Mini-History Lessons for A Dark Lustre

(These are from the back matter of the novel. The links were not listed in the paperback version.)

Castle Garden

On the southern tip of Manhattan, Castle Garden began as a military fort, then became an entertainment center which included a restaurant and a theater.  But from 1855 until 1890, it was the immigration center of the United States, processing over eight million immigrants.  After Ellis Island opened, Castle Garden became the New York City Aquarium.  What remains of this historical place has become the Castle Clinton National Monument.

The Salvation Army

William and Catherine Booth founded the Salvation Army in 1865 to help combat the desperation of poverty in Victorian London.  They led thousands of volunteers in programs to reform prostitutes, opium addicts, and alcoholics.  They shared the gospel and provided spiritual and practical training so those trapped in cycles of poverty and dysfunction could go on to have better lives.

Ballington and Maud Booth

Ballington and Maud could have run into Emiliana and Austin in Castle Garden when they arrived in New York as newlyweds in April 1887.  This couple was so passionate about their work in inner cities around the United States that when the Salvation Army insisted it was time for them to relocate, they broke away from the SA to stay in the U.S.  Thus, they founded Volunteers of America.  Ballington was a hymn-writer, among his many other talents.  You can see the theme of one of his hymns within his dialogue in the novel – “The Cross is not Greater Than His Grace.”

Avondale Mining Disaster

While researching for Voices in the Sanitorium, my current project, I discovered that more than half of the victims of the Avondale Mine Disaster are buried in the Washburn Cemetery, which is only a couple of miles from my house.  A character in the novel was doing her research on TB patients who died in the West Mountain Sanitorium, and in the process of getting into my character’s head, I discovered this link to A Dark Lustre.  I was so enthusiastic about this tie between two of my unrelated novels that I had my husband help me hunt for the memorial at dusk.  Here is my husband’s photo.

Jeffrey L. Thomas has a comprehensive history of the disaster on his website:

Andrew Roy

Having just been in Scotland when I began writing A Dark Lustre, I was thrilled to ‘meet’ Andrew Roy, a Scottish immigrant.  He fought with Pennsylvania during the Civil War (shot and left for dead at one point) and eventually became America’s foremost expert on coal mining for his time.  Here is a link to his biography written in 1896.  I used part of his actual writings in his dialogue about the Avondale Disaster in A Dark Lustre.

Lackawanna Coal Mining Tour

I am so fortunate to live in a region rich in history. Two of my favorite historical places to visit are the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour and the Anthracite Heritage Museum.  I took my children on the tour a few times, but it had been a while.  So, my parents and I went on the tour this summer so I could do some fact-checking. Slope #190 is part of a mine that opened in 1860 and closed in 1966.  It is about 300 feet below the ground.  The minecart pictured above and other equipment we saw in Slope #190 are from decades later than the time of A Dark Lustre, but the tour was still a rich source of information.  If you ever visit the Scranton area, I highly recommend taking the tour.  It will give you a new respect for our ancestors’ suffering to help forge the benefits we have today.


In the spring of 2021, I joined my friends Nikki and Eric Fenton on an excursion to Edgerton, Pennsylvania.  This was a coal patch town that lasted from 1883 until 1905, when the coal began to run out, and the colliery was destroyed by fire. The ruins aren’t much more than a few foundations, but my time in Edgerton really captured my imagination.  Afterward, I purchased a book written by local historian Joseph Krenitsky, called The Blessed Town of Edgerton.  Krenitsky’s love for this lost town shines through his sharing of the “assassination attempts, a mob, heroism, mining disasters, and above all a indomitable spirit to prevail during hardships.”

Women and Mining

      Until the 1840s, it wasn’t uncommon for women to work in mines in the United Kingdom.  In fact, many mine owners preferred to have some female miners since they would work for half pay and could maneuver small coal wagons in passageways that men and mules could not get through.  But then, in 1842, readers of national newspapers had some disturbing morning reading.  Not only were children being forced to work in the mines, where they worked twelve-hour shifts and were often beaten, but women were harnessed like horses, wearing men’s trousers and going topless.  Commissioners were immediately appointed to investigate, and their report was published by the end of 1842. Some historians believe that some of the information was sensationalized, and certainly, illustrative engravings of naked women and children were meant to shock citizens of the United Kingdom.  (Keep in mind that mines weren’t the constant 50 to 60 degrees that they are now that we have electric ventilation systems. Back then, a venting furnace would have kept the air flowing through the mines, raising temperatures significantly.) The reports of immodesty underground so enraged the public that The Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed by Parliament, forbidding females of any age from working underground and setting the minimum age for boys at ten. 

      In the United States, there were no laws forbidding women from working in the mines until the 1900s.  However, it was much more culturally and traditionally unacceptable for women to be involved in mining. There was a much greater diversity of miners in the US, and many immigrants who worked in the mines came from cultures where it was considered bad luck for a woman to even go near a mine.  In fact, some miners believed that if they passed a red-haired woman on their way to their jobs, it was an omen of death.  If Emiliana had been discovered to be a female, the Kowalskis would most likely have been run out of Davieston, if not by management, by the other mining families.  And if Mr. Tomczyk had been discovered as a harborer of a female miner, he would have been fired. 

Personal History

This is Anthony Tomczyk and Alexandria Konapka, my husband’s great-grandparents who emigrated from Romany, Poland, in 1904.  Anthony was a child when he entered the mines in Poland and resumed his career as a miner as soon as he came to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Anthony died of Black Lung at the age of thirty-seven. 

      Another great-grandfather of my husband, Peter Joseph Walsh, was twelve when he was seriously injured in the mines.  He survived and soon returned to mining, but his leg became infected, leading to an amputation.  Still, Peter went back underground but was assigned the job of mine clerk.  The newspaper clipping above is from 1893.

      I enjoyed the time we spent with my husband’s grandfather, Chester Tomczyk, during the early years of our marriage.  Chester had many stories about his childhood and described what it was like to live as a child of immigrant parents who didn’t speak English.  He frequently mentioned the surname “Kowalski” in his stories and even called his great grandkids “little Kowalskis” when he thought they were being knuckleheads. So using the name Kowalski as Emiliana’s surname is a small tribute to Chester.

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