James Maginess (1868-1947)
When I set to writing my first novel, I needed to come up with a name
for my private eye. I didn't pick the name at random. For the surname,
I chose Maginess — which had been the maiden name of my father's mother
(Fa-Ma, in anthropologist-speak). For the first name I picked Patrick as
it had been one of the names used by the Maginess clan for generations.
They basically just recycled the same seven or eight names from generation
to generation. A lot of people did that back then. It was a tie to the past,
to their ancestors, to their history. These days, you don't see that kind
of thing so much. We've lost to a great degree our sense of history.
I have to admit too that it was tempting that the initials of my private
eye — P.M. — would match those of Raymond Chandler's famous shamus
The Maginess clan was originally from Killybegs, Ireland. Killybegs is
a small fishing village on the north side of Donegal Bay. Eventually,
during the late 18th and 19th centuries, many of the Maginess clan moved
to England or America to find work. My great-grandfather James Maginess,
who you can find listed in a copy of the geneology reproduced here,
moved first to England and then America.
He spent a short time in Connecticut, but soon moved to Indianapolis.
There he got a job at a factory called Diamond Chain. He worked at the
factory six days a week, almost all the way up to his death in 1947.
There is a photo of my great-grandfather posing as a model next to one
of the huge chains that his company produced. They chose my great-
grandfather because he was short — only about 5'0" tall — and thus made
the rolled up chain look even more impressive. It's a cool photo; unfortunately
I don't have a copy of that one.
James Maginess loved music. He loved opera in particular, and was an
early fan of Caruso. He had a phonograph with a good collection of opera
on 78s. He also bought a big old radio. On his time off, he would sometimes
connect the radio up with an extension cord and put it out on the porch
so that the other people in the neighborhood could listen — a radio was
not a common thing back then.
He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetary. Holy Cross is one of those big
old-style cemeteries with mausoleums and big monuments with impressive
looking angels on them. My great-grandfather was buried in the newer
part of the cemetary. And though his monument is not as impressive as
some of the others in the older section of Holy Cross, it's a pretty nice
monument by today's standards. These days you get a tiny flat stone
with barely enough room for a name on it. Another thing that has been
lost. He was buried next to his wife, Ellen Maginess nee Quinn.
For about a year back in the 70s I lived in an apartment across the
street from Holy Cross. Since there wasn't a park in the area, I would
sometimes take walks there. I would visit great-grandfather Maginess'
grave. And sometimes I would hum opera tunes for him, what ones I knew
at least, which weren't many. But regardless, I always thought he would