Dr. William Edward Minahan

Dr William Edward Minahan was born in Chilton, Calumet, Wisconsin on 20 April 1867.

He was the son of Irish immigrant parents William Burke Minahan (1833-1906), a county school superintendent, and Mary Shaughnessy (1839-1902), both Limerick natives. He had ten known siblings: Robert (1858-1935) Ellen (1860-1915, later Jaeger), John Robert (1862-1941), Grace (b. 1865), Hugh (b. 1871), Mary (1873-1945, later Hector), James (b. 1875), Ida Daisy (b. 1879), Victor Ivan (1881-1954) and Edna (1883-1883). His father William Burke Moynahan was born on the rugged island of Inishkea off the west coast of Ireland.

He first appears on the 1870 census of Wisconsin as a three-year-old. He and his brothers Robert and John all became doctors and William was known was one of the foremost surgeons in Wisconsin.

He was married on 2 August 1893 to Mary Elizabeth Dignin (b. 20 May 1876) of Brothertown, Wisconsin, a former classmate from Oshkosh Normal School. They went on to have a daughter, Maude Olive, on 15 October 1894. The couple were later divorced.

William was remarried around 1903 to Lillian Mae Thorpe (b. 1875) who hailed from Indiana. Lillian was previously married to a portrait artist named Paul Lawrence, Lillian reportedly being his muse, but little is known about that union and Lawrence is believed to have died early. The Minahan couple remained childless and settled in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, appearing there on the 1910 census.

William’s 1912 passport describes him as standing at 5′ 10½”, with a full face, a florid complexion with blue eyes and grey hair. His younger sister Daisy’s 1912 passport describes her as standing at 5′ 8¾” with a small mouth, round chin, round face with full forehead, of fair complexion with light brown hair and blue eyes. Lillian’s passport is not known to me.

In early 1912 Minahan, his wife and sister Daisy were on a visit to their ancestral Ireland, having departed from New York in January aboard Berlin on a vacation that was, according to his passport, to have lasted six months. Daisy was reportedly stricken with appendicitis in Italy, had to have emergency surgery in Paris, and this seemingly hastened their return to the US. The family decided to cut their vacation short after visiting Killarney, Ireland and return to the port of New York to make their way home to Green Bay Wisconsin. They purchased tickets on the Titanic.

They were the only First Class passengers to board the Titanic at Queenstown (now called Cobh, Ireland). They paid £90 for their ticket (ticket number 19928) and were assigned to cabin C-78

On the night of the sinking the Minahans spent time in the Café Parisien and enjoyed the company of Major Archibald Butt, the Wideners, the Thayers and Captain Smith before retiring to bed around 9.30 pm. Daisy also recalled that nearby their party in the café were the Duff-Gordons, Mrs Leila MeyerMrs Lucien Smith and Mr and Mrs Henry B. Harris.

The Titanic hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912.

It was Daisy who had awoken first to the sound of screams (reportedly Mrs. Astor) after the Titanic had struck the iceberg. She and Mrs Minahan made their way to the deck wearing only their “night clothes and kimonos and carried blankets to fend off the cold night air. Dr Minahan observed the disorganized activity and recognized the seriousness of the matter. There was still a semblance of order for the first class passengers, but cries and shouts could be heard from every level. Minahan’s last words to his wife and sister were “be brave.”

Daisy described the scene around Lifeboat 14 as becoming desperate, with crowds surging towards the boat and crewmen cursing at the men to keep back and let women through. As the boat was lowering the ropes kept jamming, causing the boat to descend jerkily and hang at precarious angles during the fall; Daisy feared that she might be thrown into the ocean. Coupled with the perilous descent, she also described how as the boat passed each open deck men jumped or attempted to jump into the boat with the officer in charge (Harold Lowe) threatening to shoot any other who attempted to board.

Upon landing safely in the water, Daisy claimed that the boat rowed to a safe distance where a headcount was taken (48 people counted) and Lowe asked everyone to search in the bottom of the boat for a lantern but none could be found; other provisions, such as water and food, were also wanting. Officer Lowe refused to transfer some of his passengers to another boat and return and rescue those drowning adding “You ought to be damn glad you are here….”

