Hannagan Family

Steve’s Father and Mother

An earlier issue described the neighborhood, where Steve Hannagan was reared. Now, we turn to Hannagan’s parents and the influence they had on his life.

Johanna Hannagan, Aunt Jo to her friends, nieces and nephews, was the anchor of Steve Hannagan’s life. She protected him from Bloody Plank Road’s meanness, enveloped him with her love, and remained close until the end of her life in 1950; three years before Steve’s death. Her death had a profound effect on his spirit and disposition. It was evident that Steve Hannagan mourned her death from which he never recovered.

Johanna Hannagan was a short, cheery woman of ample proportions with a loving personality. Her parents, like Steve’s father came directly from Ireland. There is no information about her parents ancestors either in the United States or in Ireland. Auntie Shea, Uncle Billy’s Aunt, tutored Steve’s mother about the ways of the Irish. The three Hannagan men found their lives well-seasoned by Aunt Jo’s beliefs in Auntie Shea’s prescription for reaching a blessed state of life.

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Johanna Hannagan, 1935[1]

Johanna dressed in the manner of an Irish matron. When she was young, she wore white linens on Sundays. As she reached middle-age and Steve began to send her extra money she wore more colorful clothing as suggested by the preceding picture. The picture also indicates that she regularly visited a hair dresser something that she could not afforded in her younger days. Steve’s mother as evident in the picture had a skeptical eye and some trepidation about incursions by anything new and unexpected in her small and isolated world.

Aunt Jo always made sure that Steve was turned out in his finest clothes with his hair slicked down and with his manners in place. For Steve, the most important lesson from his mother was her wise advice to please others. She encouraged him to avoid the pranks and fights of his classmates at St. Anne’s. It was her tutelage that taught him how to make his way in life by pleasing others and avoiding trouble.

After he left Lafayette, Steve kept in touch with his mother frequently. He often came home to visit her. In 1948, two years before his mother passed away, he traveled to Lafayette in the private railcar of the President of the New York Central Railroad. There he put on a lavish birthday party for her family and friends.

Steve’s attachment to his mother remained steadfast to the end. He even arranged to be buried next to her in the family plot in St. Anne’s Parish Cemetery on the South End of Bloody Plank Road.

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Picture of Steve during a Visit with His Mother

Steve Hannagan’s Father

Steve’s father, William Hannagan also known as ‘Uncle Billy’ was a second generation Irish-American. He was one of six orphans who reared themselves from childhood when their parents died. Uncle Billy was born in 1858, the same year as his wife. Uncle Willy died at the age of 72 in 1928.

Old Uncle Billy was a slight man with a walrus moustache and a stoop from working in an iron foundry. He had a bemused perspective of the world. As a working man, he dressed, regardless of occasion, in freshly pressed work pants held up by suspenders that hung slightly askew on his shrunken body, and always wore an old work cap.

Uncle Billy was cheerful and his friends and family enjoyed being with him. He loved his young sons, and saw his mission as a parent to separate his young boy from their mother’s apron strings.

Little Steve would often follow his father to the local saloon and sit on the bar while his father entertained the crowd.[2] Uncle Billy would often buy a shot-glass of beer for Steve. When his mother found out that his dad was buying beer for her baby boy, she reared up in high indignation. She had seen too many drunkards roaming up and down Bloody Plank row. She did not intend her son to be another Irish drunkard.[3]

When Steve’s father was on his death bed in 1928, Steve came to see him one last time. While his father lay dying, he turned to Steve and prodded his favorite son about his life.[4]

    • “Steve … you say you’re a publicity man. Now, I know what a newspaper man is. But publicity. That’s something else. You’re doing all right, I know. But you might be blowing smoke for all I know.”[5] Steve’s father was not sure how being a publicist could possibly relate to a real job.
    • Next, his father turned to Steve’s life style, asking with a twinkle in his eye –

“’Tell me, Steve. Do you ever take a drink?’ ‘Why, Dad, of course I do. I’ve had drinks with you.’ His Dad responded, ‘Oh, I don’t mean that. I mean – do you ever go on a good bender?’ ‘Why, yes, Dad. Once in a while. When the job permits.’ Steve, and the ‘girls. Do you ever play around with them?’ Why, yes, Dad when I can. Then from his bed, [his dad with a] heartfelt sigh said ‘Likker and wimmin! They’re a great comfort, ain’t they, son.”[6]

Steve’s father worked with him on understanding the ways of the world, and his mother nurtured him with praise and support encouraging him to do well. Both parents had a major impact on Steve because they gave him the basic virtues of trust, honesty, and fair-dealing that served him well and were the cornerstone of his success.

