Pottsville Recollects and Collects

Local Society Adds
O'Hara Artifacts to Collection
By Stephen J. Pytak
In June 1954, noted author John O'Hara sent a thank-you card from his home in Princeton, N.J., to a friend in Times Square, New York.
"Your kind expression of sympathy is gratefully acknowledged and deeply appreciated," O'Hara said. Below the typed words, O'Hara wrote his signature in blue.
George S. Lord, 66, of Pottsville, an antiques collector fascinated with local history, acquired the card and its envelope in his travels. On Friday, he donated it to the Schuylkill County Historical Society, Pottsville.
"I think this is right after his wife died," Lord said.
According to the book "The O'Hara Concern: A Biography of John O'Hara" by Matthew J. Bruccoli, O'Hara's wife, Belle Mulford Wylie O'Hara, died in January 1954.
According to Peter Yasenchak, director of research at the Schuylkill County Historical Society, the card is part of that chapter of O'Hara's life.
"That's exactly what it is," Yasenchak said.
Last month, the society started a collection of artifacts related to O'Hara, the Pottsville native who wrote popular novels including "Appointment in Samarra," published in 1934, and "Butterfield 8," published in 1935.
Born in Pottsville, Jan. 31, 1905, O'Hara moved to New York City in 1928. He died in his home in Princeton, N.J., on April 11, 1970, according to www.ExplorePAHistory.com.
The Schuylkill County Historical Society started its O'Hara collection in March when it received a letter O'Hara typed on the eve of 1961 to an editor at the Allentown Call-Chronicle Newspapers. In that letter, O'Hara offered his memories of a Pottsville native, a pianist named Helen Foley.
It was donated by the Sylvia Fenstermacher Lawler Foundation for the Arts Fund, which is managed by the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation.
That letter has since been framed and now hangs in the Genealogy and Research Room at the society's 305 N. Centre St. headquarters.
On Friday, Lord presented a few more O'Hara collectibles to the society.
They included a photo of O'Hara taken on Oct. 9, 1962, and published by LIFE Magazine, a 1955 hardcover first printing of the O'Hara novel "Ten North Frederick," and a 1960 hardcover first printing of the novel "Sermons and Soda-Water Volume II: Imagine Kissing Pete."
"I always tried to collect first editions," Lord said.
Thomas B. Drogalis, executive director of the Schuylkill County Historical Society, and J. Robert Zane, vice president of the society's board of directors, were also present to accept the donations.
Yasenchak said he'd like to see these O'Hara collectibles, in particular the items that include his signature, put in a display case.
Lord also donated something else to the society not related to O'Hara, a bank note for $600 written out April 6, 1874.
A check printed by the "Miners Trust Company Bank of Pottsville," it was written out to "James W. Nagle." He was the son of one of Pottsville's 19th century military legends, Gen. James A. Nagle, according to Lord.
"He was an advertising agent for Philadelphia Insurance," Lord said of James W. Nagle.
He couldn't recall how he acquired it: "I've been collecting for years, anything historical. I knew who Nagle was. I saw this was his son."
Yasenchak saluted Lord for his efforts to collect historical items.
"When he collects, he knows what he has because he takes the time to have the items labeled," Yasenchak said, pointing to notes Lord made on the back of the framed check.

