James Brady: Popular mayor had an unfortunate demise

By Betty Lou Gaeng, for the Beacon | Jan 18, 2018
Photo by: Edmonds Historical Museum The grave of James and Margaret Brady, forever together at the Edmonds Cemetery.

In Edmonds from 1890 to 1912, when people mentioned Big Jim, everyone in town knew immediately that Big Jim was the well-known charismatic and jovial Irishman, James Brady.

Brady was one of the men who helped shape Edmonds into the city it is today – he was progressive, and his energy seemed to be unlimited.

There was an adversarial relationship between the very popular Brady and the not-so-popular attorney and publisher/editor of The Edmonds Tribune, T.A.A. (Thorwald) Siegfriedt – a man whose presence in Edmonds in 1908 was a short and confrontational one.

Unlike Siegfriedt’s own failure in an attempt to fit into the lifestyle of the town of Edmonds, Brady became an icon.

On a personal note, when I look back at Brady and his life, I automatically remember a short and simple story about Big Jim’s constant companion—his dog Old Frank; and also Fred, Frank’s good friend.

The following bittersweet story about Fred and Frank appeared in William Schumacher’s Edmonds Tribune on Thursday, July 1, 1909.  Several years ago when I first read the account, it became one of my all-time favorite out-of-the-past news stories.

A FAREWELL TO FRED. Mayor James Brady’s horse, Fred, died Tuesday night at ten o’clock after a short illness. He had wandered downtown and picked a soft spot on Fourth Street just back of the mayor’s building as his last resting place.  The pathetic incident of it all was that Frank, the Mayor’s dog, stood guard over the remains all night, being true to his animal friend to the last.

James Brady was born Sept. 7, 1857, in Rio, Columbia County, Wisconsin, the son of John Brady and Rosa Nuggent, both from Cavan, Ireland. Raised on his parent’s farm, he was one of seven children.

From the beginning, James Brady was remembered as a studious boy. After completing public schools, he went to college at Wisconsin State University, graduating in 1882. He then became a schoolteacher in Houston County in Minnesota, where his potential as a leader was soon noted. He became the county superintendent of schools.

In Houston County, he met Miss Margaret Zenner from the village of Caledonia. Margaret was the daughter of Peter and Mary Zenner. Her father was a very successful farmer in the county. Margaret was working as a dressmaker, when she met and married James Brady in 1888. It should be noted that Margaret’s correct birth name was Zenner, not Venner, as the Edmonds newspaper and her obituary reported.

The couple’s wedding trip took them to the West Coast and Seattle. In Seattle, they became attached to the Puget Sound country and remained. Mr. Brady decided to change course from the educational field and instead he went into the real estate business.

However, he soon realized that he missed his work as an educator and went back to his first profession as a teacher, working in both King and Kitsap counties. In 1890, he accepted the position of principal, as well as a teacher at Edmonds’ first graded school and held that position for seven years.

In his spare time, Brady studied law and was admitted to the Washington State Bar. Even though the law degree was probably helpful during his professional career, he never actually hung out his shingle.

In Edmonds, Brady’s leadership qualities were once again noticed, and he served a year as the city clerk and the following year as the city’s attorney. Mr. and Mrs. Brady then moved to Everett for two years while he was principal of the schools in that town.

However, the lure of Edmonds called to them, and Brady resigned his position in Everett and the couple returned. Back in Edmonds, they set up their home on the south side of Maple Street between Fifth and Sixth streets.

In 1901, Brady went into business with his brother Edward Brady, who was an attorney in Seattle, and they opened Brady Shingle Mill on the Edmonds waterfront north of the city dock at Bell Street. James Brady served as the president and manager.

In 1912, Brady was still owner of the mill; however, by that time it was operated by the Union Shingle Company as a co-operative concern. He also became the vice-president of Weatherproof Shingle Company on the waterfront south of the Edmonds city dock.

In 1900, Brady unsuccessfully ran for the office as Secretary of State for Washington. In 1901-1903 and then again from1904 through 1910, he served as the mayor of Edmonds. He also became the owner of several parcels of real estate, including his building on the northwest corner of George (Main) and Fourth Streets – once the home of The Edmonds Tribune. At the time of his death, Brady was serving on the district’s school board.

