“The Burns woman”: Nell’s grandfather, statutory rape…and Eugene O’Neill

When Nell and I moved to a new Brookline apartment in early July, we unburdened ourselves of a large quantity of – stuff – we had accumulated from Nell’s mother, who has resided in a senior living facility near us since we moved her there from DC in the summer of 2013; a storage unit we first rented then has been invaluable. For all we – purged – a black filing cabinet filled with materials Nell’s mother collected over the years sits behind me and to the right in my office. Nell’s parents were loath to throw away any piece of paper: do not get me started on the phone bills from 1974 Nell and her cousin found when cleaning out Nell’s mother’s DC house.

A few weeks ago, I searched through the black filing cabinet for some legal documents. And I came across this:

I knew from Nell and the undated photograph below her paternal grandfather, Clarence Henry Broley, had operated a hotel in Providence, RI at some point.[1] The building housing Broley Hall still stands at 2044 Smith Street in North Providence; a fried chicken restaurant now stands where the hotel was. While one online source states the building at 2044 Smith Street was built in 1930, the advertisement for Providence-based Old Coon Cigars may date this photograph to no later than the early 1920s,[2] when Peter Schuyler and Blackstone Cigars were also popular. The hotel presumably would not have advertised its “bar” during Prohibition (1920-33), so my educated guess is that this photograph dates from the late 1910s, and the recorded date of 1930 is either incorrect or when significant renovations were made.

At any rate, Nell did not recognize the name of the mortgage cosigner – Adelaide B. Broley[3] – so I once again turned to Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com to learn who she was. This exercise in interrogating memory effectively rewrote what we thought we know about Clarence Henry Broley, which was admittedly little beyond his lifespan (1875-1958, per his headstone) and hotel ownership; Nell’s father never talked about his own father. Nell had interpreted an ambiguous passage about taking care of his mother in a letter from Clarence’s uncle to her father to mean Clarence was a violent and abusive man. We also knew Clarence was married to Mary Alice Carney, whose father William Edward Carney had briefly served in the Massachusetts state house.

Thus, before we address the mysterious Adelaide B. Broley, we probe a little further into the life of Clarence Henry Broley, who turns out to be an American success story.

**********

We start with one additional fact: Nell knew her paternal grandfather had three brothers named James, George and Arthur. Further digging through the black filing cabinet revealed a cache of papers and photographs Nell’s father had carefully preserved. Set aside a compulsion about preserving paper: perhaps the father-son relationship was not as fraught as had been thought.

The photograph below was almost certainly taken between July 1890 and June 1891, the period during which Lothrop & Cunningham succeeded Burrell at 357 Westminster Street in Providence.[4] Clarence Henry, standing middle rear, was born in July 1875.[5] James Alexander, seated, was born in January 1874; perhaps this photograph celebrates his 17th birthday. George Rufus (left) and Arthur Vernon followed in January 1877 and December 1878, respectively. These boys could easily be between 11 and 17 years of age. Moreover, while Lothrop & Cunningham stayed at that address only until 1893, it is unlikely the two younger boys are much older than 11 and 12 here.

Stepping back in time briefly: James Archibald Broley was born in Liverpool, England, UK in 1839, perhaps on April 28, the youngest of (at least) seven children.[6] His headstone in Claremont, NH confusingly lists his year of birth as 1844, but the 1851 UK Census records his age as 12. It also tells us his father Alexander, born in 1798, was a cigar maker. The Broleys of Liverpool – going back to Alexander’s father Archibald, who possibly died as a “pauper” at the age of 76 in 1827 – appear to have struggled to earn a living, with various family members being arrested (then acquitted) for larceny. James’ mother, born Alice Rowe around 1800, died in 1841 from “temporary insanity” when he was just two years old. It is perhaps no wonder that seven years after his father died, James Archibald Broley boarded The City of Boston, arriving in New York City on December 16, 1867.