Letter to the Editor

O'Hara Letter Donated
to Historicial Society
By Stephen J. Pytak
Reprinted from Pottsville Republican Herald
On the eve of 1961, noted author John O'Hara, a Pottsville native, sat at his typewriter, composing a letter to an editor at the Allentown Call-Chronicle Newspapers.
It was in reference to a Pottsville native, a pianist named Helen Foley.
"You want to know if I remember Helen Foley?" O'Hara said in the letter dated Dec. 31, 1960.
He did and offered up his memories in the one-page reply, which the surviving husband of the Call-Chronicle editor donated Wednesday to the Schuylkill County Historical Society.
"It's the real McCoy," said James I. Lawler, 80, of Allentown, husband of the late Sylvia L. Fenstermacher Lawler, who died in October 2006 at age 72. He visited the society's headquarters at 305 N. Centre St., Pottsville, on Wednesday to make the donation.
"That's a treasure," Thomas B. Drogalis, the society's executive director, said.
"I'd say it's worth anywhere from $100 to $1,000," Lawler, who gave it to the society free of charge, said
"It's worth what somebody wants to pay for it," society President David Derbes said.
This is the only O'Hara artifact in the society's collection, according to Derbes and society Director of Research Peter Yasenchak.
"We have some of his books, but that's it," Yasenchak said.
Yasenchak said the society may display the framed letter on the wall of its headquarters.
O'Hara was born in Pottsville in January 1905. His novels include "Appointment in Samarra" and "Butterfield 8." He also penned screenplays, plays and short story collections. He died in April 1970 in Princeton, N.J., and was interred in Princeton Cemetery. In October 2002, a life-like bronze statue of O'Hara by sculptor James J. Ponter, Pitman, N.J., was placed at 115 S. Centre St. The Pottsville Bicentennial Committee raised the funds for its creation.
Lawler is chairman of the "Sylvia Fenstermacher Lawler Foundation for the Arts Fund," which is managed by the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation. He said he started the foundation as a tribute to his wife.
"It supports the arts, including the Allentown Symphony," Lawler said.
In the letter, O'Hara offers up his memories of Helen Foley.
"The Foleys lived on Market Street and on North Second, but I don't think they ever lived on Mahantongo. Minor point, but I shall go on: Helen Foley's mother was a Higgins," O'Hara said in the letter. And he pointed out that Helen's brother, "Con," was one of his childhood friends.
"As to Helen: she was a first-rate pianist and, I believe, taught at the Braun School of Music, when it was on South Centre Street. I have often wondered what happened to Helen and to another gifted pianist, Gertrude Eber, who was a pupil at the Braun School when Helen was there," O'Hara said in the letter.
Helen E. Foley Boyle, a Pottsville native who resided in Allentown, graduated from the Braun School of Music and the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music. She taught piano and organ until she retired in 1974. She died May 2, 1975, according to an obituary published in The Pottsville Republican Saturday on May 3, 1975.

AGM Recap

On February 1, 2014 the John O'Hara Society met for its Annual General Meeting.

In attendance were Richard Carreno, Steven Goldleaf, Robert Knott, Jenny Saliba & Robert Saliba. 

Topics of discussion included:
  • The recent publication of Steven Goldleaf’s collection of O’Hara’s New York Stories. 
  •  The recent O’Hara panel at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn, spotlighting the new Penguin Classics editions of Appointment in Samara, BUtterfield8 & New York Stories. 
  •  Pal Steven Goldleaf’s upcoming book proposals, including an effort to include O’Hara in the Library of America.
It was decided that we will next meet in the Philadelphia area sometime in the spring, in the hope that some additional members from PA and parts south may be able to join us.  Suggestions for dates and locations are welcome.

Favorite Passages

   She was leaning against the rail, as he had been, but she was standing with her head back on her

shoulders, accepting the breeze and the noonday sun, and he knew without confirmation that her eyes

would be closed and that she was sure she was alone. She had not been there when he came up to the

boat deck, and he was certain she had not passed behind him on her way to the spot where she now

stood. She was wearing one of those little French hats they called a beret, a blue jacket, the white skirt,

black silk stockings, and black-and-white saddle shoes. And now he saw that there was a book under

her arm. She slowly raised her right hand and slowly slipped the beret back and off her head, and the

wind took hold of her hair but she did not move. Her hair was blond and short, and she was young.

From "Our Friend the Sea."

Favorite Passages

  Nearly everything she said was truthful, but because she laughed so much her friends often believed she was joking and remained her friends. She had beautiful teeth, even and strong all the way back, and some of her friends had been known to remark that it was such a pleasure to look at her teeth that it did not actually matter much what she said. There were, of course, a few people who were not deceived by her laughter or diverted by the display of her teeth, and those people hated her. "How can you hate someone like Andrea Cooper?" her more constant friends would say. "There's no one around that brightens up a room the way she does." But Andrea had left many wounded souls along her merry way, and there were men among them as well as women.

