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"Working on the Railroad: Thomas Murray 1848-1926"

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Longmeadow resident Thomas Murray kept a diary in 1887, and like many of his time who kept diaries, included mostly comments on the weather "January 3, zerow morning, N.W. cold, cold, cold."

Thomas Murray, a native of Roscommon, Ireland immigrated to the United States in 1871. He was born in 1848, just 3 years into the potato famine that devastated Ireland. It is estimated that Ireland lost 2 million citizens to starvation or emigration by 1851. According the Longmeadow census records, the number of residents who were born in Ireland peaked in the 1850's and 1860's.

Like many Irish immigrants, Thomas Murray found work on the railroad. His diary entries mentioned details of his daily tasks like "repairing track, removing snow, and surfecing track." He also occasionally would add details of what his neighbors were doing, "Peter Wards childe babtised" and "Emerson died 81 years at 9 p.m. William H. Emerson."

This entry from May 3rd, was particularly telling: "Mrs. John McCarty tuck Paris green from which she died. 34 years." Paris Green was a poison often used as an insecticide, as described by this Springfield Republican newspaper listing:

Thomas' wife Catherine Ward immigrated from Ireland in 1881. She and Thomas married and had 7 children, two sons, Bernard and James, and five daughters; Mary, Margaret, Elizabeth, Anna and Agnes. Only Bernard had children, and the 5 unmarried girls lived out their lives in their childhood home, the last survivor, Agnes, dying in 1989.

In addition to the more ordinary entries about weather and work, Thomas also added comments on national and world events, including this notation on March 8, "hennery ward beecher died, " and this one on March 14th: "accidence on the Boston and Providence RR Roslindale. 24 cild and 100 injured. 5 miles from Boston."

Obviously railway accidents were of special interest to him, but he also noted his brother James' trips to confession, a dance in nearby East Longmeadow (at that time still a part of Longmeadow), and "James Cook in jail second time for 3 months." A neighbor, perhaps? At the end of the diary he summarized some yearly expenses: haircuts cost $.20, pew rent was $1 a month, and he spent $9.95 that year for drink and $2.43 for tobacco!"

Thomas obviously thrived in the new world, as the 1900 census lists him as a homeowner, owning his home free of a mortgage. In fact, his diary entry of October 20, 1887 says "Thomas Murray bought his house $8.40 ($840 according to the deed)" on Williams Street.

His diary survived because it somehow fell behind the mantel in the house and was discovered over a hundred years later by the new owners of the house.


Thomas Murray's diary (collection of author)

Hall of Records Deeds

United States Census (with annotations by Beth Hoff)

St. Michael's Cemetery in Springfield

Contributed by Betsy McKee, Board member, Longmeadow Historical Society Originally published March 4, 2021

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