The Untimely Death of a Hotelier


Walter Gallagher was born in East Boston in 1876, a working-class and predominately immigrant neighborhood of the burgeoning city. His father was a first generation American born to Irish immigrants who had left Donegal for Maine shortly before the Great Famine in the mid-1830’s.

In 1895, at the age of 19, Walter began a tenure at Young’s Hotel that he would hold until his untimely death just eighteen years later.

Turn of the Century

Young’s Hotel

When Walter joined Young’s Hotel as a cashier, the hotel had recently undergone a significant management, and clientele, change. Throughout the 1880’s and early 1890’s the property had developed a reputation as a destination for young men to drink and gamble; in 1889 the Columbus Inquirer deemed Young’s “Boston’s chief center of mild dissipation”. Young’s had been founded by George Young in 1860, built on the site of Cornhill Coffeehouse on Court Street in Boston’s Financial District. In 1876, Young sold his share of the business to J.R. Whipple and George G. Hall for $65,000.

Whipple and Hall upgraded the property to electric lighting (one of the first buildings in the city to tout electricity), and invested in the construction of a new dining room, designed by Frank Hill Smith.

“The walls are covered above the red mahogany wainscot with stamped leather of golden arabesque figurings…The semi-circular arches over the windows are filled with stained glass. The mantel curves into the room, and is supported by lonic columns quite clear of the carved griffins. The fireplace is…build up of the Chelsea tile, the main feature of which is a bas-relief of dancing figures.”

Bacon’s Directory of Boston, 1886

Despite the investment in grandeur, the billiard room at Young’s Hotel quickly became a popular destination for card-playing university students. A 1889 issue of the Columbus Inquirer described the scene, “Here one may see in the afternoon or evening the swellest students from Harvard, in cape coats and patent leather shoes, exhibiting the very latest fashions in dress, an toting canes like small trees knobbed with silver. You need not be surprised if, as you pass the hotel desk, you see a party of five or six young men inquiring for a room for a poker party.”

In 1891, J.R. Whipple announced that Young’s Hotel would no longer allow groups of Harvard students to dine at the hotel. The owner ushered in new guidelines for staff and guests that positioned Young’s, and other Whipple-owned properties, as high society destinations. When Walter Gallagher joined the Young’s Hotel payroll in 1895 the property was no longer the “center of mild dissipation” it was just a few years earlier.

“It is one of the largest and best of the hotels on the European plan…This hotel is a favorite place with New Yorkers. Recognized as among the best hotel restaurants in the city are those connected with Young’s Hotel, the Parker House, and the Adams House. That of Young’s Hotel is very extensive…It has dining-rooms for ladies and gentlemen, lunch rooms, and convenient lunch and oyster counters.

Rand, McNally & Co.’s Handy Guide to Boston and Environs, 1895

Parker House & Hotel Touraine

Walter began working at the Parker House, another J.R. Whipple property, as a cashier in the dining room shortly after joining Young’s Hotel. The Parker was built in 1855 next to the State House and was a well-known meeting place of the Saturday Club — a group of writers, scientists, philosophers and historians that included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as members. Charles Dickens’ hotel room door is still on display at the Parker to commemorate A Christmas Carol, which he wrote and first performed at the Parker House.

Whipple assumed ownership of the Parker House in 1891 and quickly followed the acquisition with the establishment of a 2,500 acre dairy farm in New Boston, New Hampshire to provide his hotel guests with the freshest food available. Whipple sponsored the construction of a railroad depot in New Boston to allow the output from the farm to be easily transported to the city on the Boston & Maine Railroad.

Whipple also opened the doors to Hotel Touraine in 1897. The new property sat at the corner of Boylston and Tremont at the corner of Boston Common and just a few blocks away from the Parker House and Young’s Hotel. Walter worked as a room clerk at Hotel Touraine, servicing a similar set of poets, writers and philosophers as Whipple’s other properties.

Whipple & Walter

While Walter was entrenching him within the hotel industry, he was also dating Mabel Hallie Hill. The two married in 1898 at St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Somerville. Mabel’s aunt, Mary Morrill, had been a resident of Young’s Hotel and the Parker House for two decades when Walter and Mabel married. Mary had worked as a hotel cashier in the 1870’s and, around the same time, began a relationship with J.R. Whipple that lasted until his death — despite Whipple being a married man. His wife had been in poor health for much, if not all, of the length of their relationship and had disintegrated into an “incurable invalid” state.

Shortly before Walter joined Whipple’s payroll in 1895, J.R. had granted control of his estate in Lexington to Mary. The 135 acres of land on Lowell Street, known then as Shagbark Farm, has since become a girl’s school and a nursing home, but the neighborhood is still known as Whipple Hill. There is very little documented of Mary Morrill’s relationship with J.R. Whipple, but it seems unlikely that her niece’s husband entered the hospitality industry through coincidence.

After J.R.’s death in 1912, Mary sold Shagbark Farm and moved into an apartment in Louisburg Square in Beacon Hill, and then to Somerville. She never married and spent most of her inheritance on her nieces — paying for their schooling, taking them to the theater, and gifting them furniture, art, silver and crystal.

St. Francis Hotel

In 1903, Walter left his family and the Whipple business to relocate to San Francisco to help open the St. Francis Hotel. He was employed as the first manager of the new luxury property financed and owned by Charles Crocker, one of the “Big Four” railroad magnates of the transcontinental railway.