In addition to his business and civic duties, Brady was an active figure in the Democratic Party; he was a Mason and a member of the Eagles, as well as the Knights of Pythias and the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

As was common for women during the early 1900s, Margaret Brady seemed to have been very much in the shadow of her busy husband. However, she was a well-liked in her own right, and in 1905, the Edmonds Review spoke of her as “a lady of refinement and charming social qualities whose popularity was graciously attested in her recent selection as hostess of Edmonds during Snohomish County Week at the Portland Exhibition.”

She was a member of the Eastern Star. As a couple, James and Margaret Brady were considered very popular.

When she was in her middle years, it became noticeable that Margaret suffered from an illness that was rumored to be of a mental nature due to other health issues. With the hope that Margaret’s health would improve in a different climate, the Bradys took time off in 1911 and spent a few months in New Mexico.

Even though her husband was now with her most of the time, life must have become unbearable for 50-year-old Margaret Brady. By April 1912, the Bradys had returned to their Edmonds home. We will never know what was going through Mrs. Brady’s mind as she and her husband, for the final time, retired for the night.

‘Awful deed’

It was sometime in the evening of Thursday, April 18, 1912.

Nothing of such a volatile nature had ever happened before, or since, in this little town. The entire community had to have been in a state of shock when the Edmonds Tribune-Review published a special edition at midnight on Friday, April 19, 1912.

Large black letters on the front-page screamed the words:


The article went on to say that the “bodies were discovered at 6 o’clock Friday evening by O. C. Garrett. She had fired one shot into his head, three into his back and one into her own head – a can of kerosene was concealed under the bed evidencing intent to set fire to the house.”

Further, it was stated that James Brady was evidently asleep when his life ended and, as the newspaper article said, death was instantaneous. Margaret Brady was lying in bed next to her husband when she took her own life – the revolver was still clutched in her right hand.

For some reason known only to her, before the shootings Margaret Brady had completely covered the bedroom’s large dresser mirror with a white bedspread.

Garrett, the man who discovered the bodies, was an alderman for the town, and worked as a paper hanger. At this time, he was doing some work at the Brady home. He became worried about the Bradys, as they seemed not to be at home when he reported for work early Friday morning.

Garrett had told his wife of his concern because Mrs. Brady had acted oddly on Thursday while he was working in their home.  After worrying about them all day Friday, that evening at six o’clock Garrett went to the Brady house and, finding the door locked, pried open a window and stepped into a nightmare – in the upstairs bedroom, he found the dead couple.

At the age of 54, James Brady had still been in the prime of life.

He had accomplished a lot during his 20 years in Edmonds, but there was still a lot he could have offered to the town he loved. It was a tragic ending to two lives, and there is no doubt that the people of the town were deep in mourning, and speculation must have been widespread as to what could have gone so very wrong in the lives of this seemingly golden couple.

For myself, I am puzzled over the fact that the newspaper article mentioned how much James Brady and his companion, Old Frank, would be missed around town. The newspaper report left me to wonder what became of this faithful old dog after the death of Big Jim Brady; and where was Old Frank when all this happened.

Friends and neighbors of James and Margaret Brady, as well as high school faculty members, the Coterie Club, members of other lodges, and officials from Seattle and Everett, gathered at an overflowing Edmonds Opera House on Sunday, April 21, 1912 at two o’clock in the afternoon for the funeral services of the beloved Edmonds couple.

It was estimated that the number of those in attendance reached 800. Services were arranged by the McElroy Undertaking Parlors and conducted by the Edmonds Masonic Order with participation by the Eastern Star, Knights of Pythias, the Eagles and the Ancient Order of the United Workmen.

The floral arrangements were so numerous, the hall could not hold all of them.  Following services at the Opera House, the mourners followed the hearse to the International Order of Odd Fellows cemetery, where graveside burial services were then held.

For over 105 years, James and Margaret Brady have been resting side by side in a shared grave at what is now Edmonds Memorial Cemetery.

They were remembered and honored a few years ago during one of the popular Walk Back in Time programs hosted each year in July by the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery Board.

Longtime local historian Betty Lou Gaeng is a member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.

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