Chicago Cemetery Visits: The O.A. Thorp Story

O.A. Thorp monument, Mount Olive Cemetery, Chicago.

One trip I try to make when I’m back in Chicago is to the cemeteries where my mom and dad and their families are buried.

My dad’s family cemetery, by which I mean the place where his parents and most of his mother’s family, the Sieversons, are interred, is Mount Olive, on Narragansett Avenue between Irving Park and Addison on the Northwest Side.

As kids, we were dragged out there for the occasional funeral. I only remember one in any detail: on a Saturday afternoon in September 1975 when Grandma Brekke was buried. I don’t recall that my father, whom I think was pretty stricken, stopped to take in the other family graves in the vicinity: His grandparents, Theodore and Maren Sieverson, for instance, or the several children surrounding them, or his Reque uncles and cousins, or the Helmuths or Simonsens or anyone else. Instead, we left the cemetery for a lunch at my grandmother’s church, Hauge Lutheran.

My siblings and I began visiting the cemeteries on our own — voluntarily — after our mom died in August 2003, followed by her last surviving sibling, our Uncle Bill, who died just four months later. My dad wanted to visit the cemeteries in the wake of those passings, for one thing, and we’d go with him. The two deaths so close together were so shocking in their suddenness that for me, I think going out to the cemetery when I was in town was a way to help process the grief. It also led us to find and visit all the family graves we had never seen before.

The inscription: ‘Christ my hope.’ Sjur was a Lutheran minister who died of the effects of Parkinson’s disease in 1932. Otilia was a devout young Lutheran woman who met him at her church when he was finishing his ministerial training.

Anyway. I made my rounds last week, and yes, everyone was pretty much where I left them. Mount Olive was predominantly a Scandinavian cemetery until the last few decades, and it’s filled with graves of Norwegians and Swedes and probably some stray Danes whose families came to the city in the 19th century. The place hasn’t gone wild, but the years are catching up with those old Scandinavian sections, with lots of markers askew or tumbled down. There are a few that have markers stamped with the words “perpetual care.” My grandparents’ stone, which is rather unique in its simplicity, is still straight.

On this trip, I took a few pictures around the various grave sites, then drove toward the entrance, my next destination being my mom’s family cemetery on the far South Side. On the way out, though, I passed the inescapably phallic monument pictured at the top of the post. I must have passed it at least a dozen times in the past, but it had never registered. Maybe the light was just right this time.

The stone, which is 15 or 20 feet high, bears the name “O.A. Thorp.” Not a household name, at least where I live. Here’s what I can piece together:

Ole Anton Thorp was born in the town of Eidsberg, south of Oslo — then Christiania — in 1856. He emigrated to the United States and arrived in Chicago in 1880, where he started an import-export business.

The moment that made him a public figure arrived in 1892.

A promoter of all things Norwegian, including trade, Thorp had puzzled over a way to bring goods directly from Norway to Chicago, thus skipping the British and East Coast ports where they’d normally be handled at great expense. His solution was to charter a small freighter and bring his cargo up the St. Lawrence River and through the various canals connecting that waterway to the Great Lakes and Chicago.

The ship, the Wergeland, left Bergen with a cargo of salt herring and cod liver oil in early April. It made the crossing to the St. Lawrence without difficulty. But the canals of the era were so shallow that the steamer had to be unloaded before it passed through, then reloaded at the other end, a process that was repeated several times.

The Wergeland made it to Chicago on May 26, six weeks after leaving Norway, and was greeted as the first steam cargo vessel to make the voyage from Europe to the city.

Part of the Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean’s report on the arrival of the Wergeland, published May 27, 1892.

So that was Thorp’s major claim to fame. A writeup on important Chicagoans done shortly afterward declared Thorp “has during the last decade done more for the development of trade between Norway and the United States than any other man in the West, and possibly more than anybody on this side of the ocean.”

He chartered steamers to make the journey again in 1893 and 1894, but then the venture seemed to fizzle. A magazine article a few years later — “Chicago Our Newest Seaport” in the May 1901 number of Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly — suggested that the nature of the cargo was part of the problem:

“… With each succeeding venture (Thorp) found it more and more difficult to dispose of a whole cargo of dried fish and cod liver oil at one time, especially in summer. In winter it might, perhaps, have been easier; but in winter navigation was closed, and it was impossible for his steamers to reach Chicago. Norway had little but fish and oil to send us … “

Thorp remained active in business, civic, and Norwegian American affairs in the city. He was one of the organizers of the campaign to commission a statue of Leif Erikson that was erected in Humboldt Park in 1901. He was appointed to the city’s school board in 1902; in the photo accompanying the appointment announcement in the Chicago Tribune, he looks vaguely like the accused Haymarket bombers of 1886.

