Pottsville was only a little out of the way en route to the house in Vosburg — about five miles west of Tunkhannock — where my wife and I spent the last couple of weeks. So we stopped and spent a night in Pottsville, where novelist John O'Hara was born a century ago. While there I read “The Girl on the Baggage Truck,” the first of the three novellas that comprise Sermons and Soda-Water, one of his best books, published in 1960, a decade before his death.
O’Hara was pretty much persona non grata in Pottsville while he was alive, but now there are markers around and about the town indicating sites that served as the originals for those in O’Hara’s “Gibbsville.” The model for the John Gibb Hotel is right at the corner of Centre Street and Mahantongo (which O’Hara renamed Latenengo). Next door is the office of the Pottsville Republican, O’Hara’s Gibbsville Standard. Across the street is the Reading Iron and Coal Co., a few doors away is the building O’Hara was born in, and where his physician father’s office remained after the family moved up the street (on the other side, across from the mansions). Not too far up, right next to the Yuengling brewery, is St. Patrick’s Church, which O’Hara reconsecrated as SS. Peter and Paul.
These places are a matter of yards apart. It seems an extremely small space to have a fictional world from. But maybe not. I suppose we’ve all had the experience of revisiting a place we knew only as small children and being surprised at how small it is compared to how large it loomed in our memory. But we were small when we experienced and that is what we remember. A person sensitive enough while still young might later on easily construct in imagination an entire world out of so large a piece of memory.