Obituary of Cornelius O’Brien, Davenport, Iowa, USA
||Obituary of Cornelius O’Brien,
Davenport, Iowa, USA
|| 1844 - 1906
||Davenport, Iowa, USA; Kilkee, County Clare
||The Catholic Messenger, Davenport, Iowa,
December 6, 1906
|| John M Dooley, Davenport, Iowa, USA
Cornelius T O’Brien and family,
Davenport, Iowa c. 1892.
Left to right, seated: Cornelius T, Margaret, Bridget (nee Garvey), Thomas,
unnamed daughter. Standing: Cornelius F, James, unnamed daughter. Note:
Cornelius T. was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas O’Brien of Kilkee.
Bridget Garvey O’Brien was the daughter of James Garvey and Mary
Marinan from Clare. Both sets of parents emigrated to the USA.
From The Catholic Messenger, Davenport,
Iowa, December 6, 1906
Died at Post of Duty
Final summons comes to Engineer Cornelius O’Brien of Rock Island
Death Caused By Blow From Mail Crane at Atalissa Station. Whole Community
Mourns The Sad Disaster – High Tributes Paid By Rt. Rev. Bishop
Davis and Pastor, Rev. J. P. Ryan.
With profound regret The Messenger chronicles in this issue the
death of an old resident, an honored citizen, a loyal Catholic, and most
expert engineer of the Rock Island road, Cornelius T. O’Brien, St.
Mary’s Parish, Davenport. Death came in such a tragic and sudden
form on a day the nation had devoted to such general gladsome thanksgiving,
that our people could scarcely credit the tidings sent in from West Liberty
that Engineer O’Brien, who had left here in the full enjoyment of
health and vigor, at about 1 p.m., had met with his death at Atalissa
but a comparatively short time after leaving the Rock Island station.
The sad particulars finally were learned. Mr. O’Brien left here
Thanksgiving noon in the best of spirits. He had spent the forenoon well,
attending Mass at St. Mary’s church pleased with the singing of
Mass by the children, his daughter presiding at the organ. He had charge
of the Colorado Fast Mail, a position of high honor in the railway service,
which is awarded only to the most expert and careful engineers. It was
not his own engine that was pulling the train that day, but another, No.
Something proved wrong with the injector, the pump that forces water into
the boiler on his side of the engine, so that the one on the fireman’s
side was not to work. Mr. O’Brien then desired to get the other
running, as it is very important not to be caught with both injectors
out of trim. This accounts for the fact that he had to look backward to
watch the mechanism and while giving one glance backward at it, he was
stuck by the mail crane that is used to transfer mail from stations where
no stop is made to the mail car. He was struck a glancing blow near the
base of the brain and as the train was going about 50 miles an hour, the
force of the blow was tremendous. He never uttered a cry, nor a groan,
but as physicians state, his death was practically instantaneous.
Nothing was known of the accident, however, until several minutes later,
and the train was speeding towards West Liberty at the rate of a mile
In the meantime the mail clerk had taken in the mail bag and deposited
it with several others. In a few minutes he turned to this one and as
he did so he noticed that there was blood on its leather cover. About
this time the train was due at West Liberty and as it stops there the
engineer usually begins to slacken speed a mile or more before the engine
comes to the station.
The fireman on the locomotive, William Dailey of Rock Island, was until
this time ignorant of the fact that anything had happened, but as the
train kept rushing on towards the station at an undiminished speed it
flashed through his mind that something must be wrong with the engineer.
As he sprang to the side of the cab where Mr. O’Brien sits as guides
the engine he saw that something had happened and at almost at the same
instant the emergency brake was applied and the engine was brought to
a standstill with a jerk that threw every passenger in the train from
his seat. The fireman then summoned others of the train crew to the cab
and the engineer was found as he had fallen when he received the glancing
blow on the back of the head. The fireman then took the throttle and No.
69 was pulled slowly into West Liberty. The dispatch was then sent to
Rock Island, the quarters of the division, a new engineer was secured
and the train proceeded on its way to Denver.
The body of Mr. O’Brien was carried into the station at West Liberty
and a physician was summoned but it was useless as death had probably
been instantaneous or at least within a very few moments after the accident
occurred. A telegram was immediately sent to his relatives in Davenport
and one was forwarded to his son-in-law, Peter Hart of Nichols, Ia. who
went immediately to West Liberty and brought the body to Davenport on
No. 42, which arrived here at 6 o’clock in the evening.
