The Memory Of Tom Hannahoe Lives On

Reading PA's  Tradition  Of Closing St Patrick's Day At Hannahoe's Grave

2011's Ceremony Is Now A Memory

Corey Hannahoe Has Taken The Reins

Commissioned artwork: March 2008

"The Mayor of Irishtown" by Jessica Pasche

Tom Hannahoe, with wife Jane at his side - raises a toast in honor of St Patricks Day.

Great, great, great grandson Bart Hannahoe is painted as the man to the left of Jane.  Alvah Schaeffer is the man seated at the right side of the painting as it is viewed.

Cards and copies of this artwork are available at:

http://www.redbubble.com/people/jelapa/art/850580-1-mayor-of-irishtown

In Memory Of Bart Hannahoe

 

Bart was born on July 29, 1939 and passed away on Wednesday, June 30, 2010.

He was a 1957 graduate of Central Catholic High School, 1961 graduate of St. Joseph�s University and a MBA graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1969.

Bart was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam Conflict.

He is survived by his wife Veronica.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Wednesday at 11 a.m. in St. Paul�s R. C. Church, 151 North 9th St. Reading, pa 19601. Burial will be in private in Gethsemane Cemetery. Friends may call Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m. in the church.

 

 

 

Portrait of Tom Hannahoe that hangs at the Peanut Bar in downtown Reading....but only on March 17th!


 

Reading, Pennsylvania has an incredible variety of history. Much of it is well-preserved at various historical societies in the area. The problem with this information is that it is fairly inaccessible to the general public. 

The story of Tom Hannahoe is one of the great tales in all of American lore. It's primary themes of tolerance, friendship, pride and love of fun and beer make for a story to which everyone should have access.

This page is my tribute to Tom Hannahoe, the Irish of Reading and the ongoing tradition of the Hannahoe's Grave Service at midnight on St Patrick's Day.


March 2010 issue of Berks County Living magazine features a one page story on Tom Hannahoe. 


 

HANNAHOE VIGIL

MORE THAN JUST A ST. PATRICK’S DAY TRADITION



March 5, 2004 - For its 108th year, a simple yet meaningful pact between two friends will continue at midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th at the gates of St. Peter’s Cemetery in East Reading. The Hannahoe Vigil will be celebrated thanks to the dedication of family and friends outside the gates of the aging cemetery with musicians playing the traditional songs, “Lass o’Galway"," The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls” and “Nearer My God to Thee” the tunes that Alvah Schaeffer had promised to play for his friend Tom C. Hannahoe one wintry night in the 1890’s. The Reading Musical Foundation underwrites the annual event. Often forgotten, amid the many versions of this tale, is the story’s message of tolerance, respect and its celebration of cultural diversity.

The story begins with Tom C. Hannahoe, an Irish immigrant who came to America on his honeymoon in 1855. He and his wife never returned to Ireland, but they did work and eventually purchase a hotel and saloon in the 500 block of South 11th Street in downtown Reading which they named the Stars and Stripes Hotel. The neighborhood surrounding the hotel was predominately Irish and its residents felt Irishtown the perfect name for their part of the city. A much-loved figure in the community, Tom was named the honorary “Mayor of Irishtown.”

Alvah O. Schaeffer, a German man, moved into the neighborhood, a move that was not necessarily embraced by his Irish neighbors. But Hannahoe, a good-natured person, took a liking to Alvah and knew that if he befriended the “foreigner” his residency would be better tolerated.

It was the two men’s love for music that truly bonded their friendship. Hannahoe would dance, sing and play the piano and violin. Schaeffer was a professional cornet player. Together, the men spent many an evening entertaining the customers at the hotel and sealing their lifelong friendship.

On a Friday night in 1893 or 1894, depending on whom you ask, Alvah Schaeffer played one of Hannahoe’s favorite Irish tunes, “Lass o’ Galway.” Tom Hannahoe was moved to tears by his friend’s rendition of the song and so the pact was made.

According to local historian, George Meiser, “If death were to take Hannahoe first, Schaeffer would attend Tom’s funeral and on each St. Patty’s Day at midnight, play “Lass o’ Galway" and “Nearer My God to Thee’ over his grave.”

The terms of the pact should Schaeffer have died first were never determined. Alvah Schaeffer was much young than Tom Hannahoe, making the odds of Tom dying first more probable. In an interview in the 1920’s given by Schaeffer, he claimed Hannahoe would keep this grave “forever green” by planting shamrocks.

