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James Brendan Connolly

A SON OF JOHN and Mary (O'Donnell) Connolly, I was born in South Boston, Massachusetts, on October 28, 1868. My parents were natives of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, were married over there, and while still young came to South Boston to live.

I was the sixth of John and Mary Connolly's ten sons. All the Connolly boys like to rove. One of the older boys, Michael, went South on a government job, settled in Georgia, studied law nights, and was admitted to the Georgia Bar. He specialized in Maritime law, and was named Admiralty Commissioner for the port of Savannah.

When I got the family itch to rove, brother Mike got me a job with the U. S. Engineer Corps then at the work of improving the rivers and harbors of the south east Atlantic coast. vVhile with the Engineer Corps, I saved a dredge hand from drowning. The Savannah Morning News gave two columns to the account of the rescue.

I left the Engineer Corps for a special engineering course at Harvard College. I left Harvard when I was refused leave of absence to compete in the revival of the Ancient Olympic Games at Athens. I had been the American amateur hop-step-and-jump champion and record holder before that. I won this event at Athens, being first of all to win, and so became the first Olympic Victor in 1500 years.

I came home a hero, but I had also come home broke, having paid my own expenses for the Olympic trip, and now I had to start making a living again! I had begun writing while still in grammar school. At an annual examination I filled sixteen foolscap pages with a paper on the Declaration of Independence; which paper was sent by my proud teacher to a convention of school superintendents as a sample of what a twelve year old Boston public school boy could do.

I began my writing for a living by doing space things for two Boston daily papers and two monthly sports magazines. I was making a local name for mysclf as a special writer when the Spanish War broke out. I enlisted with the Ninth Massachusetts Infantry, the famous Fighting Ninth of Civil War fame. The regiment served through the campaign of '98 in Cuba. During the siege of Santiago I carried rations to isolated comrades after being three times ordered back by my battalion commander, Major Michael O'Connor. While in Cuba I wrote letters to a friend about Army life. The friend turned them over to the Boston Globe which played them up heavily. I was told I would be court martialed for some of the things I said in my letters; but I wasn't court martialed.

Bad food, bad water, bad sanitation, and meagre medical service played havoc with that little army in that terrible summer in Cuba. After the Spanish troops in Cuba surrendered, the Ninth was sent home and mustered out. By that time every man in it was down with some form of fever-malaria, typhoid-malaria, yellow fever and what not. And yellow fever was not at all the worst of them.

When I began to feel half way good again I shipped as hand on a cattle boat to England. I went broke in London, tramped my way back to Liverpool, where I had free passage on a cattle boat home. I did an article on the cattle trip for the Boston Transcript.

While still twenty-five pounds underweight from tropic fever, I took a job as physical director of the Gloucester Athletic Club. I played football on the Athletic Club cleven, spent the fall and winter (1899-1900) there, chucked that, job in the spring, took a steerage trip to England, looked the London slums over, and went on to Paris, to take in the Paris Exposition, and, incidentally, compete in the Second Olympic Games. I lived on twenty cents a day for my first week in Paris, meantime training for the Olympic Games by walking countless miles around the city. On the day of my competition I had a breakfast of one egg, one roll, one cup of cafe au lait. That morning I walked seven miles to the athletic park, lunched on the good air of the Bois de Boulougne, and got second place in the event.

While wondering what I would do for my next meal, I ran across Bob Garrett, a wealthy friend from Olympic days in Athens. Garrett staked me to my room rent, some nourishing meals and a steerage passage home. Arriving home I wrote my first short story, an athletic story for a boys' weekly, to repay Garrett. I then did several newspaper and a magazine article on my steerage experiences.

My next move was to make fishing trips with the captains I had come to know while in Gloucester with the Athletic Club. I had no intention of writing them up, but at this stage of my development I was able to appraise men fairly well. Here were great men, and all the greater because they did not know that they were great. I began by writing of actual experiences with the Gloucestermen, continued with them as the heroic men they were in short stories. My first stories were sent to Scribner's Magazine, and immediately accepted.

