Raymond Murphy, the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic and the Morgan Munitions Plant Explosion


Wednesday, November 13, 1918, Red Bank Register.

John Raymond Murphy, a great-uncle on my father’s side, died on Friday, November 8, 1918. Just 18 years old, he was a casualty of the 1918 influenza pandemic, or what became known as the Spanish Flu pandemic. His obituary in the Red Bank Register (New Jersey) indicated that he died of pneumonia.

Born June 26, 1900, Raymond was the youngest boy in his family of eight children. His parents were Martin B. Murphy (b. 1863) and Jane Manion Murphy (b. 1868). Older brothers were my paternal grandfather Henry (b. 1893), George (b. 1895) and Edward (b. 1897). His sisters were Elizabeth (b. 1890), Anna (b. 1903), Jennie (b. 1907) and Marion (b. 1911). All were raised on the family farm in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

John_Raymond_Murphy_WWI_Draft_Reg_1918-clippedA close look at Raymond’s 1918 World War I draft registration card gives a clue to the horrific and infamous tragedy that Raymond likely experienced in the last month of his young life. 

Raymond turned 18 years old in the summer of 1918. On September 12, just about two months before the end of the war, the almost 6-foot tall, brown-haired, blue-eyed teenager registered for the draft at the registrar’s office in Sayreville, New Jersey, 3rd District, Middlesex County. While his older brothers George and Edward had in prior months registered in Monmouth County, and Henry registered in the 8th precinct of Jersey City, Raymond registered in Middlesex County, most likely because of its proximity to his place of employment, T.A. Gillespie Loading Company, a World War I ammunition plant in the Morgan area of Sayreville. Raymond worked as a carpenter at the plant, which began production in June of 1918 in a massive complex that covered approximately 2,200 acres including ­­­­700 buildings used for the complicated process of manufacturing explosives. 


A massive crater left by the 1918 Morgan explosion.

At 7:36 pm EDT on Friday, October 4, 1918, less than a month after Raymond registered for the draft, a massive explosion rocked his workplace, which triggered a fire and subsequent series of explosions that continued for three days. The T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant explosion, also called the Morgan Munitions Depot explosion, killed about 100 people and injured hundreds more. The facility, one of the largest in the world at the time, was destroyed along with more than 300 surrounding buildings. A forced evacuation of the nearby cities of Sayreville, South Amboy and Laurence Harbor (Old Bridge) displaced tens of thousands of area residents, many living on the streets in the days, weeks and months following.

Now, we don’t know for certain how young Raymond was affected by the tragedy, whether he was on the job or staying close by on the evening of the explosion. It’s safe to assume that, at the least, many of his plant friends and coworkers lost their lives or were badly injured in the blasts.

Flu_article-1918-clippedIt is a fact, though, according to many accounts of the aftermath of the explosion, that the evacuated and homeless people were more susceptible to the Spanish Flu that soon hit the area hard. More than 6,000 people contracted the flu and as many as 300 people died from the disease, due largely to a lack of medical supplies and a shortage of doctors.

Though Raymond Murphy was not homeless, his parents living just about 15 miles away, he was one of the unlucky ones. He succumbed to the flu a little more than a month after the explosion and is buried with his parents at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Middletown, New Jersey. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Port Monmouth Nine

The newspaper clipping here is from the April 22, 1914, issue of The Red Bank Register,(later called The Daily Register) which provided local coverage of all of the towns in the part of Monmouth County, New Jersey, where our Murphy family lived from around 1850 through at least the 1970s. The paper folded in 1991.Murphy-brothers-in-Port-Monmouth-baseball-game-22Apr1914

The article, headlined “Headden’s Corner Wins,” tells of a local baseball game in which the Port Monmouth team was beaten by the Headden’s Corner team, 3-2, in 12 innings.

Pitching for the Port Monmouth team that day were two of my great uncles, George Murphy (1895-1971) and Edward Murphy (1897-1967).

