially be reduced to two net points! Not knowing what to say, I told him I would think about it. The truth is I didn't know how to respond. I was speechless. I was already growing cynical, but even I couldn't believe they would do that!

The next day I get another email from the accountant reminding me that I had net points. That was it. I wrote back, copying the partners, saying I wanted my two gross points. Everyone got an email back from the producer saying that, yes, I had indeed been given gross points, but we were negotiating a change. (Glad I kept that email! It will come in handy one day.)

Then the producer called me and said, "Sean, I don't care what I said to you or what's written in that contract. We will never pay you those points, and if you keep it up, you're going to have to talk to someone else." By someone else, he meant a lawyer.

You see, when someone refuses to honor a contract, it doesn't matter if Clarence Darrow or Alan Dershowitz or Cato the Elder negotiated the document for you. It all comes down to whether you are willing to sue to enforce it. I have lawyer friends and lawyer relatives, but they all live here on the East Coast. I did not have a West Coast lawyer. Plus, I had to weigh the costs. A lawsuit would be very expensive. I would have to pay the lawyers by the hour. Since I had no idea how much income the film had generated, I had no idea whether the lawsuit would cost me more than I would get back in return. Additionally, even if the film was profitable, I had to assume that a company who would treat me in such an unethical matter would not have honest books. The cards were all stacked against me. I decided not to sue. So I renegotiated the contract. I took my traditional five net points and some upfront little cash.

Taking that deal is my second biggest regret in the film business. (The biggest was not signing with CAA back in the 90s, but that's another story.)  Now I have an entertainment lawyer I trust. A lawyer who would have been happy to tear into them. He probably would have done it on a contingency, too. Plus, I suspect that company would have settled after the first letter from the lawyer. If not out of sheer shame, than out of fear that they would lose their reputation if stories started appearing in the Hollywood Reporter about how they refused to honor their contracts. Oh, well. What can I say? I made a bad choice, and I have to live with it.

Another reason I regret not taking action is that my acquiescence probably encouraged the company to use similar tactics on other individuals. Somehow I don't think I am the only victim. It's like the whole Harvey Weinstein thing. If people had spoken up earlier, there would have been fewer ruined lives and careers.

Ironically, the film is now in the black. I am being paid on my net points. However, with every quarterly statement, it only takes some simple math to figure out how much I lost due to these underhanded dealings.

So how do you avoid getting into such a mess? First, join the union. Producers are less likely to take advantage of screenwriters in The Writers Guild of America, west. I have always worked non-union, but my goal now is to join the union. I have two scripts under option. I have agreements on both that, if they go into production, they will sign with the union and I will get to join the WGA,w.

Secondly, get a lawyer. And not just your uncle who does wills and divorces. You need a real entertainment lawyer.

A fellow screenwriter, who is about to get offered an option, asked if I really thought she needed a lawyer. I said yes. She asked how much that would cost. I said it could potentially cost her millions if she didn't.

That's my thoughts on contracts, but don't take my advice on anything.

Get a lawyer instead.

Other Tips:

*Don't ask me for the name or even speculate about it. If I wanted to mention it now, I would have done so! It will all come out in my intended tell-all "Christploitation: Confessions of a Movie Missionary" after some ongoing events play out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My Ancestors: A Celebration of Mothers

I may be a day late and dollar short for mother's day, but I do want to take the time now to celebrate my mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, etc. Here are the ones of whom I have pictures.

Here I am with my mother Clara at the release party for my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God." She actually approved of the book. That said, she IS NOT the inspiration for the mother in my upcoming novel "Chapel Street."

Here is a picture of my maternal grandmother Rita. She turns 98-years-old this month. We are blessed to still have her!

Here's a home movie of her wedding to her second husband Robert Burns Pollock.

Here is a high school picture of my paternal grandmother Margaret Angie Robertson Murphy, wife of Paul James Murphy, Sr.  Late in life I learned the secret to really getting on her good side. On the day of a family event, you waited until after you knew one of her children had already picked her up and then you called and left a message asking if she needed a ride. You'd get same credit for leaving the message as you did for actually giving her a ride.  She lived to be 92-years-old.

