Looking Back: James Brady, an Edmonds icon

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    James Brady

    In Edmonds from 1890 to 1912, when people mentioned Big Jim, everyone in town knew immediately that Big Jim was the well-known charismatic and jovial Irishman, James Brady. Mr. Brady was one of the men who helped shape Edmonds into the city it is today—he was progressive and his energy seemed to be unlimited. His photograph is shown here courtesy of the Edmonds Historical Society and Museum.

    In a recent column, I told about the adversarial relationship between the very popular James Brady and the not-so-popular attorney and publisher/editor of the Edmonds Tribune, T. A. A. (Thorwald) Siegfriedt — a man whose presence in Edmonds in 1908 was a short and confrontational one. Unlike Mr. Siegfriedt’s own failure in an attempt to fit into the lifestyle of the town of Edmonds, James Brady became an icon.  

    On a personal note, when I look back at James Brady and his life, I automatically remember a short and simple story about Big Jim’s constant companion– his dog Old Frank; and also Fred, Frank’s good friend. The following bittersweet story about Fred and Frank appeared in William Schumacher’s Edmonds Tribune on Thursday, July 1, 1909. Several years ago when I first read the account, it became one of my all-time favorite out-of-the-past news stories. 

    “A FAREWELL TO FRED. Mayor James Brady’s horse, Fred, died Tuesday night at ten o’clock after a short illness. He had wandered downtown and picked a soft spot on Fourth Street just back of the mayor’s building as his last resting place. The pathetic incident of it all was that Frank, the Mayor’s dog, stood guard over the remains all night, being true to his animal friend to the last.”

    James Brady was born Sept. 7, 1857 in Rio, Columbia County, Wisconsin, the son of John Brady and Rosa Nuggent, both from Cavan, Ireland. Raised on his parents’ farm, he was one of seven children. From the beginning, James Brady was remembered as a studious boy. After completing public schools, he went to college at Wisconsin State University, graduating in 1882. He then became a school teacher in Houston County in Minnesota, where his potential as a leader was soon noted. He became the county superintendent of schools. In Houston County, he met Miss Margaret Zenner from the village of Caledonia. Margaret was the daughter of Peter and Mary Zenner. Her father was a very successful farmer in the county. Margaret was working as a dressmaker when she met and married James Brady in 1888. It should be noted that Margaret’s correct birth name was Zenner; not Venner as the Edmonds newspaper and her obituary reported.

    The couple’s wedding trip took them to the West Coast and Seattle. In Seattle, they became attached to the Puget Sound country and remained. Mr. Brady decided to change course from the educational field and instead he went into the real estate business. However, he soon realized that he missed his work as an educator and went back to his first profession as a teacher, working in both King and Kitsap counties. In 1890, he accepted the position of principal, as well as a teacher, at Edmonds’ first graded school and held that position for seven years. In his spare time, Mr. Brady studied law and was admitted to the Washington State Bar. Even though the law degree was probably helpful during his professional career, he never actually “hung out his shingle.”

    In Edmonds, Mr. Brady’s leadership qualities were once again noticed, and he served a year as the city clerk and the following year as the attorney for the city. Mr. and Mrs. Brady then moved to Everett for two years while he was principal of the schools in that town. However, the lure of Edmonds called to them and Mr. Brady resigned his position in Everett and the couple returned. Back in Edmonds, they set up their home on the south side of Maple Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets.

    In 1901, Mr. Brady went into business with his brother Edward Brady, who was an attorney in Seattle, and they opened Brady Shingle Mill on the Edmonds waterfront north of the city dock at Bell Street. James Brady served as the president and manager. In 1912, James Brady was still owner of the mill; however, by that time it was operated by the Union Shingle Company as a co-operative concern.  He also became the vice-president of Weatherproof Shingle Company on the waterfront south of the Edmonds city dock.

    In 1900, James Brady unsuccessfully ran for the office as Secretary of State for Washington. In 1901-1903 and then again from 1904 through 1910, he served as the mayor of Edmonds. He also became the owner of several parcels of real estate, including his building on the northwest corner of George (Main) and Fourth Streets—once the home of The Edmonds Tribune. At the time of his death, James Brady was serving on the district’s school board.

    Besides all his business and civic duties, James Brady was an active figure in the Democratic Party; he was a Mason and a member of the Eagles, as well as the Knights of Pythias and the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

    As was common for women during the early 1900s, Margaret Brady seemed to have been very much in the shadow of her busy husband. However, she was a well-liked in her own right, and in 1905, the Edmonds Review spoke of her as “a lady of refinement and charming social qualities whose popularity was graciously attested in her recent selection as hostess of Edmonds during Snohomish County Week at the Portland Exhibition.” She was a member of the Eastern Star. As a couple, James and Margaret Brady were considered very popular.

    When she was in her middle years, it became noticeable that Margaret Brady was suffering from an illness which was rumored to be of a mental nature due to other health issues. With the hope that Margaret’s health would improve in a different climate, James and Margaret Brady took time off in 1911 and spent a few months in New Mexico. Even though her husband was now with her most of the time, life must have become unbearable for 50-year-old Margaret Brady. By the month of April in 1912, James and Margaret Brady had returned to their Edmonds’ home. We will never know what was going through Mrs. Brady’s mind as she and her husband, for the final time, retired for the night. It was sometime in the evening of Thursday, April 18, 1912.

