Chuck Sullivan has had more than a few special moments in his life but two are unforgettable. Sullivan serves as the family historian for his large Irish clan. He’s also intent on reuniting his far-flung family members, who are scattered across the country. When he’s not exploring another branch of the family tree, he’s tracking down cousins.
He also did some onsite investigation of his family’s legacy. Sullivan and his wife, Maureen, ventured to Cork, Ireland, where his great-grandfather, Thomas Hopkins, was born. Sullivan had already sent Maureen’s parents on two trips to Ireland before crossing the pond himself in 2005. However, when he reached Cork and roamed its docks, he felt a sinking feeling.
“You look awful,” Maureen told him. Sullivan explained that it was because he felt “nothing” standing where his ancestors had reportedly departed for America. An innkeeper later corrected him. “The Irish didn’t leave from Cork,” he said. “They left from Cobh.”
Cobh, Gaelic for “cove,” was where the penal ships and “coffin ships” departed with their human cargo. Known as Queenstown into the 1920s, it was also the last port of call for the Titanic and Lusitania.
When Sullivan and his wife reached the docks of Cobh, located below the old White Star Line offices, “Everything exploded” inside of him. “This was home.” That was because his great-grandfather had operated a pub near the pier that hosted “American wakes.”
American wakes were common in Cobh during the 19th century. Irish who were immigrating to the U.S. received a festive send-off the night before.
“It was a wake for the living because they knew they’d never see the person again,” Sullivan explained, “They would gather in my great-grandfather’s banquet hall and become overserved.”
Hopkins later crossed the ocean himself and took up residence in the heavily-Irish community of Maple Park, Illinois. “He raised nine kids,” Sullivan said. “He named the second youngest Abraham Lincoln Hopkins.” Thomas’ daughter, Dora, later married Thomas Hodge. “Abe and his brother-in-law, Thomas, started a business together on Madison Street in Maywood.”
But Sullivan and his cousins never knew they later operated a business in Forest Park.
In 1934, they opened the Irish West Side Bar at 7635 Roosevelt Road. Abe was continuing the tradition of his father, only his banquet room would host real wakes. “They started the pub to serve mourners from the nearby cemeteries like Queen of Heaven and Mount Carmel,” Sullivan said. They also served food at these parties. “People would come and get drunk. It was part of their culture.”
Meanwhile, Sullivan’s father, Charles Freeman Sullivan, graduated from Notre Dame and became football coach at Austin High School. He had the privilege of coaching the most heavily-recruited player of that era, Bill DeCorrevant. The running back/quarterback was such a sensation, he drew the biggest crowd in high school football history.
On Nov. 27, 1937, Austin beat Leo 26-0 in front of 123,000 at Soldier Field. Austin’s star ran for three touchdowns and threw for one. He played before crowds of 100,000 or more four times during his high school career. DeCorrevant went on to play for the Chicago Cardinals and Bears.
Sullivan knew all about his dad’s coaching career, but he didn’t know that something even more significant had happened at his part-time job.
After Sullivan graduated from college in the late 1970s, he and Maureen married. The young couple was driving through Forest Park, looking for a place to dine. They first tried Giannotti’s, which had been popular with the Rat Pack, but they couldn’t get a table. So they stopped at the Golden Steer. As soon as they walked in, Sullivan felt that intense sense of being “home.”
The food was also good, so the couple became regulars at the restaurant. One night, they invited Sullivan’s parents to join them. Charles and his wife, Margaret, were in their 60s at that point. As soon as they walked in, his parents began acting oddly.
“My mom got up and walked into the bar and then the kitchen. My dad did the same thing.”
Sullivan asked them what was going on. His dad told him he used to tend bar there part-time. They explained that this restaurant/bar had once belonged to Sullivan’s grandfather.
Sullivan had stumbled on the former family pub.
“The liquor license from 1934 with my grandfather’s name was still hanging above the bar,” he said. Sullivan learned that Abe had operated it from 1934 to just before his death in 1945. During those years, he and his wife lived above the establishment with their nine children.
There were four boys and five girls, one of whom would become Sullivan’s mother, Margaret. It was here that the young football coach and the barkeep’s daughter met and fell in love. In fact, they celebrated their wedding here in April 1939. Sullivan’s parents had never talked about their connection to the bar with family members.
“This was a place that was lost in time.” Sullivan said.
Now that it was found, he started an annual tradition of bringing his family there. He also felt the desire to uncover more family mysteries.
“I started a family history,” he said. “My cousins helped me.” But he wanted to do more than shed light on their common roots.
“I wanted to bring the family back together.”
This would be difficult because Hopkins family members were spread out from the Midwest to the west coast. However, now that he had found the family’s focal point, the Golden Steer would be the ideal spot for their reunions.
And on May 2, 2015, nine members of the family held a reunion at the restaurant, graciously hosted by owner and Chef Charlie Tzouras. During the proceedings, Sullivan gave a Power Point presentation about the family’s history.
“The women were crying,” Sullivan said. “Chef Charlie watched it.”
One of them asked the chef if the legendary dumbwaiter was still in use. Margaret, who turns 100 in July, had told them the pub had a dumbwaiter in the kitchen that brought meals up to the family’s living quarters. Tzouras was happy to show them that the dumbwaiter still worked. Afterward, Tzouras told him “everything was on the house.” Before they left, Sullivan and his relatives hugged every member of the staff.
During his search for family history, Sullivan had found the Hopkins family mausoleum in Maple Park, but it was in bad shape.
“I cleaned it up and found Abe,” he said proudly. “He’d be so happy that his family got back together at his home.”
Sullivan is organizing more far-reaching reunions for 2016. One will be on the west coast.
The other will be in a certain former Irish pub in Forest Park.