Obituary from the Sunpapers, Originally published October 5, 2006:

Margaret R. Murphy, 92, homemaker

     Margaret R. Murphy, a homemaker and longtime member of Hamilton Presbyterian Church, died Saturday at the Brightwood nursing home in Lutherville of complications from Alzheimer's disease. She was 92.
     She was born Margaret Angie Robertson and raised in Dunmore, Pa. In 1938, she married Paul James Murphy.
     The couple moved to Royston Avenue in 1952.
     Mr. Murphy, a district manager for the Baltimore Insurance Co., died in 1979.
     Mrs. Murphy taught Sunday school at Hamilton Presbyterian Church, where she had been president of the women's association.
     "Her major hobby was trying to get us to read the Bible," said a son, Brian R. Murphy of Hamilton.
     Mrs. Murphy was a member of Opti-Mrs., the women's auxiliary of the Optimist Club. She also was an avid Scrabble player, family members said.
     For the past two years, she was a resident of Quail Run, a Carney assisted-living facility, and had moved to Brightwood several weeks ago.
     Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road.
     Also surviving are three other sons, Paul J. Murphy Jr. of Hampton Roads, Va., Richard T. Murphy of Wilson Point and Kevin E. Murphy of Gardenville; two daughters, Carolyn L. Dabirsiaghi of Glen Arm and Sharon M. Sartor of Willingboro, N.J.; 17 grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren. Another son, Douglas E. Murphy, died in 2003. 

Here is my great-grandmother Loretta G. McLane Murphy, wife of Frank J. Murphy. She was an interesting woman I will probably write an individual blog about. She was the first woman in my family to graduate from college. She was a teacher and also a bit of a poetess. She also married for love against the advice of her domineering older sisters. She died of a sudden heart attack at the age of fifty-one. She was eating lunch and simply feel forward into her tomato soup. Interestingly, her husband died exactly the same way a few years later, falling face forward into a bowl of tomato soup at lunch.



Wife Of Fire Chief Frank Murphy, Of Dunmore 

Fire Department -- Was Former Loretta McLane
     Mrs. Loretta McLane Murphy, wife of Fire Chief Frank J. Murphy, died of a heart attack this morning at her home, 802 North Irving avenue, Dunmore. Prior to her marriage, Mrs. Murphy was a teacher in the Lincoln (No. 4) School of Dunmore, and at the time of her death was a member of the Parent-Teacher Association of that school. She was a communicant of St. Mary's Church, Dunmore, and was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis and was active in other parish organizations. She was vice president of the Lackawanna County Ladies' Auxiliary of the Six-County Firemen's Association and took active part in the various activities of this organization for many years.
     Besides her husband she leaves the following children: Francis, Paul and Eileen Murphy, also the following sisters and brothers, Maria, Anna, and Mrs. P.J. McLaughlin, of this city; Mrs. Lynn Morrison, Rochester, N.Y.; Mr. Michael McLane, retired Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad conductor, Dunmore; Ambrose McLane, of New York city.


This is my great-grandmother Carolina Christina Stark Robertson. She had a hard childhood. She never went to school. She had to stay home and help her mother raise the younger children. She learned to read with the help of two people, her paperboy and my other great-grandmother Loretta McLane Murphy. Despite the educational assistance, Carolina, a staunch Protestant, certainly did not approach of her daughter dating and later marrying Loretta's Catholic son Paul. Caroline died of a heart attack walking home after tending the grave of her husband Arch Robertson in Dunmore Cemetery in Scranton.

Story from The Scranton Times, October 6, 1948:


Mrs. Caroline Robertson's Death Attributed 

To Heart Attack By Deputy Coroner
     Mrs. Caroline Stark Robertson, 62, who resided with her daughter, Mrs. Paul Murphy, 18 Arnold Avenue, was stricken fatally by a heart attack yesterday afternoon in the 100 block of West Warren Street, Dunmore, immediately after leaving the Dunmore Cemetery where she had visited the grave of her husband.
     Dr. Nicholas DeLeo, Dunmore, deputy coroner, attributed death to a heart attack. Lieut. James Samela and Detective Thomas McDonald, Dunmore police, investigated.
Mrs. Robertson was the widow of Arch Robertson who died three years ago. The daughter of the late Jacob and Sophia Farber Stark, she was a member of the Petersburg Presbyterian Church and its Ladies' Aid Society.
     Survivors, in addition to her daughter, are a son, Ernest, Stroudsburg; a brother, Jacob Stark, Scranton; a sister, Mrs. Frank Ellis, West Scranton, and five grandchildren.
     The funeral will be held Friday morning at 11 o'clock from the Miller Funeral Home, 436 Cedar Avenue. Interment, Dunmore Cemetery.