    Nothing of such a volatile nature had ever happened before, or since, in this little town. The entire community had to have been in a state of shock when the Edmonds Tribune-Review published a special edition at midnight on Friday, April 19, 1912. Large black letters on the front-page seemed to scream the words: “MURDER AND SUICIDE, MARGARET BRADY KILLS HER HUSBAND—AWFUL DEED COMMITTED SOMETIME THURSDAY NIGHT AND DEATHS WERE INSTANTANEOUS.” The article went on to say that the “Bodies were discovered at 6 o’clock Friday evening by O. C. Garrett. She had fired one shot into his head, three into his back and one into her own head — a can of kerosene was concealed under the bed evidencing intent to set fire to the house.” Further it was stated that James Brady was evidently asleep when his life ended; and as the newspaper article said, death was instantaneous. Margaret Brady was lying in bed next to her husband when she took her own life — the revolver was still clutched in her right hand. For some reason known only to her, before the shootings Margaret Brady had completely covered the bedroom’s large dresser mirror with a white bedspread.

    O.C. Garrett, the man who discovered the bodies, was an alderman for the town, and worked as a paper hanger. At this time he was doing some work at the Brady home. He became worried about Mr. and Mrs. Brady as they seemed not to be at home when he reported for work early Friday morning. Mr. Garrett had told his wife of his concern because Mrs. Brady had acted oddly on Thursday while he was working in their home. After worrying about them all day Friday, that evening at six o’clock Mr. Garrett went to the Brady house and finding the door locked, he pried open a window and stepped into a nightmare — in the upstairs bedroom, he found the deceased couple.

    At the age of 54, James Brady was still in the prime of life. He had accomplished a lot during his 20 years in Edmonds, but there was still a lot he could have offered to the town he loved. It was a tragic ending to two lives and there is no doubt that the people of the town were deep in mourning, and speculation must have been widespread as to what could have gone so very wrong in the lives of this seemingly golden couple. For myself, I am puzzled — over the fact that the newspaper article mentioned how much James Brady and his companion Old Frank would be missed around town. The newspaper report left me to wonder what became of this faithful old dog after the death of Big Jim Brady; and where was Old Frank when all this happened.

    Friends and neighbors of James and Margaret Brady, as well as high school faculty members, the Coterie Club, members of other lodges, and officials from Seattle and Everett, gathered at an over-flowing Edmonds Opera House on Sunday, April 21, 1912 at 2 o’clock in the afternoon for the funeral services of the beloved Edmonds couple. It was estimated that the number of those in attendance reached 800. Services were arranged by the McElroy Undertaking Parlors and conducted by the Edmonds Masonic Order with participation by the Eastern Star, Knights of Pythias, the Eagles and the Ancient Order of the United Workmen. The floral arrangements were so numerous; the hall could not hold all of them. Following services at the Edmonds Opera House, the mourners followed the hearse to the IOOF cemetery where graveside burial services were then held.

    For over 105 years, James and Margaret Brady have been resting side by side in a shared grave at what is now Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. They were remembered and honored a few years ago during one of the popular Walk Back in Time programs which are hosted each year in July by the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery Board.

    — By Betty Lou Gaeng

    Betty Lou Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood and Edmonds.

    5 COMMENTS

    1. Do you know the address of where James Brady lived? Where this tragedy occurred? Perhaps it was noted in the newspaper article?

    2. Did Margaret Brady post anything on facebook before she did it? That could give us some clues as to what happened. ¯\_(:/)_/¯

    3. The only reference to the location of the Brady home that I found was in a 1908 Polk’s Directory of Everett City and Snohomish County, Washington, where it gave the location of their house as the south side of Maple Street between 5th and 6th Streets. As to why she did it, from what we know of mental health today, Mrs. Brady may have been bipolar–unknown in 1912, she would have had no treatment. Many ideas about the problems between them have been put forth by different people during our time, but they are only suppositions. Little was written about Margaret Brady until after she committed the deed. Reading about Mr. Brady, I came to a conclusion of my own, but it is just my idea. I don’t imagine that we will ever know.

    4. Hi Betty – the Edmonds Historical Museum has three photos of the Brady House in its collection. I’d post them here, but can’t be done in this app. If you want to find them, they’re file numbers 150.268, 180.69 and 180.142, or I can send them to you if you contact me privately. The info for 180.69 says “Mayor Brady home, 7th & Main (playfield site),” 180.142 says “Brady, Jim house, between 5th & 6th, June 1964,” and interestingly 150.268 says “North Sweet’s Hill looking west, James Brady home, January 1961.” I understood Sweet’s Hill to be the hill directly across Main from the playfield where the two new homes have just been completed, but I might be wrong on this. Can you fill in any gaps here? If this is so, I suspect those new homes might come complete with ghosts, and they might not be very happy ghosts!

    5. Larry, thanks for the information. I may head for the Museum and get copies of the photos. A Sweet family lived in Edmonds in earlier times and I believe they lived on the hill near the old Edmonds Grade School (now the Frances Anderson Center), so maybe it was called Sweet’s Hill for them. Some of the kids graduated from Edmonds High School. A lot of the places in Edmonds carried the names of people connected to the area–like Peabody’s Corner (Fifth and Dayton).

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