By Janet Curley
Over a month ago, I promised a post giving some idea about why Agnes, my great aunt, might have jumped from a second story window back in 1882. Well, the more deeply I looked into it,the less obvious the reason became. So,I am going to tell you the facts of the case and some of the theories I have and then ask you what you think happened to her. I am also going to practice some citing of sources, so bear with me! I haven’t figured out how to get footnotes to show up on WordPress, so I had to embed the citations.
In 1882, Agnes was a 37 year old widow and had been in the country about 4 years. (according to 1900 U.S. federal census Holyoke, ward 1, Hampden Massachusetts, Roll 650, page 8a, enumeration district 0526, Ryan family, accessed ancestry.com ) At that time, her daughter Mary Josephine was 18 and her son, John was 21. Back in Ireland, she had a daughter Margaret who died at about 3 months of age (ancestry.com, Ireland, Civil Registration Deaths Index 1864-1958, 1865, registration district, Tuam, Vol 14, page 279). And I believe her husband may have also died in Ireland, but I am not positive. All three worked in the Holyoke mills and they lived in High St. In Holyoke. (1880 U.S. Federal census, Holyoke, Hampden, MA,, enumeration district 303, page 263D, accessed ancestry.com). Agnes’s brother John J Curley’s tailor shop was a few doors down from them on High St. (U.S. City Directories, Holyoke, MA, 1882, page 151.)
High Street in 1882 was the center of a growing city. The apartment buildings that John and Agnes occupied were opposite the City Hall and on a very busy street. The mills were bringing in jobs and the population was booming.
To provide a bit more context, in 1881, John Curley and his wife Margaret had a new baby born in mid November who will die in Mar of 1883 of Croup (ancestry.com, Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1629-1988, Holyoke, MA, births and deaths, Nov 1883). In about March 1883, Agnes’s son will get a girl pregnant and marry her in Oct, 3 months prior to the baby being born (ancestry.com, Massachusetts Town and Vital Records 1620-1988, Holyoke, MA, Marriages, Oct 1883). In 1883, he and his mother will have moved away from High St and begin living apart. (U.S. Directories, Holyoke, MA, 1883, pg 168)
On November 2, 1882, the Springfield Union reported that Agnes, sister of JJ Curley had jumped out of a second story window. She was deemed “partially insane” and was being kept in a room by her friends for her safety. On the same day, the Holyoke Transcript Telegram gave a very different account and reported that Agnes had fallen on the sidewalk and sprained her ankle. The event is significant enough to make both papers and her in-laws mention it to her parents in Ireland, who wonder why she hasn’t written them about it.
In her death certificate and her obituary, Agnes is described as a shopkeeper in Ward 1 of Holyoke, but I never have seen it advertised in the directories. She clearly is not so insane as to not be able to manage a business.
As I have indicated in my previous post, I tend to believe the Springfield Union’s account – mainly because of the depth of the details. So with that assumption in mind, I have been trying to figure out what would have driven her to jump out of a window in a very public street near her brother’s store front. And what would “partially insane” mean? So here are a couple of my theories:
1. Agnes becomes despondent in light of her brother’s newborn child because it reminds her of her own infant child who died in Ireland. In her depression, she becomes erratic and irrational and she jumps out of the window in an effort to escape her own agitation.
2. Agnes sees her son and daughter become adults and perhaps start leaving the nest. She becomes depressed and anxious as they begin to leave home.
3. Agnes has a severe drinking problem and in a drunken state becomes despondent and perhaps dramatic and jumps out of the window into the busy street below and makes a scene.
4. Agnes is severely anxious and leaps from the window in a panic attack.
5. Agnes has an argument with her brother and makes a dramatic statement by jumping out the window.
6. Agnes is psychotic and has some delusional idea about being to safely manage some leap from the window.
7. Agnes is trying to clean her window, falls out, and with all the attention from passerbys says something irrational and is judged unfairly to be crazy.
8. Agnes has seasonal affective disorder and can’t manage the idea of another New England winter.
So there are some theories…. Any other ideas? I have looked in the general histories of the time and can’t see any major events. From this event, her sparse obituary and the fact that she is buried in another cemetery from her brother, i propose that they did not get along and this accident may be one reason why. I will never know what truly happened, but thought you all might enjoy puzzling it through with me!