An Unsettled Childhood

James Henry Lynden’s birth on 28 June, 1872, was recorded in Irish Births 1864-1958, Registration District Longford, Volume 13, page 245. Present at the birth–and doubtless assisting–was Dr. James Henry McManus, the infant’s great-grandfather. The baby, obviously, was named for Dr. McManus, which I find rather touching.

It is interesting that the birth took place in Lisnamuck, County Longford, since the only address I have for the young Lynden family is in Strokestown, County Roscommon. Annie must have given birth either at her grandfather’s house or his dispensary. Lisnamuck is a hamlet beside Longford Town. This makes me wonder if Annie had some sort of difficulty with her pregnancy or labor that called for medical help, since it was not common at that time and place to give birth anywhere other than at home. On the other hand, if your grandfather is an experienced obstetrician and licensed in midwifery, perhaps it’s only natural to avail yourself of his services.

Dr. McManus was a prominent citizen: distinguished physician, specialist in midwifery and pediatrics, appointed one of the Masters Extraordinary of his Majesty’s High Court of Chancery of Ireland at the tender age of twenty-eight, a Licentiate of the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Licentiate of the Kings & Queens College of Physicians, Ireland (an honor bestowed on “doctors who have made substantial contributions to their specialty and whose published works and attainments meet the high expectations of the College”), etc. He also served on the Board of Superintendents of the Longford County Gaol, where he served as apothecary, and was an official Registrar of births, marriages, and deaths for Abbeyshrule… so little James Henry’s birth record may very well be in his great-grandfather’s handwriting.

While he was still an infant, his parents abandoned Jimmie and his eighteen-month-old brother and took off for America. Their reasons remain shrouded in mystery. I thought for a long time that the Lynden boys were left with their Aunt Bessie, their mother’s twin sister, in Strokestown. She had had a baby in March and I assumed she could have nursed both Jimmie and her little Lydia. Recently, however, I unearthed a handwritten note from my mother (James Henry Lynden’s niece) to the effect that the boys stayed behind with their grandmother. This must have been Annie’s mother, Margaret Anna (Morton) McManus, who was living in Strokestown on, I believe, Elphin Street– the same street as the school the boys attended in childhood.

I have another note from my mother that her father (Jimmie’s brother John) was from “Strokestown and, later, Mohill.” The boys had a prosperous uncle in Mohill whose wife was unable to have children, and his two children from a previous marriage were grown. They also had an aunt there, married to another prosperous merchant, with a boy a few years older than the Lynden boys. I don’t know if Jimmie stayed on with his Grandmother McManus or accompanied his brother John to Mohill, and if he went to Mohill I don’t know whether he stayed with his uncle or his aunt.

In 1884, at the tender age of twelve, Jimmie came to America. Why? And how? His father was already dead but his mother had remarried and was living in Santa Barbara. Where did he get the money to travel to America–and all the way to the West Coast? Did he travel alone, so young? It seems incredible. I would dearly love to know. I wonder if his uncle in Lompoc, Henry Lynden, paid his way? Henry had a large ranch and probably had room–and the need for an extra pair of hands. It seems unlikely that Jimmie’s mother paid for the passage of the baby she abandoned. If he came to her, he didn’t stay long. Of course, if he came to his Uncle Henry he didn’t stay long, either. I haven’t yet found him on a ship’s manifest, so I don’t know if he may have been traveling with some responsible adult who got him across the continent to the West Coast at such a tender age. But I do have records of him at age fourteen living at the Quimby House, an elegant hotel in Portland, Oregon, where he worked as a “yardman.” Apparently room and board were included with this job. The Quimby boasted running water — although the water was cold.quimby house

“A Splendid Young Man”

The next trace I have found of him is after a gap of several years. He became a citizen of the United States in San Francisco at age 21, on December 21, 1893. By the age of 23, J. H. Lynden was working for the railroad and living first in Rocklin, California, and then in Verdi, Nevada. There is also some indication that he spent time in Arizona. As a young man working for the Santa Fe Railroad, no doubt it was easy to travel here and there and try out different places before settling down. Judging by his attire in the photograph, he enjoyed America’s “wild west”… he looks like a sheriff!

He seems to have been an admirer of William Jennings Bryan and organized a “Bryan Club” in Verdi in 1896. Bryan’s ideas about the “free coinage of silver” apparently won him some fans in the Silver State.

Despite documentation of James Lynden’s political activism, I can find no record of him ever running for office. His cousin Margarette’s handwritten note indicates that he ran for Congress, but I have found no evidence of it. He was, however, elected a delegate to the Populist party county convention in Verdi, Nevada in 1896. This may be an apt time to mention, since it must be mentioned, that James Lynden suffered from alcoholism. Anyone familiar with the illness is aware that wild exaggerations tend to follow in an alcoholic’s wake. But he was certainly politically active when well, and interested in improving life for his fellow citizens.

By age 25 James H. Lynden was living and registering to vote in San Francisco. His voter registration lists him as an “operator” — a telegraph operator, one assumes. He still must have been politically active, or a “mover and shaker” in civic improvement: In April of 1899 he was one of five San Franciscans who together incorporated the Golden Gate Orphanage Association. The Golden Gate Orphanage was located across the bay in Fruitvale in Alameda County, and six months later, in October of 1899, 27 year-old James Henry Lynden married 22 year-old Florence Mae Beckett in Alameda County. Is it possible they met through orphanage work?

In 1900 James Henry is listed as a telegraph operator in a San Francisco directory and shows up as a telegraph operator in Hot Springs, Nevada. He seems to have traveled wherever the work was. Hot Springs is now a ghost town. It was a stage stop during the 1870s, and in 1880 the Nevada Central Railroad was completed and a ten-car siding and small railroad station was built. James must have worked at this railroad station. At this point he was working, I believe, as a station agent for the Salt Lake and Santa Fe Railroads. That was certainly his occupation when a sensational occurrence catapulted his name into newspapers all over California.