On February 10, 1897. Tom Hannahoe died to typhoid pneumonia. Five weeks later at midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, Schaeffer played the tunes over his dear friend’s grave. He continued the tradition through 1930 when arthritis in his hands prevented him from personally playing the songs, but Elmer Addis stepped in to continue the tradition. Alvah Schaeffer died on March 10, 1947 and was buried one week later on St. Patrick’s Day.

The tradition stopped for some 30 years but was restarted in 1977. Today, the musicians continue to remember the pact between Irishtown’s beloved Mayor and the German man who became his lifelong friend.

The following musicians will play outside the gates of St. Peter’s Cemetery on St. Patrick’s Day at midnight: Dennis Sharman, Sr., baritone; James Seidel, trumpet; J. Richard Strunk, trumpet and Rev. Leon Mall, trombone. The Hannahoe Vigil is funded in part through an annual grant from the Reading Musical Foundation in an effort to preserve this local musical tradition.

<information in this section from the Berks Jazz Fest website>


These Photos Are From The Berks County Legends Website

      

 


Want To Attend In 2012??

 

The days of 10,000 drunken revelers at the ceremony are over.  Sadly, Cotton Street's pubs are no longer frequented by hard-working factorymen and most nights it is unsafe to be wandering around this neighborhood.

St Patrick's Day is different as we gather to continue this fantastic tradition and YOU can be a part of this history.

The ceremony starts at midnight.  After the passing of Bart, relative Corey Hannahoe has taken the reins.  Support him as he leads his first ceremony.  His commitment to this amazing tradition is sincere and he will tell  Tom Hannahoe's story and the details of the pact he shared with Alvah Schaeffer. When he is done, musicians play the three songs and everyone greets one another and exchanges well wishes for good health until next year.

At this time the ceremony concludes but some people journey to the grave.  Without fail someone will break out a bottle of Irish whiskey and toasts will be made to the pact and friendship.  Then, people toss silver coins onto the gravestone.  Feel free to contribute Irish whiskey to the cause.

The evening is is usually very still as the Pagoda and Mt Penn mark the skyline.

You don't have to be Irish or from Reading to enjoy this event.  All you have to do is show up before Midnight!

How To Find The Site

Use Google Maps and enter:   South Street & Wunder St  Reading, PA

Actual lat/long:  N40 19.602   W075 54.962

 


Report of the 2011 Service

Corey Hannahoe leads the ceremony

The Reading Musical Foundation provided the historical songs

 

Slightly blurry photo included to show the contrast of the city's lights and St Peter's Cemetery's dark serenity

Beautiful weather arrived just in time for St Patrick's Day 2011. A crowd of about 130 people gathered at graveside.  Many were curious to see if the tradition would continue after the passing of Bart Hannahoe.

Thankfully, direct descendent Corey Hannahoe has stepped up and assumed the role of story teller and keeper of the tradition. He was joined by several members of the Hannahoe family.

Dressed in a dapper green vest and bowtie Corey read the fascinating story of this unique chapter in American history.

When the tale was told four musicians began the playing of the classic songs.

US and Irish flags waved quietly over the Hannahoe grave as candles illuminated coins tossed onto the grave.  Someone broke out the cups but a tragic miscue found the thirsty crowd without even a single bottle of Irish whiskey.  Any volunteers to help slop the thirsty in 2012?

Within 30 minutes the crowd dispersed and another St Patrick's Day came to a close in our fair city. It is always a serene, beautiful and slightly sad moment when you walk down the hill - realizing that another festive day has drawn to a close.

Thanks to everyone who helped continue this tradition in their own way (placing candles, bringing momentos, cup or their attendance).

See everyone in 2012!

 


Report of the 2010 Service

The week's nice weather continued through St Patrick's Day this year as about 125 people gathered under clear skies and a waxing crescent moon.  Temperatures in the mid to lower 40s kept the air brisk but not too cold.

Bart Hannahoe arrived just before midnight and slowly made his way up Nannygoat Hill.  The crowd followed him to the grave where he gave one of his more brief orations of the Tom Hannahoe story. Some years he goes into great detail and some years he barely tells the tale.

We were on the lookout for Kermit Hill ( Mr Hill is 86 years old and played at the grave from 1937 to 1948 [minus 2 years of WWII service]) but apparently he couldn't make it.  I was very much hoping to meet him. I think I will try to interview him sometime soon.

While the 2009 service was described as reverent I would say that this year's version was terse. Maybe some reflection of the tension that much of the country is experiencing. 

The grave was decorated with the flags and candle that I placed and some very nice red flowers.  I wonder who did that?  A nice touch.

Four songs were played, ending with - "Nearer My God To Thee".  The Pagoda glowed brightly in its new LED lit brilliance.

