By John H. Richards
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Picture yourself saving up a small fortune in order to travel across the Atlantic to the New World. Packed like sardines in your ship, enduring disease and lack of sanitation, you arrive speaking a language only your fellow Irish compatriots can understand. You strike out to California based on newspaper accounts and rumors that vividly describe possible death from lack of water, inadequate supplies, weather, accident, conflicts or becoming lost. Your conveyance is your feet, horse, or wagon.
Mining has become your vehicle to gain a livelihood and, hopefully, great riches. To be successful you learn from grizzled prospectors, and endure freezing cold streams of water as you pan for gold. If you enter a mining tunnel with your hammer and augur, you must pound away at begrudging ore illuminated by dripping candles. For this effort you may earn nothing if you work for yourself and fail to find valuable ore. Or, you may earn the grand sum of $3.50 per day as an employee in a larger mine.
In 1851, Patsy Clark’s life odyssey started in Ireland, approximately the same time most history books cite the end of the horrendous potato famine. Striking out from the Emerald Isle to Liverpool, England in 1872 with his eldest brother, James, the two young men caught a “coffin ship” to the New World where they sought their fortunes in the raw, untamed wilderness of the American West. It’s safe to say they had better luck than the average prospector of the late 1800s.
The name of Patsy Clark may conjure up an image of a beautiful, old mansion across from the Coeur d’Alene Park in Browne’s Addition or a delightful meal for a special occasion such as an anniversary or birthday when that same mansion was Patsy Clark’s Restaurant for twenty years. But, there is much more to Patsy’s story than a mansion that became a restaurant. Patsy Clark was my great-grandfather and for the past four years, I have been researching his life.
Every Memorial Day weekend for many years, my parents, John and Beverly Richards, started a tradition where our family visits our relatives’ and friends’ gravesites. We cut the grass around the markers, clean them, and place fresh flowers in containers next to the tombstones. When we enter the mausoleum at Fairmount Memorial Park, I realize that perhaps the next occupant will be me. I am comforted that I will be in good company, because I believe Patsy loved his family and cared deeply about his adopted home, Spokane, Washington.
Here in Spokane, Patsy Clark and his wife Mary became known for their quiet philanthropy, including gifts that helped construct Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in 1900, along with donations of the main altar, baptismal font, white marble communion rail, and two resplendent stained glass windows. In the years following Patsy’s death in 1915, his wife Mary carried on the family’s philanthropic efforts by supporting the development of Sacred Heart Hospital.
Patsy Clark left a legacy of generosity: “His gifts to charity were unostentatious and few people knew of the many he aided.” Of Mary Clark, it was written: “Beloved by people in all walks of life, Mrs. Clark has been part of the heartbeat of Spokane’s civic, social, and charitable life for five decades. It does not fall to the lot of many to leave such a beautiful heritage.”
While many people remember the mansion, even more it seems know next to nothing about the man, Patsy Clark. I set out to learn his story, and now, to share it.
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