My mind automatically attributes the world famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel to several things:
- J.J. Astor – American businessman and founder of the Astoria Hotel, later becoming the Waldorf-Astoria. Victim of the Titanic Sinking.
- The movie – “Weekend at the Waldorf” starring Ginger Rogers and Walter Pigeon (my Nana’s favourite actor. He was from New Brunswick).
- My Aunt Cathy – who had the opportunity to stay at the hotel for a modelling competition.
Little did I know, the Waldorf-Astoria set the scene for the tragic end to one of Fort William’s own, E. Grimes Murphy.
Eugene Grimes Murphy was the son of Annie and James Murphy (the famous coal merchant and owner of the Fort William Times Journal) The Murphy’s were an elite Fort William family with James serving as mayor twice, living in the coveted Murphy Mansion located on Selkirk Street.
Grimes Murphy, from my research, was an exceptional young man with a good disposition and a kind heart. He attended Fort William Collegiate and was highly involved in the local hockey scene. After High School he continued his education at Loyola College, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree. He attended Osgoode Hall Law School – only to be interrupted by the First World War. Grimes entered the Canadian Aviation Forces serving overseas for a short period of time. On his return to Canada, he was called to the bar on October 16th, 1919.
His name, was a tribute to his mother’s maiden name, Grimes. Not to be confused with Frank Grimes, from the Simpsons.
After opening his firm, Grimes ran for Fort William City Council – you can read more about it here, via the City of Thunder Bay Website.
Grimes ran for Mayor and won, serving from 1931 – 1932. He was the first Mayor to have been born in Fort William and the only Fort William Mayor born to a previous Mayor. After his father’s death, he along with his brothers continued on with the family businesses, giving up his law practice permanently.
A Tragic End
In 1933, Grimes along with his mother and brother James, travelled to New York City on business, and stayed in a 10th floor suite at the Waldorf-Astoria.
In attempting to open the window, Grimes suddenly lunged forward and went through the glass. He fell 5 stories and landed on a mesh barrier above the 5th floor skylight, dying instantly.
The incident left everyone shaken and rumours of suicide surrounded the Murphy family.
An autopsy was performed by Dr. Norris, the New York Medical Examiner, delaying travel for the Murphy family to return home with the body of Grimes. During the inquest, James Murphy told police he believed his brother had a heart attack. It was later discovered Grimes had suffered from a bout of pneumonia the year before, causing irreparable damage to his heart and he was in New York to see a heart specialist.
Witnesses and guests from across the way gave witness to Grimes collapsing against the draft pane, breaking through the glass and plunging towards the skylight. The autopsy later confirmed his death as an accident.
Upon return to Fort William, his funeral was one of the largest of its time, with a funeral procession from his family home to St. Patrick church and finally to his resting place in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Countless community members from the Twin cities attended, including: the Canadian Legion, Fort William Rotary Club, The Thunder Bay Bar Association Members, City Council members, Board of Education members, Knights of Columbus and Polish and Italian Societies. His honourary pallbearers were all former Fort Willam Mayors – Hogarth, Dyke, Jackson, Rutledge, Edmeston, Crawford and Darrell.
Eugene Grimes Murphy accomplished so much in his short time on earth. His achievements and community involvement have left a trail for people like me, to find through newspapers and books. These tidbits of information are only the tip of the iceberg – he wholeheartedly left a legacy Fort William and Port Arthur citizens can be proud of. For he and his family are an lasting thread of our past.
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