George and Edward were brothers of my grandfather, Henry Gerard Murphy (1893-1951). For the 1914 game in which the brothers “did the slab work for the Port Monmouth team,” George would have been 19 years old and Edward 17 years old.

1915-New-Jersey-Census-George-MurphyThe teams were made up of local amateurs playing in an organized Monmouth County Sunday league. George and Edward were laborers on the family farm. (See the image here of the 1915 New Jersey State Census).

Another family tie-in, Charles Corcoran, the manager of the Headden’s Corner team, is a first cousin of George and Edward. Charles’ mother is Mary A. Murphy Corcoran (sometimes showing up as Cochran), wife of William Corcoran of Chapel Hill. The couple is named in the disposition of my 2nd great grandfather James Murphy Sr.’s will.

George Francis Murphy is pictured above in the header image of this blog (the picture is from around 1937). He is on the far right of the picture next to his wife, Lillian Christiansen Murphy (who hailed from Keansburg, New Jersey), and my dad, Henry Neil Murphy.

I don’t recall ever meeting my Uncle Edward, but when still living in New York we would often visit Uncle George and Aunt Lillian at their place in Keansburg. They also came to visit us in Texas at least once. I know I have a picture of them taken at the State Fair of Texas. I’ll update this post when I find it.

Finally, here’s a picture from 1964 of George and Lillian with my family and cousins Anne and Tom Murphy. I’m pretty sure this was taken at my grandmother Murphy’s apartment in New York.


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A Rookie Mistake

You’ve been introduced to my maternal grandfather in a previous post, NYPD Blue: George Benedict Latchford. By all accounts he was a well-respected officer who served the New York City Police Department with distinction for about 32 years, from 1926 to 1958.

But his rookie year had some interesting ups and downs. In October 1926, just a few months after joining the force, he participated in a well-publicized interrogation of a fur thief. The episode was covered in the October 19, 1926, edition of the New York Daily News.

NYTimesArticle001Just a few months later, in January 1927, Patrolman Latchford was part of another well-publicized incident, this one a low point in the rookie officer’s first year. It probably didn’t help that the episode was covered in the January 13, 1927, edition of The New York Times under the headline, “Policemen Lose Pistols in Hold-Up.” One of the sub-headlines further trumpets, “Two Bluecoats Are Surprised While Eating a Meal–Both Are Suspended.”

You can click on the image of the article here to read the entire account, but the gist of it is that my grandfather and his partner, Patrolman Thomas E. McCormack, were seated at a table in the deli while “their overcoats and belts containing their pistols were on a near-by hook.” Robbers entered the deli, covered the policemen with pistols, took their firearms and shields and $50 from one of the patrolmen, emptied the cash register and left.

To make matters worse, the article claims that while McCormack was on the regular relief period of half an hour allowed for meals, Latchford was off post without permission. The pair was suspended by NYPD Commissioner McLaughlin.

Chalk it up to a rookie mistake. Things got better as his excellent police work was recognized in subsequent years.  Just four years later, Patrolman Latchford received a grade advancement that was recorded in the May 21, 1931, edition of The New York Times. And he was recognized for “Excellent Police Duty” in 1942, as recorded in the July 13, 1942, edition of The New York Times. Click on the articles here to read.


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Almost Lizzie?

Missouri Birth Record for Katherine Antoinette Singler 1894Just a quick post as a followup to the previous entry about Grandma Reinhardt. The Registry of Births for the City of St. Louis in 1894 records her birth on October 11 to Jacob and Sophia Foerstel Singler, living at 817 S. 4th Street.

Take a close look at the child’s name on the registry (No. 9318 on the right-hand page). It was originally recorded as Lizzie Singler. The name Lizzie was scratched out and you can just make out the name Katherine Antoinette written above the scratched-out Lizzie.

My guess is that it was a mistake by the registrar rather than a change of mind by her parents. Glancing at some of the other entries on the page, you can see that there are a few other corrections made in a similar fashion.

