Irish St. Louis Gets a Gaelic Nod
By Martin Hintz
These and dozen of other notable residents of a green-tinged St. Louis can be found within the 128 pages of Irish St. Louis by David Lossos (Arcadia, 2004. $19.99)
Lossos was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, a city noted for it's ethnic diversification. "Sadly," he said, "There is not a single drop of Irish blood in my body." All the ancestors he has found spoke German
"However, in my genetic defense, I have three grandchildren who can proudly claim their Irish heritage," Lossos expained. As a matter of fact, he devoted a few pages (97-99) in his Irish St. Louis book chronicling the children’s Irish lineage. "My grandsons' ancestry has a McCarthy immigrant family from Dublin who settled in the poor Irish neighborhood of St. Louis called the Kerry Patch back in the late 1800s. My granddaughter has an even more impressive Irish background, being a descendant of arguably the first Irish Kelly to settle in New England in the mid-1650s.
Although Lossos has only a backdoor entry into Gaeldom, he acknowledged that St. Louis is often overlooked nationally for its strong Irish heritage. He proudly pointed out that the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in the city is a huge celebration of Irish-American heritage. This year's event marks the 36th annual parade, and the 27th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade Run, he explained. The parade will be include more than 120 units, 5,000 marchers, 15 marching bands and many giant, helium balloons. Lossos estimated that more than 350,000 spectators were expected
"St. Louis doesn't celebrate the Gaelic link on just St. Paddy's Day, either. Irish pubs, Irish music, Irish dance and Irish pride are evident all year round," he added, backed up by the evidence portrayed in Irish St. Louis.
Although Lossos is not of Irish extraction, he was contacted by Arcadia to see if he’d be interested in the project, part of a series entitled Images of America. "It wasn't the name ‘McLossos’ that opened that door but rather my known interest in St. Louis history and genealogy."
"I know for a fact that I wasn't the first one contacted, and I presume that those that refused the offer were probably much more suited to the task in at the very least their Irish heritage. Anyway, I jumped at the chance," said the retired engineer, who spent 30 years with IBM. Lossos said he had both the time and aptitude to undertake the task, without the financial need that normally accompanies three or four months of work.
For Lossos, the best part of the project was the ferreting out the photos and stories that he needed. Typically, one led to another. "Not being Irish, I decided to begin by obtaining the best source of knowledge of who was Irish in St. Louis," he said.
Fortunately for him, a book had been written in 2001 entitled The St. Louis Irish - An Unmatched Celtic Community by Fr. William Barnaby Faherty, S. J. Lossos called the priest the most talented, prolific writer and historian in St. Louis. Faherty is the author of some 30 books, with his third work, A Wall for San Sebastian, made into a movie called Guns for San Sebastian, starring Charles Bronson and Anthony Quinn.
Lossos had met and talked to Faherty on a few occasions at the campus of Saint Louis University. "I've always had the greatest respect for the Jesuits. Eight years of learning from them does that to people," he laughed. "But Father Faherty is in a class all by himself. He can talk with authority on just about any subject."
"Anyway, I decided I had nothing to lose by calling him and telling him what I was doing. I explained that I was putting together a pictorial book on the Irish of St. Louis, and that, if possible, I wanted to make him a key piece of that book," he said. Without hesitation, the priest invited Lossos to his office the next day to freely scan dozens of his personal photographs.
"I can say without hesitation that if you want to learn about the historical facts of the Irish in St. Louis, buy Father Faherty's book. If you want to learn about Father Faherty and a bunch of other notable (as well as totally non-notable) Irish St. Louisans, buy my book," said Lossos.
Using Faherty's book as his bible, Lossos gleaned a list of people that he wanted to include in Irish St. Louis. That led him to Irish notables such as Helen Gannon and Joe McGlynn. Gannon is the head of the St. Louis Irish Arts organization, Lossos explained. "She and Patrick, her physician husband, came from Ireland in 1967 to St. Louis, expecting a short stay. But here they still are. I've met with Helen in her home a few times, and at her school where youngsters are learning the fine art of Irish music and dance. Being in Helen's presence is like a trip to Ireland."