From "Andrea."

Favorite Passages

   It must have been one of the very first days of spring. I was wearing my boots and my new corduroy habit, and carrying my spurs in my pocket. I always carried my spurs on the way to the stable, because it was eight squares from home to the stable, and I usually had to pass a group of newsboys on the way, and when I wore the spurs they would yell at me, even my friends among them. The spurs seemed to make a difference. The newsboys were used to seeing me in riding breeches and boots or leather puttees, but when I wore the spurs they always seemed to notice it, and they would yell "Cowboy-crazy!", and once I got in a fight about it and got a tooth knocked out. It was not only because I hated what they called me. I hated their ignorance; I could not stop and explain to them that I was not cowboy-crazy, that I rode an English saddle and posted to the trot. I could not explain to a bunch of newsboys that Julia was a five-gaited mare, a full sister to Golden Firefly, and that she herself could have been shown if she hadn't had a blanket scald.

"It Must Have Been Spring." 1934

From "Pleasure." 1932

Favorite Passages

   The taxi-drivers in front of the Coffee Pot said, "Hello, baby; hello, sweetheart; hi, kid; how you doin', baby; hey, what's your hurry, sweetheart?" She walked on. They kept it up until she turned her head slightly in their direction and called back at them, "Nuts!" She turned the corner, and her heels felt as though they were biting into the sidewalk, the way they always felt when she was angry. Every time she passed the Coffee Pot, every time she came near the taxi-drivers, she had her mind made up that she was not going to say a word to them. "I won't give them that satisfaction," she would say to herself. And every time she snapped back at them, it made her angry. Some evenings she would be on her way home in a good humor; tired, all right, but with a good day's work behind her and that much more money earned. Then she would come to the Coffee Pot, and the same thing would happen over again, and she would get home full of hatred and with her feet hurting again.                  

O'Hara Talk

Author to Speak on 

John O'Hara Feb. 25                  

Author and scholar Daniel Dyer revisits the works of National Book Award winner John O'Hara on Feb. 25, 7 p.m. at the Hudson Library and Historical Society, Hudson, Ohio.
O'Hara (1905-1970) was once one of America's most popular writers--and an honored one. He won a National Book Award for his novel, "Ten North Frederick." He published more stories in the New Yorker than any other writer. Several of his novels became popular films, such as "Butterfield 8" with Elizabeth Taylor. O'Hara wrote the hit Broadway show "Pal Joey" with Rodgers and Hart and had a number of prestigious jobs in journalism. Although O'Hara ranked himself among his contemporaries, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald (all of whom he knew), he is now mostly forgotten. Dyer will discuss O'Hara, his works and reasons why he has disappeared from our literary radar.
Daniel Dyer was an educator and won the Teacher-Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1992-1993) as well as other teaching awards. Dyer is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and has published more than 1,200 book reviews in "Kirkus Reviews and the Cleveland Plain Dealer." Dyer's 1997 YA book "Jack London: A Biography" earned both a place on the American Library Association's "Best Books for Young Adults" (1998) and a Choice Award from Children's Literature. He has also published annotated and illustrated editions of "The Call of the Wild." Dyer has been extensively pursuing the O'Hara story in his retirement.
This program is open to the public. Registration is not required. For more information, call 330-653-6658 ext. 1010 or visit hudsonlibrary.org.

Favorite Passages


   Her father was a foreman in a Pennsylvania coal mine, and her mother was a fat and pretty Polish woman who always wanted the best for her daughters . . . .
   Her home was a clean little house in  a dirty little town . . . .
   Mary was tall and beautiful, crafty, quiet and passionate. She suddenly leapt from Film Fun to Michael Arlen's books and stories in Cosmopolitan. And she went from me to Philadelphia and an artist of a certain local reputation. I saw her a short time after she first began to pose in the nude. "You know, Doc, if Mom - Mother ever knew that, she'd die, so don't you ever let on. But it isn't anything. I mean he don't look at me as a person. He just sees the lines of my body. You know. The contours. That's the way artists are, Doc."

From "Mary." 1931