It was most likely in 1872 that James, now 33, married 20-year-old Mary Louise “Daisy” Pinard, born in January 1852 in Nicolet, just south across the St. Lawrence River from Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canada; the Pinard family dates back to the area’s earliest French settlers. The newlyweds settled in Pawtucket, just northeast from Providence along the state line with Massachusetts, where James also worked as a cigar maker – and welcomed his first son. Sometime in early July 1875, the three moved to Claremont, perched on the state line with Vermont, where Clarence, George and Arthur were born.[7]

Sadly, James Archibald Broley did not earn enough making cigars to support his family: as of June 17, 1880, all six members of the Broley family were “inmates” in the Sullivan County Alms House in the neighboring hamlet of Unity.[8] Two months later, on August 27, 41-year-old James died from “softening of the brain,” either bleeding or other inflammation (e.g., encephalomalacia), or a euphemism for “dementia.”

“Daisy” Broley, just 28 years old and working in a cotton mill, now found herself with four boys under the age of 7 to raise on her own. Beyond being photographed in Providence, where they lived for the next 16 years is a mystery – but on June 30, 1896, the Nashville American reported “C.H. Broley, of Providence, applies for the cane-board privileges and peanut concession”[9] for the upcoming celebration of Tennessee’s 100 years as a state; not yet 21 years old, he is already a go-getter. Nell’s cousin recently stated that the one thing she remembers Nell’s father saying about his own father was how much he valued hard work.

On March 25, 1897, meanwhile, 45-year-old Mary Broley died from cancer in Claremont; the four Broley brothers – aged 18-23 – were now completely on their own.

Well, not completely…for shortly after his mother died, Clarence got married.

**********

My initial search for “Adelaide B. Broley” on Ancestry proved inconclusive, so I turned my attention to Clarence. Searching for him on Newspapers, I stumbled upon an article from the Norwich (CT) Bulletin dated January 30, 1909 whose opening paragraphs read:

Although Addie Burns declared in the superior court of Norwich that she was the wife of Clarence H. Broley of Centredale, R.I. and that they took a southern trip together, to prove an alibi, to help her case, indicating friendship at the time of the alleged heinous crime, Mr. Broley has taken very little interest in the trial. He did, however, attend Court Wednesday [January 27], and testified briefly of the southern trip, although his testimony and Addie’s did not agree in detail. Mr. Broley, while in New London, was not considered in the low grade that circumstances indicated. He opened the Turkish baths, later conducted a fruit and produce store, was well behaved, gentlemanly and courteous and associated with some of the most respectable of New London young men.”[10]

The next paragraphs describe how Broley, two-time pennant-winning manager of the Centredale team of the Providence amateur baseball league, had treated his players to “an old-fashioned turkey dinner and all that went with it” the night before he testified, concluding, “It is evident that Broley is as popular with his Rhode Island as he was with his New London associates.”

Here is Clarence’s January 27 testimony, under the heading Addie Burns’ Divorced Husband:

“[He] testified that he married Addie Burns in this city in 1897, the ceremony being performed by William H. Jennings, J.P. They lived together ten years and were divorced in 1907. He keeps a hotel at Centredale and also manufactures soap. He corroborated in part Addie’s story about her visit to Centredale and the south, stating that it was the last of January. She left New York on the Comanche and he left by rail for New Orleans and met her in Jacksonville. There was talk about the low tone in which the witness responded and he muttered something in reply which the court did not get, and he was asked to repeat it and he said that he told [State’s Attorney Charles Hadlai] Hull that he would get a megaphone. Judge [Ralph] Wheeler called him sharply for such a remark and warned him not to repeat it again and the witness asked the court’s pardon.”[11]

While I had no idea what the “heinous crime” was, I now knew the co-signatory of the mortgage note was Adelaide “Addie” Burns Broley.

As is sometimes the case with older genealogic records, there was conflicting information about when she was born. Thus, while the official Norwich record of their October 2, 1897 marriage lists Adelaide Burns’ age as 26, implying she was born in 1871, the 1900 U.S. Census says February 1875, though I suspect this is supposed to be 1873.[12] All of these dates are wrong, however, as seven-year-old “Adelide” Burns is recorded in the 1870 U.S. Census living in Greenwich, CT with her 35-year-old mother Sarah and her older sisters Evalina (12) and Sarah (9); father’s name and Sarah’s marital status are not recorded. [Eds. note – her mother was born in Connecticut (one source says New York, another says Ireland), and her American-born father’s name was Isaac.] In January 1909, meanwhile, Addie Burns testified under oath she was 45 years old, consistent with being born in February 1863 in, I later learned, Bridgeport, CT.

