Ellen McKenna (1834-1921)

Ellen McKenna was born around 1834, in County Tyrone, Ireland. Her father was Hugh McKenna and her mother was Mary. She and her family survived the Potato famine which lasted from 1845 to 1850. During that period, over one million people died in Ireland and another million fled the country.

Her family moved to Belfast in late 1851, when Ellen was about 15 years old. She was the oldest of six children, including a younger sister who was adopted. In 1852, they lived at 6 Albert Street Place. In County Tyrone, Hugh was likely a farmer. They lived on a six acre piece of ground. In Belfast, Hugh became a millworker and also a fireman. Ellen and two of her younger siblings were also employed as millworkers.

They attended the Church of Ireland, Christ Church Parish where they were confirmed members. Though they attended Church, they did not use a prayer book or have family devotionals. Ellen and the rest of her family could read, but only she and her father Hugh reported to read the Bible.

Prior to 1860, the family moved to 11 Galway Street to a small home owned by William Ross. See map of where the family lived in Belfast.

Ellen left County Tyrone as a teenager, but her family maintained ties in County Tyrone. On 26 January 1861, Ellen was married to Joseph Glass in the Church of Ireland in Ballygawley, County Tyrone. Hugh Lefroy Baker, MA performed the marriage. At the time of the wedding, Ellen lived in Ballygawley and Andrew lived in Lisdoart, about a mile south of Ballygawley. Joseph’s father was Andrew Glass and his mother was Margaret Fleming. John McCartney and James LW Fee were the witnesses at the wedding. Their first son was born in December of that year and they named him Joseph Fleming Glass, giving him his father’s first name and his mother’s maiden name. In 1862, they added a little girl, Letitia, to their family. And in 1865, they added a second son, George Andrew Glass. George was born in King’s County (County Offaly) where there were very few family connections on either side.

In the summer of 1866, the young Glass family sailed to Liverpool where they boarded the Neptune, arriving in New York City on 12 September 1866. They settled in Newark, New Jersey where Joseph obtained work in a factory as a Japanner. A Japanner is someone who applies varnish or lacquer similar to how it is done in Japan. A common application of this skill was in applying a shiny black finish to furniture or tools.

Newark was a bustling town when they arrived as it was in the middle of an industrial revolution. The population was 100,000 people, which was about the same size as Belfast when they left. During the next forty years, Newark, like its twin sister Belfast, would grow to over 400,000 people. Much of the early growth of Newark was enabled by the Morris Canal ...

Newark was the center of industry and innovation. Thomas Edison arrived in Newark in 1871 and worked for the New Jersey Telegraph Company on Railroad Avenue. During the next 5 years Edison would record over 1,000 patents, including … Edison would move his laboratory to Menlo Park in 1876 and later to South Orange.

The next decade would be a hard one for Ellen as she would lose six children to death. Little Letitia was the first to die. She died of croup in 1867. James was born in 1868 and would only live to the age of three. William was born in 1869 and would live only ten days. They named another son William. He was born in 1872, but died in 1875. George Andrew, who sailed with the family from Ireland would also die in 1875. Ellen was named for her mother. Born in 1874, she would die in 1876. By their ten-year anniversary in America, they had lost six children and had only two children still alive. Joseph who was born in Ireland was 16 and Benjamin C who was born in Newark in 1870 was six years old. In the next four years, however, they would have two daughters who would also live to adulthood. Elizabeth was born in 1878 and Margaret was born in 1880.

In 1869, a public elementary school was opened one block south of the Morris and Essex Railroad Broad Street station on Burnet Street. Joseph would become a janitor there where he would work the remainder of his working life. The Burnet Street School was … and schooled about 800 students.

Joseph and Ellen would live in the heart of Newark their entire lives (See map). In 1880, they lived on Morris and Essex Railroad Avenue very near the center of the city. In 1900, they lived on Waverly Avenue, about one mile South of the Broad Street Station. In 1910, they lived on 3rd Street, about a half mile to the North of the Broad Street Station.

In 1884, their son Joseph married Charlotte Minerva Smith. They were married in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 466 High Street. The witnesses at their wedding were Agustus and Barbara Bohl of 21 James Street. In 1901, their daughter Elizabeth was also married in an Episcopal Church, though in a different location. Elizabeth married Walter Holst, an immigrant from Denmark, on 26 June 1901 in the Emmanuel Reformed Episcopalian Church located at the corner of Broad and 4th Avenue. The wedding was performed by William D. Stevens, Rector. The witnesses were Frederick Jerolomon and Margaret Glass, Elizabeth's 20 year-old sister.

A new Broad street station was built on the West side of Broad Street in … 1890 Westinghouse factory was built next …

In 1893, Joseph went to Chicago. On September 8, 1893, the Daily Inter Ocean reported that “Joseph Glass, of Newark, N.J., stopping at No. 3017 Wabash avenue, was very seriously injured. He was kicked in the left temple, knocked senseless, and it is feared that the consequences may prove fatal.” Fortunately, he recovered from the injury and lived another 17 years.

When Joseph retired from being a Janitor is not clear. In the 1900 census he doesn’t list an occupation. But on his death certificate he claims that he occupation was janitor of the Burnet Street School. In 1905 he developed chronic interstitial nephritis. On 15 February 1910 Joseph suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He died three days later, just eleven months short of their 50th wedding anniversary. He was buried in the Woodland Cemetery just west of Waverly Avenue where they lived for a while.

Ellen’s final years were troubled. In 1915, five years after Joseph died, Ellen developed what the doctors referred to as "senile psychosis - simple deterioration". In July 1918, Ellen was hospitalized at Overbrook, the Essex County Hospital for the Insane on Fairview Avenue in Cedar Grove.

Just eight months earlier, The New York Times published an article that detailed what may be one of the worst tragedies to occur at Overbrook – the failure of a set of boilers during a cold wave that resulted in the deaths of 24 patients in 20 days. “The 1,800 insane patients at the Essex County Hospital, at Cedar Grove, NJ, are suffering serious discomfort and in some cases incurring danger from the practically complete collapse of the heating and lighting plant of the institution. The sleeping quarters of the inmates are practically without heat, and have been so during the recent cold snap… the management of the institution has even been trying to borrow a locomotive from one of the railroads to furnish steam for heating and power. During the twenty days since the first of December there have been twenty-four deaths in the institution, as against eight for the entire month last year. There have also been thirty-two cases of frostbite in the last three weeks.”

The hospital was originally established in 1896, when Essex county officials designated 325 acres of land as the new location of the Essex County Asylum for the Insane. Located in what was then Verona and is now Cedar Grove, the facility housed mentally ill patients who required daily care. The site was selected due to its remote, high altitude location, which, it was believed, could provide a healthy, peaceful setting for patients to rehabilitate in. The complex came to be known as Overbrook, due to its location just beyond the Peckman River. In the early half of the twentieth century, Overbrook was at full capacity. Thousands of patients were housed at the Fairview Avenue facility at any given time. The facility was so large that it had its own train stop on the Caldwell Branch of the Erie Railroad, used to transport the massive amounts of coal and fuel needed to run the hospital complex. Patients were fed largely by food grown in huge farming field located on the hospital’s property, in which they also worked as part of their rehabilitative occupational therapy.

Ellen would die at Overbrook of a cerebral hemorrhage on 15 April 1921 at 7:45 pm. She was not seen by a physician until the next day. She was buried in the Woodland Cemetery on April 19th next to her husband of 60 years.

Their children and grandchildren would stay in Newark through the declining years of Newark. Racial tensions in 1967 …