This is my great-grandmother Maria Anna Kostohryz Rosenberger, the wife of John George Rosenberger. Her most famous quote was the frequently repeated line: "Go sh*t in your hat, George." Born and raised in Baltimore of immigrant Bohemian stock, she died of a heart attack in her living room while watching television with the family. No one remembers what show they were watching. Probably Gunsmoke. She liked westerns. Sadly, I have no memory of her. She died a few months after I was born.

Death notice from the April 24th Baltimore News Post:

On April 23, 1961, MARY A (nee Kostohryz) of 3204 Evergreen Avenue, beloved wife of J. George Rosenberger and dear mother Mrs. Rita Pollock, Mrs. Helen Ernst, Norbert and Anthony Rosenberger, and sister of Mrs. Cecilia Ritter. Also survived by five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Services on Thursday at 8:15 A.M. from CVACH FUNERAL HOME, 900 N. Chester Street, Requiem Mass at St. Wenceslaus Church at 9 A.M. Interment in Garden of Faith Cemetery. Visiting hours 2 to 10 P.M.

This is my great-grandmother Assunta Mastracci Protani, wife of Vincenzo Protani. She lived in small town of Arnara, Italy, until my great-grandfather kidnapped her and took her to America. Her, I remember. I was taken to see her when I was a small child. Sadly, the family became estranged and we lost track of her. Man, I wish I could have talked to her as an adult....  She lived until the age of ninety-four in 1983.  Here's her homemade spaghetti sauce recipe.  Click here.

Death notice from The Sunpapers:

On August 24, 1980, ASSUNTA (SADIE) beloved wife of the late Vincent Protani, devoted mother of Rose Taresco Flowers, Josephine Navarria, Carmella Rinaldi, Roy Protani, Mary McCubbin, Angela Protani and Vincent Protani and the late Frank, Nick and Clara Protani, dear sister of Rosario Mastracci. Also survived by 55 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren.
Friends may visit at the Dippel Funeral Home, 7110 Belair road, 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 P.M. Christian wake service Tuesday evening 7:30 P.M. Mass of Christian Burial will be offered Wednesday morning 9 A.M. at St. Anthony's Church. Interment Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

This is Loretta's mother, my 2nd great-grandmother Mary Jordan McLane, wife of James McLane. She was born in England of Irish descendant and came to America and settled in Scranton as a child. This photo was taken in 1888 after the death of her husband. She lived another forty-one years before dying at the age of eighty-six. When I finally saw a picture of her, I recognized her immediately. Her strong genes gave us the face I long associated with the Murphy family. And she wasn't even a Murphy!

Obituary for Mary Jordan from a Scranton newspaper:


Body of Mrs. Mary McLane Laid to Rest in St. Mary's Cemetery

Requiem Mass in St. Mary's
     The funeral of Mrs. Mary McLane, one of Dunmore's oldest and most beloved residents, was held this morning from the family home, 802 North Irving Avenue, at 8:15 o'clock, and was largely attended.
      At 9:30 o'clock in St. Mary's Church, of which Mrs. McLane was a devout communicant, a high solemn mass of requiem was celebrated by Rev. M.E. Loftus; Rev. Charles Gallagher was deacon, and Rev. Charles Carroll was subdeacon. Margaret Haggerty sang the solos of the mass. As a processional she sang "Jesus, I Come To Thee," at the offertory "Panis Angelicus" and as a recessional "Ave Maria."
     Interment was in the family plot in St. Mary's Cemetery. The casket bearers were, Andrew J. James and John O'Haro, Thomas Jordan, William F. Grady and P.J. Dempsey.