As of June 8, 1880, Adelaide Burns (listed as 16) was “at school” at what was then called the Connecticut Industrial School for Girls[13] in Middletown, CT. Renamed Long Lane in 1921, this was a “privately run, charitable institution for girls who had committed misdemeanors—for example, running away, being truant, or keeping ‘inappropriate company’—or who had simply been neglected or abandoned by their parents or guardians.”[14] I hypothesize the elder Sarah Burns had recently died, having been widowed by Isaac in the 1860s, but both Evalina (later Evelyn) and Sarah both older than 18, only Adelaide was sent to the school for “rehabilitation.”[15]

As with her future husband, there is no record of “Addie” Burns until her October 1897 marriage. I note without comment that less than six months after his mother died, 22-year-old Clarence Henry Broley married a woman 12½ years his senior with a broadly similar history of institutionalization. If New London city directories are correct, however, they at most shared a residence – 5½ Bradley Street – until November 1899,[16] when “E. H. Browley” acquired the Lake Grove Hotel in Meriden, CT from Walter Remmert. Mr. “Browley” had previously managed the Franklin house near Norwich, though the only “Franklin house” I have been able to locate in Connecticut was in Waterbury.

Clarence – still just 24 years old, though already carrying himself with great dignity – was determined to make his new hotel a success.

This line drawing shows what a lovely setting it was.

…though I am not entirely sure what “pleasure parties” are.

Despite making a success of the Meriden hotel, on April 2, 1901, he placed this advertisement in the Boston Daily Globe (pg. 11):

In a May 13 advertisement (pg. 10), he set the price at $2,500 ($81,400 in 2021 dollars). The previous evening, meanwhile, the Lake Grove Hotel had been raided by Meriden’s Deputy Sheriff and two other officers, sending five men scattering in all directions. The charge was “selling spirituous and intoxicating liquor” on Sunday; at least one other saloon was raided that day. Curiously, despite having clearly served wine and liquor, Clarence then only had a beer license. After some haggling with Judge Platt, he paid $119 in fines and costs (>$3,800 in 2021) and was allowed to keep his license.[17]

Just one month later, on June 24, Clarence sold the Lake Grove Hotel to F. A. Guerney of Massachusetts and returned to New London.[18] Over the next few years, he did indeed run a grocery with Arthur at 212 Bank Street – while living with his brother at 222 Bank Street, at least according to the New London city directory. Adelaide B. Broley was nonetheless listed as one of three incorporators in June 1904, along with a man named George Brindloss.[19] By July 1905, however, the restless Clarence had opened Turkish baths at 324 Bank Street – and his wife had moved to 41 Bradley Street. That November, he obtained the mortgage to a property on Smith Street, in the Centredale section of North Providence, RI, cosigned by his wife.

Oh, and he named his sleigh horse after his wife; this accident took place on January 18, 1904:[20]

Just three years later, the two divorce – and here we leave Clarence Henry Broley, who lived in Centredale the rest of his life, marrying twice more (including Mary Carney in January 1921) before dying at the age of 82 on March 3, 1958.

**********

A week after the trial of Addie Burns – as she was always known professionally – ended, one newspaper noted the presiding judge, former New London Mayor Wheeler, had been the only town leader in memory to succeed “in cleaning up the vile resorts in the Bradley street section,” which had become a “stench in the nostrils of decent people,” concluding that the fight against vice must be continued until the city is “rid of the dens that have given to New London the odious distinction of being the wickedest city in New England.”[21]

During the Revolutionary War, Bradley Street allegedly avoided being burned because nothing of importance was there – just 10 or so houses in “Widow’s Row.” By the early years of the 20th century, however, it was “the center of a teeming ghetto of blacks and immigrants, mainly Jews, Russians and Poles [where p]overty bred crime and prostitution.”

On January 26, 1909, Addie Burns testified “she had been keeping a house of prostitution for ten to twelve years, being at 41 Bradley Street eight or nine years, having kept it as such six or seven years;”[22] one contemporaneous account said she had previously kept a “bagnio” in Norwich.[23] Ms. Burns’ memory was off, as we have seen: she lived at Bradley from 1899 to 1905. It is plausible she was already operating a brothel on Bradley Street when she married Clarence. What the latter felt about his wife’s occupation is not recorded, though it clearly did not stop him from partnering with her on business ventures and vacations – and naming his horse after her.