How is Thorp remembered today? Hardly at all, though there’s a school named after him just a few blocks from Mount Olive Cemetery. And then there’s the giant O.A. Thorp shaft, rising amid the graves of less notable Norse folk.

In the individual graves around the monument, there are two markers with dates in January 1905.

One is for O.A. himself, who died Jan. 25, reportedly after surgery for an abdominal abscess. The other grave is for his daughter, Sara Olive Elizabeth, who died at age 14 on Jan. 5. The death notice in the Tribune says she passed at 4 in the afternoon at the family home in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.

Richard Nixon and Me


My mom’s older brother, Bill Hogan, getting carried off to a paddy wagon during a demonstration in mid-1960s Chicago. His is one of two January 9 birthdays I think of every year. (Photo by way of my brother Chris.)

It’s Richard Nixon’s one hundredth birthday today. I always remember the date because it’s the same, ironically, as that of my Uncle Bill, a far-left-wing Roman Catholic priest (born in Chicago 14 years after the future president) who spent much of Nixon’s one-term-plus in office marching against him.

Nixon was a dominant figure in my consciousness growing up. My mom was a Democratic precinct captain in Park Forest, one of Chicago’s far southern suburbs, during the 1960 presidential campaign. She was Irish-American, Catholic, and liberal, and crazy about John F. Kennedy. She got hold of what I remember being a huge Kennedy poster, maybe four feet by six feet, and put it up in the living-room picture window. My dad thought it might invite a rock through the window.

Late in the campaign, Nixon stopped in Park Forest, then a rather liberal pocket of the suburbs, and we went to see him. As I remember it, he spoke from a platform set up near the clock tower in the center of the Park Forest Plaza, one of Chicagoland’s first shopping malls. After my dad found a spot in the packed parking lot and we were walking toward the plaza, someone who was leaving the event handed us several Kennedy signs on sticks. Mom and Dad gave the placards to me and my brothers, John and Chris. They wanted us to go up close to the stage and wave the signs while Nixon spoke. I was six. I was aware we were involved in some kind of prank, and I was happy to go along. We got up there, NIxon came on, and we started waving the signs. I don’t remember what he said, except for one thing. “I see a lot of you with Kennedy signs out there,” he remarked. “And I just hope you change your minds by Election Day.”

Mom really disliked Nixon. I remember her talking about his highly publicized attempt to save a home he was renting in Los Angeles in November 1961. Nixon got up on the roof and started spraying it down with a garden hose as the wind-driven wildfire fire approached; Mom saw Nixon’s act as grandstanding. She also remarked on what a bad sport he was when he declared “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” after losing the 1962 governor’s election in California.

And then, of course, he came back.

I guess it’s safe to say now that I’m the one who assassinated him. That’s right. I had a very detailed dream when I was about 16 that I shot Nixon. (Another dream I remember from my adolescence involved witnessing Indira Gandhi’s hanging by mob in India; still another involved some sort of romantic get-together with Joan Baez; I woke the next morning to encounter a story in the paper in which she declared she was bisexual.)

I’m guessing the Nixon dream occurred some time in the spring of 1970 or so, because it contained a shred of an event that really happened. In May of that year, there was a huge protest in Washington in reaction to Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia and Laos and the subsequent killing of student protesters at Kent State (in Ohio) and Jackson State (in Mississippi). With the capital packed with angry students, Nixon did something that’s unimaginable today: He went out before dawn one morning, accompanied only by a driver, to visit some of the protesters at the Lincoln Memorial (I find his willingness to go out and talk as amazing to contemplate as Lincoln’s wandering around Washington unprotected during most of the Civil War).

In my dream, I was looking through a telescopic sight as Nixon arrived at the Lincoln Memorial in a military jeep, surrounded by army guys. A hot, sunny day. He was unshaven and sweaty looking–haggard–wearing a white dress shirt and black slacks, but in shirtsleeves. I understood there’d been a coup of some kind, and he was arriving at the Lincoln Memorial to give a speech announcing–what? That the military was taking over, I guess. He went up the memorial steps to speak, but before he said a word I shot him.

I escaped the area, then found myself in my grandmother’s living room–my dad’s mother’s house–on the North Side of Chicago. The TV was on–a small black-and-white model. One clip was being played over and over: The moment Nixon was shot, then falling. The image’s viewpoint was the same as mine through the telescopic sight. I turned away from the TV, glanced out the window, and saw figures moving behind cars parked at the curb. Police. I’d been tracked down, and they were sure to kill me.

And that’s all I remember of that dream.

