Monday August 8th 2022

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Tales from the Cemetery #200: A Peaceable Fourth?

Caption: Jan Hamorrik’s marker is typical of markers placed on the graves of Slovak immigrants at the turn of the 20th century.
Credit: Tim McCall

by Sue Hunter Weir

Reporters who covered Fourth of July festivities in 1906 had a peculiar notion of what a “peaceable” Fourth looked like. The Minneapolis Tribune described it as the “most peaceable Fourth that the city has seen.” They then went on to list 29 injuries and accidents, including two children blinded, three people who lost fingers, and numerous people, mostly children, with burned faces, hands and arms. The Journal’s headline described the day’s events in its headline: “Man Murdered, Boy Blinded, Many Patriots Injured.”

The man who was murdered was 24-year Jan Hamorrik, a Slovak immigrant. Little, other than the fact that he was employed as a laborer, is known about him but he appears not to have lived in Minneapolis more than a year or so. His wife, Anna, gave birth to their daughter, also named Anna, on June 5, 1906, about a month before her father was killed.

On the Fourth of July, Hamorrik was drinking with his friend Andrew Shurba in a saloon owned by Shurba’s son-in-law. Shurba’s son, Steven, who had been drinking heavily, came into the saloon and demanded that his father give him money to buy fireworks. His father refused and Steven struck him. Hamorrik intervened, striking Steven. Steven went to the back of the saloon and replaced the blank bullets in his 35-calibre gun with live ammunition. He headed toward the front of the saloon where he fired three shots. Two of them struck Hamorrik, one of them in his heart. He died on the way to the hospital.

Although there was never any question that Steven shot Hamorrik, there were a number of complicated issues that came out during the trial. The majority of witnesses described Hamorrik as a Good Samaritan, a “peacemaker” who was trying to, if not defuse the situation, protect Andrew Shurba. During the trial, however, Andrew Shurba defended his son claiming that the situation was winding down and would have been settled peacefully had Hamorrik not interfered. His testimony was supported by Martin Malone, a bartender who was employed by Andrew Shurba’s son-in-law. Their testimony stood in contrast to witnesses who were not members of Steven’s family.

The most critical issue had to do with Steven’s age. In 1906, Minnesota had the death penalty. If Steven was 18 years old, and, if it was determined that the murder was premeditated, he could have been sentenced to death. At the time that the case went to court, it was unclear how old Steven was. The newspapers consistently referred to him as a “boy.” He was described him as an “enraged boy,” a “youthful murderer,” and as a ‘young boy who was under the influence of liquor [who] had been goaded into an uncontrollable frenzy by the alleged maltreatment given him by “Big John” Hamorrik.’ If the reporters were right (and it later turned out that they were although there was no evidence of that at the time), he could be sentenced to prison under a “reformatory plan.” When Steven took the stand, he claimed that the shooting was “simply the outcome of a saloon brawl.”

The prosecutor apparently decided that the jury was unlikely to view the shooting as premeditated and dropped the charge of first-degree murder which took the death penalty off the table. The jury ultimately found Steven guilty of second-degree murder and he was given an indeterminate sentence of no fewer than five years in Stillwater Prison’s reformatory plan. He was later released, enlisted in the army in 1918, and married.

After the trial, Anna Hamorrik seems to have all but disappeared. There is no record of someone with that name in censuses or city directories. There is some question about the spelling of her last name. The spelling in cemetery records and on Jan’s grave marker is Hamorrik but the birth record for their daughter was Hamornik. There is no record of her under that spelling either.

Jan Hamorrik is buried near the Cedar Avenue bus stop, his grave marked by an iron cross. Iron crosses were not common in the cemetery but those that exist mark the graves of Slovak immigrants or people who lived below the Washington Avenue Bridge in an area known as Bohemian Flats. Jan Hamorrik is buried in Lot 2, Block j-1, in the 8th grave from the south.

Sue Hunter Weir is chair of Friends of the Cemetery, an organization dedicated to preserving and maintaining Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery. She has lived in Phillips for almost 50 years and loves living in such a historic community.

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