Still, they had already been divorced more than a year on January 6, 1909, when Deputy Sheriff William H. Casey of nearby Pawcatuck served the bench warrant in “the arrest of Addie Burns, keeper of a Bradley street resort in New London, on the charge of being a procuress in the white slave trade.”[24] The charge was soon modified to statutory rape. State’s Attorney Hull asked for $20,000 in bail (>$601,000 in 2021), but Judge Wheeler set it at a $7,000 – $5,000 for one charge of statutory rape and $2,000 for “keeping the girl for immoral purposes.”[25] Despite the lower bail amount, Judge Wheeler suggested Addie Burns could receive a sentence of as much as 30 years in prison. An additional $3,000 was then added for a second charge of statutory rape, bringing the total to $10,000 ($300,000 in 2021). The trial itself, held in a continuously-packed courtroom in the Superior Court building in Norwich, began on January 20, 1907. State’s Attorney Hull led the prosecution, while Addie Burns was defended by New Haven attorneys Robert C. Stoddard and Jacob P. Goodhart.

Reduced to its essence, the “terrible crime, hardly thought possible to exist in this state” was this:

A 15-year-girl from New Haven, CT named May Burns[26] (no relation) who worked at a clock store met an 18-year-old man named John McNulty sometime before January 16, 1907. [Ed. Note: A January 6, 1909 Norwich Bulletin article says it was on January 15 May’s mother first reported her missing, though this article also misspelled “Addie” as “Annie.”] At about 1 am on the morning of the 17th, McNulty called Addie Burns to see it she wanted a new girl; Addie – who did not know McNulty – assented without probing much further. McNulty then brought May by train to New London, arriving at 41 Bradley Street shortly after 4 am. There, on the nights of January 19 and 26, 1907, the underaged May Burns had sexual intercourse with two paying clients; after the first time, she was treated by Dr. Joseph M. Ganey for unspecified injuries. May then lived in the Bradley Street house until March, when she left for either Hattie Thayer’s brothel or New Haven. She tried to return to 41 Bradley Street in June, but Addie would not take her back. It remains unclear why and when, exactly, the Burns family decided to press charges against Addie; the two men who had sex with May were never charged, or even identified.

Officially, the charges were prinicipal in the second degree and accessory before the fact under Section 1-148 of the Connecticut General Statutes; essentially, anything that happens in her brothel was Addie Burns’ responsibility. In fact, she never denied that she consented to May Burns coming to Bradley Street to work as a prostitute – she thought the girl understood the arrangement. Still, she pled not guilty for two reasons: McNulty recruited May Burns on his own initiative, and “[s]he was not in the house to introduce May Burns to any man, and did not do it.”[27] Testimony confirmed she left for Centredale after breakfast on January 17, staying eight or nine days, returned to Bradley Street for three days, then was basically away from her brothel until March. Neither was a particularly strong defense.

How May Burns met John McNulty, meanwhile, and why she agreed to go to New London with him remains unclear. In fact, there are two distinctly different versions of the story. [Eds. note October 15, 2021: I just located the Norwich Bulletin account of day two of the trial; “Addie” was misspelled “Annie.”]

In one, the “good looking” girl made a “good appearance on the stand,” telling “her sad story to the jury” in a “gentle voice,” generally showing “evidence of good bringing up.” She met McNulty at the clock shop one night in January 1907, and he told her she could have good employment at a house in New London. A man named Marcellas Nash escorted them the short walk from the New London train station to 41 Bradley Street, where she “was caressed and petted by Miss Burns and put to bed. She was given new house clothes, such as was worn there and named Florence Harris. Miss Burns told her she looked like another girl who had come from New Haven.” I think this is Florence Dewey, with whom May sometimes spent time, unaware she was “not virtuous.” She also did not stay out every night with men until 1 or 2 in the morning, and she had no trouble with her family.[28]

Catherine Burns, meanwhile, testified that “she missed [her daughter May] early in 1907 and complaint was made to Chief [of Police James] Wrinn at New Haven, but she did not see her daughter again until March of that year, when she returned home, accompanied by Grace White. The girl said she had been taken to the Burns house in New London, where she was assaulted.”[29]

Other witnesses, however, painted a very different picture of May Burns, beginning with McNulty – “good looking and small of stature, but pale”[30] – who testified he had known May for three months when he enticed her to New London. After that…

