Here’s a couple of old Irish players who found more infamy than fame

Because I have had some good luck publishing items in various encyclopedias and journals, I have often (occasionally/once in a while) been asked by young aspiring writers how to get started.  I tell them the standard thing we all learned in journalism class … write, write, and write …. and they are right.  We have the right to write and doing so will improve our ability.

My second bit of advice is to become the “World’s Biggest Authority” on some topic, so when you write something, it will rightly be accorded a place in some kind of publication, if they have right-thinking editors.

As an example, over the years I have received perhaps a dozen queries about former Notre Dame baseball players Ed Reulbach and Lou Sockalexis, because I have published items about each.  Who contacts me?  Researchers who want to know if Reulbach can be counted among the great Jewish athletes and those who want to learn about the first member of the First Peoples who was a first-rate baseball star.  But I digress.

As some of you may know… and the world will soon (I hope) know … I am writing a book about early (1887-1917) Notre Dame Football.  I say, without fear of contradiction, that I am the World’s Leading Authority on this topic.

One part of my upcoming (I hope) book will be a mini-bio of each of the 370 men who donned the moleskins for the Catholics/Hoosiers/Irish of this period …. 30 of whom have not previously included in Notre Dame Football Media Guides.

Here are two of those players.

Clinnin+, Walter Andrew (*listed as “Clinnen” in the Media Guide)

b. 2/5/1888, Chicago; d. 7/16/1955* (67), Chicago, IL 5’9, 170.  *Missing and presumed deceased.

At ND 1908-1909, 1910-1911.  The sixth of 13 children.  Knute Rockne started the opening game of the 1910 season at fullback, but performed poorly and was replaced by Clinnin, who then played three additional games at left half.  Rockne never saw the field again that season.  Walter was Assistant Captain of the 1911 ND football team, but did not return to school.  Played for DePaul, in 1912 and 1913, serving as Captain in 1913.  Sprinter on ND track team.  Won his boxing match, over All American Red Miller, in the spring, 1911 campus boxing and wrestling matches.

  Advertising Department, “Chicago Journal”, Oak Park, IL.  Coached DePaul.  On February 24, 1917, the SCHOLASTIC reported that he was the automobile editor of the Chicago Daily Journal.  He and his wife, the former Winifred Monighan, married in 1915 and divorced in 1949.  She lived to be 98 years old.  Their son John, a Naval Ensign, died in a night-fighter training plane crash during WWII.  A second son, Marine Captain Walter Andrew Clinnin, Jr., died 1/17/1952, when his plane crashed during the Korean War.  He was declared missing in action at that time, but the death was confirmed two years later.  Robert, a third son, also served as a Naval Aviator and later became a prominent attorney in L.A. County. 

The boys may have acquired their interest in flying from their father, who purchased the Heath Airplane Company in 1931, moving it to Niles, Michigan from Chicago.  Walter apparently invested and lost a lot of money in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and within a year was forced to close the business, which was then named the International Aircraft Corporation.  It’s unfortunate for him, because the company, later-named Heathkit, became quite successful and legendary.  Steve Jobs credited the Heathkits with inspiring his self-confidence while working with these complex kits. 

Clinnin was apparently doing well financially, in the early 20’s.  He was listed in an April 1, 1922 SCHOLASTIC article as a District Chairman of the Chicago committee raising funds for the Notre Dame Endowment.  A 1924 newspaper account indicated that he and his family would be wintering in Miami, beginning in December.  He owned this home, worth $25,000, which was a huge sum in those days.

 Walter appeared in the news, on September 22, 1925, when the Centralia Evening Sentinel reported that he served only a few days of a six-month Federal sentence, which was supposed to be served in the Kendall County Illinois Jail.  Several Sheriffs were implicated in similar schemes, releasing persons convicted of various prohibition crimes.

According to the National Archives, on May 5, 1925, Walter was sentenced to one year and one day, plus a $1,000 fine, in Chicago, for violating prohibition laws (the Volstead Act).  He entered the Leavenworth Penitentiary on February 10, 1926.  Clinnin’s occupation was listed as “broker,” in Oak Park’s city directory and “investment broker” in the records of Leavenworth Prison.  Two weeks after he arrived, he became a Gate Trusty.  On March 17, as Inmate #24795, he was transferred to the Federal Prison at Atlanta, after Attorney General John Sargent wrote Warden Biddle that “the present place of confinement is not sufficiently secure to insure the custody of this prisoner.”

