Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lost at Sea

Joseph E. Corrigan, the city magistrate who presided over the farcical legal proceedings reported in my last post, was a prominent New York City jurist who later rose to be chief magistrate and, in 1931, was named by Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt to be judge of the Court of General Sessions. The nephew of Archbishop of New York Michael Corrigan, he was born in 1874 and seems to have died in 1935. He presided over a number of celebrated cases, including at least one involving birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, waged a public campaign against crime and municipal corruption, and earned a reputation as an amateur athlete. (The New York Times of February 9, 1913, reports, however, that his baseball team, the Strong Arms, received a "drubbing" from Magistrate J. Frederic Kernochan's Wanderers in an indoor game played on a converted tennis court. Corrigan played third base.)

But more about Joseph Corrigan another time, perhaps. When I first looked up his name, one of the things that immediately turned up was a horrifying story involving the death at sea of his wife, Margaret Stone Corrigan, in January 1916. Mrs. Corrigan, aged 34, had been returning to New York on board the SS Rochambeau after an extended sojourn in Europe. Suffering from what the Times called "an attack of melancholia and continued ill health," she flung herself, unseen, into the waters of the Atlantic. A brief note, accompanied by a small sum of money to be divided among the ship's stewards, was found in her cabin; tellingly or not, the note gave instructions to contact, not her husband, but her parents, "if anything happens." Because of wartime regulations the ship had been prohibited from sending a wireless message ahead of its arrival to report the incident, so Margaret's parents were waiting for her on the dock when they learned of her fate.

The Corrigans' only child, a boy, had died a few years earlier, aged three, after an illness of several months. Margaret Corrigan had gone to Europe "to rest for three months," and was in Paris the day war broke out. She quickly volunteered to serve as a nurse (she had taken a course in nursing at Barnard), and later advised her husband "that she preferred to stay on at the hospital instead of returning to New York." The Times quotes Margaret's mother as saying that "Mr. Corrigan consulted [Margaret's] physician in this city, Dr. Finch, and he said that it would be an excellent thing for her to have something to occupy her mind and keep her from brooding over the loss of her boy." She goes on to say, however, that the strain of nursing wounded soldiers "must have broken her down." It's hard to say what else should be read between the lines of this melancholy story, which can be found in its entirety in the New York Times of January 30, 1916.

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