Meanwhile, Addie Burns’ testimony told a somewhat different story. A “tall, wiry woman” whose continual facial twitching supposedly betrayed her nervousness, she took the stand “dressed in black, wearing a fur hat with brown plumes and pile green silk;” I yet to locate a photograph or drawing of Addie Burns. She testified that when May first arrived at 41 Bradley Street on the morning of January 17, 1907, “she was tired but not hungry. She said she was 16 years old and had boarded in New Haven two weeks and in Schenectady two weeks.” May Burns herself used the name Florence Harris. Addie Burns then contradicted some of McNulty’s testimony, saying…

“…she received no telephone messages early in the evening. She recalled McNulty’s testimony. She did not direct anyone to go to Hayes in New Haven for money. Between 10 and 11 o’clock a man by telephone asked her if she wanted a girl and she said “Yes.” She did not say anything about her being willing. Nash did not come in with the girl and McNulty. Nash in not living there now and is not her agent.”[31]

And while she absolutely expected May Burns to work in her house as a prostitute, splitting her income with her, Addie Burns denied both introducing her to specific men and saying she would be a good money maker.

Along those lines, Addie Burns’ housekeeper in January 1907, Viney Malady – a “large woman, wearing furs” who talked with a lisp – testified that Dr. Ganey “remarked that [May Burns] was a small one for that business.”[32] On the last day of the trial, January 28, Malady was herself arrested and charged with “harboring and enticing” May Burns.[33] May Lewis, another prostitute at 41 Bradley Street, testified May Burns told Dr. Ganey she was “all right” during his examination of her.[34] It was May Lewis who testified May Burns had tried to return to 41 Bradley Street in June – wearing pink stockings, no less – but Addie Burns said no. Blanche Staples said May Burns “did as the other girls did;” everyone agreed May got along well with the other prostitutes living and working at 41 Bradley Street. Finally, a peddler named Morris Blaskin testified he had sold “towels, stockings and cigarettes” to Florence Harris, as he believed May Burns called herself. She did not have money to pay him then, but would later, as she was staying through the spring. He called one other time and found Florence Harris “smoking a cigarette and…feeling good.” Unfortunately, his testimony was called into question when he identified the wrong girl in the courtroom as Florence Harris; in earlier testimony, he had had trouble reading his own account book, suggesting poor or failing eyesight.[35]

In other words, everybody other than May Burns and her mother testified that the former essentially invited herself to the brothel at 41 Bradley Street via John McNulty, anticipating fine clothes and good money, happily staying through March, when she apparently moved – not home to New Haven – but to the brothel run by Hattie Thayer. She also reportedly waved off Dr. Ganey after his first examination, and was seen happily smoking a cigarette some weeks later. And in June, she tried to return to Addie Burns’ employ, only to be soundly rebuffed.

The rest of the trial testimony established the routine at Addie Burns’ brothel and provided conflicting details about her trips to Centredale and to New Orleans with her husband between January and February 1907. At 12:50 pm on Thursday, January 28, 1909 – after just 30 minutes of deliberation – the jury found Addie Burns guilty on all three counts. While Addie and her sister Sarah cried, State’s Attorney Hull asked for sentence, averring he had just learned the defendant had brought two girls from Boston to work at 41 Bradley Street; Addie claimed they were to work as waitresses, though one ended up working at her brothel. Judge Wheeler then sentenced Addie Burns to serve 12-20 years in the state prison in Wethersfield, CT.[36] By contrast, McNulty was later sentenced to no more than two years for his role in bringing May Burns to New London.

Addie Burns was taken to the jail at Norwich, where she allegedly paid for better meals for herself, did not sleep well and, at least according to Goodhart, was not in good health. On January 31, a lien was put against “the famous Addie Burns resort at 41 Bradley Street”[37] – which was in the name of Adelaide Broley – to pay a $450 (>$13,500 in 2021) debt to New London liquor dealer Louis Elfenbein. Two days later, another Bradley Street brothel owner named Effie Smith was also sent to jail – for 15 days.[38] At 11:30 pm on March 13, meanwhile, “six houses of ill fame” in Norwich, including one run by Malady – still awaiting trial in the May Burns case – were raided, and 34 people were arrested; the “strenuous” efforts to clean up New London apparently sent some of those arrested to set up house in Norwich.

