Friday, May 19, 2006

Living next to Jimmy Hoffa

Probably no other child born in Brazil, Ind., has stirred up as much interest as Jimmy Hoffa.
The FBI continues to search a horse farm in Michigan, about 20 miles from the restaurant where Hoffa was last seen in public 31 years ago.
The media and movies have depcted Hoffa’s life as he rose to leadership in the Teamsters union, but what was life like when he was a boy growing up in Brazil?
We know he was born in 1913, the third of four children. His father, John Cleveland Hoffa, was a coal miner who died when Jimmy was 7. His mother, Viola Riddle Hoffa, moved to Detroit in 1924 and the rest is history.
What would his life been like had his mother not moved to Detroit, but stayed in Brazil?
Life was hard for coal miner families in those years. Ask Bill Lynch. His family lived next to the Hoffas for a period of time.
Bill, now 81, remembers the Hoffas lived at 111 N. Vandalia St. when they were neighbors. Although Bill was born after Mrs. Hoffa took her family to Detroit, his oldest brother, Donald, knew Jimmy and they played together.
Bill can identify with Jimmy in the death of his father, John Hoffa in 1920, for Lynch's grandfather died when Lynch's father was a boy, too. The men in Lynch’s family had been miners in Scotland before they immigrated to Pennsylvania and then to this area, following coal as well as the dream of a better life in America.
But, they soon learned how tough life could be in the coal fields of Indiana.
Bill’s grandfather, John (a.k.a. Jack) Lynch was killed when a mine collapsed. The mine was located behind East Side School, north of U.S. 40.
Jack was carried home by fellow miners where he soon died.
The miners took up a collection for the family and contributed $1,500. That matched the $1,500 the Zeller Mine was required by law to pay the family of a deceased miner.
Bill’s grandmother, Anna MacDonald Lynch, dressed in black, mourning the rest of her life, until she died in 1941 at age 84. But mourning didn’t stop her from providing for her family.
She took the $3,000 and built two houses at 123 and 127 N. Vandalia St. She bought a 5-acre pasture from the local Catholic priest and used the land to feed cows which she milked. The pasture was later sold and eventually became Pell’s Addition.
In addition to selling milk and butter, she raised poultry, sold garden vegetables, dug horseradish — “anything to make a dollar,” Bill said. “And if she made a dollar, she saved 95 cents of it.”
Life after his father’s death must have made a lasting impression on Jack’s son, William (who was also Bill’s father). The son broke tradition and never worked in a mine, choosing to become a letter carrier instead.
Bill’s mother, Sadie, liked Viola Hoffa. They would visit, as neighbor women often did in those days before two-income families.
“She was a nice neighbor,” Bill recalled his mother saying.
Neither the Lynch home or the Hoffa’s home are still standing. A vacant lot remains at that location.
The Hoffa house was known as being of the “shotgun” style of architecture. Standing at the front door, one could look into the house and see the living room, bedroom and kitchen.
“It was called a “shotgun’ house because they said you could shoot a shotgun in the front door and the pellets would go out the back without hitting anything,” Bill said with a chuckle.
According to information at the Clay County Museum, the Hoffas lived at 315 E. Church St. at one tine. A record which doesn't bother Bill at all.
“They may have lived at more than one house in Brazil,” he said, but he knows his family used to live next door to the little boy who grew up to become one of organized labor’s strongest leaders. Do you know who your neighbors are?

Ivy Herron contributed to this report.