Several years later, in waking life, I hitchhiked east to see if I could get into the Senate Watergate hearings. I was short on money and unprepared for how much a hotel cost in Washington, so I wound up doing something else you can’t imagine anymore: I slept out with my pathetic little blanket on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Sleeping outdoors did assure I’d get up early for the predawn distribution of tickets to the day’s hearing. I did get in, and what I remember was Dick Cavett sitting in a seat a few rows in front of where I stood, at the back of the Senate Caucus Room (I’m guessing he hadn’t needed to show up at 5 in the morning for the ticket giveaway).

The very next year, I thumbed out to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and was in a campground there the night Nixon resigned. After that, there was a long hiatus in our relationship, broken by the occasional TV interview (his) or book (his) or embarrassing presidential tape (his) or opera (a Berkeley composer’s). In 1994, we went down to the Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda a couple of weeks after his funeral. If you’re down there, it’s worth a stop just to see how thoroughly a man’s career can be sanitized.

For today, all that’s ancient history. Richard Milhous Nixon: Happy 100th birthday.

And in passing, below is another piece of ancient history I’ve been sitting on. It’s the first piece I ever wrote for a daily paper, 40 years ago last month. As you can see, my theme was Nixon then, too. (Also there’s the hair. And the byline. But those are stories for another day. Click for a larger, and perhaps readable, image.)

Dan's Pix 001.jpg

January 9

Just one small birthday wish to cast out into the universe: January 9 was our Uncle Bill Hogan’s birthday. I can and have summoned up lots of labels for him, Catholic priest and communist being two of them. He was also a committed Chicagoan, a lover of ideas, a reader, a selfless devotee of the human cause. And most of all, as I’ve said many times before, an optimist, a real believer in the possibility of making the world a joyful — not just less miserable — place for everyone. He would have been 81 today, I think. Happy birthday, Uncle Bill.

More on Uncle Bill

The death notice we sent to the Tribune:

Hogan, Bill

The Rev. Bill Hogan, a former Roman Catholic priest in the Chicago archdiocese, died Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003, in Chicago. Throughout his life, Bill was guided by a fierce sense of justice and bore witness to his faith by living Christ’s injunction in Matthew 25 to comfort and lift up all his brothers and sisters. Bill was born in Chicago on Jan. 9, 1927, the son of Edward D. and Anne O’Malley Hogan. He attended St. Kilian’s School before following his vocation at Quigley Preparatory and St. Mary of the Lake seminaries.

He was ordained in 1952 and assigned to Holy Angels parish on Oakwood Boulevard. He subsequently served at St. Martin de Porres, St. George on the Ryan, and Our Lady of Lourdes, all in the city. But Bill’s work as an agent of Christ stretched far beyond the congregations he served. He carried his faith into the major social and political struggles of our time: the movements to establish civil rights and economic justice for all, to stop the Vietnam War, and to end the evil of nuclear arms. This part of Bill’s ministry took him from Chicago’s South Side to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, to Washington and far beyond; it also put him into conflict with both civil and religious authorities; he was arrested many times during protests and suspended by the Chicago archdiocese.

Eventually reinstated, he decided to continue his work outside the church, and married. He taught briefly in Chicago high schools before finding his next professional calling, working in Cook County’s adult probation department. He was enthusiastic, stimulating, challenging, brilliant, and steadfast in all his roles in life: priest, husband, stepfather, brother, uncle, friend, colleague, adviser, ally, parishioner and choir member (at St. Bride’s in his adopted South Shore neighborhood). Most of all, his life reflected a deep and abiding optimism.

Bill is survived by his wife, Jackie Bartholomay, and stepson Jeff and stepdaughter Katie Bartholomay; by his brother-in-law, Steve Brekke; by his cousin, Jack Fitzgerald; by niece Ann Brekke and nephews Chris, John and Dan Brekke; and by great-nephews and -nieces in Chicago, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Berkeley, Calif. Bill was the last surviving of six siblings: brothers Dick, Tom, and Ed, all ordained Roman Catholic priests, and John; and one sister, Mary Alice Hogan Brekke. Visitation will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 9, 2004, at St. Bride’s Church, 7811 S. Coles Ave., Chicago (773 731-8822), with a prayer and memorial service from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A funeral mass will be said at St. Bride’s at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10. Bill gave to many, and it would be fitting for his friends to make donations in his memory to causes of their choice.

Remember Bill: “Keep your eyes on the prize.”

Bill Hogan Obits

Updated with story images, May 2022.