The hotel opened its doors in 1904 and became one of San Francisco’s most prestigious addresses overnight. Walter returned home to Boston shortly after the St. Francis opened, rejoining the staff of Young’s Hotel as hotel manager. He held the position for the next 8 years and became a well known member of the city’s hospitality industry.

Two Years of Doubt and Death

September 1911

In the fall of 1911, Walter wrote to Thomas Lawson about a loan. Lawson had amassed a fortune in the stock market at the turn of the century through investment in the copper mining industry. He, along with William Rockefeller, was a founding member of Amalgamated Copper Mining Company in 1899. Much of his fortune went into his Scituate estate, Dreamwold.

When Walter reached out, Lawson was in the throughs of his last business venture with Amalgamated. His financial luck would run out shortly and at the time of his death in 1925, he was broke.

It is unknown what Walter’s loan request was for, but it is the opinion of the author that Walter was exploring the purchase of his own property.

April 1912

The following Spring, the J.R. Whipple Co. acquired land at Arlington and Newbury from the Y.M.C.A. Despite owning the land for 7 years, the company never developed the property and the residential buildings remained. In 1919, Whipple sold the existing buildings which were subsequently razed and the Ritz-Carlton was erected on the site. The hotel has since been The Taj, and, most recently, The Newbury Hotel.

June 1912

Just two months after the acquisition of the Y.M.C.A. property, J.R. Whipple passed away due to complications from surgery. He had undergone a procedure thought to help treat cancer of the stomach, but died just three days after surgery.

“Despite his advanced years, and the fact that he already had on his hands three of the leading hotels of this city, Mr. Whipple had for several months been planning to erect a new hotel to cost, land and all, about $2,000,000, at Arlington and Newbury Streets, opposite the Public Garden. The Whipple Company obtained the land two months ago from the Boston Y.M.C.A.”

J. Reed Whipple is Dead, Proprietor of Three Boston Hotels Dies After an Operation for Cancer.
The New York Times, June 16, 1912

September 1912

In the fall of 1912 there was a city-wide strike of hotel employees. The Boston Globe detailed the walkout that began early on a Friday afternoon at the Parker House and gained strength with staff from Hotel Touraine, Young’s Hotel and a handful of other properties throughout the city.

Yesterday at 1 o’clock in the afternoon at the sound of a whistle there occurred a strike in the Parker House which involved porters, cooks, dishwashers, waiters and chambermaids, and it was as much of a surprise to the management as it was to the guests of the hotel. In fact, at the time the strike occurred the managers of the hotel were in conference with a committee of the International Hotel Workers’ Union and the local union and had settled most of the points at issue.

The strikers went at once to the union headquarters at 724 Washington St. and after a meeting they paraded through the hotel section of the city. The paraders stopped in front of most of the hotels they passed and cheered. At the head of this unusual afternoon parade were 36 chambermaids who had gone out from both the hotels and about 262 men — waiters, porters, etc. — all led by the representative of the International Union.

The protests continued throughout Friday afternoon with 300 hotel works “hooting, yelling and hand-clapping” outside of city hotels. Both Copley-Plaza and The Georgian were able to reach settlement with their staff that day, but the J.R. Whipple Co. did not negotiate with those on strike.

Edgar Pierce, the president of the company, issued a statement, “The places of the striking employees will be permanently filled as soon as possible, and then the striking employees will not be taken back.” The manager of Hotel Touraine, Mr. Hart, added, “No other course is left. We have tried to meet the demands of the union. We couldn’t reorganize our entire system in a day. We cannot do business with people who will not keep faith with us.”

The Boston Globe, Saturday September 7, 1912

Two weeks later, the Parker House and Hotel Touraine were the only two hotels that remained on active strike. Both properties had “turned over” to colored staff who were new hires and not “strike-breakers”. Young’s Hotel was the only property that did not have an employee strike — and is also noted as the only Whipple property that employed minorities prior to the walkout. A “former employee of Young’s Hotel” had “furnished” the new employees.

The Boston Globe, Tuesday, September 24, 1912

A week after the strike began, Walter unexpectedly tendered his resignation with the J.R. Whipple Company. On September 18, 1912 he wrote to Hotel Touraine’s manager Hart:

“In terminating my connection with the J.R. Whipple Company, I would not feel that I had done justice to all if I did not write a few lines and express to you my sincere thanks and appreciation for the many kindnesses you have shown me during the eighteen years I have been with the company.

I do not know at the present writing, where I will be located, but have had several offers in and out of town which I am considering.”

On October 19, Walter submitted his resignation to Edward Pierce, president of the Whipple Co. stating only:

Dear Sir,
As I cannot see my way clear to accept your proposition, I therefore enclose herewith my resignation to take effect one month from date.
Very Truly Yours,
Walter S. Gallagher

There are two known articles published about Walter’s departure from the hotel group. Although the exact date of print is unknown, both pieces would have circulated in November or December of 1912. One of the stories points to a disagreement as the cause for his resignation; a similar tone as his latter to Edward Pierce.

The second article has no mention of any bad blood, instead touting Walter’s decision to “embark on a hotel enterprise of his own”. The story is an interesting piece of the puzzle — particularly with Walter’s outreach to Thomas Lawson for a loan the year prior. It’s unknown what avenues he may have been pursuing for partnership.

January 1913

Three months after he submitted his resignation, on January 16, 1913 Walter entered the care of Dr. Charles D. Swain for a case of pneumonia. He passed away from acute lobar pneumonia on January 24 — just a week shy of his 37th birthday. In a strange coincidence, Dr. Swain would pass away five years later after having lunch at Young’s Hotel.