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A Budweiser and Some Kentucky Fried Chicken

Grandma Reinhardt profileThe beautiful woman in this photo is Katherine Antoinette Singler, Peggy’s paternal grandmother, born October 11, 1894, to Jacob and Sophia Foerstel Singler. She was the youngest in a family of six girls and one boy.

Katherine married Clarence Reinhardt on May 4, 1927. They were married for nearly 22 years and had four children (Charles, Hubert, Joseph and Mary) before Clarence died suddenly of pulmonary thrombosis in January 1949.

Katherine led a full and active life thereafter, outliving her husband by more than 47 years. For the major part of the rest of her life, she lived with daughter Mary, son-in-law John Colombo and grandson Eddie Colombo in St. Louis and, in later years, Raleigh, North Carolina.

In May of 1991, the parish priest at the Catholic Church the family attended in Raleigh told Mary he’d like to give Katherine a special blessing as the oldest member of the parish. Mary offered him this brief account of her mother’s vocation in life.

All through her youth Grandma had always wanted to become a nun—specifically a Daughter of Charity. This is an order of nuns that work with the poor. She had worked for many years as a volunteer at the Guardian Angel Settlement. This was, in the 1920s, a day care center for the working poor. When she approached her mother about her vocation, her mother objected for reasons unknown to Grandma. In those days you did not question your parents.

Grandma continued throughout her life to do good works. Before she was married, she was a dressmaker. During the day she made ball gowns for the very rich, while in the evenings she made first communion veils for the very poor. She taught the women at the day care center how to sew clothes for their children. She always used the talents given her to help the poor and the church. She made all the vestments and altar clothes for our parish, Sts. Peter and Paul. She also made cassocks for poor seminarians.

She always treated everyone with dignity, no matter how down and out they might look. When we were young, hobos (men out of work who would do odd jobs for a meal) would always come to our home. I think the word was passed that Grandma was very kind and a great cook.

When I was about eight or nine, Grandma heard about Helen, a former classmate who had been institutionalized by her husband in the state mental hospital. When she went to visit her, she found out that Helen had no visitors for five years. Grandma proceeded to visit Helen at least once a month and took me with her. There was nothing wrong with Helen except that she knew that her husband did not want her and felt she had no place to go. Grandma tried to get her released to her care but her request was turned down. Through Grandma’s efforts and prayers, Helen was ultimately released to her children and went on to lead a productive life.

Grandma had great devotion to the saints, especially the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and St. Francis. To this day, special requests are placed under St. Joseph’s statue. I have kept many of them. Most are requests for a good husband for a friend, improved health or a job for someone out of work.

The parish priest incorporated some of Mary’s remembrances into his homily.

DSCN1374While Mary was visiting us the past few weeks, she related another anecdote about Grandma Reinhardt and a priest.

During a hospital stay near the end of Grandma’s life, she was visited by a hospital chaplain. The chaplain was a fairly new priest and had just recently been assigned the position. Grandma had celebrated her 101st birthday and was well past the age of watching what she said. As a St. Louis native, she took great joy in drinking a cold Budweiser beer. She also was fond of Kentucky Fried Chicken. When the chaplain asked Grandma if he could do anything for her, she responded, “If you haven’t got a Budweiser or some Kentucky Fried Chicken, then you can’t do a damn thing for me.”

The beer pictured here is a special “Katie’s Brew” that the Reinhardt family in St. Louis had created in celebration of Katherine’s 101st birthday.

Katherine Antoinette Singler Reinhardt died on October 5, 1996, just a few days short of her 102nd birthday.

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St. Louis Sports and Sportsmen

Peggy’s Aunt Mary Reinhardt Colombo, visiting us for the holidays, brought with her some interesting family mementos.

