Sitting down at the dining room table in the home of Arthur Cola in small town America, aka Burlington WI, with the Lilacs blooming in the back yard and the final blossoms of the Crab Apple tree in the front yard fading away one hardly gets a sense of New York City or the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. And yet perhaps this town founded in the early part of the mid-19th Century is quite appropriate for it’s in that time period in which the story of “Pure and Tarnished Hearts” is set. This novel by Arthur Cola will be available in June on Amazon or Kindle as are his other 6 novels.
It is with the scent of Lilacs that the interview began with the Chicago born and raised retired History teacher turned author, who has spent most of his life with his wife, Donna, raising their five children in this growing one-time agrarian City in rural Wisconsin. He is quick to point out that they now have six grandchildren as well.
“I understand that “Pure and Tarnished Hearts” continues a saga begun with your book, “Journey of Three Pure Hearts,” I began.
The writer replied that his characters were introduced in that earlier work. In three distinct areas of Ireland during the famine era three teens, James Shields of Inishbofin, Aengus O’Flaherty of the Aran Islands and Meghan O’Grady of Doolin meet Father Thomas O’Malley OSA and their lives would be forever changed. The focus of their story was on the conditions in Ireland circa 1849 and how the families of the young people place their trust in the priest to bring their children to America, a place of opportunity and wonder or so they heard. Their adventure on the ship called the Cushla Machree captures the essence of the experiences of the immigrants as they sailed to the United States. At the same time, it flashes back to those days when the priest was once imprisoned because he was a Catholic Priest. It also addresses the spirit of teenagers which isn’t much different than those of today, except instead of a hand held electronic device the lads used quill, ink and a Journal to record their thoughts, feelings and experiences.
“Speaking of the priest,” I asked. “Why do you go out of the way to say OSA at the end of his name?”
It turned out that OSA stands for “Order of St. Augustine.” Cola in the arc of his story line already knew that there would be another book to continue the adventure of the priest, the lads and the lass as he called them. And that story takes them to St. Augustine Church in Philadelphia and Villanova University as well. Both the parish and the college were founded by and are operated to this very day by the Order of St. Augustine. They ultimately arrive there because of his research with the Heritage Center at Villanova, the Philadelphia Library and the Church of St. Augustine. “The Friars were most helpful in providing historical information which turned out to be so dramatic in nature that it had to be included in the story,” Arthur Cola said.
“Well then how does New York City come into the story?”
“It’s a matter of historical accuracy and a change of plans,” the author replied.
What he meant by that was that the ship, Cushla Machree, was an actual ship which sailed from Galway to New York City in 1849 with destitute and often starving immigrants from Ireland. However, he had intended to use another ship and go to Boston instead but when he interviewed Monsignor John Ahern of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral/Basilica and learned of the history of the immigrants at the First Cathedral of New York City and the events which they encountered upon arrival, Arthur Cola decided to begin his tale in the “Big Apple” specifically Mulberry St. where the immigrants settled. Today it’s part of “Little Italy.”
“Okay, so that’s the background for the writing of the story, but how would you describe this coming of age tale of three teens under the leadership of this Father Thomas O’Malley OSA?”
I soon learned that this book is more than a coming of age adventure story. It’s also historically accurate in presenting actual events taking place in the United States during this period of history. It is set against a backdrop of riots and protests against new immigrants and Catholics by a political faction known as the American Nativist Party or “Know-Nothings.”
“What I have done,” the author went on to say, “was to weave my fictional characters into those events which took place in New York City and Philadelphia while using actual historical figures such as the First Archbishop of New York City, John Hughes, and America’s greatest actor of the day, Edwin Forrest and others such as the Philadelphia Killers gang to interact with my characters.”
In creating the story, Arthur Cola introduces you to some of the most famous and not so known iconic places in both cities. You will dock in the Battery of New York City, walk with the terrified immigrants to Castle Garden, now called Clinton Castle, which predates Ellis Island for receiving immigrants. Today you buy your tickets to see the Statue of Liberty there. Then off you’ll go up Wall Street and onto Broadway there meeting New York High society girls. In an unlikely turn of events these very girls will lead you to Mulberry St. crowded with Irish immigrants and to Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Bowery theater district.
Most of all you will get to experience how James Shields of Inishbofin, a tiny almost barren island off western Ireland, Aengus O’Flaherty, a young fisherman from the Aran Islands called the Celtic Warrior and Meghan O’Grady of Doonagore Castle in Doolin, County Clare came to be friends and befriend others like themselves to form a 19th Century singing group dubbed “The Celtic Warriors.” You will be right with them as they use pen and song and sometimes fists, to confront the prejudice and outright hatred they find in the land which they believed to be a “City set upon a hill.”
Then you will travel with them across the Hudson River through New Jersey and onto Philadelphia so that they might answer the silent ringing of the cracked bell which for them symbolized the essence of those words written in the Declaration of Independence taught to them by their teacher priest. Once in the City of Brotherly Love you will be thrust into turmoil and exuberance, murder and compassion, despair and hope. In such historic sites such as the Walnut Street Theater, Villanova University, Christ Church, St. Augustine Church, and most of all Independence Hall, which then housed the Liberty Bell, you will follow the characters.
The author believes that you will find his characters facing parallel issues which exist in America today and thus you will be able to relate to them.
As for the story itself, some may call it sentimental. In a way they’d be right, for it does touch the heart. Some may call it a celebration of American values and they too are correct in a way as it does address those principles on which our nation was founded. And yet it also addresses how those principles were not applied to all people in 19th century America. Some may see this story as a commentary on immigration and they too would be on the right track. It certainly illuminates that issue throughout the telling of the tale as the immigrants struggle for acceptance into American society. Then some may see this book as a reflection on Religious Freedom and they too are correct; for the anti-Catholic and outright riots against Catholic places and people are dramatized only slightly around the events which actually took place. And some may see in this tale a story of lads maturing into young men as they confront guy issues and a lass of the Victorian Era who isn’t quite like what the fine young ladies of American society were expected to be. Any of these views are in some degree accurate interpretations of what this historical fiction adventure novel of “Pure and Tarnished Hearts” contains.
It is because of these various depictions of the 19th Century Characters, political and religious tensions of the day and human development issues that the author feels this story is most appropriate for older teens and adults.
Pure and Tarnished Hearts along with the author’s other novels will be presented on Sunday, June 28 beginning at 3:00 p.m. at Napoli’s Restaurant in Burlington, WI. The books of Arthur Cola will also be available at Festa Italiana/Milwaukee from July 17-19. Irish Fest/Dublin OH July 31-Aug. 2, Irish Fest/Peoria IL Aug. 28-30, Irish Fest/Pittsburgh Sept. 11-13, Irish Fest/Milwaukee Aug. 13-16 and I.B.A.M/Chicago Oct. 9-11 and Villanova University/Philadelphia (date to be determined).
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