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: If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to



  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.