The mayor of Arlington Avenue or "Come here kid... here's your pony!"
According to his death certificate, William Henry Whelan was born on October 9, 1853, in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey. However, the 1850 census record of his parents shows a one year old child named William in the family. This was probably "our" William, but might perhaps have been an older sibling of the same name who died young. Later census records also indicate that his birth occured about 1849, perhaps in October or November. Scannell (see sources), however, says that he was born in 1848! The whole situation could, perhaps, be resolved by a copy William's baptismal record, which, if extant, is probably at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Jersey City.
Nothing is known of William's early life. It is supposed that he received some education, although how extensive it might have been can only be guessed at. He was described by his granddaughter as well spoken, but impatient and at times demanding.
Maria Fleming was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, between December 27, 1847 and December 27 1848 according to the age at death given on her death certificate. In about 1863 or 1864, she immigrated to America, settling in Jersey City. Considering her young age she probably came over with an older sister named Gabrielle. She may or may not have been literate and was a Roman Catholic. The photograph at right is believed to be of her, and was cropped from a tintype taken in the late 1870's.
William Henry Whelan and Maria Fleming were married on February 7, 1872 at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Jersey City. They settled in at 185 Washington Avenue by 1880, and later moved to 71 Bright Street.
William knew many of the leading political figures of Jersey City, to whom he seems to have been something of a back room advisor. He was strongly aligned with the Democratic Party and in later years supported "Boss" Hague, the Democratic mayor of Jersey City. William served eight years as president of Jersey City's Board of Public Works and was "very active in the public affairs of that city...*"
Maria (right in about 1900) died at home on December 27, 1901 at the age of fifty-three. She had been ill with pneumonia for nine days. In that era, before penicillin and other "wonder drugs" were available, diseases such as this often proved fatal. She was laid to rest in Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City, according to her Death Certificate. However, Holy Name has no record of her.
Sometime after 1906, and before the 1920 census, William (at left around this period) and his daughter Katherine bought a house together at 329A Arlington Avenue in Jersey City. (William lived at another address between the time he resided at Bright Street and Arlington Ave, possibly 9 Virginia Avenue, with Katherine). By this time, William was going blind, and so needed some help getting around and running his home. He did, however, continue with his politicking. Indeed, he was nicknamed "the mayor of Arlington Avenue" by his neighbors.
Gradually, William's eyesight grew worse, and so did his temper. He used to call his daughter Mary (his "favorite daughter") in Newark to complain about this thing or that thing that Katherine had done and insist she come over right away and straighten it out. He was also fond of a joke. Mary's daughter Katherine (named after her aunt) wanted a pony as a young girl, and every time that she saw her grandpa Whelan he would promise her one. When she next saw him, he would wave her over with cupped hands, saying "come here kid, here's your pony." When she got there, he would open his hands, but of course nothing would be there.
Despite his eyesight, William became an inspector of overhead electrical wiring, probably as a political appointement by the mayor as a reward for years of service to the party. This, of course, was the "gilded age" of big business and political corruption in America
Every morning in his old age, William would hobble down the front steps of his home and walk to the train depot, where he would sit all day twirling his cane as he "held court," giving out advice to political cronies and friends. As he grew older, and blinder, he finally had to retire from his job as inspector.
William H. Whelan died at 1:15 p. m. on November 25, 1928, in Jersey City. He had been hospitalized since about the 16th of that month due to Chronic Myocarditis, which proved fatal. Due to the confusion about his date of birth, his age cannot be given, but he was probably between seventy-five and eighty. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, in Jersey City.
WILLIAM WHELAN and MARIA FLEMING had 6, perhaps 7, children
I- Katherine (see Katherine Whelan Brown)
II- Mary Elizabeth (see Mary Whelan LeFevre)
III- Joseph Whelan b. unk. Jersey City, Hudson Co., NJ
According to the 1900 census, Joseph was born in September of 1881. However, this census has the years of birth wrong for nearly all the Whelans.
He died in the early 1900's of Tuberculosis.
IV- Gabrielle Whelan b. Jan 30th, year unknown, Jersey City, Hudson Co., NJ m. unk. James R. Bennett.
Gay, as she was called, worked as a secretary and had no children. She was alive in 1955.
The 1900 Census lists her as having been born in January of 1884. However, this census is quite innacurate in regards to the birth dates of many of the Whelans. An old family address book states that she was born on January 30th, but no year is given.
The Bennetts lived first at 14 Park Street and later moved to an apartment at 74 Brinkerhoff Street, both in Jersey City.
V- Frank Whelan b. unk., Jersey City, Hudson Co., NJ m. unk.
Frank became fairly wealthy, working as a "runner" on Wall Street. He is thought to have had one son, also named Frank. He (Frank Sr.) died before 1955.
The 1900 census, innacurate in regards to the birthdates of many of the Whelans, lists Frank as having been born in August of 1885.
He lived at 462 Bramhall Ave., 645 Bergen Ave. and 73 Dales (Dates?) Ave., all in Jersey City. His place of employment was at 52 William Street in New York City, and was called "Kuhn [word unreadable, then] and Co.," to quote from his sister Mary's address book.
VI- William A. Whelan b. unk., Jersey City, Hudson Co., NJ m. unk.
William (left around 1955) held a political appointment in Jersey City to run the local Bus Depot. He is thought to have had a son named William who was mentally retarded. He served in the Navy during World War One.
The Social Security Death Index contains an entry for William Whelan, born Oct. 6, 1888 and died Dec. 1963, number issued in New Jersey, which could refer to this William.
The 1900 census, innacurate as to date of birth for many of the Whelans, lists William as having been born in December of 1887.
The photo below, taken in 1917 or 1918 at Coney Island, shows in the top row James Brown, James Bennett and Wallace LeFevre and in the bottom row Katherine Whelan Brown, Gabrielle Whelan Bennett and Mary Whelan LeFevre.
The photo at below, taken around 1910, shows all 6 Whelan children. In the bottom row are Mary, Gabrielle and Katherine. In the top row are Frank and Joseph (not sure which is which) and William on the far right. The original is a tintype, in quite poor condition, which is why this does not look very good. Still, it is the only known photograph of Frank and Joseph. I just wish I knew which was which!
*Quote from Scannell (see sources)