Warden Biddle resigned in November, amid some controversy over his competence and integrity.  He had been under pressure from Assistant Attorney General Mabel Willebrandt, a fascinating figure in her own right, who had been investigating the conditions of both the Leavenworth and Atlanta prisons.  She was one of the handful of people that Clinnin corresponded with.  He wrote her on February 23.  On Clinnin’s medical record, he had a chest measurement of 42 at “inspiration” and 37 on “expiration”.

In 1938, Clinnin was among 30 “former stars” who were given sideline passes at the ND-Minnesota football game.  On June 3, 1939, he was one of the former teammates of Rockne present at the dedication of the Rockne Memorial and introduced to the crowd by M.C. Gus Dorais.  A few months later, Walter was implicated in a scheme, with fraudster David Pinkussohn, to fleece five priests out of $15,000 in a whiskey warehouse receipt transaction.  Clinnin does not appear in any further items from Notre Dame publications.

Walter made the crime blotter again, on July 21, 1955.  According to the Dixon (Illinois) Evening Telegraph:  “A nationwide alert has been sounded for an automobile belonging to a missing gambling equipment salesman indicted for forging a legal opinion by the State Attorney General.  He was Walter Clinnin, 57, who has been reported missing since he left his Chicago apartment Saturday morning, driving a 1951 dark green Lincoln automobile.”  Clinnin had an August 8 trial date.  He was indicted along with Joseph Aiuppa and “Screwy” Claude Maddox.  Maddox was the head of the Circus Café Gang, which was aligned with Al Capone’s “outfit.” 

Clinnin was working as a $100 a week salesman for Taylor and Co., a Cicero, Illinois manufacturer of gambling equipment, when he drew up the fake document to attest to the legality of a piece of slot machine equipment.  Taylor and Co. was described as “hoodlum-controlled”.  Newspaper accounts suggested Clinnin may have been slain to keep him from testifying.  He allegedly said he had “dynamite information” and offered to testify against his fellow defendants, but the State’s Attorney refused to accept his offer.

  Clinnin, who was called “the man who knew too much”, allegedly told a friend, “I may not live to testify.”  In late July, the Illinois Attorney General stated that Clinnin’s disappearance may have been a hoax.  As of September 13, 1955, the bondsman for Clinnin had been unable to produce him or provide a death certificate. 

In January, 1951, Joseph Aiuppa, owner of Taylor and Co., was called before the Kefauver Commission, which was investigating organized crime.  Aiuppa, who was the leader of the Chicago mob (Capo Ditutti Capi), from 1971 to 1986, was implicated in the 1975 killing of Sam Giancana, among 13 suspected mob hits.  The February 27, 1960 Chicago Tribune listed Clinnin in a long story about unsolved Chicago homicides.  On May, 13, 1962, the Suburbanite Economist, in a column titled, “Police seeking identity of skeleton found in sewer,” listed Walter as a possibility.

Another oddity about Clinnin is his year of birth.  On the 1900 Census, 1887 is listed.  On his WWI Draft Registration, he listed 1888.  On his WWII Draft Registration, he listed 1894.  On his records with Leavenworth Prison, the year is 1900.

The Clinnin family was one of the founders (1851) of the Village of Huntley, Illinois.  Family historian Ted Clinnin successfully lobbied for a Clinnin street in the town.  One of the annual highlights in Huntley is the Huntley Testicle Festival.  It is held the day before Thanksgiving at Parkside Pub, but usually spreads into the streets of downtown Huntley.


Fagan, William Augustine b. 1/1876, NYC; d. 11/13/1914 (38), Schenectady, NY.  6’, 165

At ND, 1893-1897, B.S. Biology.  Father born in Ireland.  Allegedly a transfer from Union College, but according to Joe Lueck of Union College Archives, he was not a student there.  On January 28, 1898, William Fagan did attend a Phi Delta Theta dance. 

He did not go out for football until his senior year, in which he started the final four games of the 1896 season.  Ended up being an outstanding center, leading the team in fumbles recovered and consistently outplaying his opposing center.  Also pitched for the Notre Dame Baseball Team.  Received good reviews for his acting in campus plays. 

Fagan received several academic mentions at Commencement:  —1st Premium in Quantitative Analysis, Comparative Anatomy, Human Anatomy, Advanced Zoology and Advanced Histology; Premium in Comparative Embryology and Advanced Physiology; Mention in Logic and Public Hygiene.