"Joe McGlynn is a lawyer by day and a proud Irishman," said Lossos. McGlynn also serves as honorary Irish consul. Lossos subsequently got in touch with McGlynn through the public relations firm that does the publicity for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in St. Louis. McGlynn helped found the event more than three decades ago.
"When I visited the McGlynn home, I was overwhelmed, literally, with the photos on the walls. The prime minister of Ireland, the CEO of Aer Lingus, movie stars and local celebrities, politicians and clergy. After nearly wearing out my scanner, Joe had one comment for me as I was leaving. He said that he is often asked how he gets such famous native Irish dignitaries to fly over to St. Louis each year for the St. Patrick's Day party. He said the answer is quite simple: He asks them," offered Lossos.
"Being paid next to nothing for this book and with absolutely no expenses being paid, I made a rule early on. If an institution wanted to charge me money for a copy of their photo, then that photo wouldn't get in the book," he said.
Fortunately, Lossos only found a few institutions that were unbending. The worst was the St. Louis Mercantile Library which wanted more than $100 per image, he said. Another source that he had expected a great deal of help from was Anheuser-Busch brewing company. "I never got past their lawyers to even find out what they had. Imagine, free advertising for a beer company in an Irish book," Lossos lamented.
"On a number of occasions, I was blown away by some of the gems that came like a bolt from the sky. For example, the ‘centerfold’ of my book is an elongated shot of about 230 people gathered in front of the St. Louis Courthouse downtown," according to Lossos. The photo was taken in 1921 during the visit of Miss Mary MacSwiney, sister of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, who had died during a hunger strike in a British prison.
To reproduce the pictoral offerings in the book, Lossos scanned each photo, usually lugging the equipment to the various libraries, archives, and homes. In a few cases, people entrusted him with their cherished possessions and he was able to take them home for scanning. He then sent the complete set to Arcadia on a CD-ROM.
The entire project took only about four months. The deadlines weren't too bad, Lossos said, and he was able to pace himself. "I found putting the words to the pictures very time consuming. Most of them required quite a bit of research to ensure that what I was saying was factual," he went on.
Lossos’ personal research on his family's Irish genealogy was helpful in his assembly of the book and his Genealogy in St. Louis website has a great deal of Irish data on it. "Ironically, one of the people in the Irish book, Pat Brannon, contacted me after seeing the book and asked if I'd be interested in writing a book about his ballroom, the historic St. Louis Casa Loma. That book is now completed, and should be on bookshelves in the next month or so," said Lossos.
After he completed the Irish book, and during the two months it was at the publisher, Lossos and his wife decided to visit Ireland. The sale of about 600 of his books was enough to pay for about a quarter of his Irish vacation, he said.
"We had a blast. One of the best vacations we'd ever had. During our time in Dublin, we managed to get to the Guinness plant. I must admit that I'm a Bud Light kind of guy, and lo and behold, that's what they had on tap in the tasting room. Go figure," he chuckled.
After the book’s completion, Lossos indicated with a smile that "he was all ready to do the Tonight Show, but they never called."
"Actually, I was quite surprised that it got absolutely zero press. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the only game in town and they never reviewed it. They got a copy of the book a month before St. Patrick's Day and I breathlessly looked in the book reviews every day. Finally, I decided that they were saving it for St. Patrick's Day. Nope. The review that day was a biography book on how Susan Smith drowned her children."
Despite lack of a financial windfall from the project, Lossos thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of putting the Irish St. Louis book together. "I met fascinating people, traveled, and personally learned to appreciate and admire the Irish culture," he said.
David Lossos lives in St. Louis. He can be reached at: [email protected].
Copies of Images of America: Irish St. Louis can be purchased in St. Louis area bookstores or from Arcadia Publishing, 1-888-313-2665, [email protected]
For his website, http://webpages.charter.net/lossos/Ireland2004.htm.
Lossos is also webmaster of "Genealogy in St. Louis" http://stlouis.genealogyvillage.com