Thursday, July 24, 2014

Denver: Doppelgänger City

Have you ever gotten so mired in your research, so unsuccessful in seeking ancestors from one particular city, that you began to feel like you had entered some type of twilight zone?

When it comes to Sullivans in Denver, that’s how I’m feeling right now. With multiple Thomas Sullivans to mask any success in finding either the father or the eldest son of the family I'm seeking, along with several false leads concerning the mother, Julia Sullivan, such quirks of the population are certainly making me apprehensive about jumping for joy just because I’ve found an entry for anyone with those names in early-1900s Denver.

Could it be any different, now that I’m seeking Julia’s son Harry? What are the chances that this Kelly descendant would be mom to a successful local athlete?

After that run of enthusiastic newspaper reports about semi-pro player, Harry Sullivan, I had to take a step back and assess everything else that could be found. Wedged in between all those other newspaper accounts of the much-liked all-round sports guy Harry, there were indicators that didn’t add up to the dates and details I knew about the Harry who was Julia’s son.

Take this July 17, 1915, entry in the Rocky Mountain News, sandwiched in right after the remark about the “most popular player of the Cottrells”:
Harry Sullivan, the popular and well-known lawyer of our town will appear in a Colonial uniform Sunday.

Note: that wasn’t a sports uniform being mentioned in the paper—at least I think it wasn't. Nor was this man popular for his sports accomplishments: he was a lawyer.

Not that I have anything against lawyers, you understand. It’s just that I can’t see a well-known lawyer having enough free time to consume on so many athletic endeavors. Or dramatic presentations.

But I’ll take a look at it, anyway. May as well entertain the possibility. This Harry may turn out to be more well-rounded than I at first suspected.

One way to find occupational clues would be to check the census records. However, since this newspaper article was printed in 1915, it falls right in between two census enumerations. For someone as young as our Harry, anything can change in a ten year period.

As it turns out, the 1910 census showed our Harry as a clerk, just as his older brother was listed. However, though his brother Thomas’ employer was easily decipherable as “R. R. Office,” the enumerator’s handwriting was just this side of illegible. Perhaps it was hopeful thinking that led me to assume Harry’s type of employer was “Lawers O.”

Before I could figure out whether our Harry was an athlete or a lawyer—or both—I ran into this second volley of newspaper entries.

From the Rocky Mountain News on September 16, 1915, this one-liner:
            Harry Sullivan says it’s nothing to it. Why, everybody in town keeps him busy buying insurance.

What? Being a lawyer or selling insurance? This little entry printed ten days later in the Rocky Mountain News column “Athletic Salad” seems to indicate that the athletic Harry was one and the same as the insurance Harry. Does this mean we nix the attorney—or that young Harry was moonlighting?
            Salad Editor: Is Harry Sullivan any relation to the late John L. Sullivan? Did he ever milk cows in Racine, Wis.? What business is he in at present?—Just a Bug, Pueblo
            A—No. B—Not on records. C—Insurance mostly.

But a subsequent newspaper article in the December 3 Post seems to make him out to be a high school football player, though our Harry was much closer to twenty five than eighteen by this time.
            West Denver High school football players yesterday elected Harry Sullivan as captain for the 1916 grid season. Sullivan played left half for the West Siders this year and was a star performer.

Only a month after that announcement, sports columns popped up in the Denver Post, written by someone named Harry Sullivan. This couldn’t be the same guy as the high school football captain. Was the columnist for “High Kicks” yet another Harry Sullivan in town?

Just how many Harry Sullivans were there in Denver? Could the city directories give any help here?

Let’s take a look at the city directories available for Denver in that time period. I could only find two close enough to match the date of those 1915 newspaper mentions: one before the date (in 1913) and one afterwards (in 1918). Let’s see just how many Harry Sullivans there were in Denver back then.

Counting the Harry Sullivans in the 1913 directory, I found four: a plumber, a bartender, someone whose entry just showed his residence on a street called Hooker, and our Harry A., listed as a clerk for a concern known as C. W. Waterman. Judging from the many results of a Google search for the name C. W. Waterman, it’s a fairly safe assumption that Harry was working at one of Denver’s law firms. I’m just not sure that would qualify him to be labeled as a lawyer, as the Rocky Mountain News had maintained in its July 17, 1915, report. Then again, I can’t see Harry the plumber or bartender Harry being called an attorney, either.

The 1918 city directory wasn’t any more help than that. By then, the Harry Sullivan count in Denver was down to two, neither of which was our Harry—which leads to the question: what became of Harry A. Sullivan?


  1. I'm not sure what I see where you see "Lawers O" The O in Railroad Office seems to match this "O".

    Of course, being a "clerk" at a law office doesn't necessarily mean he was a lawyer "himself" - he may have even sold insurance - if you google "law office selling insurance" you will see it's not an uncommon practice.

    1. Good points, Iggy. I had wondered about references to Harry seeming to say he was a lawyer. I wouldn't have considered him that.

      On the other hand, times have changed so much, and terms used then--as well as business customs--could be so different than they are now. Apparently, selling insurance from one's law offices was not that unusual, as you mention.

      So...does that mean our Harry was a three-in-one? Athlete, insurance man and "lawyer" all rolled into one? What a jackpot!

  2. Replies
    1. Sometimes, I wonder if this is a case of too much information!


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