The John Kenny Story

Part 10

A Deceptive Lull

From the time he had arrived at The Mount, John had been involved in a long drawn out law suit with his landlord. Eventually it wore him down to the point of giving up on his

The Mount c 1886
The Mount circa 1886

dream of being a gentleman farmer. And there was now no longer a danger of Sullivan exerting undue influence over Parnell.  John decided to move the family back to New York, planning to have Joseph’s body brought back to New York for burial again. Annie had opposed moving Joseph’s body from New York to Kilcock; this time she adamantly refused to allow it. John finally acquiesced and Joseph’s body remained in the Kilcock Cemetery.

John’s former employer, Mills & Gibb, was delighted to hire him back. In 1887 Mr. Gibb had gone into partnership with Frederick Loeser, one of the city’s largest retailers. The

Frederick-Loesers-Dept-Store-Late-19th-c-postcard (1)
Loeser’s Department Store

result – a magnificent five-story palace of a store at the corner of Fulton and Bond Streets – took Brooklyn by storm.

The new partners had commissioned the magnificent building in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, and then spent over a million dollars to furnish and stock it. A five-story palace to commerce, it had woodwork of selected ash and mahogany embellished with bronze and gold. The immense bronze and cast iron elevator banks were decorated in high relief. No expense was spared: much of the décor was taken from Europe, and the window dresser had done the windows of Jordan Marsh in Boston and John Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia. The store was also a marvel of modernism, containing such new technologies as elevators, electrical lighting, and telephone and messenger service.

The store was a huge success. With most of the merchandise imported by Mills & Gibb, the store was able to offer excellent prices. Employees were well-treated, enjoying better working conditions and higher pay than most retail employees. The company grew into more and more lines of merchandise: soon it was necessary to build an annex across the street, connected by a covered walkway on the fourth floor.

John was offered a very high salary to come back. Gibb had built a large Second Empire house (now a landmark) on the border of Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, in what was then a large unspoiled tract of land. The fourteen rooms, two bathrooms and huge dining room housed Gibb, his wife, seven sons and six daughters. John and Annie bought a newly-built house, ten blocks from John Gibb’s home, and not far 1913963_10208648984248169_3392272439283105944_nfrom Annie’s sisters. It was soon furnished with the best of the merchandise from Mills & Gibb: lace curtains, Waterford crystal, imported china. The children were enrolled in boarding schools, and summers were spent in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The girls attended Saint Elizabeth’s Convent station, founded in 1899 and one of the first Catholic colleges in the United States to award degrees to women. They would eventually all receive their college degrees.

A new mood had taken hold in Ireland. There was great surge of interest in all things Gaelic, from Celtic mythology and folklore to Irish music, dance and theatre; both ancient and modern. There was a resurgence of interest in learning the Gaelic language, the native tongue that had been suppressed and all but wiped out British rule. Irish language authors wrote of life on the small islands off the wild western coast of Ireland, while W.B.Yeats wrote poems extolling the beauty and mysticism of Ireland. The Irish were finding their national voice, silenced for so long by the British occupation.

In 1893, a second Home Rule Bill was introduced. This one passed the House of Commons, but was defeated in the House of Lords, which had the power of permanent veto.

Life appeared peaceful and genteel. But the calm surface belied the turmoil that still roiled beneath the surface. In time, those unresolved conflicts would erupt into violent conflict.

 

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