The story of Chief O’Neill owes a great debt to his great-granddaughter Mary Lesch. It was Mary who followed through on family stories and hunted down her famous ancestor’s unpublished manuscript. Then, with the aid of Chicago historian Ellen Skerrett, thoroughly researched and enhanced the document with extensive footnotes, period illustrations and supplemental materials. The final document, Chief O’Neill’s Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago, is an incredible document of history of the nineteenth and early twentieth century touching on many diverse areas.
Recently, the WSJM radio show With Respect, interviewed Mary where she relates the story of how the book came together, along with giving an eloquent re-telling of the O’Neill story. You can listen to the interview here.
On a personal note, I am deeply indebted to Mary and Ellen. They showed me great hospitality when I came to visit Chicago, sharing all kinds of invaluable stories and insights; including a tour of the O’Neill neighborhoods. I never thought I would be able to read notebooks kept in the family all these years as well as visit the places he wrote about and it is all due to Mary’s generosity. Having that living connection with O’Neill’s past to draw on became a key part of my writing process and helped me finish the book.