Introduction to Issue No. 1
Robert A. Wheeler

People interested in history often want to know today what it was like to live in the past - not just as an important person but as an ordinary one. It is difficult to know. We know lots about political matters because laws and other records survive but people like us often don't have the time or inclination to write about what they were doing - even if they did they would think no one would be interested anyway.

So we have to look in very strange places for information. One of those places is the Coroner's Records. When someone died under suspicious circumstances the coroner had to find out what caused the death - especially if it was someone else's fault. So the coroner held an investigation called an inquest. Local police interviewed as many witnesses as they could find. Fortunately, some of these interviews have survived. They tell us what life was like - life in the working class parts of the city which is often totally hidden from our view.

We have reproduced here the contents (and other information) from one case, the unfortunate and violent death of Rosa O'Malia. It was a case followed in the newspapers (there was no radio or television, of course).

We have also reproduced several student papers - one describes the case and its aftermath and the other two pretend to be one of the participants and write a fictional account using the information from the case. We hope you enjoy each of them!

Perhaps a word or two about the location of the case would help us get our bearings. By the late 1850s Cleveland was a growing industrial city bustling with factories, railroads, immigrants. blast furnaces and the beginnings of Rockefellers's oil refineries. In the shadow of these accomplishments lived the workers who made the city go. Some lived in small yet comfortable houses but others lived in more temporary housing which clung to the steep hills surrounding the flats on the west side of the Cuyahoga River. This neighborhood was called The Angle because of the steep angle of the hill and the abrupt turn the hill took as it turned north to parallel the lake shore. A little further down the river was an area today know as Irishtown bend which stretched south to Columbus Street. Housing here was cheap and flimsy - in fact, some dwellings were called shanties - made of scrap lumber and crowded many on a steep lot.

It was here that Rosa O'Malia and the others lived amidst the hustle and bustle of Cleveland. Housing was cheap because much of the Flats was filled with noisy, polluting factories - those who could moved up to the area around Detroit and Franklin. Those who could not lived here. They were below what we would call the poverty line today - they had no permanent jobs and very few public services to help them. They were also often victims of a condition which plagued many working class people in the nineteenth century - alcoholism.

Amid this challenging backdrop, the story of Rosa O'Malia unfolds.