Death of Sarah McCloskey

A picture of Sarah, taken just before her death, vacationing at Atlantic City, shows her with a very slight smile, sitting in a padded whicker chair, holding her grandson Dick Young on her lap. Over her left shoulder is her son Thomas Dowd and over her right, her brother William McCloskey. Family was very important to Sarah and was always close by.

Sarah died of a stroke quietly in her sleep on December 8th 1925. She had been slightly ill over the previous few months suffering with the effects of diabetes. She first saw a doctor for the illness on September 25th of that year and then again on the 22nd of October. Since then, she had been managing well on her own at home so her death came as a shock to the family. At the time, Sarah was sharing her room with her eighteen year old granddaughter Gertrude Dowd, (Eddie's daughter). Gertrude had called for Marie after she was unable to wake her grandmother that morning.

Sarah's wake was held there at the Burnett Street home and was attended by members of her family, friends and business associates. Marie took her mother's death especially hard and would break down in crying spells throughout the wake. With the house full of guests, the older children were on their own. Seven year olds, Mary Dowd and Tudi Young found a quiet spot in a secret hiding place in the butler's pantry, peering out at the adults as they came passing through the room. Al Young put the younger children in a side room away from all the activity. The excitement was too much for little Dick Young though and he kept sneaking out into the crowd, only to be carried back repeatedly by his father Al. At one point, Marie broke down anew and as she stepped back, toppled over little Dick who had escaped from the room unnoticed yet again. No one was hurt, but Dick vividly recalls this one incident about his grandmother's funeral.

Rather than be buried with her husband and three children at the Dowd family grave in Holy Seplechure, Sarah was buried at St. John's church near her own mother Mary Duffy McCloskey. Sarah left the following will (written in 1917 but not amended) to settle her estate:

Will of Sarah L. Dowd Oct 2nd 1917
  1. All debts and funeral expenses be paid
  2. To my three sons, John, Thomas and Charles in equal shares, the business heretofore conducted by me at the northwest corner of Alden and Watchung Ave together with all stocks of goods, fixtures, equipment....And if I have incorporated the business before my death, I bequeath all stocks held by me in such corporation equally to my three sons.
  3. To my three sons all my real estate at the Northwest corner of Alden and Watchung and running back on Alden Streets in depth to the brook.
  4. To my son John F. Dowd, $2000 in recognition of the fact that being the oldest son he worked longer than the others in my business and I know that my other sons will agree with me that his work should be recognized to this extent.
  5. To my daughter Marie Dowd Young - $5,000 in cash and all my household furniture, jewelry and wearing apparel and personal belongings.
  6. To the children of my deceased son Edward, $1000 in equal shares.
  7. To St. John's church, $200.00 for masses to be offered up for the repose of my soul.
  8. To my children, John, Thomas, Charles and Marie: all residual estate (real and personal)
  9. In the event of the death of one of these - to their heirs in equal shares.

Executors: John, Thomas and Charles Dowd

Thomas Davis
Margaret G. Farrell of 39 Carleton St., East Orange

Some in the family affirm that "Grandma Dowd died a millionaire". While her will indicates that Sarah was indeed well-off, giving personal gifts of $1,000 [$5,000], $2,000 [$10,000] and $5,000 [$25,000] her wealth consisted primarily of 1) store inventory and property at Watchung and Alden and 2) "residual estate (real and personal)". While the former can be estimated at perhaps several thousand dollars, the latter value is not clear [to research deeds for the value of her other property].

If Sarah was fair in her will, as she appears to have been attempting by recognizing John with an additional gift, it would be assumed that the individual shares of John, Tom and Charlie would be equal or greater than the share that Marie received. Assuming that the $5,000 plus jewelry, clothing and furnishing totaled $8,000 [$40,000] the rest of the estate was worth perhaps $24,000 [$120,000]. While not a million, a $32,000 total [$180,000] estate was still impressive. Of course the will was written in 1917 and that may have been her estates value in that year. Between 1917 and 1925, the estate, with the store, other properties owned under "S.L. Dowd Inc."and any stock held by the corporation, would have increased considerably. Perhaps Sarah was more old-fashioned, and the share to her daughter was intentionally only a fraction of that left to her living sons. However, even a liberal count with a high value of real estate properties and the store, would probably not have reached one million dollars without having been discussed in her will or requiring a probate inventory. Perhaps the real value of Sarah's estate was the potential of the business, which by 1925 her able children were already maximizing and would continue to maximize over the next several years.

In a time before women even had the right to vote, Sarah had achieved a great deal. Like Eliza Dowd, Catherine Dowd, and Catherine Garrett, she could have retired quietly into widowhood living comfortably off the proceeds of rental properties and the sale of her husband's property. Instead she doggedly pursued her business, created wealth and built an exciting future for her children. Her children and grandchildren admired and revered her and Sarah L. Dowd remains one of the more inspirational figures in the Dowd family story.



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