DSCN1240 DSCN1241Pictured here is a St. Louis Browns commemorative scarf. The Browns were an American League baseball team in St. Louis from 1902 to 1953, before the franchise moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles. They shared Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis with their more successful crosstown rivals, the National League Cardinals. Mary’s father, Clarence Reinhardt (b. 1892 d. 1949), was a huge Browns fan, so his children, Charles (Peggy’s dad), Hubert, Joseph and Mary, followed the Browns as well. The Browns were notorious for their losing ways, but Mary recalls the excitement in 1944 when they won the AL pennant and faced the Cardinals in the World Series. Mary says her dad was so excited that he treated the family to a night out, a very rare event for the family. The Browns lost “The Trolley Series” to the Cards in six games.

Picture of Athletes at Charles Colombo's Hotel001This next picture is from the family archives of Mary’s late husband, John Lewis Colombo (b. 1937 d. 2014). John was born and raised in St. Louis. John’s dad, Charles Colombo, worked for many years as the banquet manager for the Mark Twain Hotel in St. Louis. It was a pretty fancy place.

Charles took this picture of the hotel assistant manager with a few famous St. Louis sports dignitaries. Most of them were known outside of the city, as well. I’ll give you a minute to see how many of these guys you can name. As a hint, I’ll tell you that among the group there are four baseball players, one boxer and one professional wrestler. The assistant hotel manager is the guy in the dark suit in the front. Like you didn’t know.

From left to right, the athletes are: Cardinals catcher and well-known announcer/TV personality Joe Garagiola, 6-time World Champion professional wrestler Lou Thesz, World Heavyweight Champion boxer Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, Baseball Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial, Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, and Baseball Hall of Famer Albert Fred “Red” Schoendienst. How many did you get?

Thanks, Mary, for sharing the memories. Merry Christmas to all!

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Some Pictures from Henry Neil Murphy’s Youth

As the year draws to a close, the posts you’ll see here will be mostly based on old pictures.

My brother Mike last week passed along some old family pictures. Many of them I had never seen before.

Old Murphy Photos003Here’s a picture of my dad, Henry Neil Murphy (b. 1927 d. 1994), with his dad, Michael Henry Murphy (b. 1893 d. 1951). I’m guessing that dad is around 20 years old, so this would be around 1947. Note that they’re both smoking. My dad smoked a pipe for most of his life. I can only remember a couple of times seeing him smoke a cigarette. My grandfather was a lifelong smoker. My mother recalled that my grandfather smoked unfiltered cigarettes and had a permanent tobacco stain between the first two fingers of his right hand. My grandfather Murphy died just two months after my oldest brother, Brian, was born.

Old Murphy Photos002This next picture is from June 1945, probably dad’s high school graduation picture. He was 17. Dad graduated from Power Memorial Academy on West 61st Street in  New York. Some other alumni of Power Memorial: basketball hall of famer Lew Alcindor (a.k.a. Kareem Abdul Jabbar), late actor Bruno Kirby, former NHL hockey player Joe Mullen, and former NBA players Mario Elie and Chris Mullin.

It’s kind of funny reading about the athletes that attended Power Memorial. I don’t remember dad being much of an athlete, but then he was in his early forties when I was in my early teens, and he had a bad back by then.

Old Murphy Photos018Well, here’s a picture of dad at bat in a game of stickball. Kind of reinforces what I was saying about dad as an athlete, right? Maybe back then the normal stickball attire was slacks and a dress shirt?

This was probably taken in dad’s high school years. The family lived at 600 West 174th Street in 1940.

Stay tuned. I’ll share a few more pictures from dad’s youth in some upcoming blogs. and some from his days in the Navy.

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The French Connection

Regina Wundel, Peggy’s third great grandmother, was born on June 30, 1821, in Rosenwiller, Alsace, France. The town is located not far from the Rhein River that separates France from Germany. A long-disputed region, the Alsace territory was ceded by France to Germany in 1871 after the Franco-German War, then retroceded to France in 1919 after World War I. It was ceded again to Germany in 1940 during World War II, but was again retroceded to France at the end of the war in 1945. At the time of Regina’s birth, the town of Rosenwiller had a population of about 784. In 2011, Rosenwiller’s population was 670.