My first half dozen stories ere brought out in the volume, Out of Gloucester, by Charles Scribner's Sons; and immediately republished in England. Eight subsequent volumes of my short stories, one book of personal experiences, and three novels were republished in England.

These volumes were written between times. Editors had been getting after me early to do special work for them. Scribner and Harper magazines both commissioned me to make Arctic trips. I fished with Finnish fishermen over by the White Sea on the Siberian coast; and the Lapp fishermen out of Hammerfest. I went on a whaling voyage to seventy-six degrees north, with the famous Norwegian Captain Morgan Ingrebrystken. I sailed with English fishermen in the North Sea, with German fishermen in the Baltic Sea. There was a mission to the Russian border to study immigration matters. I put in a trip for the Boston Transcript to the Consistory at Rome in 1911. I made a mission to Europe for Collier's in 1908, I revisited Greece in 1906 to polish off a short novel, "An Olympic Victor," for Scribner's.

President Theodore Roosevelt gave me authority to go aboard any American navy ship any time anywhere and stay as long as it suited me. I saw navy life from ward rooms and admiral's cabins as a guest; and from the fo'c's'le end as an enlisted man. I was with the American naval rescue party after the disastrous Kingston Jamaica earthquake; the commanding American Admiral Davis mentioned me in his dispatches for meritorious service in Jamaica.

I was with the Battle Fleet of Theodore Roosevelt's day when it made the passage of Magellan Straits at cruising speed in fleet formation, in a thick fog-that greatest of all fleet passages in maritime history. Eventually, I had battleship, cruiser, destroyer, collier, airplane, dirigible balloon, submarine and hospital ship experience. I was on the steamer Republic (1909) when she was rammed off Nantucket - (she sank later) the time radio (wireless then) was first used for signalling distress from a ship to sea. There was also an oil tanker trip to the Gulf of Mexico; and a run on a Mississippi River steamboat, and a trans-Atlantic race on a ninety-ton schooner for the Kaiser cup.

I ran for Congress on the Bull Moose ticket in 1913. I was defeated, but ran 2500 votes ahead of my ticket.

In 1914, I was Collier's correspondent in Mexico, that time we landed troops at Vera Cruz. That same year I entered a story in the Collier short story competition. Eight thousand manuscripts were submitted anonymously in that competition. My story, "The Trawler," won first place.

During the first World War I was Collier's naval correspondent for European waters. I saw service with our U-Boat hunting destroyer fleet out of Queenstown in 1917. I came home for Christmas with pneumonia; got over it and went back as correspondent in Brest-Bay of Biscay air and surface patrol in 1918, came home from there after the war with the flu.

In 1921, I was named Commissioner for the American Committee for the Relief of Ireland, my mission being to visit Ireland and report on the story put out by London that American Relief money was being spent for arms and munitions for the Irish Republican Army. I was able to nail that London report as a canard. The Black and Tan War was at its height while I was in Ireland. I had various interesting experiences while there, met with prominent Irish leaders on both sides, including De Valera while on the run, and the British Commander-in-Chief Macready in Dublin Castle. On my return I severely indicted the British conduct of the war in a series of articles for the Hearst Press.

That fall I was one of the crew of the Gloucester schooner Esperanto when she won the International Fishermen Championship off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Altogether I have written nineteen volumes of short stories, novels, personal experiences, and several hundred newspaper and magazine articles on widely varying subjects.

I write mornings after breakfast-a three hour stretch usually,
with now and then a lay-off.

After more than forty years of writing for a living, my advice to younger men is to write of the things that they know something about. For equipment: a gift for writing is a great asset; but a greater asset is sympathy for all kinds, any kind of people. Sympathy makes for understanding.

I am a member of the Army of Santiago de Cuba, a Spanish War veteran, a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a Knight of Columbus and a Gloucester Master Mariner. I live at 9 Braemore Road, Boston, with the wife I married forty years ago and a daughter, Brenda.

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three, copyright 1945

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