In 1875, Willy Clune was a 12-year-old Catholic schoolboy living on the avenue, Hannibal’s historic Palmyre Avenue.
Her Irish-born father Michael was a stonemason and, according to family traditions, helped build (and could have been a contractor) both the Marion County Jail in Palmyra and the Park Hotel in Fourth and Center. at Annibal.
Born in the tumultuous pre-war year of 1863, Willy was an observant child – observing those in his environment and learning the ways of the world through their steps and missteps.
During his childhood, the busy avenue (subject to flash floods) was made up of level earth, which was muddy during the spring thaw and dusty during the summer drought. It was lined with apartment buildings intended for the poor and small shops catering to the specific needs of these residents.
In 1881, when he was just 18, Willy – later known in business circles as William H. Clune – opened a store near his parents’ house, located on the south side of the avenue, selling groceries and provisions to its neighbors.
This grocery store, located in a north-facing one-story frame building in Exterior Lot 88, was operated by Billy’s father and mother, Michael and Bridget O’Hern Clune, and later by Willy’s brother, John T. Clune. The store will continue to support the Clune family for almost three decades. But Willy would soon move on to more lucrative businesses.
He was drawn beyond the city limits by the call of the steam railroads which crisscrossed Hannibal from north to south, as well as from east to west.
In the west, he knew, it was a world quite different from the small town climate of his childhood home.
So he set off on the rails, first a railway worker, then an entrepreneur in a world that perfectly matched his dreams. Los Angeles was his final destination, where he settled in 1887.
William H. Clune quickly rose to prominence in California, making smart real estate deals, investing in talent and taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves.
Just as Willy Clune was attentive to his primitive surroundings, so too was Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885). Now heralded as a legendary poet and non-fiction writer, during her day she was considered a champion for her role in publicizing the U.S. government’s mistreatment of Native Americans in Southern California after the American-Mexican War. She wrote a novel on the subject – “Ramona” – which was so popular with readers that they were taken to tour Southern California in order to see the landmarks that served as the framework for the book.
While Ms. Jackson did not live to see Ramona’s commercial success, the book’s legacy lives on, in large part thanks to the ingenuity of William H. Clune.
Big name in Hollywood
In 1916, William H. Clune was one of the leading producers of Hollywood films and started a film based on Mrs. Jackson’s novel, Ramona, which will be released in theaters across the country.
The Quincy Daily Journal published a review of the film’s premiere at the Hippodrome, located at Eighth and Maine in Quincy, Ill.
“The photography is unmatched, showing much of Southern California’s natural beauty and with the many characters from the story faithfully portrayed, and wonderfully appealing music from a special orchestra, augmented by local musicians. Ramona made a deep impression on those who saw him.
The cast included: Monroe Salisbury as Allesandro, the Indian Shepherd; Mabel Van Buren as Señorita Ramona Gonzaga; Richard Sterling as Angus Phall; Lurline Lyons as Señora Gonza Moreno; Adda Gleason as Ramona Hail; HM Best in the role of Father Salvierderra; and little Anna Lehr as four-year-old Ramona Phail in the prologue.
The silent film was to be shown all week, including Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“… it would be nice to reserve seats, as there will undoubtedly be a high demand for the remainder of the engagement.” “
In the film world, his vision has been credited with the development of the multi-reel image which took the industry from the two-reel class to the production of notable productions such as “The Birth of a Nation” and “Ramona”.
The purchase of a studio from Mary Pickford allowed the filming of “Ramona” and “Eyes of the World”. (Source: LA Times, October 19, 1927)
Willy returned to Hannibal from time to time, keeping in touch with friends in Hannibal and Quincy, Ill.
His father died in 1905, at the age of 100. His brother, John T. Clune, died in March 1915, followed by the death of his mother (Bridget O’Hern Clune) in September 1915. His younger sister, Mary Ann Clune, continued to live in Hannibal, moving from the Mark Twain Avenue at 200 Virginia Street, prior to 1930, where she lived until her death in 1964. (She had a fish pond in her back yard, fondly remembered by neighbors and family.)
One of Hannibal’s friends with whom Clune kept in touch was Thomas O’Donnell, who, along with his brother Robert, operated the O’Donnell funeral home in Lyon and South Fifth Streets in Hannibal until 1925.
Clune wrote to O’Donnell (a letter O’Donnell shared with the Quincy Daily Whig in January 1920) that he was spending $ 50,000 to improve his Broadway theater in Los Angeles.
The O’Donnell brothers moved to Los Angeles in 1925, and in 1927 organized funeral services for their fellow Hannibal native, William H. Clune, at the O’Donnell Sunset Mortuary.
The cousin’s tragedy
Willy’s cousin, Margaret Clune, was 13 in 1875 and a student at St. Joseph’s Academy on Broadway, when she was shot in the head by another student and later died. She was the daughter of James Clune, brother of Michael Clune. Her family lived near the intersection of Third Street and Palmyra Avenue. Margaret and Willy were about the same age.
Link to Margaret Clune’s story:
Read about O’Donnell’s Sunset Mortuary:
Mary Lou Montgomery, editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post retired in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as the foundation for this region. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include, but are not limited to: “The Notorious Madam Shaw”, “Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri” and “The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870”. She can be reached at [email protected] Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com