Well, I am game to try publishing in a new medium. You may have read some of my articles in the Community Post and currently in the Cape Breton Post on the first Monday of each month. If not, be sure to check them out too. Now, Therese has asked me to write a column for her new on-line magazine. We talked about it and I suggested an idea I had percolating in my head after someone asked me, “how do you come up with your stories, how long do they take etc.”
The story that comes to mind started out as a story about the Glace Bay Library. With many stories, you have to ask the right person and you just never know what you will learn. Sometimes the story you started with isn’t even the one you end up writing! Starting slow, but repeatedly asking questions ended up with me spending probably close to 30 hours on the whole story. The problem with a paper publication is they only have so much physical space, so much of my favorite parts of the story were edited out. Apparently, that won’t happen with an on-line publication, so I am excited about that, though I better be careful not to run off too much at the mouth, eh?
One of the first big discoveries with the library story was finding out about the huge tapestry that hangs in the adult library. Library staff let me use their vertical file which contained newspapers clippings and old pictures. I had to go ask where this famous tapestry was, I had never even seen it despite how many times I visit the library. There it was on the back wall, all probably 3 ft. x 4 ft. of it! So that discovery taught me that it had been made in 1933 by Lillian Crewe Walsh and donated to the old library in 1953. I also learned about another large tapestry she created, that currently hangs on the second floor of the Old Town Hall. I talked to lots of people about the library and got some really cute little anecdotal stories that never made it into the February 6, 2017 published edition. My favorite one was the old ‘Birds and the Bees’ story. One grandma took her grandson there and he asked the inevitable, “Where do babies come from?” The very helpful library staff supplied him with a video and a book and sent him happily on his way. Another grandmother recalls taking her grandson there and he was brusquely reprimanded by the librarian to follow the little sticker on the front page, “Wash your hands before you read me.”
When the story was published, I received an email from a man who gave me a copy of a poem, “The Shanahan’s Are Irish” originally written by Lillian Crewe Walsh for his grandfather, Larry Shanahan. So though he had no memories or connection with the poet herself, this discovery was about to send me off in another direction. Apparently in further correspondence with his grandson, I found out the poem had originally been published back in the 1940’s in the Cape Breton Magazine and the Cape Breton Mirror, dated March 1952. Next my research took me to the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University. I explained to the librarian what I was researching and soon I was looking through a box of Lillian Crewe Walsh’s original papers and scribblers. Her nieces commented in an interview that she always had a scribbler on her table and this is what I got to actually touch and read.
I also mentioned the poem noted above but the librarian had no knowledge of it. I spent a couple hours looking, reading, discovering, and enjoying. Then I found something! It was a letter from J. Earle Pemberton ‘humbly begging permission’ to reprint Lillian’s poem in his magazine where he was “preparing a little boxing story for Saint Patrick’s Day …dedicate(ed) to Mr. Larry Shanahan.” He concluded his letter with “I’m enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope for reply. I have always considered a self-addressed stamped envelope for reply a token of sincerity”. At this point, I can only assume she granted that permission as I have not had time to research further.
However, when I showed this letter to the librarian she was most impressed. Upon reading the letter, her eyes lit up as she told me he was very famous. Mr. Pemberton published his own sports magazine in the 1950’s and 1960’s. They did have several copies of this magazine in their records, which I have not had a chance to go back and investigate yet. She also tracked down a copy of his obituary. He died March 25, 1966. She also told me he got around in a wheelchair and published out of a shed in his back yard. Upon reading his obituary, I made another discovery. He attended the same church as I do, Glace Bay Baptist (formerly United Baptist).
I knew going to Beaton Institute would give me so much information, more than I could actually use, but it’s like a Pandora’s Box. Once you find one thing, it leads on and on and you never know what you will find out. I am not finished with this research and will most likely publish a further article to share what I learn.
I did call someone from my church with the same name and got several phone numbers for a niece and a nephew that I have yet to contact, but hope to find some more facts and memories. Then I called an elderly lady from my church, who though young at the time, remembers Mr. Pemberton being a very nice man, with a wonderful singing voice. Her other memory, was that he had a mixed marriage, he was white and he married a black woman. She mentioned how the times were so different in the past and the prejudice caused quite the rift in the family. That sounds like another story in itself.
The next step in my ‘coming up with a story’ involves going back to Beaton Institute and looking through the Punching with Pemberton magazines and learning a little bit more about its publisher. And who knows where else this may take me! Stay tuned and if and when I find something interesting, you will be sure to hear about it.
For now, Happy Saint Paddy’s Day and here’s a trip down Memory Lane with our Glace Bay poet’s poem to enjoy.
The Shanahans Were Irish
By: Lillian Crew Walsh
I met him on Commercial Street
Upon St. Patrick’s Day.
With Shamrocks in his button-hole
He stepped along so gay.
He greeted friends along the way
Like a true born Irishman,
And ladies smiled at the gallantry
Of Larry Shanahan.
The Shanahan’s lived in Ireland
In the days of long ago.
One poor boy had a stammery tongue
Pat Murphy told me so.
It nearly broke his mother’s heart;
His father used to cry;
The fairies must have cast a spell
Upon our youngest boy.
The poor boy’s Irish heart was filled
With bitterness and woe:
Shananhan loved a pretty lass
But could not tell her so.
Hi-hi, hi-hi, hi-hi,hi-hi-
Was all that he could say;
Until he kissed the Blarney Stone
Upon St. Patrick’s Day.
He danced along the Dublin road
With Shamrocks in his hand-
The happiest hearted Irish lad
In all the Irish land.
Since that day the Irish say:
Every mother’s son
That bears the name of Shanahan
Has a blarnied tongue.
The fairies brought a buoyant heart
To keep him always young;
Cupid put a silver tip
Upon the blarnied tongue.
Since that day the Shanahan’s
Are always blithe and gay.
And wear a three-leaved shamrock
Upon St. Patrick’s Day.
If you should be a stranger
In Canada’s biggest town-
Just stand on Senator’s Corner
And take a look around.
If it should be St. Patrick’s Day,
And you meet a friendly man
With Shamrock’s in his button-hole-
It’s Larry Shanahan.
In Honour of St. Patrick’s Day
This is the tapestry created by Lillian Crewe Walsh and hangs upstairs in the Old Town Hall on McKeen Street.
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