The SCHOLASTIC had many items about him:  (4/17/1897) “Several of the students of Sorin Hall met in the reading-room on Saturday night last to organize an ‘Anti-Cigarette League.’ There were about fourteen students present … (elected) Secretary, William Fagan”. (10/9/1897): “There is a new sign-board swinging in the breezes that play about Schenectady, N.Y.  The legend on it runs: ‘H. J. Fagan & Son, Real Estate.’ The ‘son’ is Mr. William A. Fagan, ’97, better known at Notre Dame as ‘Bones.’”  (April, 1900): “William A. Fagan (’97 B. S. in Biology), the center rush on our famous ’96 Varsity team, spent a few days with friends at Notre Dame and South Bend.  Fagan was one of the ‘Immortals,’ of the ‘French Academy,’ a wonderful organization that existed in Sorin Hall in his days, and was usually one of the leaders in all the moves his class made.” 

Fagan was also lauded as a poet.  This was from the Scholastic of May 29, 1897:

“A Cipher and its Key,” by William A. Fagan

The H2O lapped softly

The banks of Si O2

In an Al2 O3 like glow

Afar in the west the sun sank low

Si O2 tinted clouds all arow

Bade the gentle day adieu.

The listless waves lapped softly

The shores of the yellow sand

Blazing aloft in a ruby glow

Afar in the west the sun sank low

Amethyst cloudlets all arow

Said adieu to the sorrowing land.

(1/26/1901):  “We are pleased to inform our readers that Mr. William A. Fagan, a graduate of the Biological course in ’97, has become a Benedict. (This was the term then used when a Notre Dame grad got married.)  The ceremony was performed (1/22/1901) in the city of South Bend by the Reverend A. Morrissey. Fagan has the distinction of being the best ‘centre rush’ that ever donned a Notre Dame suit. He played here in the fall of ’96. He was a popular student during his stay at the University, and the SCHOLASTIC tenders him congratulations and best wishes for a most prosperous married life.”  Father Morrissey was President of Notre Dame when he married Fagan. 

The above wrapped up all I was able to learn about Mr. Fagan.  However, while searching for someone else, I accidentally unearthed some details about William “Fagin” (sic), who, sadly, did not turn out too well.  From the Goshen Mid-Week News Times, of July 1, 1902:  COLLEGE ATHLETE DISAPPEARS — W. A. Fagin, Notre Dame Graduate, and Groom of a Year, Missing Since Feb. 11.  “William A. Fagin, a graduate of Notre Dame and, for two seasons, center on the varsity football team, has been missing from his home at Schenectady, N.Y., since Feb. 11. The announcement of the disappearance of Fagin was made at South Bend Saturday, and caused a sensation, as he was during his college course prominent in South Bend society. Less than a year ago he married Miss Sadie Parnell Harris, a member of South Bend’s most exclusive society, the Very Rev. Andrew Morrissey, president of Notre Dame University, performing the ceremony. The wedding was a brilliant social event. Fagin had only $100 on his person when he disappeared. Foul play is not suspected. Detectives have been searching for him since March 1, but have been unsuccessful.” 

Goshen Democrat, April 5, 1905:  WANTS $15,000 ALIMONY.  Sensational Divorce Case Filed In St. Joseph County.  “Suit was filed in the St. Joseph circuit court by Sadie H. Fagin, for a divorce from William Fagin, and asking for $15,000 alimony. They were married January 23, 1901, and separated a year later. The plaintiff formerly resided in New Carlisle, Ind., and was a popular society belle on moving to South Bend with her parents.  Fagin was a student at Notre Dame University, and became infatuated with Miss Harris, her maiden name. The marriage was a brilliant affair and following the couple moved to Rochester, N.Y., where the groom was in business with his father.  About a year later startling rumors reached South Bend of the abandonment by Fagin, who disappeared rather mysteriously. It was said that Mrs. Fagin lived with a relative in an Illinois city for some time after the desertion, finally coming to South Bend where she has since resided with her parents.” 

There were quite a few articles afterwards.

Elkhart Daily Review June 19, 1905.  Legal End of Romance.  “Sadie Harris Fagan was granted a divorce from William Fagan in the St. Joseph circuit court this morning.  She testified that her husband deserted her in Schenectady, N.Y., on February 11, 1903. They were married January 25, 1901, after a short acquaintance, which came about while he was a student at Notre Dame University.  Mrs. Fagan has been attending school in Chicago. The father of Mrs. Fagan, who resides, in South Bend, owns considerable property in Elkhart County. The divorce case caused much comment when it was filed, some months ago.” 

