The Gilded Age Plains City

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


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Spatial Narratives

Interpretation and Narrative

Monday McFarland

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On Saturday January 17, 1891, nearly a week after the deadly assault on John Sheedy, Monday McFarland was confronted by chief of police Samuel Melick and detective James Malone as he exited a saloon in the Carr Building at 924 P Street, the seventh building from the right in the photo, (Figure 1), and two doors east of the Sheedy building. The two law enforcement officials supposedly obtained incriminating information from pawnshop owner Hyman Goldwater that McFarland had purchased a leather-covered steel cane from his shop at 211 North Ninth Street (Figure 2) that was identical to the one found at the Sheedy crime scene. McFarland admitted to buying the cane, but claimed it came from a man from the Black Hills. Unsatisfied with his response, he was arrested and escorted by Malone to the police jail on the northwest corner of Tenth and Q streets for further interrogation. The jail, shown in a photo of the Haymarket Square taken in the early twentieth century, (Figure 3) was in the far left (north) side of the two-story building on the right side of the photo. Police headquarters and the engine house were both located further south in the same building. The following morning, after hours of interrogation, McFarland provided Malone with a confession in which he claimed his guilt in the crime and gave a descriptive and shocking story as his motive.

For many years John Sheedy hired McFarland to come to his residence at 1211 P Street to wash and style his wife Mary's hair. (Figure 4) During the course of doing so Mary and McFarland became close; allegedly she gave him a ring and they had a sexual relationship. After some time she revealed to him that she was having an affair with another man, Andrew (Harry) Walstrom, and proposed to give McFarland five thousand dollars if he murdered her husband. He agreed, but just because Mary made threats not only to expose their affair but also against his own life. McFarland's first attempt to murder John Sheedy in December of 1890 failed and made Mary very impatient to complete the task.

In early January, McFarland visited two pawn shops in town; on the 1st he pawned the ring Mary had given him at Waldeman's Pawnshop at 940 P Street, (Figure 5) and on the 11th he exchanged a revolver for one dollar at Levy's Pawnshop on North Tenth Street. The day of the murder he was seen at Stepney's barber shop on North Fourteenth Street where he exchanged coats with Stepney. That evening McFarland picked up the cane he had purchased earlier at Goldwater's from its hiding spot under the stairs of the Coffield building. At the time, McFarland worked for Peter Crampton's father who owned a barbershop at 930 P Street in the Coffield building; it is the fifth structure from the right in the photo (Figure 6), directly west of the Sheedy building.

After walking to the Sheedy residence, McFarland received money from Mary to purchase confidence boosting whiskey which he bought at the drugstore on Twenty-Third and O streets. He then walked back to the Sheedy house and stood by the back porch to await Mary's word that John was leaving for his meeting at the Capital Hotel, (Figure 7) (Figure 8) located a block west on the corner of Eleventh and P streets. Around 7 P. M., Mary came to the back door and informed him that John would be walking out the front door soon. When Sheedy exited his house, McFarland charged him from the shadows and struck him three times, once losing his footing and falling over. Running from the bullets Sheedy fired in defense, McFarland headed south down Twelfth Street and then east down the alley toward Thirteenth Street; several witnesses testified to seeing his flight. He sought refuge at the apartment of his father-in-law on O Street between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets where his wife and children were waiting for him. After taking his family to their home at 103 North Twenty-Third Street, McFarland walked back downtown to a saloon on the south side of O Street between Ninth and Tenth streets where he was witnessed drinking large amounts of alcohol, gambling, and rambling about the assault on Sheedy.

The following morning H. P. Love saw McFarland in front of the Hotel Mack which was housed in the Sheedy building. The building can be seen in a photo of the north side of P Street between Ninth and Eleventh streets (it is the fourth building in from the right on block 34), (Figure 9) as well as in a sketch from Gilded Age Lincoln (Figure 10). That same morning, McFarland bumped into Malone at Seligman's saloon on North Tenth Street where the two men had a conversation. McFarland then apparently called at Sweeney's barber shop to procure John Sheedy's shaving mug. (Figure 11) and later that afternoon went to the Sheedy residence where he was refused admittance by Dominick Courtnay and seen by the servant Anna Bodenstein. Days later, McFarland was apprehended and arrested by Melick and Malone.

Following McFarland's confession, police held him at the city jail on the northwest corner of Tenth and P streets to await his preliminary hearing; he was then transferred to the county jail at Ninth and K streets, (Figure 12) (Figure 13), which was built in the late 1870s. The Sheedy trial, however, was not the first time McFarland had been brought into the district court system to face felony charges. In November of 1889 he came to the County Court House at 239 South Eleventh Street on charges of assault with a deadly weapon after stabbing another man. James E. Philpott was appointed to defend him and Royal Stearns, the county attorney at the time, prosecuted him. McFarland pled not guilty and was convicted of a lesser charge, assault and battery. He was fined twenty-five dollars and committed in the county jail until he was able to pay it. Philpott again defended McFarland in 1891 and Stearns defended Mary Sheedy.

McFarland came to Lincoln from White Cloud, Kansas in the late 1870s and became one of many African American barbers in the city. As such he maintained employment in numerous barbershops throughout Lincoln's central business district and socialized with both white and black members of the city's male sub-culture. In both his professional and personal lives he moved often and throughout many areas of Lincoln. The earliest record of McFarland in the city directory lists his employment with Henry Brown at 1035 O Street. A year later, he started his own barbershop with Charles Coil at 1010 O Street, just across the street from Brown's (Figure 14). Around 1885 he began working for Harding at 142 North Tenth Street, directly south of the Quick building. He then worked briefly at 100 South Ninth Street, returned to Harding's, and eventually settled at Crampton's at 930 P Street. In the early 1880s McFarland lodged in a series of boarding rooms in downtown Lincoln, living first in a basement room on O Street between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets. Around 1885 he moved into a room at 1408 O Street and later moved down the block into another room at 1426 O Street. In the late 1880s McFarland moved into a house at 724 B Street. At the time of the murder and trial in 1891, McFarland and his family lived in a house at the corner of Twenty-Third and O streets.

Following his acquittal, McFarland left Lincoln to visit his family in White Cloud, Kansas. The remainder of his life, including where he lived it and when he died, is undocumented.

Courtnay, Dominick G. [Brief Biography]
Crampton, Beverly [Brief Biography]
Crampton, Peter [Brief Biography]
Malone, James [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
McFarland, Monday [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Melick, Samuel M. [Brief Biography]
Philpott, James E. [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, John [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Sheedy, Mary [Narrative] [Brief Biography]
Stearns, Royal D. [Brief Biography]

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