Attacked, Robbed, and Disbelieved

On the night of September 22, 1901, J. H. Lynden was working as the station agent of a small railroad station in Hobart, California, about four miles south of Los Angeles, when two robbers came in. They held him at gunpoint while they rifled through his pockets. The robbers took his wallet and then told him to open the station’s cash drawer. When he refused, they pistol-whipped him until he complied, and they took everything in the drawer — $4.60! He was then marched out to the railroad track and beaten until he fell on the tracks.

Almost senseless, he overheard one of the robbers saying that they ought to kill him (rather than trust that an oncoming train would do the job). At that, he scrambled to his feet and started to run. The men pursued, but one of them fell and the other stopped to assist his compatriot, so James managed to escape and wire his story, complete with a description of his assailants, to the train dispatcher. It seems to have been the dispatcher who notified the police. James went to the Los Angeles Times that very night, still disheveled and bleeding from his injuries, and told his tale to a couple of reporters. Over the next few days, these reporters seem to have been the only people who believed him.

At this point, prejudice against the Irish likely influenced what happened. The chief of police and the police detectives reportedly “laughed” at his story, despite James’s obvious injuries. He even seems to have been promptly fired from his job. The chief of police quoted “informants” who said James Lynden had stolen the money himself, gotten drunk, received his injuries in a bar-room fight, and made up the story to cover his theft and absence from the station. The reporters at the Times who had actually interviewed him the night of the event, waxed indignant on James’s behalf, but to no avail. Then, by a stroke of luck, the two robbers were caught in the act of committing another crime and made a full confession to the Hobart robbery. Absent this confession, it is doubtful that James Lynden’s name would have been cleared.

Typically, the sensational story of the robbery itself and the jeering response to his “cock and bull” story made much bigger headlines than the eventual confession of the would-be killers.

This link is to a story in the Los Angeles Times which I find very interesting—the first part is about the capture of two robbers, the second is about the police laughing at James Lynden’s story. The two robbers captured in the top story are the men who eventually confess to having robbed and beaten James Lynden!

Ups and Downs

It does seem that drink was impacting James Lynden’s life already, since his wife left him in 1901, but he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and once again involved himself in good works. In 1902 he served as President of the May Day events organized by the Oakland Knights of Pythias. He finally filed for divorce on the grounds of Mae’s desertion in 1903. At this point he was living in San Francisco and working as Freight Clerk on the steamer Pomona, which ran weekly from San Francisco to Eureka.

mae and maxine
Mae Lynden with daughter Maxine, about 1911

It may have been James’s filing for divorce which prompted it, but for whatever reason, Mae returned to him and they had a baby girl, Thelma Maxine Lynden, born March 7, 1904.

early lynden in park black & white
Cousin John Thompson, James and Mae Lynden, John and Sarah Lynden, Golden Gate Park, 1906

The family was living in San Francisco during the great earthquake of April, 1906, and were among the earthquake survivors who camped in Golden Gate Park until the city was sufficiently repaired for them to return home. They were living very near James’s brother John and his wife Sarah, just around the corner from them, in fact, in the Presidio Heights section of San Francisco, and the two couples seem to have camped together in the park after the earthquake.

Around this time, James was working for his brother John as a bookkeeper. John was the proprietor of a wholesale grocery, Smith, Lynden & Co., down by the piers near the San Francisco Ferry Building. It was a successful and growing business, encompassing a three-story warehouse full of “butter, eggs, cheese and provisions.” James’s marriage seems to have been a rocky affair, but although I can find no record of their divorce ever being finalized, James and Mae remarried on November 21, 1908 in San Francisco.

In September of 1909 Mae gave birth to another daughter, Marjorie Elaine Lynden, who lived only about six weeks. It’s unclear what was wrong with this little girl. The baby is said on her death certificate to have died of “inanition” due to “faulty feeding.” But not only was Mae an experienced mother, her sister-in-law Sarah Lynden lived less than a block away and was successfully feeding an infant of her own. For whatever reason, the baby failed to thrive despite what surely must have been the efforts of the entire family.

By 1912 James is in the city directory as a clerk in his brother’s business. Had he been demoted from bookkeeper? He apparently was struggling to stay sober and was already suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. Mae seems to have been sticking by him at this point. By December of 1913 they were living across the bay in Oakland and the Oakland Tribune reports that the police have been asked to find him. Evidently he was a “periodic” drinker, and when he went on a spree he would disappear for a few days. But the “splendid young man” he once was, he still was, when not drinking—which perhaps was most of the time. It’s difficult to discern the truth from the scant documentation I have.

In 1914 James, Mae, and little Maxine moved to San Luis Obispo, where he opened “a first class grocery store” on Osos Street. Mae had several siblings living in San Luis Obispo and the surrounding area. He soon sold the grocery business, went into real estate for a brief time, moved to Los Angeles, then returned to San Luis Obispo in 1916—all evidence of further chaos as his health deteriorated.

James Henry Lynden died in San Luis Obispo on the 18th of November, 1916. He was only 44 years of age. According to his death certificate, he had suffered from cirrhosis of the liver since age 39.

J H Lynden dies






Additional Information
Date of Birth 28th Jun 1872
Date of Death 18th Nov 1916
Father (First Name/s and Surname) Richard Alexander Lynden
Mother (First Name/s and Maiden) Anna Maria McManus
Names of Siblings John Ross Lynden b. 1871 Ellen Jane Lynden b. 1873

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