Goshen Democrat January 13, 1906.  Returns to Schenectady.  “William Fagan has returned to Schenectady, N.Y. after a long and mysterious absence. His reappearance was quite as startling as was his disappearance four years ago. Fagan at that time deserted his bride of one year, formerly Miss Sadie Harris of South Bend, Ind., and successfully kept his movements hidden from that time until just recently. He vanished as completely as if whisked off to another planet. It was while young Fagan was at Notre Dame University that he became acquainted with Miss Harris.” 

The Cincinnati Post, July 10, 1906.  Arrest Ends Nervy Career.  “Gay ‘Billy’ Hargraves, Social Lion of Gallipolis, Is Found After Long Search.  This article narrates how Fagan, using the name William Hargraves, hopped a freight and ended up in Gallipolis, Ohio, in May of 1903.  He was described as filthy all over, with dirt and soot, in the manner of a “hobo on the bumpers.”  The “bumpers” were the couplings between rail cars where train hoppers might sit, if they could not get in an open car. 

 Fagan was so smart and industrious that he immediately got a job, with the Gallipolis Chair Company where he became the top salesman in short order.  He was also a big lady’s man.  In those days, gay meant light-hearted and carefree (think Gay 90’s) and would fit the Romeo-type behavior that characterized this fellow.  One day, he left for Cincinnati, allegedly to buy machinery to start his own chair company.  He forged a $200 check, in the name of Jennie Dunn, described as the “elderly lady” who boarded him. 

After Billy was exposed, there were still people saying, “He was a good fellow.”  The final paragraph in the Cincinnati Post article indicated he “left a trail of grief.”  He was “loved by many girls.”  He was “young, dashing, and a spender.”  “He was admired by all.”

Kokomo Daily Tribune, July, 11, 1906.  FAGIN GONE TO THE BAD.  “Was a Football Star, Society Man, Broker and Heart Smasher— Is Now Under Arrest for Forging His Sweethearts Name to a Check.”  

Canton Morning News July 11, 1906.  Extradition Papers.“Columbus, Ohio., July 10—Extradition papers have been issued by Governor Harris on the governor of New York for the return of William Fagin, under arrest at Buffalo, charged with forgery.” 

Elkhart Daily Review, July 12, 1906.  “William Fagin, a graduate of Notre Dame, and who married Sadie Harris of South Bend, from whom he was divorced, is under arrest in Buffalo charged with $200 forgery in Gallipolis, Ohio, where he flourished under the name of Hargraves, and left a trail of broken hearts as well as hopeless creditors.”  He forged the name of Jennie Dunn. 

Oddly, the Scholastic reported this, on 9/21/1907:  “E. E. Brennan ’97, and W. A. Fagan ’97 are both located in Butte, Mont. The ‘Judge’ is doing a thriving law business, while ‘Billy’ is handling some big real estate deals.”  W.A. Fagan and company was his employment.  His dad ran a real estate company in Schenectady for 40 years.

Meanwhile, Billy’s dad was having problems of his own.  The Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle reported, on December 11, 1902, that Hugh J. Fagan was “Accused of Larceny”.  The subhead was “Prominent Schenectady Man Charged with Grand Larceny.”  The elder Fagan allegedly stole $800, the life savings of Mrs. Joseph Adamazak, one of his property tenants. 

 On January 17 1903, the Buffalo Courier reported that Fagan claimed he was being blackmailed by this woman.  Both articles claimed that Hugh Fagan was well known in “society circles” and his arrest caused a sensation in the community where he was a “prominent real estate dealer and a member of one of the first families” of Schenectady.  Despite scouring all the papers in this area, I have been unable to find any resolution of this Hugh Fagan matter. 

The Charles Dickens character of Fagin was a physically unappealing man, unlike the dashing “Billy” Hargraves/Fagin/Fagan, but he was also a con man, forcing young boys and orphans to steal for him. 

Both Fagan’s are buried in St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Schenectady, NY.


When I began this research I had one simple goal …. to learn who scored all of Notre Dame’s points in those first 197 games.  Then I succumbed to a recurring ailment, which I call “tangentitis” …I get so immersed in things that I venture off into multiple tangents.  I’m not OCD, but I’m in the neighborhood.

Thanks for reading.