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A night of drinking ends tragically

A night of drinking ends tragically

A night of drinking led to a spectacular manslaughter trial 99 years ago.

James Major, 22, was of French-Canadian ancestry, and in 1913, he lived at 222 Forest Ave. in Amsterdam.

He was not married but had four brothers and two sisters. He enjoyed peaches. One of his relatives had brought a bushel of peaches home that September to can for him for the coming winter.

Major went out Wednesday, Sept. 24, for a night of saloon hopping with Arthur Whitney, a fellow worker at the McCleary, Wallin & Crouse carpet mill. There were more than 80 taverns in Amsterdam. They ended up at an establishment operated by James P. Mullarkey Jr., 32, who had taken over the saloon at Church and Reid streets from his father, James P. Mullarkey Sr. That corner is now occupied by a bank.

Major and Mullarkey Jr. got into an argument over a taxicab and Mullarkey pushed Major away. The story in the Major family has been that Mullarkey hit Major over the head with a bottle. The district attorney tried to prove that Mullarkey punched Major, causing Major to fall, resulting in an ultimately fatal skull fracture. Mullarkey’s defense argued that Major had fallen numerous times that night and no one saw the alleged fatal blow.

After Major had fallen, he ended up lying outside the tavern. He was seen in the early morning hours by two residents of the neighborhood’s growing Polish community. When Mullarkey’s father came early to open the tavern, Major’s friend Whitney showed up. Whitney prevailed upon the elder Mullarkey to bring Major back inside, saying he did not want to take his friend home to his mother in his current state.

The people in the tavern believed Major was sleeping off the results of too much drink. They propped Major up in a back room chair but he kept falling to the floor. Seeing that Major could not keep himself in the chair, the bartender put Major on the floor with an old coat for a pillow.

As the day went on, Major’s need for medical attention became clear. Major’s father arrived. When a doctor could not make it immediately to the tavern, a taxi was summoned and Major was taken to his home about 5 p.m. A doctor came to the home and declared Major gravely ill. Another taxi took the stricken man to St. Mary’s Hospital at 7 p.m. He was pronounced dead five hours later.

Coroner Howard Murphy ruled that death came from bleeding in the brain, caused by a skull fracture, caused by violence. Major also had bruises on other parts of his body.

Police arrested Mullarkey, charging him with manslaughter. He was freed on bail and trial took place in March 1914 in Fonda.

The jury of 12 men deliberated for hours. They called for a dinner break and were taken to the Brunswick Hotel. That night they asked for cigars. At first, the judge refused but then ordered the men in the jury room be given cigars. Foreman John Voorhees told the judge on March 6 that jurors were deadlocked, six for conviction, six for acquittal.

The judge dismissed that jury, and the case went to trial again in October 1914. After 40 minutes, the new jury found Mullarkey not guilty.

One of the victim’s nephews and his namesake, James Major of Greenfield Center, said his father, Alfred, was 15 when his brother died. The younger James Major reported he and his father once saw James Mullarkey in downtown Amsterdam in the 1940s. Alfred Major gave some thought to confronting the man acquitted in his brother’s death, but instead let the moment pass.

Mullarkey died in Amsterdam in April 1957.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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