On January 29, 1842, at the age of 20, Regina married Lorenz Marxer, a 29-year-old carpenter from Altenheim, about 35 kilometers north of Rosenwiller. Later that year, the couple welcomed their first child, a son, Joseph Marxer. In 1844, a daughter, Mary, was born.

New Orleans Passenger List for Regina Wondel June 1845New Orleans Passenger List - Regina Wundel (Lorenz Marxer's wife) arrives June 2, 1845In June of 1845, Lorenz, Regina, their two children and Regina’s brother Joseph departed for their new life in America aboard the ship Columbia from the port of La Havre in the Haute-Normandie region of northwestern France. The first passenger list pictured here shows the five listed in sequence, Lorenz (Laurent), Regina (note that she is listed using her maiden name), son Joseph, daughter Maria (Mary) and Regina’s brother, Joseph Wundel. They landed in the port of New Orleans, Louisiana. The second list shows brother Joseph and Regina listed at the top. Lorenz and the children are probably listed on a separate page.

Interestingly, Gary Beaumont, in his history of the Marxer family, has this to say about the voyage:

They came across the ocean in a sailboat headed for Galveston, Texas, because the French had told them to go there. However, when they reached New Orleans, they decided to continue up the Mississippi River.

1850 US Census for Lorenz and Regina MarxerThe Marxers made their way up the Mississippi River and settled in Centerville, St. Clair County, Illinois. The 1850 U.S. Census shows Lorenz (Lawrence), Regina (listed as Rachel), Joseph, Mary and another daughter, Regina (listed as Rachel, as well).

1860 US Census for Lorenz and Regina MarxerBy the 1860 U.S. Census, the family had grown considerably. Lorenz is listed as a brickmaker. The 39-year-old Regina was raising seven children: 17-year-old Joseph, 15-year-old Maria, 11-year-old Regina, 8-year-old Catherine, 6-year-old Magdalene, 3-year-old Alois and 6-month-old John. Another daughter, Rosa, was born in 1862. Two years later, Regina’s oldest daughter Mary would marry the widow Leo Reinhardt.

Headstone of Regina Marxer (June 1821 - June 1864)

Headstone of Regina Marxer (June 1821 – June 1864)

Regina Wundel Marxer died June 7, 1864, at the age of just 42. She is buried in the St. James Cemetery just outside of Millstadt, Illinois.




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The Mayor of Lake Success

Thanksgiving morning last week I got a call from my Aunt Mary Latchford Kennedy, my mom’s younger sister. We spent some time catching up and then Mary told me about a cousin of hers that she had lost touch with many years ago. With the help of her son Thomas and an internet search, Mary found out that the cousin, Marilyn Latchford Priem, had died in May of 2011 in Southern California. Here’s a link to Marilyn’s online obituary.

Marilyn was the adopted daughter of William Cageton Latchford (b. 1892 d. 1976), the older brother of my grandfather George Benedict Latchford (b. 1902 d. 1975). Uncle Will was the first Latchford born in the U.S. after his parents arrived in New York City from Ireland in 1890.

1910 United States Census - William Latchford

1910 United States Census – William Latchford

In his lifetime, William C. Latchford became a world-traveling entrepreneur, as well as a small-town politician.

The 1910 U.S. Census shows 17-year-old William working as a store clerk. The word “butcher” is written almost as a second-thought notation next to his occupation.

William Cageton Latchford Passport Application page 2William Cageton Latchford Passport Application page 1By early 1919, Will was employed by A.A. Vantine & Co., an importer of Asian goods located at the corner of 5th Avenue and 39th Street in New York City. Late that same year, Will was preparing to move to Yokohama to take up his duties as Assistant Manager of Vantines’ Japan Office. The passport application seen here indicates that he was expected to leave for Japan about January 10, 1920, “returning to the States in about 3 years.” He was sailing on the S.S. Venezuela out of the port of San Francisco.

(By the way, check out the history of Vantines. And be sure to click on the link for the rest of the story, in which Vantines was purchased in the mid-20’s by Arnold Rothstein, an early mob drug dealer. Interesting stuff.)

