Friday, September 27, 2013

The Darmody Family in Greensburg

In HBO's Boardwalk Empire, James Edison "Jimmy" Darmody, played by Michael Pitt, is the son of former Atlantic City boss "Commodore" Louis Kaestner and showgirl Gillian Darmody. After serving as a machine gunner during WWI, Jimmy returns to Atlantic City, where he begins working for Nucky Thompson. During the first two seasons of the show, Jimmy struggles to re-build his post-war life.

Boardwalk Empire's James Darmody

During the Prohibition era, Greensburg was home to a real James Darmody who served in World War I, and like the fictitious Boardwalk character, the real James Darmody also struggled to find his place in the world after the war. 

James Lawrence Darmody was born on 21 May 1895, the youngest son of Michael and Catherine (Gaynor) Darmody. His parents had immigrated to the United States from Ireland around 1870. They had five sons: Michael, John E., John F., Patrick, and James. John E. died in infancy, and in 1901, 14-year-old Michael Darmody was killed when he fell off the top of a train. The remaining three boys - James, Patrick, and John - all enlisted on 13 December 1917 and served together in France with the 17th company, 4th regiment.

The brothers were discharged on 14 July 1919. Back in Greensburg, Patrick and James took jobs at the Big Four Railroad, and Patrick married Dora Bell Foreman. John moved to New Castle where he took a job as a time keeper at the Maxwell Motor Company.

But not long after their return, in 1921, James Darmody was admitted to the Disabled Soldiers’ Home in Marion, Indiana. His disability was listed as “Dementia Praecox, hospitalization required.” Dementia Praecox hasn't been diagnosed since the early 1930's, but at the time it was used as a sort of catch all for many psychiatric disorders that now have more specific names. According to Richard Noll, author of American Madness: The Rise and Fall of Dementia Praecox: 
Beginning in 1896, as one American asylum after another slowly introduced dementia praecox as a diagnostic box, it became the most frequently diagnosed condition, labeling a quarter to a half of all patients in each institution. How American psychiatrists were making this diagnosis is anyone’s guess—they were probably just snap decisions based on whether someone was suffering from a “good prognosis madness” (such as manic depression) or a “bad prognosis madness” (dementia praecox). What we do know is that being young and male made it more likely someone would receive this diagnosis.
James didn't stay in the hospital long; he went home that same year. But he must have continued to struggle - in February 1923, he was served with a summons to appear in the Decatur County Circuit Court to answer the complaint of his brother, John, who was attempting to have himself appointed as James's legal guardian. 

James did not appear in court, but John told the judge that his brother was "a person of unsound mind... incapable of managing his own estate." The court records state that James was "mentally unable to appear" at the court proceedings "without endangering his health." 

The judge granted John's request for a guardianship, and John made arrangements for James to go back to the Soldiers' Home at Marion. When the police showed up at the Darmody home to take James away, he became violent, wounding police chief Hugh Flint with a grass hook. The officers retreated, but were later able to detain James at the Pulse Lumber Company and escort him to Marion.

Greensburg Daily News, 10 July 1923

Photo provided by Beacon Local Goverment GIS.
Michael and Catherine Darmody's home, 322 W. Scoby St. in Greensburg, as it appeared in 2002. James Darmody was outside cutting grass here when officers arrived to take him into custody in 1923.

Over the course of the court-ordered guardianship, John was required to make regular reports to the judge, providing details about his brother's finances. In April 1925, he reported that James was still confined at Marion. John traveled there to visit his brother once a month - a 60 mile trip from John's home in New Castle, where he was still employed with the Maxwell Motor Company, which was being absorbed by Chrysler that year. The court report states, "He feels it to the best interest of said ward that he see him each month; that said ward is able to talk and carries on ordinary business conversation with said guardian and looks forward to these visits." John also occasionally took his parents to visit James, though he mentioned that it was difficult for them to travel. In his report, John indicated "it is in the best interests of said ward that he remain at said home."

In September 1927, John made another report to the Decatur County court, stating that his mother, Catherine Darmody, had passed away in July 1925, and that James was still confined at Marion. The court documented that James was "very anxious to have John come and see him as often as possible."

After Catherine's death, Michael went to New Castle to live with John, and John allowed James to leave the Soldiers' Home and move in with him as well. In December 1929, John reported to the court that James was "not able to do any work of any kind whatsoever."