Two nice folks donated Jameson (our Myspace friend and a lady who grew up nearby but had never attended) so this Irish whiskey and my bottle of Irish cream were used for the toast.  The message was one of the ethnic harmony that existed here and of how it could certainly be used in Reading today.

A nearby neighbor came out of his house to scream at us to "shut up". This is the same man who I recently saw beating his dogs and probably the one who dumps his dog poop in the cemetery.  The toast could certainly help that fellow.

I met Corey Hannahoe and he seemed very interested in exploring his family history and in seeing that this service continues for the future. I have no genetic connection to Tom Hannahoe but pledge my support to see the same.

Many people again lingered to talk and look over the beauty of our fair city.  As with all things even the most die hard fans began wandering downhill.  I was a bit sad that my favorite holiday had concluded but I also know the countdown is running to next year's gathering.  As always, comments/questions/input is welcomed.  tom@americantom.com

 

 


Report of the 2009 Service

090317: Bart Hannahoe tells the story of Tom and Jane

The weather on Nanny Goat Hill was nice this year: completely clear skies, temps in the low 40s and the beautifully illuminated Pagoda looking down on us with its new LED lights.

About 70 people gathered on the street before seemingly spontaneously heading up the hill to stand graveside. In the way it used to be the musicians gathered there as well and the entire service was held right where it is supposed to be.  This was a first for me as we have always had to have the "official" service on the street before trapsing up to the grave.

Bart told me that this was his 65th service.  He opened with prayer and almost forgot to tell the tale but did (a different slant this year than in years past) before the musicians played. Were the songs the same?  I know they ended with the best of the songs - "Nearer My God To Thee".

The crowd was, as described by one man, "reverent" - one of the best behaved crowds he had ever seen.

Candles burned at graveside as the Irish Flag flapped in the wind (someone had removed the US Flag).  A large groundhog hole burrows directly under the headstone. I will work on filling this in when the weather warms.

Many in the crowd tossed coins on the stone and about 1/2 lingered to talk and took at the beauty of Reading below us.  A good supporter of this tradition (I am terrible with names but he has started the Myspace page for this event) broke out a bottle of Jameson (which combined with ours)  made for a nice supply of toasting liquid.

A man in the crowd spontaneously made the annual toast. The first shot was poured into the crowd for old Tom. Cups were raised in response. Someone collected the trash as people continued to talk and mingle. The Hash House Harriers again were in attendance including hashers from Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

Two distant relatives were also in attendance. I forget the lineage but the lady had actively been researching her ancestry. The gentleman recalled that when he was a young boy his father would bring him to the grave every year and he would place coins on it.  Because he was too young to stay up until midnight so he would go after school.

Thanks to the Reading Musical Foundation for playing the songs.

090318: The Reading Musical Foundation's members play three tunes

090318:  The appeal of the quiet, dark grave ( with candles burning ) loses something in the harsh light of the camera flash


Maintenance Report:  3/9/2010

 

After lugging 70 pounds of stone to the grave I found the groundhog hole had been filled in.  The grass looks good so all I had to do was place new US and Irish flags.  Sadly, MANY US flags were on the ground and ripped and in terrible condition (as is usually the case here). Spent over an hour recovering flags including one that someone dumped dog crap on. I would like to meet that person and have a few words.  The grave is nearly ready for the big night.


Maintenance Report: 12/28/2008

 

A fat groundhog has burrowed under the Hannahoe stone.  There is, surprisingly, some restoration work underway on some of the tombstones in this cemetery.  Someone has marked the hole with a post.  Weedwacked and placed two new flags.  The pagoda is completely enshrined in scaffolding as the restoration continues.

081228 - We need to get rid of the rodent and fill in the hole

 

081228 - The Pagoda was 100 yrs old in August 2008

 


Maintenance Report:  8/15/07

 

No great surprise for me to find the cemetery poorly maintained.  I weedwacked the grave and some nearby vet's graves and placed new US and Irish flags.  I collected many US Flags that had been mowed over and will see that they are properly disposed of. Also carried off some trash.


Report Of The 2007 Service

 

Due to a sports injury I suffered two weeks prior to my beloved holiday, I missed almost every St Patty's fest and tradition this year. Not only was I bummed about this but having the holiday on a Saturday only added to my displeasure.

If you attended the 2007 service and have comments - please send them my way.   If not, I will see you in 08!

 


Maintenance Report:  11/06/06

 

The cemetery is in its usual state of disrepair.  Many United States Flags were lying on the ground.  These were the flags placed on Memorial Day. Some had been mowed over.  I collected as many as I could find and they will be turned in to an American Legion for proper disposal.