Click on the passport application images to see a picture of 27-year-old William. You’ll also find a physical description: 5 foot 7 inches tall, medium forehead, blue eyes, medium nose and mouth, round chin, auburn hair, fair complexion and medium face.

William Cageton Latchford Application for Registration - Native Citizen, page 1William Cageton Latchford Application for Registration - Native Citizen, page 2After he arrived in Yokohama, Will had to register as an American citizen with the Consulate General of the United States.

The images here are of his registration as a native American citizen. Toward the bottom of the first page you’ll see that he had to declare his annual income: $2,500.

Gunn and Latchford tie 1Gunn and Latchford tie 2In 1927, Will partnered with David Gunn to open their own import business, Gunn & Latchford. It was located at 323 5th Avenue in New York City. The tie pictured here is from Gunn & Latchford and was passed down to my mother.

Gunn & Latchford is no longer in business. I’m not sure how long the business was active, but I was able to find mentions of the store in The New Yorker in the 1950s.

As noted in Marilyn’s obituary, William Latchford and family moved in 1948 to Lake Success, one of nine Villages that make up the overall area commonly called Great Neck. Will eventually was elected mayor of Lake Success, but I don’t know the exact years in which he served. Lake Success was the temporary home of the United Nations from 1946-1951. Again according to Marilyn’s obituary, as mayor Will “dealt with the fledgling United Nations.”

William Cageton Latchford died in 1976 at the age of 83.

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Who Are Those People?

I realized recently that I’d never taken the time on this blog to identify all the people in the photo at the top of the page. For those of you who read my posts in email, just click through to the site (hughdesmurphy.wordpress.com) to see the picture.

My best guess is that the picture was taken between 1938 and 1940 at the Murphy family farm in Middletown, Monmouth County, New Jersey. I have a family home movie that was taken the same day as the photo. Once I’m able to convert the movie into a compatible format, I’ll share it here.

I can identify seven of the 10 people who are in the photo. The man on the far right is my great uncle George Francis Murphy (b. 1895 d. 1971). He is brother to my grandfather Michael Henry Murphy (b. 1893 d. 1951). I’m pretty sure that my grandfather was taking the picture and so does not appear in it. He can be seen briefly in the home movie.

Next to George is his wife, Lillian Christiansen Murphy (b. 1899 d. 1985). In front of aunt Lillian is my father, Henry Neil Murphy (b. 1927 d. 1994). My aunt Helene (b. 1923 d. 1998), dad’s sister, is at his right shoulder.

My great grandfather Martin Murphy (b. 1863 d. 1942) is the distinguished-looking gentleman sitting down at the center of the picture. The Murphy family farm was passed down to Martin after his father, James Murphy, died in 1901. I don’t know the woman standing directly behind Martin and seemingly adjusting her glasses. Next to this first unidentified woman is my great grandmother Jane Manion Murphy (b. 1868 d. 1951). My grandmother Helen Olsen Murphy (b. 1892 d. 1983) is next in line.

I don’t know the two ladies on the far left of the photo. If I had to guess, I’d say that the three unidentified ladies are my great aunts, my grandfather’s sisters, Elizabeth, Jennie and Marion. (If cousins Anne or Tom Murphy happen to read this post, please help identify them if you know who they are. Thanks.)

scan0007I’ll close with this photo taken in early 1964, the year my family moved from New York to Texas. If I remember right, the photo was taken at my grandmother’s apartment in New York City. My uncle George and aunt Lillian are in the photo, surrounded by their grand nieces and nephews.

In the back, from left to right, are my brothers Jim, Terry, Brian and Rob. My sister Mary is on uncle George’s lap and my cousin Anne Murphy is seated right next to aunt Lillian. That’s me next to Anne. Sean is sitting with his hands on my shoulders. Neil is next and cousin Tom Murphy is at the far right. Mike isn’t in the picture because he wasn’t born until late June of that year. The quality of the photo is not very good, but what a handsome group, right?

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