The stories in this book are ageless and universal. They reach beyond time and place. They will resonate in the minds and hearts of anyone who has yearned or loved, struggled, lost, or triumphed.

Photo: Tom Gutekunst 2014

I remember the day as clearly as if it was yesterday. I was twelve years old, and I was walking home from Anna’s house, on Fifth Street, to our house on Fillmore Street. With every step, the image of Anna’s face – its emptiness, its lostness – and the reality of what her father’s cruelty had done to her, burned into my brain. Without realizing it, without understanding what I was thinking, I made a silent vow: I’ll tell your story, Anna. Someday, I’ll tell your story.

-Carol Henn

More than 50 years after making that promise to Anna and to herself, Carol Henn has written Anna’s story and the stories of many other men and women who lived and worked in the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the early to mid-1900s.

While the tales in Oilcloth Stories evoke the sights and sounds of an iconic American locale at a time when America itself was changing rapidly and dramatically, these stories are timeless and universal. The deep and unforgettable human dimensions to these lives … these stories … soar beyond time and place. They resonate in the minds and hearts of anyone who has yearned or loved, struggled, lost, or triumphed.

“The characters are fresh and vivid. The events brim with life’s lessons and meaning.”

- Tim Mead, author of Quetico Adventures

The city of Bethlehem, which traces its history to the mid-1700s, is bisected by the Lehigh River. Along the south side of that river, in the 1800s, industrialization took hold and flourished. Immigrants from Central Europe – from Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia – arrived in South Bethlehem in the late 1800s and early 1900s, drawn by the availability of work in factories and foundries, especially at the burgeoning Bethlehem Steel Company. By 1917, people from more than sixty ethnic groups lived in South Bethlehem.

Working in harsh and even brutal conditions, these immigrants nevertheless made lives for themselves and built homes, families, and futures. They and their children and grandchildren seized large and small portions of the American dream, made it their own, and left legacies that extend into today and tomorrow.