I weedwacked Tom's grave as well as a bunch of others.  New US and Irish flags were placed. 

061104: This is the how I found the grave today. Overall, the cemetery is in terrible condition

 

 


Report Of The 2006 Service

 

A fine ending to another St Patrick's Day in Reading.  About 60 people gathered at the cemetery gate and the service began promptly at midnite.

Bart Hannahoe told the story of his ancestor and the pact.  A drunken old woman interrupted with several stupid comments.

The service was videotaped using night vision and a DVD of the entire ceremony is now in possession of the Historical Society of Berks County PA.

After the musicians played the ceremony ended and a happy St Patrick's Day was exchanged with all present. About a dozen or two people ambled to the grave where United States and Irish flags were flying in the breeze and candles burned brightly.

Coins were tossed onto the grave and a bottle of Jameson's was passed around. Charles Adams III audiotaped the toast for inclusion on his WEEU broadcast.


Report Of The 2005 Service

 

This year's weather was every bit as cold as 2004 but there was no snow falling or on the ground. About 50 people gathered at the cemetery gates.

Mr Hannahoe gave a brief history of the music and asked each musician to introduce themselves. If anyone knows their names please email me at tom@americantom.com .  Two of the musicians identified themselves as having played every year since the service's return in 1976. Bart Hannahoe stated that as long as he is alive the service will endure.

Following the well-played music, we walked to the grave where new U.S. and Irish flags were placed on the Hannahoe grave.


Maintenance Report:  9/4/2004

I weedwacked the Hannahoe grave stone today and posted two flags. I gave great thought to which side of the marker the U.S. Flag should go and decided that since the canton of a flag draped on a casket goes over the left side of the body (nearer to the heart) - the US Flag should go as shown. If someone were to stand behind the marker and speak over the grave  - the flags would be opposite.

Sadly, many of the headstones in this cemetery are in very bad condition. The person who mows runs over anything that gets in the way, including U.S. Flags, and doesn't bother to trim. There are many stones in this section that list what county in Ireland the deceased was born in. 

 

061104: This is how the grave looked when I was done. I have decided that this is the correct placement of the flags (same as US Flag Code vs my previous thoughts that it should be displayed as if covering a casket)


Report Of The 2004 Service

 

A steady snow had been falling all evening and made a noticeable accumulation on top of the 8" or more that already covered St Peter's Cemetery.

The band gathered on South Street at the wrought iron gate. About 2 dozen spectators assembled as Mr. Hannahoe checked his watch. None of the infamous revelry and hell-raising was to be found - the assumption being that they were driven indoors or to an early bed by the intensity of the weather and the fact that St Patrick's Day was on a Wednesday.

At a minute or two into the morning of the 18th, Mr. Hannahoe gave the signal and a hush fell on the crowd. He briefly related the history of the relationship between Tom Hannahoe and Alvah Schaeffer and their pact and the service through the years.

Upon his conclusion, the band played their three songs. The service ended and several people trudged through the quarter-sized snow flakes into the cemetery in search of Tom Hannahoe's grave. The headstone is flat and was well-buried after a very long winter of snow and ice. The group was unable to locate the exact spot.

The gathering ended and the tradition lives on for another year.



Winter-time ground level view looking at the setting sun

061104: View of the Pagoda from Hannahoe's grave

After a bunch of searching I found several wire service articles on this ceremony.  These have been added to the website below.  It must have been amazing to see 10,000 people at the service (1942).

 

 

   

Both photos from the March 12th 1977 Reading Eagle

 

    

 

(left) March 15th 1915  Coshocton Morning Tribune      (right) March 18th 1940 Syracuse Herald 

 

 

March 16th 1941  San Antonio Express

 

 

    

(L)  AP Story: March 17th 1943         (Middle) March 18th 1943 Waterloo IA Daily Courier      (R) March 18th 1947  Indiana Evening Gazette

 

  

 (L) AP Story: March 11th 1947                                  (R) March 17th 1977 New Castle News

 

  March 11th 1947   The Reading Eagle

 

March 17th 1935   The Reading Eagle

 

July 12th 1936  San Antonio Light

 

 

Mr. Bart Hannahoe who leads the service and who stated, "as long as I am alive, there will be a service"

 

"Congratulations on your dedication to preserving this Irish hero's memory. I loved the site - long may it continue"

                                                                                                  --- Keith V. County Armagh, Northern Ireland  3/2007

 


Last grave maintenance: Saturday March 7th 2010

Last website maintenance: Tuesday March 8th 2011

comments to: tom@americantom.com

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