After Titanic foundered Daisy described the sound of cries coming from those struggling in the water as horrible. Many women in the boat implored Lowe to return to the scene to help rescue some of those struggling for life and Daisy states that he was reluctant to do so, saying “You ought to be damn glad you are here and have got your own life.” Although Lowe would eventually redistribute boat 14’s passengers among other lifeboats and return to pick up a handful of survivors, Miss Minahan remained critical of his overall conduct, stating that when she was waiting to change into another lifeboat he barked at her “Jump, God damn you, jump!” despite her having shown no hesitation. She and other women thought that he was perhaps under the influence of liquor and they were appalled by his use of profanity. Daisy and Lillian were transferred to collapsible boat D and they sighted Carpathia around 4 am.

Upon reaching New York, Lillian and Daisy were taken to the home of fellow survivors Charles and Annie Stengel of Newark, New Jersey until Robert Minahan came from Green Bay to fetch them.

Two Halifax-based cable ships, the CS MacKay-Bennett and the CS Minia, were dispatched to recover any remaining bodies. Dr William Moynahan was among the 306 bodies recovered by the CS MacKay-Bennett. His body was tagged “Body No. 230”

The family carried hope for many days that Dr Minahan would be found alive. When they received word from Halifax that his body had been found, they had his body sent to his brother Victor in Green Bay (May 2, 1912) where he was laid to rest in a beautiful crypt. Of the 2,209 passengers and crew on board, 1,497 souls lost their lives.

His estate was valued at $81,000 and he also had life insurance policies amounting to between $130,000 and $200,000. His widow Lillian and daughter Maude benefited from that estate.

Daisy eventually returned to Wisconsin but less than a month after the sinking she entered a sanatorium, suffering from pneumonia and emotional disturbance. It is believed she spent several years in this facility and, following her release, she moved to Los Angeles, California. Daisy’s last few years were plagued with tuberculosis and this lead to her premature death on 30 April 1919 at the age of 40. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.

William’s first wife Mary continued to live in Wisconsin and died on 19 March 1952. His daughter Maude later worked as a school teacher and was never married. She died in Green Bay, Wisconsin on 26 March 1961.

Lillian moved to California and on 28 March 1914 was remarried in Riverside to another physician, Kansas-born Dr Lee Perry Kaull (b. 1873), possibly an old acquaintance from her youth. Following WWI the couple settled in Jerome, Arizona where Kaull was appointed chief surgeon at the United Verde Mining Corporation and the couple appeared there on the 1920 census. Lillian was widowed again when Lee Kaull died on 19 December 1923 and she returned to live in California, settling in Hollywood until her marriage to C. D. Danielson. During WWII she lived on Catalina Island while it was under jurisdiction of the Coast Guard and in 1947 moved to Laguna Beach where she lived for the rest of her life. Lillian died on 13 January 1962 aged 86. She was buried in Melrose Abbey Memorial Park, Anaheim, California.

Some time on the night of August 27, 1987, vandals broke into the Minahan crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery by pushing in the metal gates, busting through the marble, and stole the skull of Dr. Minahan. Another marble covering was busted, but that slot was never used for a body. After a cemetery employee noticed Friday morning, coroner Genie Williams confiscated the rest of the body for safekeeping and to make sure that nothing more was stolen.

Williams told the press, “Other cities in Wisconsin have had problems like this with grave robbing. It is on the upswing because cultism is on the upswing. They use (remains) for rituals.” Sheriff Leon Pieschek said this was possible, but, “We haven’t seen much of that around here. We’re working on something. We think we know why.” Sergeant Kenneth Bougie added, “It also could be just a weird vandalism case where kids are involved.” The police said they already had leads, pointing to the fact the vandals had left tennis shoe prints behind.

Dr. Minahan’s grandnephew was Appleton Post-Crescent editor Michael C Walter. He said, “The fact that Will’s been dead for 75 years in quite irrelevant. Grave robbing is grave robbing, no matter how long the deceased has been buried. It’s a terrible thing. I feel bad personally about it.”

Already by August 30 (less than three full days) the skull was recovered and a 17-year old juvenile was taken into custody and charged with criminal damage to property. A second 17-year old was soon arrested, as well. The boys had been caught after bragging to a gas station attendant about it, and that employee told police. The boys no longer had the skull – it was found in a vacant lot on the southwest side of Green Bay. Perhaps they disposed of it the first night.

Because the kids were juveniles, their names were not made public and it’s unclear to me what happened at trial. The district attorney, John Zakowski, was sympathetic. He made no effort to waive them into adult court. “You had two kids who were drunk and on the spur of the moment decided to enter a tomb,” he explained.

Michael Walter passed in October 2016 at age 74.

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