CHICAGO — The mourning did not stop. At night the priest insisted we follow him from the street, into the rectory, and through a passageway that brought us out onto the altar of the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church.
Here, in the lights, was the body of Mayor Richard J. Daley. His people, crimson from the freezing air, filed past. The priest led us off the altar and into a front pew on the side of the church. Right away the family complained. One of Daley’s sons came over and spoke softly to the priest. They wanted us out. “I told you,” I whispered to the priest. At the end, in their trouble, the family had no room for strangers inspecting grief.
We got up and went out into the night. Heaters had been placed along the street to warm the people on line. There was a good contingent from the plumbers’ union. The boys had arrived by bus and had waited for some time on line, but now they looked with disdain on the orange flames licking from the tops of the heaters. The plumbers needed something warmer. A group of them broke from the line and went down the block to Dan Sheehan’s, a saloon on the corner behind the church.
The plumbers sat at a table surrounded by stacks of beer cases. On the wall was a color poster for the Super Bowl football game. The plumbers did not bother to take off their quilted zipper jackets while they drank whisky and beer chasers. It was late in the evening and none of them had eaten and they kept roaring over to the bartender that they wanted more whisky. One of the plumbers, a man with a gray crew cut who had hands big enough to connect sewer pipe, got mad at a guy in a blue ski jacket across the table from him. The guy in the ski jacket was slouched in the chair. When he stood up, he was much bigger than he was supposed to be. The two plumbers went into each other like billy goats. The sound of one of them slamming against a refrigerator brought the owner, Dan Sheehan, out from behind the bar. Sheehan, out of Boilermakers Union No. 1, knew exactly what to do.
He hit them with power, a strong hand on each chest, and also with sharpest reasoning.
“The language!” Sheehan said. “I got a priest from Ireland at the bar. How can you do this on a night like this?”
Yesterday morning, with the wake over and the funeral about to begin, the people of Chicago were gone and the ones called dignitaries came out of their limousines and up the steps of the church. Jimmy Carter, with the stinging breeze lifting his razor-cut hair. Nelson Rockefeller, showing the stains of age. George McGovern, unnoticed, and Edward Kennedy.
For as they prayed over the body of Richard J. Daley, the immigration of the Irish to this country officially ended. The Irish came here out of the famines and the death boats, out of the denial and ridicule, out of the stockyards and the trades unions, out of the political clubs and the city halls of the big cities of the nation, and yesterday, Dick Daley, the last boss, took the meaning with him into the ground. The word Irish now means grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, and as it goes beyond this, as it does with each year, the meaning of the word fades and the people are American and nothing else.
Organ music came into the clear air from the loudspeakers hooked up on the street. At the first sound of it, women standing at the storm doors of their bungalows disappeared inside to watch television. We went into the McKeon Funeral Home on a corner across the street from the church. Upstairs, in the family apartment, a woman held out coffee for anybody walking in. When we realized which McKeon family lived in this house, the day grew disturbing.
The mother, Margaret McKeon, a widow, runs the funeral home. In 1967, her son Joseph T. McKeon was killed in Vietnam. When the body came back to the neighborhood, back to Bridgeport, one of the neighbors, Richard J. Daley, was shaken. The war that he said all loyal Americans should support became a question to him. And in 1968, during the California primary, Robert Kennedy sat in a convertible going along a freeway and he said that he thought he had it, he thought he would be the Democratic nominee for president, because Daley of Chicago was going to support him. Daley of Chicago wanted the war ended.
“He had this awful funeral, a boy from his own ward was killed,” Bobby Kennedy was saying. “So now he wants it over.” He thumped his fist on his knee. “Daley,” Bobby Kennedy said, “Daley is the ball game.”
The next night, Kennedy was shot. At the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Richard J. Daley forgot everything while he took on the college students. The moment had passed, the combination was gone, and the war went on. More than twenty thousand of our young were yet to die.
“The mayor put up a playground around the corner,” a woman was saying. “He named it the Lieutenant Joseph McKeon, Jr., Play Lot. Isn’t that nice?”
Across the street the Mass was ending, and everybody went outside. The women were back at the storm doors again and the priests stood on the steps, arms folded against the cold, while the casket was brought out. Then the dignitaries were out and into the limousines. As the line of black cars began moving, the police and firemen on duty stopped saluting and ran for warmth.
“This way,” an officer named Bernard Brice said. The radio attached to his black leather jacket made a scratching sound. Brice led us down the street to Sheehan’s. The bar was crowded with cops and firemen from the neighborhood, who were assigned to the funeral at the request of the Daley family.
There was a tapping sound in the room, as if somebody were using a hammer. The bartender named Hughes was walking along and placing an empty shot glass in front of each cop and fireman. When he reached the end of the bar he picked up a bottle and began going the other way, filling each shot glass.
Brice lives at 3537 South Lowe. The mayor’s house is at 3536 South Lowe. “My grandmother’s from Kerry. The mayor’s family is from Waterford. We’ve got quite a few Irish around here.”
A lieutenant of police, Bob Reilly, came in for a drink. “This is the end of the trail,” he said. “This affair today was Celtic. Last time you’re going to see it. Forget about the Irish. They went to Notre Dame. They all came out different. Now they’re all out in the suburbs wanting to be Wasps. It’s not that good either, you know. I’m with the mayor. The mayor says, ‘You don’t move out of a great city.’”
Outside, the streets were empty in the weak afternoon sun. To drive out of Bridgeport, you go up the mayor’s street, South Lowe, past his brick bungalow, with an American flag and a Christmas wreath at the door, then turn right on Thirty-fifth Street, and you pass S. Wallace, S. Parnell, S. Normal, streets known to everyone in Chicago. Then you pass Comiskey Park and suddenly here it is: the twelve-lane Dan Ryan Expressway, with commuter rail tracks in the middle, and on the other side of the expressway, cut off by something smarter and more effective than a wall, are the gloomy apartment houses where the blacks live. Newspapers blew along streets lined with boarded-up stores.
This was the Chicago nobody mentions when they tell of how well Dick Daley can make a city work. And it was a neighborhood for people whom the Irish and Daley seem most reluctant to help.
Turning to go back to the expressway, there was a dead German shepherd in the middle of the street. The driver tried to go around the dog, but could not. It was a big dog and the car bounced as it went over the body.