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: mtown@dca.net. If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to mtown@dca.net



  1. Photograph of Johanna Hannagan (taken in her home on Green Street in1935); personal collection of Kathleen Townsley; Indianapolis.
  2. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 14.
  3. A story passed down through the Hannagan family by way of Helen Hannagan Townsley.
  4. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p.14.
  5. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 14.
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source;: New York University Archives; p. 15.

Steve Hannagan’s Birth

Steve Hannagan’s family and his Irish-American neighborhood played a significant role in preparing Steve to become a master publicist.

Steve Hannagan was born on April 4, 1899, on Green Street, one block off the infamous Bloody Plank Road that ran next to the muddy Wabash River in the Irish district of Lafayette, Indiana. Bloody Plank Road was anchored by St. Anne’s Catholic Church and Parish School, an island of quietude compared to the houses of sin and depredation running up and down the avenue. Bloody Plank Road came by its name honestly because of the score of Irish saloons and houses of ill-repute. When payday arrived, some men headed for the saloons where they got into their cups and into numerous fights that spilled onto Bloody Plank Road. Other louts, in search of a little playtime with the ladies, would head to the brothels.

Steve’s Family

Steve’s parents were Johanna Enright (Aunt Jo) Hannagan and William J. (Uncle Billy) Hannagan. When Steve was born, his mother, Johanna Enright Hannagan, was forty-one and his father forty-three. His father the son of Patrick Hannagan, a native of Ireland, died in the 1840s. William Hannagan was born in 1857 in Lafayette, Indiana and reared by his mother who died in 1870 leaving a family of five orphans. In 1880, William married Johanna Enright, whose family origins are not known but she is believed to have born near Lafayette. They had four children, one child died early, and the child’s name is not known. Three boys survived into adulthood: William Jr., Frank, and Steve. Steve was the youngest of the four. Steve’s father was an ironwright, his mother, affectionately known as Aunt Jo, to the family was responsible for rearing the boys.

Steve’s and his older brother Frank, were close friends when they lived at homes. However, they drifted apart as they grew older. Frank, a gifted telegrapher, traveled cross-country from one high-paying telegraphy job to another. Later in life, Steve arranged with Coca-Cola, to grant Frank a lucrative bottling franchise in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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Frank Hannagan (left), William ‘Uncle Billy’ Hannagan, Johanna ‘Aunt Jo’ Hannagan, and Steve Hannagan (right).

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Frank and Steve Hannagan

The Hannagan Home

The Hannagan home was typical of the neighborhood, one room width with a central entrance and a porch with railings across the front. Entry to the house led directly into the parlor with the kitchen in the back. Upstairs there was a bedroom for the brothers and a bedroom for their mother and father. Running water came from a hand-pump at the kitchen sink that supplied water for drinking, bathing, shaving, and morning ablutions. In the winter, The Hannagans were fortunate that their water was not soiled by runoff from the two-hole privy in their back yard. Although privies were common in most homes in the Midwest, the Hannagan privy became a talisman that Steve later used to embellish his story about his impoverished youth.

Dangers near the Hannagan Home

The rail tracks which ran next to the Hannagan home was the main switching and repair yards for the Monon Railroad and these tracks also carried high-speed passenger express trains hurtling to Chicago, Indianapolis, and other points in Indiana. Crossing the tracks took care and agility because train traffic was constant and warnings were rudimentary.

Besides the danger of the trains, the Wabash River flooded every spring and inundated the homes of Bloody Plank Road with muddy, sewage-polluted water.[1] The Irish section homes were the dike for the rest of Lafayette. Fortunately, the Hannagans, chose a home at highest point on Green Street. So they missed the big floods of 1913 and 1948 that put most of the cities along the Wabash River under water.

Auntie Shea

Auntie Shea (Mary Shea), Steve’s Great Aunt, had a mythic trek in the 1840s from the east coast to relatives in Lafayette. She found Lafayette by traveling from one fire station to the next, where she usually found someone who spoke Gallic and who guide her on to the next stop. Auntie Shea imbued Steve’s mother with the magic and prayers from old Ireland.

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Auntie Shea

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: mtown@dca.net. If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to mtown@dca.net


  1. Cities along the Wabash flooded the rivers with sewage and polluted waters from local manufacturing operations. Every thirty years or so the river would flood the area up to the bluffs below the main part of Lafayette. The water often rose above the rail tracks and threatened the homes on Green Street. It was not uncommon during the flood season for cholera, typhus, and other water-borne diseases to strike the families of Bloody Plank Road.