A series of appeals and a request for a retrial were carried as far as the Connecticut Supreme Court – based primarily upon the fact a juror named Gilbert L. Hewitt had sought out May Burns after the first day of court to tell her (and her mother) how well she had testified – but to no avail. Addie Burns was driven to Wethersfield at 8:45 am on June 15, arriving at 11:45 am; she “cried much of the way…by spells, but made no particular scene.”[39] Six days later, it was reported she was rapidly “becoming accustomed to life [in…] Wethersfield. She is employed at a sewing machine and is considered particularly efficient at this work.”[40]

On June 23, 1910, Judge Milton A. Shumway denied Goodhart’s motion for a retrial, not seeing how the conversation with the juror could have affected the outcome of the case. That same day, the case against Malady was dismissed on the grounds she “was a tool of Addie Burns and weak minded. She is to pay $100 [just under $2,900 in 2021] and leave the state.”[41]

Just over one year later, on July 31, 1911, Justice Alberto T. Roraback of the Connecticut Supreme Court confirmed in Addie Burns v. State of Connecticut that no judicial error had been made in her trial.[42] The following year, Addie Burns launched a series of annual appeals to the governor for a pardon, although some were withdrawn before being heard due to certainty they would be denied; this despite consistently being described as a “model prisoner.” During her third non-withdrawn attempt in May 1916, “several well known business men and some women who are prominently identified with New London social and church affairs” began gathering signatures on a petition to present to the pardon board with the hope they would be “lenient with a woman who has served several years for a crime, which it is claimed, was caused and festered by conditions existing in New London when Addie Burns was arrested.”[43] Unfortunately, pardon was denied on June 25[44] – and a state senate petition the following February was also rebuffed.[45]

Finally, however, on July 5, 1918, after serving more than nine years in Wethersfield, Addie Burns was paroled: “It is said she is in poor health and that she has been sufficiently punished.”[46] Her sister Sarah had died on January 21, 1911, a few months shy of her 50th birthday, and her sister Evelyn had died on March 16, 1917, aged 58. Curiously, both women had married men named George (H. Raynor and Beck, respectively), though this was Sarah’s third husband, following John Beck – George’s brother, actually – and Edward J. Fahey.

As of July 9, Addie was in Norwich – and she returned to New London shortly after that.[47] In 1926, the same year she married a cook named Esteban C. Abad in Philadelphia, Mrs. Adelaide Broley lived at 41 N. Bank Street in New London. At that address, only a short walk from Bradley Street, she rented out furnished rooms until her death on April 1, 1934, aged 71.

She was buried in Jordan Cemetery in Waterford, CT – and as with so much else in her life, we find here a mass of contradictions. Under the names Sarah E. and George H. Raynor, the large freestanding stone says “Addie Abad, Wife of E.G. Abad” and gives her birth year as…1869.

But the flatter headstone at the foot of her grave reads “Addie Broley.”

**********

There is a curious literary epilogue to this story.

Eugene O’Neill was born in October 1888. He spent some of his childhood summers in a house overlooking the Thames River in New London before attending Princeton from 1906 to 1907. In 1940, he wrote the searing confessional and autobiographical play Long Day’s Journey Into Night, set over the course of a single day in August 1912; the play was published 13 years after O’Neill died, in 1956.

In Act IV, brothers Jamie and Edmund Tyrone have a fractious conversation fueled by alcohol.[48] Seeking to change the subject, Edmund asks his brother:

“What did you do uptown tonight? Go to Mamie Burns?”

A very drunk Jamie responds “Sure thing? Where else could I find suitable feminine companionship? And love. Don’t forget love. What is a man without a good woman’s love? A God-damned hollow shell.”

After quoting Oscar Wilde, Jamie adds: “Guess which one of Mamie’s charmers I picked to bless me with her love? I’ll hand you a laugh, Kid. I picked Fat Violet.”

Edmund, laughing drunkenly: “No, honest? Some pick! God, she weighs a ton. What the hell for, a joke?”