This is Caroline's mother, my 2nd great-grandmother Sophia Charlotte Farber Stark, wife of Jacob Stark. They called Jacob The Butcher of Petersburg -- probably because he was butcher in Petersburg.  I never heard anything good about him, but I never heard anything bad about her! She was very active in the Petersburg German Presbyterian Church. She died of gall bladder problems at the age of sixty-two.


Mrs. Sophia C. Stark, aged 62 years, a lifelong resident of East Scranton died yesterday morning at 5 o'clock at her home, 1039 Wheeler avenue, following a long illness. The news of her death comes as a shock to a wife circle of friends. She was a prominent member of the Petersburg German Presbyterian church and had always taken an active part in the affairs of that congregation. She was also a member of the Queen Esther circle and of the Ladies' Aid society. Surviving her are the following children: Frederick, Jacob and Ernest Stark, Mrs. A. Robinson, and Mrs. W.R. Willis; also one brother, Fred Farber, and one sister, Miss Louise Price, all of this city. The funeral will be held tomorrow afternoon with services at the house at 2:30 o'clock. Rev. O.H. Dietrich, pastor of the Petersburg German Presbyterian church, will officiate. Interment will be made in the Petersburg cemetery.

This is Mary's mother, my 2nd great-grandmother Kristina Bednar Kostohryz (seated), the wife of Jan Nepom Kostohryz. I wrote a whole blog about her.  Read it here: My Ancestors: Kristina Bednar Kostohryz. I am keeping my Bohemian roots alive in my new book "Chapel Street." (Mary Kostohryz Klima, the young girl in the picture, lived on Baltimore's Chapel Street.)

Death notice from The Sunpapers (January 3, 1933):

KOSTOHRYZ -- On January 2, 1933, CHRISTINA, beloved wife of the late John Kostohryz.
Funeral from her late residence, 2207 East Biddle street, on Thursday morning at 8:30. High Mass at St. Wenceslaus Church at 9 o'clock. Interment Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

This is Assunta's mother, my 2nd great-grandmother Maria Katerina Fiori, wife of Michele Mastracci. She never took her husband's name. In Italy, women retain their own last names. She lived and died in the village of Arnara in Italy. I think it is pretty cool to have a picture of her!

I wouldn't sake my life on it, but after conferring with some cousins, I believe this is Sophia's mother, my 3rd great-grandmother Sophia Elizabeth Engel Farber. She came to America from Germany circa 1852, probably as a result of the turmoil of the revolutions of 1848-1849.  She died of the age of sixty-four in 1877 in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I do know who this woman is. She is the mother of Sophia, my 4th great-grandmother Juliana Philippine Fuchs Engel. She was born in 1793 in Rhineland, Germany and died in 1866 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I don't know about you, but I think it is amazing to be able to look upon the face of an ancestor born in the 1700s. I bet she's somewhere looking down now, happy to have a 4th grandson celebrating her.

Here's a little song I wrote, and sang with my wife Deborah, to honor our family that went before us"

That will have to be the end of line for now, but I want to thank all of those women for making me the man I am today! If you're interested in how the influences of these women, both visible and invisible, played out in my life, be sure to read my memoir published by TouchPoint Press:

Click here for more of my genealogical blogs:

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Yippee Ki Yay Mother Podcast #12: mother!

On this episode of the Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast, an inter-generational look at the movies, special guest Mark Casale shares his passion for the controversial 2017 Darren Aronofsky film mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence. Will he make a believer out of you in this fiery episode?  There's only on way to find out....

Special Guest Mark Casale
Here's the trailer of the film:

Here's the video of the podcast.  (Notice the new camera set-up):

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

My Ancestors: The Mystery of Frank John Murphy

By all reports, my great-grandfather Frank John Murphy was a great man.  He served as the fire chief of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, a community outside Scranton, Pennsylvania. It is said he was much-beloved by the community and his family.

He remains, however, a mystery to me.

I have been actively working on my family tree since the death of Gino Protani, an uncle I never met (long story), in 1998. I have subsequently traced most of my familial lines back for centuries, but Frank's lineage has remained elusive despite the fact that I have more information about him than any of my great-grandparents.