It was a terrible shock to the afflicted wife and children to have such
a sad ending to a day that began under such happy auspices. Friends and
neighbors joined in tendering sympathy and offered such consolations as
kindly hearts could suggest to the grief-stricken family. The clergy joined
in expressions of condolence for the fidelity of the departed to church
and home was known to all of them, and they all mourned his loss.
Cornelius T. O’Brien was born in Kilkee, County Clare, Ireland about
62 years ago.
He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas O’Brien, who brought him from
Ireland to Davenport, where they located when he was only eight years
of age. Young Cornelius’ first employment was for a brief period
at the old Burtis house, where he came in touch with railway men. His
connection with the Rock Island road dated back to 1862 when he worked
on the old M & M (Mississippi and Missouri) railway, before the consolidation
with the C. R. I. & P. railway. In May, 1862, he first served as fireman
for Engineer John McCormack, on an engine called “Iowa City”.
After about a year of this work he acted as fireman for John Williams
and subsequently for Engineers Moses Hobbs, Charles Davis and J. E. Moseley.
In Sept. 1868 Mr. O’Brien was promoted to be engineer, and was put
on a construction train, during the cutting down of the big bluff on the
main line west, where Fejevary park, Davenport, is now located. His first
engine was No. 10. He served on construction train work for three years
and afterwards worked in the Rock Island yards and over the double track
to Port Byron Junction. During these years his care and foresight prevented
a number of collisions which gained him official recognition. Subsequently
he was transferred to the Southwestern division, in construction service
between Washington and Eldon. Afterwards he was given freight service
from Brooklyn to Rock Island. In July, 1882, he was promoted and became
a passenger engineer over the same route. In 1893 he was transferred to
passenger service between Rock Island and Des Moines and up to the time
of his death was thence continually in the Rock Island railway service
as a passenger engineer.
His carefulness and vigilance while on duty was a predominant trait. He
never gazed about or forgot for an instant his supreme duty. He sat with
one hand on the throttle and his gaze ahead at the track where possible
danger lay. He ever cautioned others to do likewise. Therefore, all who
knew him knew at once that Engineer O’Brien’s side glance
to the rear at Atalissa that fateful Thanksgiving day meant that there
was something wrong with the mechanism of his engine. Friends might try
to attract his attention, even his children might call to him as the train
went by but when at his post of duty he would never turn his head, so
fixed was he in this habit, a habit born of his belief that an engineer
should give all his attention to his important task, a task that involved
the guardianship of life and property.
All the long years over two score that he was connected with the railway
company, he never had a collision or a wreck. This was known to patrons
of the road and commented on favorably. Yet while watching to guard the
safety of others, he was himself stricken down. The death that came to
him was, indeed, like the death of the hero who falls on the field of
battle, that life and happiness of others may be guarded. Through sunshine
and shadow, through rain or sleet or snow, Cornelius O’Brien had
driven his iron steed with unerring skill, with masterful foresight, year
after year, and yet contact with the insensate monster of steel had not
hardened his heart to the human side of life. In the cab he was firm,
forceful, not yielding to distraction, for he knew the great forces he
was directing might by a false move become instruments of awful disaster.
In private life he was gentle, kind, a loving father, devoted to wife
and children, generous to the needy, a devoted friend of the Catholic
press and of the cause of the church and Christian education.
His home life was indeed happy. His wife was formerly Miss Bridget Garvey
of Davenport. Nine children were born to them, Mary, Cornelius F., Ellen,
Annie, James, Hanora, Thomas, Margaret and Bridget. Two are deceased.
Mary and Nellie, the latter having married Mr. William Tuchfarber.
Mary is Mrs. P. C. Hart of Nichols, Iowa; Cornelius F. is switchman for
the C. M. & St. P. railway; Annie is Sister Mary Hanora of the Sisters
of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame, Indiana; James is clerk in the dining
car service of the Rock Island road; Thomas is the cashier of J. H. C.
Petersen’s Sons, and is Chief Sir Knight of St. Mary’s Council,
No. 80, Knights of Father Matthew; Nora and Margaret are at home. The
O’Brien family is highly respected by all in this community who
join in extending to them sympathy in their sad bereavement. The deceased
was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Division No.
60, Rock Island. He and Charles Davis were the only survivors of the oldest
class of engineers inducted into that division.