Jamie: “No joke. Very serious. […] Then, soon as I got in the door, Mamie began telling me all her troubles. Beefed how rotten business was, and she was going to give Fat Violet the gate. Customers didn’t fall for Vi. Only reason she’d kept her was she could play the piano. Lately Vi’s gone on drunks and been too boiled to play, and was eating her out of house and home, and although Vi was a goodhearted dumbbell, and she felt very sorry for her because she didn’t know how the hell she’d make a living, still business was business, and she couldn’t afford to run a home for fat tarts. Well, that made me feel sorry for Fat Violet, so I squandered two bucks of your dough to escort her upstairs. With no dishonorable intentions whatever. I like them fat, but not that fat. All I wanted was a little heart-to-heart talk concerning the infinite sorrow of life.”

After prodding from Edmund, Jamie admitted that under the influence of “John Barleycorn,” he recited poetry to Vi. This made Vi furious, thinking Jamie was using her for a joke, adding she was…

“…better than a drunken bum who recited poetry. Then she began to cry. So I had to say I loved her because she was fat, and she wanted to believe that, so I stayed with her to prove it, and that cheered her up, and she kissed me when I left, and said she’d fallen hard for me, and we both cried a little in the hallway, and everything was fine, except Mamie Burns thought I’d gone bughouse.”

After some more ribbing, Jamie tells Edmund, “You should have stuck around with me, Kid. Mamie Burns inquired after you. Sorry to hear you were sick. She meant it, too.”

However, Jamie’s mood quickly turns from mawkish compassion to arrogant disdain: “Puh! Imagine me sunk to the fat girl in a hick town hooker shop! Me! Who have made some of the best-lookers on Broadway sit up and beg!”

Shortly after this tirade, Jamie’s tone reverts back: “But you’re right. To hell with repining! Fat Violet’s a good kid. Glad I stayed with her. Christian act. Cured her blues. Hell of a good time.”

Despite Addie Burns already being in Wethersfield in August 1912, it is clear “Mamie Burns” is based on Addie Burns, and “Fat Violet” is based on Viney Malady. William Davies King addresses the use of these characters thus: “The idea of the abettor of rape being convicted as the rapist opens a new perspective…about [O’Neill’s] actual brother’s complicity in his traumatic sexual initiation at an early age.”

I venture to add the following.

From the perspective of 2021, it is clear to me that Judge Wheeler, a zealous crusader against what he perceived to be the sins of New London, was all too happy to make an example of Addie Burns – and his alarming conflict-of-interest flashes in bright red neon. Yes, she ran a brothel. Yes, she was complicit in May Burns coming to 41 Bradley Street to work as a prostitute. Yes, May Burns was underage, rendering how and why she arrived there somewhat moot. Yes, Addie did not do any form of due diligence regarding May’s age. Yes, Addie likely hastily fabricated an “alibi,” roping in her husband and others.

But – a sentence of 12-to-20 years for a woman who had never been convicted of a crime (as an adult, anyway)? That is beyond excessive…and begs the following questions.

Why did Addie Burns’ attorneys not immediately plead her down to a far lesser offense?

The defense they mounted was ludicrous, and Addie Burns essentially admitted a high level of culpability.

Why did Judge Wheeler not declare an immediate mistrial upon hearing about the rogue juror? Why did Judge Shumway and the CT Supreme Court not allow a new trial?

The juror unequivocally broke the law – and Judge Wheeler never should have been allowed to try the case.

Why did the Burns family wait nearly two years to bring charges against Addie Burns?

Just to be clear, Addie Burns was clearly guilty of multiple crimes. It is just that the process by which she was convicted, sentenced and kept imprisoned reeks of misogyny, hypocrisy, favoritism and puritanical morality.

As for what her marriage to Nell’s grandfather was truly like, that is the final and – from our perspective – most interesting question.

I am very curious to know your thoughts on all of these questions, so please comment below or contact me.

Until next time…please be safe and healthy, wearing a mask as necessary to protect yourself and others – and if you not already done so, please get vaccinated against COVID-19!


[1] We also thought he operated one in Pittsfield, MA, but that proved not to be true.

[2] The latest newspaper reference to Old Coon Cigar company I can locate is an article titled “F.R. City League to Reorganize; Baseball Men Will Gather At Herald Office To Formulate Plans For Coming Season” on page 10 of the March 10, 1923 Evening Herald of Fall River, MA.

[3] It looks like “Braley,” but this happens a lot with older, hand-written records.

[4] According to Providence city directories archived on Ancestry

[5] Not in July 1873 as family stories suggested

[6] His middle name is a surmise, as I only have found the middle initial “A.”

