If Tombstones Could Talk

John E. O’Shaughnessy: 1859-1933

Posted July 7, 2020

My name is John E. O’Shaughnessy. I was born in Fond du lac in 1859 to Patrick and Elizabeth (Madden) Shaughnessy. They immigrated to America from the Emerald Isle in 1848, during the potato famine. Father worked many odd jobs until, like many of his fellow countrymen, he found work as an employee of the Northwestern railroad.

For 16 years he worked in the car-repairing department, saving money wherever he could with the dream of owning something of his own and not having to work at the “beck and call” of someone else.

He saw the need for a place to stay while traveling through, or working in, Fort Howard so he resigned from the railroad and built a hotel called “Hibernia House,” a rooming house for area businesses. At age 16, I put aside my book learning to assist in the hotel, knowing the hotel would eventually be mine.

The family lived in the rooming house in separate quarters and by 1883 we needed to expand the hotel, adding additional rooms and renaming the rooming house “Northwestern Hotel.” Father opposed the renaming because Hibernia is the Latin name for “island of Ireland,” and he believed the hotel was an “island” for the workers living here. I felt the name, “Northwestern,” was more in keeping with the times.

After I passed away in 1933, my wife, Sarah, and son, Harold, managed the hotel. The Northwestern hotel went through a number of changes over the years, including a homeless shelter.

Father would be happy to know it is now an upscale apartment building called The Hibernia!