Billy Murray: The Legendary Denver Nightingale










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Father of Billy Murray

Born: Ireland ca. late 1840s
Died: Denver, Colorado August 4, 1897

Patrick Murray

Patrick Murray, as pictured in the Rocky Mountain News, August 5, 1897, p. 2.

Patrick's birth year cannot be determined since early newspaper accounts and other documents cite different ages at the time of his death, but he was likely in his early to mid forties, as most sources suggest. It is also difficult to determine when he immigrated to the United States, as there were several individuals by the same name immigrating from Ireland to New York and Philadelphia in the early 1870s. He met his wife, Julia Kelleher, in Philadelphia. While residing in the city, the couple had their first three children: Mary A. ("Mae") in 1875, William Thomas in 1877, and John Joseph in 1881.

According to the Denver city directories, Patrick and his family moved to Denver, Colorado in 1882, where he had two more sons: James P. in 1885, and Bartholomew Anthony in 1889.

Some Murray biographers, such as Jim Walsh, indicated that his occupation was a blacksmith, but primary documentation suggests that his correct occupation was a laborer. For about ten years, he worked as a laborer for the Denver Gas Company. In the last few months of his life, while working as a plasterer for the Irish-born contractor Bernard J. Currigan, he was responsible for installing the concrete and cement at Zang's Brewery. An account of his life in the Denver Republican suggested that he was socially well known to many residents of the city, and was highly regarded by anyone who met his acquaintance.

Patrick's death would be a tragic one. On August 4, 1897, the heavy rainstorms from the mountains caused Cherry Creek to overflow, destroying bridges and property. While witnessing the treacherous floods, and despite warning his family not to get too close to the currents, Murray went towards the creek to save a section of his fence from being swept away. The bank he was standing on caved in, causing Murray to somersault into the current.

The Denver Republican, August 5, 1897, p. 1.

His wife Julia and daughter Mae screamed as the torrents carried him down the river. His nine-year-old son Barton ran to rescue him and almost drowned himself. The ground Barton was standing on was slow of giving way, and was rescued when someone threw a hosepipe to him.

Rocky Mountain News, August 5, 1897, p. 2.

Onlookers continued to watch Patrick as the river carried him north. After passing under the Lawrence Street bridge, he was not seen alive again.

Patrick's body found

Denver Evening Post, August 6, 1897, p. 2.

His body was not discovered until almost forty hours later. In the afternoon of August 6, a twelve-year-old boy found him while walking along the Twenty-third Street viaduct along the Platte River. Murray was pinned against the fifth support of the viaduct. With the aid of ropes, his nude body was hoisted out of the water and taken to the morgue.

Death card for Patrick Murray. Colorado State Archives.

Murray's funeral was held at his home at 1348 South Water Street, on August 8th, and the mass took place at St. Leo's Church. He was originally buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery, but was removed in 1906 (the cemetery later became the Denver Botanic Gardens). He was then transferred to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, where he currently lies in an unmarked grave in the Mount Calvary section. (Section 24, Block 2, Lot 14, Grave 42.)

The vicinity where Patrick Murray has rested since 1906: Mount Olivet Cemetery, Section 24, Block 2. There are numerous other unmarked grave surrounding him. Photo by Ryan Barna.


Bibliography and further reading:

1880 Philadelphia census.

1885 Colorado census.

"Body Found," Denver Evening Post, August 6, 1897, page 2.

"Cherry Creek Took Life and Property," Denver Republican, August 5, 1897, pages 1 & 3.

"A Clean Sweep," Denver Times, August 5, 1897, pages 1 & 2.

Denver city directories, 1880-1897.

Funeral notice for Patrick Murray, Denver Republican, August 8, 1897, page 2.

"Murray's Body Found," Denver Republican, August 7, 1897, page 2.

"Murray's Body Found," Denver Times, August 6, 1897, page 2.

"Torrents," Denver Evening Post, August 5, 1897, page 2.

"Two Men Swept Away," Rocky Mountain News, August 5, 1897, pages 1 & 2.

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