How Anthony Bourdain Came to Be an American

Researched by James McNiff

Veterans Day feels like the fitting occasion to share the story of Anthony Bourdain’s paternal grandfather, Pierre. Jim McNiff originally submitted this as a comment, and Cats Working has edited it for clarity and length. He found his facts and photos at Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com.

James McNiff is a health care industry retiree who now does genealogical research on famous people for fun. His work has appeared in The Boston Globe and the Irish Echo (New York). He also self-publishes some of his findings and makes them available on Amazon.com.

Now, let’s learn about Anthony Bourdain’s paternal grandparents. But first, Jim sets the scene…

National WW1 Memorial Debuts in Washington, D.C.
Smithsonian Magazine, April 16, 2021

President Biden delivered a speech virtually, saying…

“More than 100 years have passed since WWI ended, but the legacy of those doughboys sailing off to war, and the values they fought to defend still live in our nation today.”

& & &

From The Stars and Stripes: American Expeditionary Forces Newspaper,
November 29,1918…

“One of the most heartening and cheering things about this whole business is the infinite capacity for mutual friends that exists between the children of France and the soldiers of America.”

* * *

On July 19,1919, the U.S.S. Kroonland sailed from Saint-Nazaire, France, with Army personnel onboard. The Treaty of Versailles had ended the Great War a few weeks earlier. Over 9 million soldiers would never return home. Another 21 million were injured, some beyond repair.

As soldiers streamed up the gangway, Quartermaster Sergeant Arthur H. Murphy waited until the last minute to personally escort a 13-year-old boy dressed in military garb. The child seemed to become invisible as he ascended the ramp; officers overseeing embarkation turned their backs as if he didn’t exist.

Next stop: Hoboken, New Jersey.

This is the U.S.S. Kroonland’s manifest for that sailing…

Officers294
Army Field Clerks3
Nurse, A.N.C.1
Civ., Q.M.C.1
Enlisted Men3,213
Total3,512
And 1 French boy

The New York Tribune reported the story of “doughboy” Pierre Michel Bourdain:

“The Kroonland had the distinction of bringing the youngest number of the A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Force). He is Michel Bourdain, 14 years old [his 14th birthday was actually two weeks after the article], dark-haired and blue-eyed. He stands 5’2” and wears the Sphinx head on the collar of his blouse, denoting a civilian interpreter. He says he speaks ‘Amurican,’ not ‘Engleesh.’ He was accompanied by Sergeant A.A. [sic] Murphy, who said he had the permission of the lad’s parents to adopt him.

“Bourdain helped his aged parents on a little farm at Maine-Loire, in Brittany.

[Pierre’s actual birthplace was a commune in Trelaze. The farm was on the outskirts of Angers, a larger city in western France. The Loire River was a few miles south. Trelaze is 440 miles due east of Port Saint-Nazaire.]

“When the 52nd Ammunition Train camped at [the farm], Pierre thought they were the finest soldiers he had ever seen and immediately started to help them in their marketing, using the little English he learned in school. The 52nd Ammunition Train moved on and was followed by the 54th Coast Artillery. Now called “Mike” by the soldiers, Pierre had accumulated quite a vocabulary and made himself invaluable to the new arrivals, none of whom spoke French. Soon they found that they could not do without him, so he was given a uniform and put on the payroll as a civilian employee interpreter at 225 francs a month.

“His parents moved to Bordeaux… The[y] opened a grocery store with Mike’s savings, which they realized was much more profitable than farming. Sergeant Murphy said that he is going to give Mike a good education.”

[Pierre’s father (Anthony Bourdain’s great-grandfather) is portrayed differently in various newspapers. Some say he died at Verdun. His birthplace quite frequently documented was Sao Pedro, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil).

Pierre’s American Guardian: QMC Sergeant Arthur H. Murphy

Arthur Murphy was born in Duchess County, New York, in 1888. His father was from Virginia and his mother lived in New York.

By 1910, Arthur lived in Poughkeepsie and worked as a candy salesman, according to the census. He was single and never married. At age 29 he enlisted in the Army at Fort Slocum in New York.

He was promoted to sergeant in 1918 while overseas, where he spent 14 months and made a stop in the commune of Trelaze, where he met young Pierre Bourdain. By his discharge in 1919, he was a Quartermaster (QMC) Sergeant.

Upon returning to New York, Arthur, and presumably Pierre, lived in an Allerton House (later renamed Tatham). The Allerton Company rented homey apartments to young men to provide “a safe, stable and economical arrangement,” according to their owner.

