'Jimmy the Stiff,' Boise's infamous town drunk, gets a proper toast a century later

They called him “Jimmy the Stiff” when he was alive. 111 years later, he’s “just plain Jimmy”

Historian and storyteller Rick Just wrote a blog post about the life of alcoholic James Hogan, who died in 1907. Current citizens respond with compassion.
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Historian and storyteller Rick Just wrote a blog post about the life of alcoholic James Hogan, who died in 1907. Current citizens respond with compassion.

James Hogan was laid to rest back in 1907 — the aughts of 100 years ago — without fanfare, although he was accompanied by flowers. He might have been buried in a pauper’s grave, and without flowers, but for some kind-hearted (or perhaps guilty-feeling) citizens who rose to the occasion and passed the hat.

Now, 110 years later, a different set of kind-hearted Boiseans pitched in again for Hogan. Perhaps with a bit of an apology toward how society has treated alcoholics in the past, they have done the contemporary form of passing the hat and crowdfunded a proper headstone to honor his passing.

“Hogan’s story is equal parts sad and funny,” writes Rick Just, who researched Hogan for his daily blog called “Speaking of Idaho.”

“He was in the paper more than local politicians,” he jokes. Hogan was familiarly, if not condescendingly, known as "the Stiff."

“He was kind of a ne’er do well. … He always wanted a quarter from you …

“They would make fun of him. They would talk about, oh, Hogan the Stiff is in jail again for stealing a jacket from someplace because it was cold. I don’t think he was that kind of a guy who would normally steal stuff.”

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James Hogan is in custody in 1901 at the Ada County Sheriff's office in the Ada County Courthouse. From left: Alberta Rebecca Daly, Mrs. Rebecca Daly, Zelma Lee Daly. Right of the stove pipe: (unknown woman), Sheriff Joe Daly, "Hogan the Stiff," Deputy Andy Robinson. Idaho State Historical Society, no. 1957

In the 1890s, during the violent confrontations between labor union miners and mine owners in North Idaho, Hogan, who was a cook, was sent to Wallace with the National Guard. The subplot was a hope that Hogan might forget to return, says Just.

“But the guys liked him and they brought him back.”

One time, Just wrote, Hogan rode the coattails of a convention in Boise. The attendees sported souvenir badges that read “Freedom of the City.” Hogan found one in a trash can and thought that gave him huge license to, well, be free.

“The climax came about 8 o’clock when ‘the stiff’ was making a nuisance of himself on Main Street. He was in the midst of a flowery pejorative when the strong hand of the law grasped him by the coat collar and hustled him to the city jail.” — Idaho Statesman, July 21, 1900

“Funny guy, I guess, in some ways,” says Just. Hogan got 60 days for his, um, liberties.

'A friend to everybody'

“James Hogan, an odd character around Boise, known as 'Hogan, the Stiff,’ is dead. The end came about 10:30 yesterday morning at St. Alphonsus Hospital, where he was taken Monday, after being found near to death in the rear of a rooming house on Idaho Street. He said he had had nothing to eat in eight days.” — Idaho Statesman, Oct. 2, 1907.

When Hogan died, the Statesman wrote an obituary. “Which is long before obituaries were a thing,” says Just, so the warmness toward Hogan was striking.

“…A friend to everybody in his humble way, while all who knew him were his friends. In late years, it was through this friendship that Hogan lived …”

“They did a 180-on him, kind of,” says Just. “And (wrote about) how a bunch of people had gotten together and got enough money to buy him a plot at Morris Hill Cemetery.

“I thought that was a pretty good story by itself," wrote Just — who calls himself a storyteller rather than a historian.

The only photo he could find at the time was of Hogan’s grave, which is to say the grassy spot where he is buried, through Find A Grave website. To mark the spot, someone had tossed a red file folder on the ground. “The folder marks the spot for this shot, as no headstone does,” Just wrote.

“I thought, you know, I’m going to post that, but I know what’s going to happen,” Just says. It took just about an hour before someone suggested buying a headstone, and two days to fund the project. The rest, as they say, is history.

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More than 110 years later, "just plain Jimmy" has a proper headstone. James Hogan, a ne'er-do-well and alcoholic in his time, was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Morris Hill Cemetery. When storyteller Rick Just wrote about Hogan for his blog, it wasn't too long before someone suggested getting him a proper headstone. "There's not many fun death stories," says Just. "But I guess this is one."

Since then, two photos of Hogan have surfaced from the Idaho State Archives, both of which give him equal measure of sadness and mirth.

Just hopes those old photos, modern social media and a new headstone will help Hogan's story live on, complicated and messy as it might be.

“…Locking people up, that’s all they did at one time. I imagine the insane asylum, as they called it, was full of people who were alcoholics at one time,” says Just.

“Would a James Hogan get the help he needed today?” wrote Just. “Alcoholism is still a major problem without one single solution that works for everyone. I think the community today would respond with more than a laugh.”

'Just Plain Jimmy,' please

In a newspaper style that is not used these days, Idaho Statesman reporters would call Hogan “Jimmy the Stiff” as they wrote slightly snarky stories about his frequent arrests and jail time for public drunkenness or petty theft.

The name clearly stung.

“He once asked a reporter to ‘Call me Jimmy. Just plain Jimmy,’” says Just. “I found that really sad.” So Just had the stone inscribed with Hogan’s birth and death dates, and the words: “A final toast to just plain Jimmy, 2018.”

“I’d like to think we do a better job with alcoholics today, though our responses are imperfect,” says Just. “I have alcoholics in my family, and they’re treated much better today.”

Just hopes that cemetery visitors will wonder at the 111-year discrepancy between Hogan’s death and the toast, and his story will live on.

“It’s worth remembering Jimmy for the complicated life he led. Thus, the belated headstone," says Just. "It’s important for people who — well, they’re not important people, necessarily, but they had a life that’s important to recognize."

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The Idaho State Legislature posed for their annual photo on the steps of the Old Capitol Building (date unknown). Guess who also showed up? James Hogan is far left, front row. Idaho State Historical Society, no. 80-100-4

Honor "just plain Jimmy"

Elizabeth Jacox and Rick Just will talk about James Hogan from 12 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, June 20 in the Greenbelt Room on the third floor of Boise City Hall.