Our archives are here if you need to catch up...
Hundreds of people had gazed upon the lifeless body in the morgue and hung over a dozen different names on the unidentified man, all to no avail. All that was left was the disposal of John Doe into an anonymous, mass grave in Potter’s Field. Before that could happen though, a benefactor to the downtrodden sought to bring some dignity to the Ragged Stranger.
“I have been in the saloon business for years in a neighborhood where there are hundreds of homeless men- ‘ragged strangers,’ just like this one. I know these men better than most persons know them. To most people they are just plain bums. To me they are human beings who have simply been unfortunate.”
Saloonkeeper Barney Clamage had either a soft spot for the disadvantaged or a flair for marketing. Clamage contacted the powers to be and requested permission to give the Ragged Stranger a proper burial. Permits were filled out and $250 later (nearly $3,000 today) an undertaker had been hired to get the Ragged Stranger a casket, cemetery plot, headstone, proper clothes, flowers, and carriages should there be any mourners for the anonymous young man.
Pictures of Clamage getting the burial permit were in the newspapers and talk about town was of what a philanthropist he was. The funeral service would be held at a chapel a few blocks from his saloon on south Halsted.
Judge Joseph David, a somewhat eccentric figure and the presiding judge of the Ragged Stranger murder trial, will be delved into deeper in a coming blog post that will cover that trial, but as it concerns our story today, he made an appearance after the trial was over and offers a look at his confrontational nature. The undertaker retained by Clamage entered Judge David’s court and suggested that the judge officiate the funeral and offer a eulogy for the poor Ragged Stranger. The judge did not go for the idea.
“What are you trying to do? Make a sideshow out of this court? I never heard of such barefaced effrontery. The idea of asking the judge who presided in this case to officiate at the funeral of the victim? Get out of my court and don’t come back!”
Saturday, March 26 was unusually warm with temperatures reaching above 70 degrees. Whether a devotion to not letting a youth go into the ground alone, or for a sense of closure, the early spring day brought out crowds in droves to mourn the man everyone, yet no one, knew.
After Judge David had emphatically denied wanting a role in the funeral, Reverend Wilson Donaldson from the chapel in nearby Cook County Hospital performed the funeral service and offered a eulogy. In the chapel of James Bradley & Son’s Undertakers on west Harrison the reverend preached to a crowd who appeared to all have someone or something they were missing. Reporters jostled for a story, mourners commiserated over missing relatives and the curious were just there to take it all in and see how it ended for the man whose identity had puzzled the city for nearly nine months. An overall sense of relief was shared by the assembled that Potter’s Field would not be the last memory of the Ragged Stranger.
Those that did manage to get a seat in a carriage headed west to Glen Oak Cemetery in Hillside. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that a headstone was planned to be added later with the inscription:
The Ragged Stranger
Died June 21, 1920
When originally paying for the burial permit, Clamage looked upon the Ragged Stranger and said, ‘He was a kind young fellow, too, wasn’t he?’
The same could be said of Mr. Clamage at this point as he was most likely younger than the kind, young fellow staring back at him from a slab in the morgue. Clamage’s father was an English Jew who had found success owning saloons on the city’s near west side. His mother was a Russian and the bilingual Barney was taught at an early age the importance of hard work. All of the Clamage boys worked in the family taverns and pool halls before they were 15.
Barney was a young buck of 19 when he took the initiative to pay for the Ragged Stranger’s burial. His business sense must have been rather keen to amass near $3,000 in today’s money at such a young age and spend it so altruistically. Or, again, he had an eye to the future and a knack for self-promotion.
His knack for self-promotion might have been born of a strong sense of self-preservation as well. In what might have been a motivating factor for Mr. Clamage to leave the retail booze business and get into the wholesale side, he opened his saloon door one night to something that would change his life.
Past one o’clock in the morning in August 1928, someone started pounding on his locked tavern door. Clamage arose and opened the door to Edward Divis (or Davis or Debbits as his name was also reported), a known petty criminal in the area. Before much could be said, three more men rushed up to Divis and pushed him, and Clamage, into Clamage’s Village Inn at 736 south Paulina. Guns were drawn and fired and Divis collapsed with mortal gunshot wounds to his head and torso. Exactly what was said after this is not known. What is known, is that the three gunmen left, Clamage locked the doors, went back to bed, and did not call police to report the murder until after 7:30 the next morning. No arrests were ever made.
The following day’s newspaper referenced a lover’s triangle between the married Divis, his mistress Mildred Molinani who apparently was lonely due to her dope peddling husband being in and out of jail, and Dominick Caruso the aforementioned dope peddler husband. Mr. Caruso, released from jail, visited Mrs. Molinani shortly after Mr. Divis had called on her and being aghast that she would cheat on him, he vowed to kill Divis, crying out,
“I’ll get Mooney and together we’ll get that rat, Divis.”
Grandiose threats are often made in the heat of the moment but most people don’t have a friend, or resource, at their side like Caruso did. He had Mooney. Or as most people would later know him, Sam the Cigar. Barney Clamage had opened his tavern door that night and witnessed future Chicago Mob Boss, Sam Giancana, committing one of his earliest murders.
Whatever was said that night led to the Divis murder going down as a cold case and Clamage sleeping in his own bed. Police asked questions and investigated, and Divis’s old cohorts avenged him by twice bombing the Taylor street Italian-ice factory owned by Sam Giancana’s father, but the murder would never be solved. As for Clamage, shortly after this event he got into the wholesale booze business.
Clamage would go on to be a successful entrepreneur with the booze business later leading to financing automobile loans, another endeavor that provided quite a fortune for Mr. Clamage though he died young, single and without children.
His friends remembered his generosity with west side charities and the disadvantaged of all walks of life. Whatever his motivations, he was the sole voice for the Ragged Stranger and provided in death a moment of dignity.
Coming Friday, August 17- No Cubs Fans Allowed on a White (or Black) Sox Jury
Coming Monday, August 20- Podcast Episode #5- Getting to Know More Strangers
This blog aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct fallacies where they have branched away from the truth, and most importantly, to entertain and enlighten. It has been sourced from research for my upcoming book Kisses for Julia, Bullets for Ruth: The Mystery of Carl Wanderer & the Ragged Stranger.
To have this blog emailed to you, type your email below and click the "create subscription" button. The emailed blog is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.