Pierre’s Future Wife Arrives

When Pierre was 9 and still living in France, Gabrielle Riousse [Anthony Bourdain’s paternal grandmother] crossed the Atlantic on the Lafayette and passed through Ellis Island on December 6, 1915. She was 22, 4’11”, with chestnut hair and eyes, and her occupation was milliner [dressmaker]. She was visiting her older sister Berthe Corr, who lived with her husband James at West 91st Street in New York.

Gabrielle was born in Paris on February 25, 1893, to Alfred and Ernestine (Loret) Riousse.

When Gabrielle arrived in New York, her parents still lived in Paris. Alfred was from Alençon, Orne, home of Alençon lace, “the Queen of laces and lace for Queens.”

Gabrielle eventually returned to Paris, but came back to New York in February 1920. Her height then was recorded as 5’4”, and her profession switched to teacher.

Arthur Murphy Adopts Pierre

The New York Herald of September 9, 1919, provided this update…

Yank Adopts Lad He Met in France. Ex-Interpreter to Rear son of Verdun Defender

“There was something in the wistful face of little Pierre Michel Bourdain which haunted Sergeant Arthur H. Murphy of 143 East Thirty-ninth Street, on the occasion of their first meeting in France. From the time the eyes of the big sergeant, who was an interpreter in the American Expeditionary Forces, and little Pierre met in Bordeaux there developed a mutual attachment.

“Every opportunity found the doughboy and the French lad together, and little Pierre told his story. He was a half-orphan; his father having been one of the thousands of French poilus who defended Verdun against the German onslaughts at the cost of their lives. His mother, Mithilde Belliard Bourdain, was in poor circumstances, scarcely able to support her children and herself.

“When the time came for his departure from France, Sergeant Murphy obtained permission from the boy’s mother to have Pierre follow. There was a lot of trouble in getting this permission, but it was only the beginning of Sergeant Murphy’s difficulties. There was the official red tape to be untangled, and that also took time.

“Finally, however, young Bourdain arrived in New York and was welcomed by his doughboy friend Murphy, an accountant, who had returned to civilian life.

“It was fitting that the day on which Gen. Pershing returned to America should be made one of the happiest in little Pierre’s life. Surrogate Cohalan signed yesterday the papers of adoption for which Murphy had applied, and Pierre Michel Bourdain became Pierre Michel Murphy. He will reside with his foster-father and the latter’s widowed sister.”

[CW Note: This account contains some unverifiable factual discrepancies from the earlier New York Tribune story.]

1924 was the last year Pierre was noted living in New York before returning to France to visit his mother, now in Bordeaux. It’s unknown if Pierre had a falling out with Arthur Murphy, but when he returned to the U.S. on the Rousillon, his name was listed as Pierre Michel Bourdain, not Michel or Michael Murphy, and the person he knew in the States wasn’t Sergeant Murphy, but a neighbor named Mr. Wilgus.

Gabrielle Returns to New York While Pierre Sails to France

Gabrielle traveled to Paris twice between 1924 and 1926. Gabrielle lived at 57 East 58th Street, NYC (the Hotel Claredon), and her occupation was professor.

It’s unknown how or where Gabrielle and Pierre met. On October 3, 1928, she married Pierre M. Bourdain in Manhattan. She was 35, he was 23.

Anthony’s grandfather, Pierre Sr. Photo submitted by Thomas, Ancestry.com

Their son, whom they named Pierre [Anthony Bourdain’s father], was born December 12, 1929.

Gabrielle and her son Pierre made many trips over the years to Paris to visit Gabrielle’s father Alfred and her mother-in-law Mithilde, who had moved to La Teste de Buch in Gironde, France.

The 1930 census listed Pierre M. and Gabrielle as married and living at 675 West End Avenue in New York with baby Pierre. Pierre Sr. was then working as a merchant in a department store. Gabrielle was again a dressmaker.

Sadly, Pierre Sr. would die at age 28, when Anthony’s father was only 3 years old. Cause unknown.

From the records of “New York City Municipal Deaths”…

Name:Piere Bourdain
Sex:Male
Address:317 West 95 Street
Burial Date:1 Jan 1933
Death Date:31 Dec 1932
Death Place:Manhattan
Birth Year:1904
Birthplace:France
Marital Status:Married
Occupation:Manufacturer
Race:White
Spouse Name:Gabrielle Bourdain
Cemetery:Fresh Pond Crematory

PS: In the Oral Biography at the bottom of page 3, Christopher Bourdain mentions how their father would take him and Anthony to visit their grandmother Gabrielle in New York [presumably in the 1960s], but remembers only that she was very old and crippled by arthritis.

If not for whatever inspired Pierre Sr. to drop his adopted surname and reclaim his birth name, his grandson, who became an international phenomenon, would have been Anthony Murphy. Somehow, it just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

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