MOUNT GREENWOOD — Martin Hogan arrived in New York with great fanfare on Aug. 23, 1876, and yet his final resting place is an unmarked plot in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Hogan was one of the Fremantle Six — a group of Irish nationalists who made a daring escape from a British prison in western Australia. The Fenian prisoners arrived in America four months after a prison break aboard a whaling vessel named the Catalpa.
Hogan's story captivated Irish descendants living in America, and Niall Fennessy, of Hyde Park, is among a group of historians who aim to keep his memory alive. The group has raised $4,000 for a gravestone for Hogan which will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Oct. 10 at the cemetery at 2755 W. 111th St. in Mount Greenwood.
"One of his letters talks about being forgotten, and this is about as forgotten as you can get," said Fennessy on Tuesday after placing a small Irish flag on Hogan's grave.
Howard Ludwig discusses the Fenian prisoners' daring escape:
Hogan was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1833. He worked as a carriage painter before enlisting as a swordsman for the British army. Many poor Irishmen joined the military or worked as mercenaries, Fennessy said.
"There was a story about him that he could break an iron bar with his sword," Fennessy said.
Although sworn to the British crown, Hogan was secretly part of a group known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or the Fenians. Members of this underground group enlisted in armies throughout the world, including fighting alongside Union and Confederate troops in America's Civil War.
These solders then planned to return to Ireland and use the skills they acquired to overthrow the British government. But the effort was snuffed out in 1866 and hundreds were arrested.
Hogan was one of 10 men originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was later changed to life imprisonment in Fremantle, Australia.
This British prison was a grim place known as simply The Establishment. There was little need for much of a fence surrounding the prison as anyone who ran away would be left to face shark-infested waters or certain death in the surrounding desert of unforgiving rock.
Hogan wrote a pair of letters from the prison to Fenian sympathizers in America. His pleas fell on deaf ears, but James Wilson, another of the Fremantle Six, successfully contacted John Devoy in 1874.
Devoy had been exiled to America for his role in organizing the Fenians. He later contacted John Boyle O'Reilly, who was also sent to an Australian prison but escaped and rose to become the editor of the Catholic newspaper the Boston Pilot.
Perhaps driven by Catholic guilt, these men hatched a plan to free the Fenians from the Fremantle prison. Backed by a secret Irish society in America, they hired a whaling vessel named the Catalpa, which set sail from New Bedford, Mass., on April 29, 1875.
The plan was to hunt sperm whales on the way to and from the prison. This would both pay for the voyage and mask their true intentions. Only the captain, George Smith Anthony and one other member of the crew knew of the looming prison break.
After a harrowing journey, the Catalpa arrived outside the prison and stationed itself strategically in international waters. A small whaling boat was sent ashore. Aided by secret supporters on the ground, the six Fenians boarded the small boat and headed to the ship.
It was somewhat of a miracle that the Catalpa even left the Australian coast as news of the prison break spread, but eventually the ship arrived in the States to a heroes welcome, Fennessy said.
Whaling efforts on the way home were cut short, and the Fenians sought to use their fame to go on a speaking tour to help pay for their rescue. It's believed that this is how Hogan ended up in Chicago in October 1876.
Fennessy's research found Hogan lived out his life working as a painter as well as making appearances as one of the famed Fremantle Six. He married an Irish woman named Elizabeth and the pair had two daughters — Ellen and Lillian.
Hogan died in 1901. A newspaper article says he was ill at Cook County Hospital. The caption beneath his picture also says Hogan lived in Chicago for 25 years after arriving in New York on the Catalpa.
Lillian (Ischer) Hogan had no children, but Ellen (Willix) Hogan had six children before she and her husband died in 1919. Fennessy has been attempting to reach out to any of Hogan's descendants ahead of the unveiling.
On Tuesday, he made contact with one of Hogan's grandsons who had no idea of his family's remarkable history. The grandson plans to attend the ceremony along with Jim Ryan — Capt. Anthony's great grandson. He will bring the Catalpa flag to the Southwest Side cemetery and give a short talk.
"Needless to say, the event on Oct. 10 is picking up a lot of momentum," Fennessy said.
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