The Gilded Age Plains City

The Great Sheedy Murder Trial and the Booster Ethos of Lincoln, Nebraska

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Mary Sheedy

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Mary Sheedy arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1879 with her second husband, George Merrill, and together they frequented the various saloons and gambling halls in the city's demimonde, including John Sheedy's casino at Tenth and P streets. In the early 1880s this area on North Tenth between O and P streets remained an important location in Mary's daily schedule. By patronizing the Uptown district, however, she tarnished her reputation, at least in regards to the standards of the cult (or ethos) of True Womanhood. Around 1880, when the marriage began to break down, George returned to Illinois and left Mary alone in Lincoln. In order to support herself, she found work as "a servant girl" at the Arlington Hotel at the corner of Ninth and Q streets (Figure 1) where John Sheedy was then living; she later moved in with him there. In 1882 she successfully filed for a divorce from Merrill.

After Sheedy and Mary left the Arlington, they obtained a room above Quick's saloon next to Sheedy's casino. Quick building is shown in a photo of the east side of Government Square; it is the one on the far left side of the block (Figure 2). Around 1883 they moved into another room at 132 North Tenth Street, a few buildings south of the Quick building. The building is pictured in the same photo; it is the two-story building four buildings in from the left side of the block. Like Quick's, it too housed a saloon on the first floor of the building.

Around 1884 John Sheedy bought property at Twelfth and P streets and built a medium sized wood house there where the unmarried couple lived briefly in 1885 before they traveled to New Orleans for an extended vacation. When Mary refused to go back to Lincoln with John unless he married her, Sheedy consented to her demand and they wed in New Orleans.

Upon her return to Lincoln as a re-married, middle class woman, Mary aspired to improve her social reputation. Members of elite circles heard less of her exploits in the Uptown area as she endeavored to follow the admonitions of the Cult of Domesticity by keeping a genteel, moral household. Mary socialized with a few other women in her neighborhood inviting them to her home and calling on them at theirs. She also attended the opera, took rides in the park, and shopped at Lincoln's growing number of genteel clothing and department stores, including Schwab's on O Street and Herpolsheimer's, which, in the photo, is the building located south of St. Paul's Methodist Church and to the right (Figure 3). Although she never entered Lincoln's most elite circles or gained the respect of reformists, Mary succeeded some in raising her social status; John eventually employed a servant for her and hired Monday McFarland to wash and style her hair at their residence. In addition, she was accorded the freedom to travel throughout the country unaccompanied by her husband.

In August of 1890 the Sheedys took a train to Buffalo, New York so Mary could be treated for a "disease peculiar to women." It was during this trip that the trouble between the two allegedly surfaced. After becoming upset, John left Mary alone in Buffalo, giving her the opportunity to meet and befriend Andrew (Harry) Walstrom at the city's medical facility. When she returned to Lincoln, John did not meet her at the train depot and their marital problems only deepened from there. After Walstrom moved to Lincoln later that fall, Mary spent much time with him at the Windsor Hotel and then at an apartment, Room 11, in the Heater Block at Fifteenth and O streets. . Walstrom also came to visit the Sheedy household — both when Mary was alone and when John was at home with her. She introduced him to her husband and the Carpenters, their neighbors at 1235 P Street. Mary also brought Walstrom to the Hood residence at 1418 P Street to introduce him to Mrs. Hood, the wife of saloon owner James Hood, and her daughter; allegedly she referred to Walstrom as her "little sweetheart." She was soon buying shirts, socks, neckties, and other gifts for Walstrom at Herpolsheimer's and Schwab's which she had delivered to him via his roommate, John Klausner. On a few occasions, the pair was seen out in public at the downtown areas of P Street and O Street. (Figure 4)

When Mary Sheedy was implicated by McFarland in her husband's 1891 murder, she was arrested and taken into custody by city marshal Samuel Melick. As there were no accommodations for women in the city jail on the corner of Tenth and Q streets (on the southeast corner of the original Haymarket square) (Figure 5), Melick held her at his residence at 2444 P Street. Room briefly, however, was made for her the city jail before she was transferred to the county jail on South Ninth Street (Figure 6) (Figure 7) on January 31 to await her trial. When proceedings began, Melick escorted Mary from the county jail to the nearby county court house, newly erected as of 1890, on South Tenth Street between J and K streets. Each day as Mary entered the district courtroom on the second floor of the building (Figure 8), all eyes were upon her to observe her every reaction to the trial.

Mary did not return to her house at 1211 P Street after her acquittal, but instead stayed with relations at Fourteenth and O streets; she then visited her mother in Illinois for a few weeks. Mary sold the P Street house upon her return to Lincoln and in the spring 1892 she moved into an apartment at Fourteenth and O. Later that year she left Lincoln to marry Max Brust, a traveling salesman for the American Tobacco Company, in San Francisco. The couple lived together in the city through about 1905; Mary is listed as living as a widow in San Francisco as late as 1915, at which time she would have been approximately 41-years-old.

People:
Brust, Max [Brief Biography]
McFarland, Monday [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Melick, Samuel M. [Brief Biography]
Merrill, George [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, Mary [Narrative] [Brief Biography]

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