The Individuals at Hand
A father, husband, and brother-in-law, Wooster’s citizens respected John Tormie and reacted violently to news of his brutal murder - beatings from multiple assailants and three fatal stab wounds - after he supervised a simple game of chance at the county fair.1 Although there is not an abundance of evidence surrounding the life of John Tormie, what we know about him matched an everyday well-respected man of the American Gilded Age. Hence, Tormie's brutal murder had lasting effects for the entire community, as Wooster residentents asked themselves how such a well-liked individual could suffer from such brutality?
News of Tormie's murder spread like wildfire. Immediately citizens began rioting outside of Dr. Todd’s home on West Liberty Street, where Tormie took his last breaths. Citizens protested on West Liberty Street for justice, exclaiming: “law and order”, and “blood for blood!"2
Ultimately these riots and the phrase “blood for blood” signify the degree in which citizens were involved with John Callahan’s trial and execution, representing how one murder sparked public engagement and debate within the Wooster Community.
1. “Murder! Killing of John Tormey at Wooster Fairgrounds,” Wayne County Democrat (Wooster, OH), Oct. 8th, 1879. Pp 1.
2. Ibid. Pp 1.
John Callahan was twenty-two years old at the time of his execution. Born in 1858 on a small farm in Cooperstown, Wisconsin, Callahan was the second child of five to his father, Irish immigrant Michael Callahan. At the time of his execution, Callahan stood six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds.1
Callahan epitomizes a common character of the Gilded Age: the child of immigrants raised on principles of farming. John Callahan represents a significant population of the larger American Gilded Age and their internal strife.
A key component to the Gilded Age is the rising levels of immigration. Historian Joel Shrock notes the connection between changing tactics of crime and changing patterns of immigration. Shrock mentions how during the Gilded Age the social construct of crime shifted because “crime took on new guises... as the nature and style of crimes changed with massive immigration.”2
In conjunction with shifting appearances of crime, citizens were fearful of a "murder crisis"3 because of a post 1865 statistic - a 60% increase in homicides. Due to this fear, many native-born Americans blamed immigrants for the rise in crime.4
This larger context of associating immigrant newcomers with a rise in violent crimes serves as explanation to why Wooster’s citizen reacted indignantly towards John Callahan. Many Woosterites interpreted Callahan’s actions as typical of the “belligerence of being an immigrant” or, as some put it in the local newspaper “the drunken Irishman” acting out.5
1. Emerson, Rhonda. "Early Wayne History Including Hanging For Murder." Daily Record. (Wooster, OH), Dec. 2nd, 1967. Pp 1.
2. Shrock, Joel. The Gilded Age. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Pp 2.
3. Ibid. Pp 11.
4. Ibid. Pp 12.
5. “Murder! Killing of John Tormey at Wooster Fairgrounds,” Wayne County Democrat (Wooster, OH), Oct. 8th, 1879. Pp 1.