[7] I do not know why they settled in Claremont. However, a 50-year-old James Broley resided there in 1860, as did a number of families in nearby Danvers and Andover whose last name looks like “Braley,” but could be a variation of Broley. I have yet to “interrogate” these families.

[8] Date (and term used) of 1880 U.S. Census

[9] “Centennial Notes,” pg. 5

[10] “THE ACTION OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS APPROVED,” pg. 9

[11] “Arguments Reached in Burns Case.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), January 28, 1909, pg. 7

[12] The birth date for Clarence Broley is July 1873, but I suspect Charles L. Taylor inadvertently switched birth years.

[13] Sometimes written as “for Friendless Girls”

[14] Davies, Beth. 2009. How to Get to Long Lane School: An Ethnography of a Place, Bachelor’s Thesis for Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, Wesleyan University, pp. 10-11. https://digitalcollections.wesleyan.edu/object/ir-254 Accessed October 8, 2021

[15] This is literally all I have been able to learn about Adelaide Burns’ parents, though the search continues. [Eds. note – I have since learned her American-born father was named Isaac, and her Irish-born mother may have had a maiden name beginning with “J.”]

[16] I wonder if he returned to New London for the sake of appearances in time to be listed as husband and wife when Charles Taylor “enumerated” them on June 7, 1900.

[17] “PAID A FINE OF $100.,” Meriden Daily Journal (Meriden, CT), May 13, 1901, pg. 1

[18] “C. H. BROLEY SELLS OUT.,” Meriden Daily Journal (Meriden, CT), June 26, 1901, pg. 8

[19] “New State Corporations.,” Meriden Daily Journal (Meriden, CT), June 7, 1904, pg. 8

[20] “City Items.” Meriden Daily Journal (Meriden, CT), January 20, 1904, pg. 1

[21] “New LONDON’S WATCHDOG OF THE TREASURY.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), February 6, 1909, pg. 9

[22] “No Place For George Washington,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), January 27, 1909, pg. 5

[23] “MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), January 77, 1909, pg. 7

[24] “SUDDEN DEATH OF WESTERLY MAN.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), January 6, 1909, pg. 6

[25] “MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE”

[26] Born in Danbury, CT in August 1891 as one of nine children of Michael and Catherine Burns. Around 1896, they moved to Vine Street in New Haven.

[27] “No Place For George Washington”

[28] Paragraph and quotes from “VERDICT OF NOT GUILTY IN DR. DIMOND’S CASE.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), January 21, 1909, pg. 7

[29] “Addie Burns Bonds Increased $3,000,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), January 25, 1909, pg. 5

[30] Ibid.

[31] This and preceding paragraph from “No Place For George Washington.”

[32] Ibid.

[33] “Addie Burns Sentenced to State Prison,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), January 29, 1909, pg. 5

[34] May Lewis also testified “[s]he had been to Centredale” with no further explanation.

[35] Everything starting “It was May Lewis…” from “No Place For George Washington.”

[36] Everything from “At 12:50 pm…” from “Addie Burns Sentenced to State Prison.”

[37] “Addie Burns’ Place Attached,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), February 1, 1909, pg. 1

[38] “Sent to Jail.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), February 3, 1909, pg. 5

[39] “ADDIE BURNS WAS TAKEN TO WETHERSFIELD,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), June 16, 1909, pg. 1

[40] “Addie Burns at Work.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), June 21, 1909, pg. 1

[41] “FIVE CIVIL SUITS DECIDED.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), June 24, 1909, pg. 7

[42] “against addie burns.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), August 1, 1911, pg. 5

[43] “getting signatures to addie burns petition,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), May 11, 1916, pg. 7

[44] “No Pardon For Addie Burns.,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), June 26, 1916, pg. 5

[45] “POWER GIVEN TO GOVERNOR HOLCOMB TO MAKE WAR MOVE,” Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), February 7, 1917, pg. 6

[46] “ADDIE BURNS FREED BY STATE PAROLE BOARD,” Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), July 6, 1918, pg. 8

[47] “PERSONALS,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT), July 9, 1918, pg. 5

[48] Following excerpts from O’Neill, Eugene. 1956. Long Day’s Journey Into Night. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 158-61

2 thoughts on ““The Burns woman”: Nell’s grandfather, statutory rape…and Eugene O’Neill

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