DECEMBER 10, 1875

The Final Days

A Personal View of the O'Donnell House ...

In the early fall of 2006, the O'Donnell house along Route 54, just west of Mahanoy City, was beginning to fail.  Time, the elements, and long time negligence took its toll. The structure, which had stood straight and tall for so many years, drooped.  Its proud shoulders groaned with age and fatigue. And yet, the house continued to draw the eye as it always had, compelling the viewer to take in the broken windows, the battered doors, the fallen shingles and gaping holes with awe, not pity.  Overgrown with weeds and trellised by vines, the O'Donnell house was still a strong presence along the roadside.

Pictures taken in 2004 when I'd dreamed historic preservation might be possible had found the interior of the house too dangerous to invite exploration but the walls of the home still sound.  By October, 2006, this was no longer the case.  A piece of history was falling down.  The front of the house bulged outward toward the highway, its appearance bringing to mind that of a pregnant woman and the thought of Ellen O'Donnell McAllister came not far behind.  A rather crazy idea began to take hold ... that once the novel I was working on - THE PIPES ARE CALLING - was published, the final work of the house would be done and it could take its leave of the world. 

Composing a letter to the Pottsville Republican and Evening Herald, sensing that regardless of whether my fanciful theory bore out or not, the ravages of winter would indeed bring the O'Donnell House to its knees, I encouraged the public to drive by the house to see for one last time, a living piece of history.  The house by now had taken on a personage in my mind.  It brought tears to my eyes to think of it gone for it had inspired me in my writing for so long.

I would so miss it when its time came to go.

On Friday, November 17th, I drove past the house toward my job as a school nurse at Mahanoy Area, as usual. A crew of fellas were in front of the house.  Road work, it appeared, was in progress. Thinking little more of it, I continued on my way.

Coming home later that afternoon, I rounded the bend and headed toward Gilberton. The house didn't catch my eye as it usually did and I felt a little disoriented as to my exact location on the all too familiar roadway.  Odd, I thought to myself.  When I reached home and opened my email, something else grabbed hold of my attention - the long awaited publicity release for THE PIPES ARE CALLING.  Excited that my novel was finally going public, my mind was filled with thoughts of book signings and marketing strategies.

But my excitement was short lived. Opening the Republican later the next day, the news article written by reporter Stephen Pytak hit me like a ton of bricks.  The short piece was accompanied by a black and white shot of a work crew and an empty lot.  The story was about a house being demolished because it had become a safety hazard.  It was the O'Donnell House.

And so, in a way, my crazy prediction did come to pass.  The house, though not of its own volition, was gone. My novel was published.

Both events occurred within hours of each other on the same day.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, isn't it?