Both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times ran obituaries on my Uncle Bill Hogan this morning — see below. The paper versions of the stories were supposed to include pictures that my sister Ann (and her family) ran down to the paper’s on New Year’s afternoon. The Trib’s version of the story uses some of the paper’s old clips, notably Jack Star’s magazine profile of Bill from 1973. The Sun-Times version follows the obit material I sent pretty closely.

So now I only hope that no one in Bill’s wide circle of acquaintance gets bent out of shape because their viewpoint wasn’t represented.

Image of Chicago Tribune obituary for Father Bill Hogan, 1927-2003.
Chicago Tribune news obituary, Jan. 2, 2004.

Image of Chicago Sun-Times news obituary for Father Bill Hogan, 1927-2003.
Chicago Sun-Times news obituary for Uncle Bill Hogan, published Jan. 2, 2004.

Goodbye, Uncle Bill

Got a call from Kate about 4 this afternoon that my Uncle Bill had had a heart attack and died. After the shock, I shifted into news mode and sent this obit info to the Trib and Sun-Times in Chicago:

The Rev. William Hogan

Born Jan. 9, 1927, in Chicago

Died in Chicago Dec. 31, 2003.

Bill suffered a heart attack early this afternoon and died after being taken to St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital on the West Side. Arrangements for a funeral and other services are pending.

Bill was a former Roman Catholic priest (though he would have disputed the adjective “former”), ordained in 1952, whose career was marked from its earliest days by political activism, notably in the civil rights, antiwar, and antinuclear struggles of the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

He was prominent in the campaign to oust Chicago school Superintendent Ben Willis in 1963 (or maybe ’64; there were daily marches against Willis to protest school segregation in the city, and one day the Chicago Daily News landed on our front step with a picture of Bill being carried to a paddy wagon; another notable picture appeared on the front page of Chicago Today around 1970 — he and another protester climbing out of a canoe near the Michigan Avenue Bridge after dumping red dye in the river to protest the Vietnam War; both were arrested for their trouble).

He participated in several of the major civil rights campaigns in the South, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Selma-Montogomery march in 1965. Later, he joined in the local and national campaigns to end the U.S. war in Vietnam, was a leader in Chicago Clergy and Laity Concerned (an antiwar group), and was one of the plaintiffs in a pair of federal lawsuits in 1974 and ’75 that sought to stop alleged Chicago Police Department harassment of political activists (the suits led to a consent decree, still in force, that restrains police surveillance of political groups).

Bill’s work in the streets frequently put him at odds with the leadership of the Chicago archdiocese, and in the 1970s he was suspended for disobeying directives to refrain from political activity. He drove a cab for a time to make ends meet (he turned over most of what he made to peace organizations; Jack Star of the Tribune magazine did a long feature about Bill, with a nice picture of him in his cab, outside Holy Names Cathedral, that was published in 1976 or so). In part because members of his Mundelein seminary class protested, the diocese reinstated him in 1977, the class’s silver anniversary year. Bill wound up leaving the priesthood in the early 1980s, partly over his opposition to the Church’s position on celibacy. After leaving the priesthood, he got married and taught for a time in the Chicago schools; for the past decade or so, he worked as a case officer in the Cook County adult probation department.

His first parish assignment in the early 1950s was at Holy Angels, which was later George Clements’s parish (on Oakwood Boulevard on the South Side). He also served at St. Martin’s and St. George’s parishes (both adjacent to the Dan Ryan — St. Martin’s on 59th Street is still there, though St. George was razed in the early ’70s) and after his suspension and reinstatement at Our Lady of Lourdes on the West Side.

He was the oldest of six children born to Daniel Edward and Anne O’Malley Hogan; his father, a First National Bank employee, died in 1941. His mother, a longtime teacher at Chicago’s Copernicus elementary school, died in 1980.

Bill was the oldest of four Hogan sons to be ordained Roman Catholic priests. His twin brothers Tom and Ed were ordained Carmelites in 1958 (Tom died in 1980; Ed — also known by his order name of Ben Hogan, served at Mount Carmel High School among many other assignments — died in 2001). His brother Dick was ordained in 1965 and served in the Joliet Diocese; he died in 2000.

My mother, Mary Alice Hogan Brekke, was Bill’s only sister. She passed away in August.

He’s survived by his wife, Jackie, his stepson Jeff, and stepdaughter, Katie; by his brother-in-law, Steve Brekke; by me and my brothers, John and Chris, and sister, Ann; and by great-nephews and -nieces in Chicago, Brooklyn, and Berkeley, Calif.

But most of all, he’s remembered by everyone he met in his journeys through the Church and “the Movement” (as he still called it) as a real lion for justice and for people’s rights and dignity; and as one of the world’s great optimists: someone who was sure that the world will come out right if you keep fighting for what you believe is right.

Hope they do a little story on him.