Mr. O’Brien’s daughter, Sister Mary Hanora of Notre Dame,
Ind., and his wife’s sister, Sister Mary Bridget of the Sisters
of Charity, Cedar Falls, Iowa, came to Davenport on receiving the sad
tidings of his demise.
At all Catholic churches in Davenport Sunday, the death of Mr. O’Brien
called forth eulogies on his character. His pastor, Rev. J. P. Ryan of
St. Mary’s church, who was deeply affected by the tragedy, spoke
of the departed in terms of high commendation. He told of Mr. O’Brien’s
characteristics, devotion to God and to church and home. His fidelity
to duty, his zeal for the faith, his support of Christian education, his
devotion to the Mother of God, a beautiful Christian trait, were dwelt
upon. These merited for him the approval of Divine Providence and called
down upon him the blessing of Heaven. At Sacred Heart Cathedral, Rt. Rev.
Bishop Davis also paid a high tribute to the deceased engineer. Cornelius
O’Brien was not a member of the Cathedral parish, he said, but he
was known and honored throughout the city of Davenport, and all along
the line if the Rock Island road for many years. The priests of the Davenport
diocese along that line knew and respected him and he himself (the Rt.
Rev. Bishop) know him before coming to Davenport, admiring his sterling
Catholicity, his fidelity to duty, his care for his train. Engineer O’Brien
dearly loved to meet the priests and they learned to greet him with like
pleasure. Engineer O’Brien was a splendid type of man, true to his
vocation in life. He never regarded himself merely as the custodian of
valuable machinery, but as the guardian of the tens of thousands of lives
annually entrusted to his keeping. His carefulness was so well known,
that whenever he had occasion to travel and he know Engineer O’Brien
was at the throttle, he always felt that his life and the life of his
fellow travelers were safe. Mr. O’Brien, said the Bishop, was devoted
to his home duties, too. He gave all his children a grand Christian education,
the most valuable of all earthly gifts.
His tragic taking off, continued the Bishop, we cannot understand. Mysterious,
indeed, are the decrees of Providence. Not until God reveals in the next
world, all his secrets, can we expect to understand such tragedies. But
we are consoled with the knowledge that Mr. O’Brien was a faithful
Catholic, a good father, a kind husband- qualities that will merit for
him grace at the judgment seat of God. May God have mercy on his soul.
The Funeral Services
The funeral of Mr. O’Brien took place Monday morning, from the family
residence, 1334 West Sixth street, to St. Mary’s church, where at
9 o’clock solemn requiem High Mass was celebrated with the pastor,
Rev. J. P. Ryan, as celebrant; Rev. D. J. Flannery, pastor of St. Anthony’s
church, deacon; Rev. James Gillespie of Mechanicsville, Iowa, as sub-deacon;
and Rev. H. A. Knebel of St. Mary’s, master of ceremonies. Rev.
L. J. Enright of Holy Family church and Rev. Joseph F. O’Donnell
of Sacred Heart cathedral were present in the sanctuary. The church was
filled with a large congregation of friends and neighbors who came to
pay the last sad tribute of respect to the esteemed departed.
The floral tributes were many and beautiful including offerings from the
Knights of Father Matthew, the Knights of Columbus and the Brotherhood
of Locomotive Engineers, of which the deceased was a member. The Brotherhood
was represented by two of its members acting as pallbearers, Charles H.
Davis and Frank W. Duncan. The other pallbearers were P. T. Walsh, Cornelius
Haugh, Stephen T. Costello and John Kane. Interment was made in Holy Family
Those present at the funeral from outside the city were:
Sister M. Bridget and Sister M. Lydia, B. V. M., Cedar Falls, Iowa; Sister
M. Honora and Sister M. Donata, Holy Cross Order, Notre Dame, Ind.; Rev.
Jos. Gillespie, Mechanicsville, Iowa; Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Johnson, Denver,
Colo.; E. Hart, Sr., Mr. E. Hart, Jr., Thos. Hart, Mr. and Mrs. G. Mowry,
Patrick Cavey, Miss Ann Hart, Mrs. W. V. McGarry, Toronto, Ia.; Miss May
Heffernan, Marion, Iowa; Mr. Dorin, Jno. Brugman, Nichols, Iowa; Michael
Nolan, Thos. Morrison, Valley Junction, Ia; Thomas McCarthy, West Liberty,
Iowa; Dr. J. Meehan, Denison, Iowa; Mr. Simon Garvey, Des Moines, Iowa;
Mr. and Mrs. P. C. Hart, Nichols, Iowa.