I was raised to believe Frank was born on the boat coming over from Ireland. I was about ten-years-old when either my grandmother or grandfather told me this story. According to that legend, Frank's mother, who was traveling alone, died during childbirth. A relative waiting at the dock for the young Irish lass took the orphaned Frank to be raised by relatives in Scranton. It is a great, classic American immigrant tale. I know my great-aunt Eileen Murphy LeStrange, Frank's daughter, believed the tale. But it wasn't true. She was astonished when I read her this biography I found in the book "The History of Lackawanna County" compiled by Thomas Murphy and published in February, 1928:

     Frank John Murphy, who holds the responsible position of chief of the Dunmore Fire Department, is a widely known and highly esteemed citizen of Lackawanna County. He was born in New York City, July 6, 1883, the son of John Murphy and Mary (Healey) Murphy. 
     John Murphy, deceased, was a native of Chicago, Ill. He worked in the steel mills for many years and later was employed in the coal mines of Dunmore, where he had settled at an early date. His wife is also deceased, and they are buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Dunmore. 
     Frank John Murphy spent his boyhood in Dunmore and attended the public schools. He went to work in the Johnson breakers as a slate picker and later learned the electrician's trade. He became chief electrician at these breakers and remained in that line of work until 1915 at which time he became chief of the Dunmore Fire Department. About 1899 Mr. Murphy joined the O.S. Johnson Fire Company, a volunteer organization, in which he has since been interested. The local department has been completely motorized and it was through Mr. Murphy's efforts that the double platoon system was organized. He organized the Dunmore Firemen's Department organization, of which he is serving as treasurer. He is also identified with the Pennsylvania State National Firemen's, National Fire Chiefs, and the Keystone Fire Chiefs' Associations. 
     On Aug. 10, 1915, Mr. Murphy married Miss Loretta McLane, the daughter of James and Mary (Jordan) McLane, the former a native of Ireland and the latter of England. Mr. McLane, deceased, was a pioneer resident of Dunmore, where his widow resides. Mr. and Mrs. McLane were the parents of the following children: William, Agnes, Theresa, Catherine, and James, all deceased; Ellen, the widow of James O'Hara, lives in Dunmore; Michael, married J. Gilligan, lives in Dunmore; Maria, lives in Scranton; Belinda, the widow of John Morrison, lives in Rochester, N.Y.; Anna F., lives in Scranton; Elizabeth, married Patrick McLoughlin, lives in Scranton; Loretta Murphy; and Ambrose, an adopted son, lives in Rochester, N.Y. To Mr. and Mrs. Murphy have been born four children: Francis, born in December, 1916; Paul, born in 1918; James deceased; and Mary Eileen, born in 1924. 
    Mr. Murphy has always been a Democrat. He is a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church and belongs to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. 

Eileen was shocked by the story. Although Frank himself was obviously the source of the story, she knew it wasn't true. She never met her grandparents and she was certain that if they were buried in St. Mary's Cemetery she would have known about it. The secrets of Frank's origins also eluded his other children who survived to adulthood.  I know my grandfather Paul James Murphy tried to figure it out prior to his death. So did his brother Francis John Murphy.

So what do I know?

According to his death certificate, Frank Murphy was born on November 15, 1883 in New York City, and that his parents were John Murphy and Mary Toole. The information on the death certificate was supplied by my great-uncle Francis,  Frank's oldest son. However, Francis wasn't a necessarily reliable source. Frank himself, in his Social Security application, said he was born in New York on July 6, 1883, and listed his parents as John Murphy and Mary Touhill.  Hmmm. Case closed, right?  Not so fast. Remember, in the biography above, Frank reported that his mother's name was Mary Healy. Additionally, on his marriage license to Loretta G. McLane, Frank reported that his parents were John Murphy and Mary Shoel, and that they were alive and living in Dunmore. 

Frank and Loretta
Come on, Frank. Get your story straight! Every time you mention your mother you give her a different last name!

So what is consistent? The name of his father: John Murphy, but sometimes Frank says his father was born in Ireland and sometimes he says he was born in Illinois. He is also consistent with the first name of his mother: Mary.  (A pretty safe bet for an Irish girl!) He was also consistent about being born in New York City. Except sometimes Frank is from Chicago. Let's look at the census records.

