Friday, August 11, 2006

Pendergast! by Lawrence H. Larsen and Nancy J. Hulston

A biography of Thomas J. Pendergast, the political machine boss who ran Kansas City, Missouri, in the 1930s and 1940s. Here’s the most interesting part:

In addition to Marceline, Tom Jr., and Aileen, a fourth child, Margaret Ann, lived with the Pendergasts. Carolyn claimed her as her half-sister. Margaret Ann, who went by the last name of Morton, was older than the three Pendergast children but twenty-four years younger than Carolyn. Growing up in the home, but never quite treated like a genuine family member, she always suspected that Carolyn was actually her real mother. Whenever the Pendergasts went on vacation, she was left behind. Margaret Ann “always felt something was wrong,” as she could not accept the difference between her age and the age of her half-sister, whom she called Carrie. In 1966, a private investigator hired by Tom Jr. said of Margaret Ann, “When she grew older, she wondered about it and tried to learn something about the death of her mother and father but Carrie wouldn’t tell her. She feared to ask any of the others.”

Margaret Ann remembered being with Carrie up in the attic of the Pendergast home at 5400 Wyandotte Street when she was a little girl. Margaret Ann was looking through what she called “some junk stored up there in boxes” when she found a document showing that sister Carrie had been married to and divorced from a man before she married T.J. Pendergast. “I never got to ask about it,” she said, “because Carrie saw what I was doing, snatched the paper out of my hands and bawled me out for meddling in other people’s business. She was awful angry. I never saw that paper again. I didn’t look for it either. I was afraid to.” Several years later, as a high school student, a friend told her that he had overheard someone say that she was really Carrie’s daughter. She mentioned this to Carrie “and got a good licking for it.”

As a teenager, Margaret Ann, after a quarrel, was sent to live with Carolyn’s brother, Luke Dunn. Never to return to the Pendergast household, she eventually married and moved to California. Many decades later, the private investigator hired by Tom Jr. located her. The subsequent investigation left little doubt that Margaret Ann was, in reality, Carolyn’s own daughter, father unknown, born prior to her marriage to Tom Pendergast.

Makes me wonder about the lives people lead, the secrets they keep, the lies they tell themselves to conceal them and the things they will do to keep them buried. Makes me also wonder about the power of social morals and taboos, the things people will do under their oppressive influence, and the things they might do different if they were not in place.

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