Tragedy leads to decades-old regret for Churchill woman
School let out early that day, a reward marking the completion of midterms.
Eileen Shaughnessy, then 12, and her brother Murt, 10, stopped at Elsie's candy shop in Duquesne, not far from their home. Eileen bought penny candy.
“And for some reason, maybe thoughtlessness or selfishness, I did not share the candy with him,” she recalled. “He never said anything, but after I ate it, I thought, ‘Oh, I didn't even share any with Murt.' That stuck with me.”
The next day, Jan. 25, 1946, Murt and some friends went sledding.
He sped down a hill above Mifflin Street, lost control and crashed into a fire hydrant. He was rushed to McKeesport Hospital with a fractured skull.
“He lived for two more days,” said Eileen, 82, of Churchill, whose last name today is Connelly. “Maybe it was watching my dad cry and seeing the hopelessness in my mother's eyes, but I grew up that weekend. My 10-year-old brother died that Sunday night, and our lives were never quite the same.”
The wounds eventually healed — at least to the point where her parents were able to find joy in living again.
But it was a struggle.
Eileen remembers lying in bed with her mother, Margaret, and telling silly jokes in an attempt to make her laugh, not cry.
Her father, Murt Sr., a former police officer, ran the funeral home in Duquesne, and he laid out his boy's body.
“After that day, dad went to Mass every day of his life until he passed away in 1987,” Eileen recalled. “He never missed a day.”
Mom lived 10 more years after Dad passed. Eileen, in time, got married, had five children and spent more than 20 years working as a nurse at the VA Hospital. She outlived her family and continues to visit their graves in Duquesne regularly.
Seventy years after the accident, she remembers her childhood as “uncomplicated and pretty idyllic.” She speaks of summers at the family cabin in Stahlstown, near Ligonier; holiday meals at the Murphy's 5&10 in McKeesport; Saturday trips to the movies, where she watched westerns starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and comedies by the Three Stooges.
But she points to that late January weekend in 1946 as the moment her childhood ended.
“My only regret,” she said, “is that I did not share my candy with my brother that day.”