Frank Murphy can be found in the 1900 Federal Census of Pennsylvania, S.D. 7, E.D. 25, Sheet 9B, Line 62A, living with a Mary Carey, 50, at 171 Grove Street. His birthplace was listed as Illinois!

Mary Carey was a widow with one child who was still alive. She had no listed occupation, but she owned her home free and clear. She had come to America from Ireland in 1875. They lived next door to a large family of Careys, headed by John Carey, 37.  Mary Carey lived until at least 1935. According to his daughter Eileen, Frank wanted Mary to move into the McLane house to help look after his children following the unexpected death of his wife Loretta. However, Loretta's maiden sisters wouldn't hear of it. Additionally, other Carey relatives feared Mary was too old for the job. 

I know what you're thinking.  Perhaps Mary was actually Frank's mother.  That's a tempting thought in theory, but not practice.  My grandfather and his siblings knew Mary very well, and they never suspected she was their grandmother. However, they knew she was a distant relative.

Frank Murphy can also be found in the 1910 Federal Census of Pennsylvania, S.D. 5, E.D. 31, Sheet 10B, living as a boarder at 411 West Grove Street with the family of James Moore. He was listed as being 26, which would mean he was born in 1884. He worked with locomotives in a mine, but he had been unemployed for five months during the previous year.  Once again he was listed as being born in Illinois.

Young Frank Murphy
The head of the household, James Moore, 35, was born in England and worked as a coal miner. His wife Catherine, 33, was born in Ireland. They were married for 14 years and had six children. This family remained close to Frank and his children. James served as Eileen's godfather, and also as a pall bearer at both Frank and Loretta's funerals. He always warmly welcomed Eileen and her children into his home. 

The 1920 Federal Census of Pennsylvania, S.D. 9, E.D. 47, Sheet 2B, Line 84, finds Frank, 36, living with his wife, Loretta, 35, and their children, Francis, 3, and Paul, 11/12, at the McLane family homestead at 802 Irving Avenue. The census form is smudged, but seems to report that he was born in Illinois. He is listed as the borough Fire Chief.

The 1930 Federal Census of Pennsylvania, Lackawanna County, Dunmore, finds Frank J., 47, living with his wife Loretta G., 47, and his son Francis J., 13, Paul, 11, and daughter Mary (Eileen), 6, still living at 802 Irving Avenue. The home was valued at $8,000. In this census, Frank finally gives his place of birth as New York, and reports that both of his parents were born in the Irish Free State. His occupation: Fire Chief, Fire Department. 

So what was it Frank?  New York or Illinois?  (A paid search of the birth records of both Illinois and New York failed to find Frank.)

Another clue linking Frank to Illinois concerns the Balcom family.  Apparently, when Frank was a child he spent the summers in Chicago with the Balcom family. I had photographic evidence of that fact. I remember seeing a photograph of a motorcycle cop with the name Balcom written on the back (sadly lost), and this photograph below labelled "Balcom children."

Prior to his death, my grandfather Paul Murphy made contact with the Balcom family in Chicago. He asked them about Frank Murphy. They knew who Frank Murphy was, they refused to answer any questions about him. That's where my grandfather's search ended.

I thought I finally had the solution to the mystery when my cousin Tom Vought found this clue on page 7 of the Scranton Republican on Monday, June 23, 1924:

Walter Balcom, of Chicago, Ill., has returned to his home after visiting his uncle, Fire Chief F. J. Murphy, of Irving Avenue.

At last an actual link to the Balcoms of Chicago!  Frank is listed as Walter's uncle. I researched that branch of the Balcom family.  Walter was the son of George Balcom, a police officer (like in the lost picture), and Catherine Murphy! The newspaper story would seem to indicate that Frank was the brother of Catherine Murphy Balcom, who was the daughter of Martin J. Murphy and Margaret McCann.  Sadly, however, Frank doesn't seem to fit into the line of Martin and Margaret's children. They raised a large family of children, whom they kept in their home. Why would they ship Frank to relatives in Scranton? Additionally, Frank is too old to be an illegitimate son of either Catherine or one of her sisters.  That said, a William McCann acted as a pallbearer for Frank's wife Loretta....

