By Peter Biggins
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Lars Dalstrom and Theresa Liewer contributed to this story.
Eddie Foy was born Edward Fitzgerald in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1856. His parents Richard and Ellen Hennessy Fitzgerald had emigrated from County Limerick on the ship Maria Brennan, arriving at Castle Garden on June 8, 1850, with three-year-old John and infant twins Johanna and Catherine. They had two other children besides Eddie in New York: Mary Ann in 1855 and Ellen in 1859. Their father Richard, who worked as a tailor, died in 1862.
The widow Ellen moved the family to Chicago in 1865 at the urging of her brother who lived there. Ellen cared for Mrs. Abraham Lincoln in Chicago from 1872 to 1875. Ellen died in Chicago in 1902.
Young Eddie eventually became famous as a comedic actor. He bought a house in Chicago for his mother in 1893. In 1896, Eddie married Madeline Morando, the mother of the Seven Little Foys. In 1900, Eddie and his family moved to 64 West 98th Street in New York City, In 1902, they moved to 151st Street and Eighth Avenue in Harlem. In 1903, they bought a house out in the country in New Rochelle that Eddie named the "The Foyer." Eddie died of a heart attack at the Hotel Baltimore in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1928. The funeral was at Blessed Sacrament Church in New York City on the upper West Side, and he was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in New Rochelle.
As a budding amateur genealogist in 2003, with Foy ancestors, I wondered whether we might be related to the famous Eddie Foy. It did not take long to find our that his name originally was Fitzgerald. So, I quickly forgot about that line of research.
Frances Foy Article. On a trip to Chicago in 2008, I paid a visit to the Visual and Performing Arts Department at the new Chicago Public Library. After finding nothing on my great grandfather Cris J. Smith, who was a musical director in Chicago from the 1890s to 1920s, I asked if they had anything on Frances Foy (1890-1963), a Chicago artist and great granddaughter of my ancestor Thomas Foy who had a farm in the Partry Mountains in County Mayo, Ireland. Her grandfather, Thomas Foy (1830-1903), lived on O'Brien Street in Holy Family parish on the near west side of Chicago. The library found an article about Frances Foy in the Chicago Daily News of Saturday, August 24, 1935. The article was part of a series on "Artists of Chicago" by art critic C. J. Bulliett. The article was comprehensive and well written, but one thing popped out immediately: the comedic actor Eddie Foy knew Frances Foy's father, James A. Foy (1861-1943), and adopted his surname because he liked it and it would fit nicely on marquees.
When I got home to Connecticut, I called Lars Dalstrom, son of the artist Frances Foy. I told him about the article but he wasn't particularly impressed. "We always knew that Eddie Foy got his name from our family," he said.
Research. Encouraged by this conversation, I did a little more genealogical research.
Autobiography. But the story does not end there. A few days later I got hold of an autobiography that Eddie Foy wrote with Alvin F. Harlow entitiled Clowning Through Life. It was published in 1928, but serialized earlier in Colliers from December 18, 1926, to February 19, 1927.
On page 4, Eddie Foy tells of his Irish Catholic roots.
In addition to his mother's brother who was a missionary, he mentions her brother who was a sailor and her brother in Chicago who sent them tickets to come there in April 1865 following the death of Richard in 1862.
On page 20, Eddie Foy talks about his education and an experience in 1868.
Eddie Foy does not mention where the family lived in Chicago except at the time of the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871. He devotes two chapters to a vivid description of escaping the raging fire with his infant nephew and reuniting with his family. Where they lived is key to his description. On page 28 he gives the location of their residence, and it is consistent with the city directory.
On page 58 of his autobiography, Eddie Foy says he took his name in 1872 from two sisters named Foy working in concert halls whom he admired very much.
No record has been found of two sisters named Foy working in concert halls.
In 1877, the year an Edwin Foy was listed in the Chicago city directory as a laborer boarding at 17 O'Brien Street in Chicago, Eddie Foy said on page 91 of his autobiography.
U.S. Census. In the 1900 census, Edwin Foy, actor, was living at 64 West 98th Street in Manhattan with his wife Madaline and Three Foys: Bryan, 3, Charles, 2, and Edward, 1/12.
In the 1920 census, Edwin Foy, widower, was living in a house he owned at 288 Weyman Avenue in New Rochelle with Seven Foys: Bryan, 23, Charles, 21, Richard, 19, Mary, 18, Madeline, 16, Eddy, 14, and Irving, 10. The occupation listed for all was actor-stage.
Biography. In 1999, Armond Fields, an historian specializing in American popular theater, wrote Eddie Foy: A Biography of the Early Popular Stage Commedian. This is an excellent book but does not shed any new light on how Eddie Foy got his name. On page 232, Fields comments on the autobiography.
Fields makes a comment on Eddie's education on page 102.
Conclusion. We have two different stories on how Eddie Foy got his name.
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