A Memorial Day over a century in the making

A Family’s Diary: Reunited in Brooklyn

May 28, 2014 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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It all began with a tattered page from a 165-year-old family bible.

And now, 133 years after he was buried in an unmarked grave in the Pleasant Hill section of Brooklyn’s Evergreens Cemetery, Lt. John Charles Walsh (1834-1881) of the New York 28th Infantry has finally been recognized for his service to his country.

His great-great-great-grandson, Sean Walsh of Marstons Mills, Ma., a former U.S. Marine, salvaged the massive, leather-bound bible from the curbside trash on a visit to his grandparents in Florida in 1982.  “My grandmother asked me to take a really cumbersome bag of trash out to the curb when I went to visit and it sort of sprang open when I plopped it down and on top was this really ancient-looking book that I just had to look at,” Walsh remembers. “I lugged it all the way home on the plane. I wasn’t letting it go for anything.”

About five years ago, Walsh began digging deeper into the multitude of names and dates inscribed inside the tome.  Lt. John C. Walsh was one of the first names.

Measuring about 24 x 18 inches, the tattered bible had been in the Walsh family since 1850 when the 16-year-old John C. Walsh made his way down the St. Lawrence River to Lockport, New York from his birthplace in Montreal, Canada. In Lockport, he learned the gas and steamfitting trade, eventually filing for a U.S. Patent in 1857 for “improved gas burners.”

In early 1861, Walsh enlisted in the Union Army for a two-year term in the New York 28th Infantry, otherwise known as the “Albany Rifles.” He was soon commissioned an Ensign and subsequently received two battlefield promotions to 2nd lieutenant and then 1st lieutenant. His second promotion came after capturing an entire company of Confederates at a battle at Columbia Furnace, Virginia. He also fought at the Battle of Antietam. Eventually, Walsh was discharged in March 1863 and he made his way to Manhattan.

In 1867, Walsh founded the New York Gas & Steamfitters’ Union Protective Benevolent Society, a 300-member union and possibly the first of its kind in the city. In 1869, he married Janes Jones, an immigrant from Wales, and for the next 12 years they raised a family of five.

According to the 1880 U.S. Census, Walsh suffered an on-the-job injury. “He died from ‘Frosted hands’,” Sean Walsh said. “He developed gangrene and unable to work or fight off the infection he died in 1881, one day after his 12th wedding anniversary on September 28, 1881.”

Sean Walsh’s great-grandfather and grandfather — Lt. Commander Everett Walsh and BM1C Wallace E. Walsh of the US Coast Guard — both served together in World War II more than six decades after their ancestor’s death.

“I can’t imagine they ever even visited his grave, since there was no stone where he was buried and The Evergreens is so vast. It’s like a never-ending sea of tomb upon tomb,” Walsh said. “It’s so easy to get lost in there, but when I first went looking for the grave after requesting his death certificate three years ago from the New York Municipal Archives and finding that he was buried there, well, we just couldn’t find it. My father and I walked around in circles for hours.”

Then, a man using a lawn mower asked if Walsh and his father needed help. “So this sort of burly, affable, hot-shot of a guy comes strolling over and he was as nice as could be, just chock-full of information. He helped us find the spot almost immediately. When I saw it was unmarked I just couldn’t let that stand.”

That man was longtime Evergreens caretaker Donata “Donny” Daddario, who in turn introduced Walsh to Anthony Salamone who aids veterans in such cases, amongst other duties.

“Mr. Salamone walked me through the process with the VA and the rest was a snap. I had all the documentation. I can’t say enough good things about him and Donny and how helpful the VA was and how quickly they turned this around for our family.”

But it didn’t stop there.

Daddario also helped Walsh find the grave of his other great-great-great-grandfather, Charles Louis Haniquet (1845-1910), whose military service was slightly more difficult to pinpoint.  “The Haniquet name — which is French — has been so butchered and misspelled over the last century and a half that finding even the most simple documents using the most available resources seemed impossible,” Walsh said. “But when I found it, it was a goldmine.”

Walsh is an award-winning journalist and high school English teacher from Cape Cod, and also is head coach of the two-time defending Massachusetts American Legion State Champions in baseball.  To research both ancestors, he used a wide variety of resources, including Ancestry.com, its sister military documentation site Fold3.com, the library at Harvard University, and countless New York newspapers.

He discovered that Charles L. Haniquet enlisted in the Union Army a few weeks before the infamous Draft Riots of July 1863 that erupted in Manhattan, and was quickly thrust into action to fight against his fellow New Yorkers. Pvt. Haniquet eventually received a full pension for his service and worked for 20 years for the City of New York.

“But when he died in 1910,” Walsh said, “no stone.”

Today, that’s all changed. Along with a combined 20 ancestors buried in the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale and historic Green-Wood in Brooklyn — including both Walshes and Haniquets — the vast military service attributed to this family is remarkable and dates back to before the Revolutionary War.

“Since I began digging,” Sean Walsh explained, “my list of direct ancestors who have fought in and served in every war since the inception of this country has proven to be one of the most overwhelming and uplifting experiences of my life. To think that even one of them lays beneath the ground, forgotten, pains me to no end but if it takes until my last breath to ensure that they are not forgotten and that our family’s legacy lives on, with honor, then it will be worth it.”

An added bonus to this of genealogical quest? “There are so few Haniquets living today in this country, it’s such a rare name, that I actually relied on Facebook to find cousins whom I have never even had the opportunity to know or meet.”

Last Saturday at the Evergreens Cemetery, Walsh and his mother Maggie, along with Salamone, Daddario and Evergreens Trustee Helen Thurston, met none other than three Haniquet brothers — David, Jeremy, and Amos — from Long Island. Fourth-great-grandsons of Charles Louis Haniquet, the brothers responded to Walsh’s “friend request” on Facebook and joined him to view the unveiling of their ancestor’s stone.

“I did my graduate work at NYU and lived for two years in the Bronx,” said Walsh.  “All that time I really had no grasp at all of my vast and deep New York City heritage, how our families were born and raised in the Five Points, and how these two families eventually came together in the 20th century. I knew none of it while I lived here and when I mentioned that to Jeremy (Haniquet) on Saturday, he said that he had known none of it until he received my seemingly random Facebook friend request.

“It’s really quite overwhelming when three grown men whom you’ve never met, who look like you, who act like you, who share similar backgrounds—who share your own DNA — suddenly spring to life from out of nowhere and it’s almost as if I’ve known them my entire life and now we both know precisely where our great-great-great-grandfathers are from, where they are laid to rest and precisely what they achieved and sacrificed to enable us to be here today.”

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