Oh well.  The search continues, but the answer is obvious to me. Frank was almost certainly illegitimate and he went to great lengths to avoid the stigma associated with that status in those days. It is sad that, despite his status and esteem in the community, he felt the need to obliterate his past.

Hopefully, he left a clue for me somewhere.....

Frank Murphy, later years

Obituary from The Scranton Times on January 23, 1939 (picture included): 

6-Weeks Illness Is Fatal To Veteran In Public Service 

     Frank J. Murphy, 55, who had been chief of Dunmore's fire department for the past quarter century, died at 8 o'clock yesterday morning at his home, 1119 North Irving Avenue, after a six weeks' illness of heart disease.
     Chief Murphy, a Dunmore native, was elected first as chief of the department, which he later disciplined and improved, in February, 1914, and had held the position continuously until his death.
     Before becoming fire chief, he was head electrician for the Johnson Coal Company of Dunmore and had the distinction of operating the first electric motor used in a mine in this region. 


     When he became chief, the department consisted of one truck, three teams and two hand drawn pieces of equipment. Today the department has four motor trucks. He was also credited with establishing the platoon system, and with keeping the electrical fire alarm system working with perfection through his electrical knowledge.
     He was affiliated with nearly all firemen's organization in this region and in 1915 was the organizer of a camp for underprivileged Dundell section youngsters at Moosic Lake. 
     He was president of the Firemen's Relief Association of Dunmore, and officer of the Lackawanna County Federation of Volunteer Firemen, a member of the law committee of the Six-County Firemen's Association, the Keystone Fire Chief's Association of Pennsylvania and the State Firemen's Association of Pennsylvania.
     In 1921 and 1928 he was instrumental in bringing the Six-County Firemen's convention to Dunmore. 


     He was organizer of the O.F. Johnson Hose Company, later the T.F. Quinn Hose Company; he also organized the Father McManus T.A.B. Society, and was manager of the baseball team representing the Dundell Section of Dunmore.
     Mr. Murphy was a member of St. Mary's Church and its Holy Name Society. In 1915, he married the former Loretta McLane, who died four years ago January 29.
     Surviving are two sons, Francis and Paul, and a daughter, Eileen, Dunmore.
     The funeral will be held on Wednesday morning with a solemn high mass of requiem in St. Mary's Church. Interment, St. Catherine's Cemetery, Moscow. Arrangements by McDonnell & Kane, Dunmore. 

Article from The Scranton Times, January 25, 1939: 

Solemn High Mass Of Requiem Celebrated In
St. Mary's Church For Former Fire Chief. 

    Frank J. Murphy, chief of the Dunmore fire department for the past quarter of a century, was buried this morning in St. Catherine's cemetery, Moscow, and a fitting tribute was paid to his memory by the large number of persons attending his funeral, conducted from the family home, 1119 Irving avenue, that borough.
     The esteem in which Chief Murphy, who was affiliated with local and state firemen's associations, was held was shown by the large number of out-of-town persons who were present at both the home and the church. A solemn high mass of requiem was celebrated at 10 o'clock in St. Mary's Church, Dunmore, by Rev. James Gilloegly, pastor. Rev. Joseph Kelley was deacon and Rev. Leo V. Murphy was subdeacon. Rev. Charles Carroll, of Taylor; Rev. Charles Gallagher, of Lackawaxen, and Rev. George Jeffery, of Ashley, were seated in the sanctuary. Mrs. Thomas Duffy was the organist and Mrs. Margaret Haggerty sang "Rose of the Cross" and "Panis Angelicus." William Taylor sang "Sweet Savior Bless Us Ere We Go."
     Members of the Dunmore fire department, the Dunmore police department and all borough officials acted as honorary pallbearers. Active pallbearers were: John Gilroy, William Grady, James Moore, Martin Barnack, John Hunt and Thomas Harrison. 
     Rev. Leo Sullivan officiated at the committal services in St. Catherine's cemetery.

Click here for more of my genealogical blogs:

Unlike my great-grandfather Frank, I have nothing to hide.  Read all about me in my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking to God" published by TouchPoint Press.