Showing off Easter finery has been a Chicago tradition for decades. From 1947 to 1967, Thomas and Theresa Brennan each year sewed matching Easter outfits for themselves and their 11 children.
The family, who lived on the Near West Side and then Oak Park, became quite famous, receiving letters from around the world.
AN EASTER TRADITION
Every year, the Brennan's paraded their children — all 11 of them —in matching homemade outfits.
Easter was a very special event in the Brennan household. It meant celebrating the holiday and spending time with the family and even a rare trip to a restaurant. It also meant dressing alike.
You see, for two decades starting in the late 1940s, Thomas Brennan, with help from wife Theresa, made the matching Easter outfits the family wore each year.
That meant a suit for Thomas and a dress for Theresa.
And dresses for their girls, Aine, Brigid, Rosaleen, Kathleen and Margaret.
And suits for the boys, Thomas Jr., Patrick, Michael, Brian, Sean and Seamus.
Yes, you counted correctly: 11 children.
"My father was extremely proud of his family and devoted to the utmost," said Seamus Brennan, of Riverside, last week. "He was a phenomenally industrious gentleman. ... He was something of a Renaissance man. He could play the piano a little bit. He could play the violin. He was an awesome accordion player. He used to write little plays and skits."
All of this, of course, while he wasn't working at the heating and fuel oil business he owned and operated by himself. "He worked hard," said Seamus, 60, the youngest of the children. "He was out in the cold. He was in damp basements."
His father became a master tailor, Seamus said, after catching the bug from his wife, who like many mothers of large families wasn't a stranger to a needle and thread. But then he took it to the next level, Seamus said, crafting clothing in a new theme each year that became quite extravagant, like in 1961, when in honor of the new Irish-Catholic president, the family was decked out like the Kennedys, with the boys in dark suits and top hats and the girls looking like younger Jackies.
Each year, the family made the Easter pilgrimage to Michigan Avenue to join thousands of others parading in their finery, and their photograph became a Tribune tradition itself. The newspaper's readers got to see the children grow up.
"My father was proud as can be of that Easter tradition," Seamus said, adding that they received newspaper clippings from as far away as Germany and Japan. As a kid growing up, he said, he was excited to see their photo in the newspaper.
The Brennans' made their debut in 1947 in a back-page photograph showing the five girls and a young Thomas Jr. The next year there were seven children, one in mom's arms. The family, living on the Near West Side, then in Oak Park, became famous, traveling to New York City in 1957 to appear on the game show "I've Got a Secret."
In 1979, Michael, the third son, reminisced: "Easter Sunday for me was the greatest time of my childhood. It was a time when the whole family would all get to go downtown, dressed in new clothes, new shoes, new haircuts. We'd even get to eat in restaurants."
While the Brennans' traditional family gathering has shifted to Thanksgiving, all 11 siblings haven't been together since Theresa died in 1991. And it has been even longer since they've assembled on Easter — making a reunion in Riverside particularly special in 2013.
"There's always some gathering for Easter," Seamus said. "It just happens that for this one the stars are lining up."
Chicago Tribune - March 31, 2013.