In 1933, Michael became quite ill after two bouts with pneumonia and needed money for medical treatment. He was 80 years old and "without money, means, property, or income to support himself." John made arrangements with the VA and the court for some of James's veteran compensation to be used for their father's medical care. In his report to the court, John mentioned that he and James were responsible for covering all of their father's expenses. It is unclear what role their brother Patrick played as he is not mentioned in any of the court reports, but in 1930 he was supporting a wife and six children, working as a machinist at Chrysler in New Castle.

During this time, James was briefly sent back to the VA Hospital at Marion. On 6 October 1933, he was discharged and went back to New Castle to live with John. In May 1934, Michael Darmody died and James was sent back, once again, to the VA Hospital at Marion.

Photo by Mike Porter, accessed at
Michael & Catherine Darmody's grave at St. Mary's Cemetery in Greensburg. The Darmody's three sons all served in WWI.

After his father's death, John re-located to Evansville when a new Chrysler plant opened there. He died suddenly on 12 November 1937, just months after getting married. He was 47 years old.

Photo by Mike Porter, accessed at
John F. Darmody's grave at St. Mary's Cemetery in Greensburg

After John's death, James no longer had someone looking out for his best interests. Greensburg's Union Trust Company became his legal guardian, making reports to the court starting in 1942. These reports give no details as to James's well-being; they are purely financial reports given on behalf of "James Darmody, incompetent beneficiary of the US Veterans' Administration."

It's unclear how much contact James had with his brother Patrick. Though Patrick never took over the guardianship, they may have lived together at some point. In 1942, James and Patrick both filed WWII draft registration cards reporting that they lived at the same address in Vincennes, Indiana, 60 miles north of Evansville. They both listed Patrick's daughter, Katherine Williams, as their emergency contact, and both reported their occupation as "unemployed." These cards with the Vincennes address are a bit of an anomaly.

In January 1946, James was found dead at his home in Evansville. The obituary that appeared in the Evansville paper indicated that he had been dead for at least a week. The funeral ledger at Greensburg's Porter-Oliger-Pearson Funeral Home gives a death date of 9 January 1946, but no announcement was made in the Greensburg paper until January 16th. Patrick passed away a few years later in 1952. Not one of the Darmody brothers lived to see the age of 60.

Photo by Mike Porter, accessed at
Patrick M. Darmody's grave at St. Mary's Cemetery in Greensburg

The Darmody family is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Greensburg. Patrick and John both have military headstones. There is no stone to mark the place where James Darmody now rests.

Special thanks to the Decatur County Clerk's Office for locating historic documentation of John Darmody's petition for guardianship. The staff there went above and beyond to help me research this article. Many thanks. -Lori

1942 WWII draft card for James Lawrence Darmody, accessed on
1942 WWII draft card for Patrick Michael Darmody, accessed on
Browning genealogy database, entry for James L. Darmody, accessed via
Census records: 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, accessed on
Civil Order Book 61, pp. 74-75 (Order appointing guardian, 1923), accessed at Decatur County Courthouse, Greensburg, Indiana.
"Darmody rites here Saturday" (obituary for James Darmody), Greensburg Daily News, 17 January 1946.
Email correspondence with Mike Porter, 24 September 2013.
Holmes, Maurice. Declarations of intentions of becoming citizens, Decatur County, Indiana 1824-1890 (Index), p. 47.
"Death claims ex-resident" (obituary for Dora Darmody), Greensburg Daily News, 12 April 1963.
"James Darmody is dead at Evansville," Greensburg Daily News, 16 January 1946.
"John Darmody dies suddenly," Greensburg Daily News, 12 November 1937.
M. T. Darmody, 78, is deceased, Greensburg Daily News, 19 May 1934.
"Mother of six children dies (obituary for Catherine Darmody)," Greensburg Daily News, 6 July 1925.
Obituary for Michael Darmody, Greensburg Standard, 8 March 1901.
Probate order books 37, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 49, 50 (Guardianship records 1925-1944) accessed at Decatur County Courthouse, Greensburg, Indiana.
"Rites set for War I veteran" (obituary for Patrick Darmody), Greensburg Daily News, 24 November 1952.
Tartakovsky, Margarita, “History of psychology: The birth and demise of dementia praecox,” accessed on Direct link:
US National homes for disabled volunteer soldiers, 1866-1938, accessed on

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