On my two hour round trip commute each day, I often take a few mental minutes to go over my research and think about things I might have missed or alternate ways of obtaining information. I also think about birds. and Fudge Town cookies.

Whatever happened to those? sigh. *Ahem.*

Well, on Monday it occurred to me that after receiving my great-grandmother Annie McDonald Tierney’s death certificate from the NYC Municipal archives, I had never looked into the possibility that there may be records left from the undertaker who took care of her.

That thought led me to yet another research coincidence – although it is more of a “Hmm, that’s odd” than “Wahoo! Found more useful info!”

Last year I had looked up the undertaker on my great-grandfather’s certificate and it looked like the company was still in business. Unfortunately they did not respond to my message via their web site, so I need to trek over there and talk with a live person. (Because at a funeral home, talking to the other people doesn’t help much.)

Undertaker crop from GGM Annie Tierney's Death CertificateSo, a quick look at GGM Annie’s certificate told me that the undertaker was one Joseph M. Mulligan of 617 East 138th Street.

A few search variations on his name only turned up a couple of relevant results, which were other folks who posted transcriptions of other death certificates with his name on them. However, I did note that one of the other postings had a slightly different business address of 621 East 138th Street.

I then trundled over to perform a Google Books search to see if he might show up in any almanacs or other professional guides. Nothing too useful there so off to the Historical NY Times, where a search result brought me to page 19 of the Sunday, August 17, 1924 edition.

Firestone Ad, 1924 I scanned the page for some mention of Mr. Mulligan in the articles (sadly there were two children who were killed in an accident), but he did not make an appearance. Then I noticed the tire advertisement for Firestone Gum-Dipped Cords (sounds delicious.) Below the ad copy is an almost full page of dealers, and right smack in the middle is our new friend.

Mulligan Entry, Firestone Ad, 1924All righty, Joseph M. Mulligan – Tire Salesman and Undertaker. A real Renaissance Businessman.

But that’s not all to this story – I took a second look at a more open-ended search for Mr. Mulligan and happened upon another mention of him – in a Dutch language paper on the subject of Typhoid Mary Mallon.

For those who do not recall, Typhoid Mary “was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever.” (Wikipedia is your friend. sometimes.)

Mulligan Mention in Dutch Typhoid Mary Paper Translated, the paper says that after Mary Mallon’s death: “There was no post-mortem examination carried out and the remains were quickly transferred to the funeral entrepreneur Joseph M. Mulligan, 617 E 138th Street in the Bronx. A day later, after a short service at St. Luke’s Church, buried.”

Well, all of this completely unrelevant to my research, but interesting in a Trivial Pursuit kind of way.

But the fun doesn’t end there! In between my daydreams of undertakers and Fudge Town cookies, I fill my commute time with interesting podcasts.

The next morning I fired up the old Droid and started listening to Radiolab’s Patient Zero episode, whose focus was finding the person who is “the case at the heart of an outbreak.” And just whom, pray tell, do you think they started the Patient Zero episode talking about?

Why, Typhoid Mary of course. Well played, Synchronicity, well played.


  • avatar

    Comment by Anne Tierney — December 7, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

    Trundled–what an awesome word! Your posts so often get a chortle or two out of me, and today’s was no exception!
    Sure hope you got some Fudge Town cookies as payoff for all the research!

  • avatar

    Comment by John — December 8, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    Thanks Anne – Glad you enjoyed it!

    I think Fudge Town cookies may be extinct, but I did stop for a blueberry Dunkin Donut on the way home last night, so all is good in the world.

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