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‘Unloaded’ gun, snuck into St. Joseph Academy, stole the life of James Clune’s daughter in 1875

St. Joseph's Academy, circa 1880. 111 Broadway, built in 1848, demolished circa 1923. Photo contributed by Marion Schnelle, it is now part of the Hannibal Arts Council's Hannibal as History collection.


The 1870 census paints a fairly typical picture of an Irish immigrant and his family living in Hannibal. James Clune was born about 1826 in Ireland, and resettled along with other family members in Hannibal during the late 1850s, following a mass exodous of his fellow countrymen triggered by poverty and blight in their native land.

By 1870, James and his wife Johannah were settled into a house on the east side of Third Street, across from North Street. While James worked as a laborer, his wife was at home, tending to the boarders who rented rooms, including John Devine, 32; Thomas Anderson, 45; Charles Anderson, 22; N.N. Nelson, 23; August Anderson, 35; Charles Angle, 43; and Mary McEntire, 45.

The Clunes’ daughter, Margaret, was 8 when the census enumerator called, and true to their religious affiliation, she was educated at Hannibal’s Catholic school on Broadway.

Young Margaret’s close relative, stonemason Michael Clune, would live to the ripe old age of 100 before his passing in 1905; but that wasn’t the fate of Margaret. Her life was cut short; death calling on Dec. 8, 1875. She was just 13.

The Hannibal Clipper carried the grim notice:

“The funeral will occur at two o'clock (Friday) Dec. 10, from the residence of Mr. James Clune, on Third Street, to the Catholic church; thence to St. Mary's cemetery. Friends of the family respectfully invited to attend.”

Frightful death

Margaret’s death was not the result of natural causes. Instead, she was shot – point blank – in the forehead while seated in her classroom at the Hannibal Catholic school on Broadway.

The story, as told by the Hannibal Clipper newspaper, began when a 15-year-old classmate, identified as the son of Dan. Kelly, secretly brought a pistol to school. He had the weapon on the playground, where he had been “popping” his classmates with the supposedly empty firearm.

Once back in the classroom, he turned around at his desk and pointed the gun at Margaret, the only child of James B. and Johanna Clune. The pistol fired, lodging a ball in her brain.

“The wounded child dropped to the floor and was for a time unconscious,” the newspaper reported. “Dr. Chamberlain was sent for and he proceeded to probe the wound, but could not find the ball.”

The girl was taken to her home, “and is reported alive up to the present writing, but no hopes are entertained of her recovery.”

On Dec. 4, 1875, Drs. Chamberlain and Thorndyke operated on Margaret, probing and removing 31 grains from her brain. The newspaper noted that a pistol of the type used in the shooting called for 84 grains, so less than half were able to be removed.

A few days later, Margaret died.

One can only suppose what the funeral procession looked like, but according to information found in the newspaper of the day, coupled with traditions outlined in other Hannibal historical annals of the era, the funeral procession likely traveled south on Third Street to where it intersects with Church Street, then west three blocks to the small Catholic Church building located on the north side of Church, between Fifth and Sixth.

After appropriate services at the church proper, it is presumed that the entourage traveled west on Broadway, along the Broadway Extension Route to what would become St. Mary’s Avenue. Along that route the procession would continue, until the intersection where St. Mary’s met with McMaster’s road. From there, the horse-drawn carriage and walkers would proceed to the intersection with the Palmyra Rock Road, turning east toward St. Mary’s Cemetery, where a freshly dug grave awaited the young girl’s body.

Young man’s fate

There was no mention in newspapers of the day regarding punishment for the boy who snuck a gun into the school. The teachers and staff told authorities at the time that they didn’t know he had the gun until it was too late.

The school was operated by the Sisters of Joseph, and Mother Gabrielle was the superioress.

“The boy, Kelly, was severely trounced for his folly, by his parents, who deeply regret the occurrence of the accident. It is a sad affair all around, and one that may never again be repeated in this city,” the Hannibal Clipper reported.

The Clunes

When James Clune first arrived in Hannibal, he was employed as a stonemason and resided on Palmyra Avenue near the Garth Tobacco factory. By 1875 – the same year young Margaret died – he was still working as a stonemason, and his wife operated a boarding house at their home, on the east side of Third Street, near North Street. (James and Johanna would continuing living at that location for the rest of their natural lives. James died in 1900, and Johanna died in 1904.)

Moving on

The Clunes went on with their lives following their daughter’s death. They adopted a daughter, who was born in Ireland in 1872. They named her Mary. In 1880, she was 8 years old.

In the mid 1880s, the Jame Clune family opened a grocery store in their home, which they continued to operate at least into the early to mid 1890s.

Margaret’s family

While an only child, Margaret Clune was part of a large extended Irish family in Hannibal.

Her close relative, the aforementioned Michael Clune, was a stonemason in Hannibal prior to the start of the Civil War. He and his wife, Bridget O’Hern Clune, were both born in Ireland. Their first child, John, was born in Missouri in 1858.

Margaret’s parents were also related to a family with the surname of Carmody, whose children were nieces and nephews of Mrs. Clune; thus first cousins to young Margaret Clune.

Johannah Clune also had a cousin in Hannibal by the name of Mary O’Keefe. Miss O’Keefe was the primary beneficiary of Mrs. Clune’s estate.

Where angels rest: Thirteen-year-old Margaret Clune was buried at what is now called Holy Family Cemetery in 1875. She was shot in the forehead by a fellow student at St. Joseph’s Academy. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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