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

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  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.