By the time Bill was nine, in 1892, his father, Larry J. had learned stonemasonry from his own father, an Irish immigrant, so he in turn taught bricklaying to Bill and his other two surviving sons (one of whom was my great-grandfather).Kennedy, had moved his brood out to another frontier: Port Chester, a tiny but bustling factory town in New York’s Westchester County. J.” plied his trade as a bricklayer and eventually became a moderately successful contractor, overseeing the construction and enlargement of factories, schools, hospitals and libraries across the region. Bill took up the trowel and went to work as an apprentice at age thirteen.He grew up on his father’s building sites, learning how to mix mortar from lime, sand and water; how to cut bricks to a desired size with the trowel or a hammer and chisel; how to use a level, plumb rule and straight edge; and the other secrets of a trade dating back thousands of years.Bill pushed heavy wheelbarrows full of bricks, and he carefully measured and staked cord lines where the walls would begin.Excepting one stint as a deckhand on the Great Lakes, Kennedy plied his trade, laying bricks.
If this seems like courting disaster, it was: In the two decades around the turn of the century, at least 32,000 hobos or tramps were killed on American railroads, whether by falls, encounters with railroad “bulls” (private security officers) or other misfortunes.
But in time, he would take up that pursuit again, with a passion. For the next couple years, the widower and his oldest son would struggle along, living and working together, bereft of the tempering influence of the woman they’d loved.
Bill and his brother Joe increasingly enraged their father with their late-night carousing.
One moment, the bricklayer was applying some finishing touches to the Des Moines Coliseum.
The odds were against Bill Kennedy when the gust of wind blew him off that roof.