By Jack Sheedy
Before I get to the meat of this blog - that being to provide some incidental information on 20th century writer Thomas J. McSheey, in order to fill in some details on his life toward finishing a biography on the oft-misunderstood poet - I begin here with some personal commentary.
Machiavelli & Galileo
My devoted readers, all three of you, may remember that in my last blog entry back on September 2nd I mentioned I was home on that particular day with an undisclosed illness. Well, that undisclosed viral illness ended up keeping me out of work for four weeks. Fortunately I had three and a half weeks of vacation time built up, although now my trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been postponed.
Due to HIPAA regulations, I am unable to disclose the nature of my illness. After all, I must respect my own privacy, lest I receive a strongly worded letter from my attorney on my behalf. Believe it or not, I can be quite Machiavellian when given the chance, and I certainly don’t want the “end-justifies-the-means” side of my nature dragging the “live-and-let-live” side of my nature into court just to prove a point.
Anyway, for four weeks I was at home, quarantined, under a sort of house arrest, feeling a lot like Galileo. Except unlike Galileo who was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition under the papacy of Pope Urban VIII for being a proponent of a heliocentric solar system, and who then took full advantage of that house arrest to write the revolutionary Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences, I instead took advantage of my time off to paint the entire outside of my house, and to caulk and paint all the windows.
So, what’s my point?
Well, I was diagnosed with a rather mild viral illness and was quarantined, virtually cut off from the rest of the world for a number of weeks – basically the entire month of September. Meanwhile, people exposed to the Ebola virus are allowed to go about their business – perhaps even to go bowling - without being subjected to any kind of a quarantine period whatsoever. In fact, I believe that’s how the Black Death started in 14th century Europe, spread by a participant at an international bocce tournament who had recently visited the Far East.
I realize these are confusing times with confounding issues – juggling the good of the few versus the good of the many – but some kind of a realistic, sensible, and fair quarantine procedure for anyone exposed to the Ebola virus seems prudent. After all, the Black Death killed something like 100 million people - roughly half the populations in the inflicted areas of Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East. Beyond that, it caused widespread panic, spurred on the persecution of Europe’s usual scapegoats, negatively impacted commerce and society in general for more than a century, and even cancelled the Italian bocce championships from 1348 thru 1353 to the dismay of enthusiasts and concessionaires, alike.
Edison & Tesla
Toward completing a biography on the oft-misunderstood writer-poet-hymnist-church sexton Thomas J. McSheey I present here some tidbits and incidental information on his 40-year life, during which there was much confusion and misunderstanding.
For instance, almost all sources show that he was born in 1899 in Boston, the son of an Irish railroad worker and an Italian seamstress, although there was some confusion over whether his father was the railroad worker or the seamstress. Another bit of confusion surrounds McSheey’s death, with the year of his demise a bit of a mystery. Some sources show his final breath came in 1935, while others in 1939. Either way, McSheey wasn’t too happy about it.
The family moved out of Boston, settling in nearby Braintree where McSheey attended school and church. He had a younger brother, James, affectionately given the moniker “James the Lesser” to distinguish him from their father, James, who was oftentimes called Finnbarr. Yet, there appears to be some degree of confusion regarding a sister, Rose, as to whether she was a member of the immediate family, a cousin, the girl next door, or Mrs. McSheey’s beloved Alister Stella Gray roses which climbed up the backyard trellis.
McSheey entered Stonycliff College in 1917, where he attended classes for two semesters before enlisting for service during World War I as an ambulance driver. Unfortunately, he was hopeless with directions and often became lost in the French countryside in search of the battlefield. This prompted him to carry a placard which read, “Où est la guerre?” (“Where is the war?”), showing it to locals he happened upon in his travels, who would then point him in the right direction.
Returning in 1919, he continued with his studies at Stonycliff where he began writing in earnest. That was the name of the college library – the Father Joseph Earnest Library – named for the college’s first president. McSheey always sat at a desk on the second floor by a window overlooking the campus grounds, where he would write on Saturday afternoons while the other chaps were off watching a football game or a rugby match. It was during these afternoons alone in the library when McSheey realized he had the ability to slip forward in time - to time travel – and then to slip back into his present day. Unfortunately he always arrived back just after the cafeteria closed so he often missed supper.
In his senior year McSheey became interested in a freshman co-ed who worked Saturdays at the cafeteria to help pay her tuition, and who appeared perpetually indifferent to McSheey despite his numerous attempts to strike up a conversation. One Saturday afternoon in spring, just before final exams, he finally mustered the courage to ask her out on a date. Interestingly, she accepted, and the next day they sojourned to a coffee shop off campus for a cup and a slice of pie. By the time they finished their pie they decided to get married and immediately rushed off to the college chapel to speak with Fr. O’Connor. On the way to the chapel, though, they got into a huge argument over the benefits of AC electricity versus DC – McSheey took the side of Edison and direct current while the co-ed took the side of Westinghouse, Tesla, and alternating current. In the end they decided to call off the marriage due to irreconcilable differences.
It has been suggested that McSheey, during his occasional falling out with the church in his 30’s, became a pagan, worshipping trees, boulders, and most notably, the sun. Or, as he wrote in his journal, “We are the children of the sun.” Even after McSheey returned to the church, he made no apologies for his recognition of the sun as the ultimate source of power sustaining all life on the planet. In fact, early on he was a proponent of the harnessing and use of solar power to run machinery and to heat and illuminate buildings, largely because he witnessed its importance in his time travel trips into the 21st century. During one such trip, to the year 2095 according to the dates scribbled on parking tickets found stuffed into the pockets of his favorite tweed jacket, he noted that, “Everything will be powered by the sun. Vast solar arrays in orbit around the planet will capture the sun’s rays, feeding power stations on the planet’s surface. Even levitating vehicles - somewhat resembling automobiles – will be powered by sunlight.”
All of which goes to prove that even in the year 2095, when you park your solar-powered, anti-gravity hovercraft along Beacon Street to stroll about Boston Common, you still have to remember to feed the meter.
Jack Sheedy is the author of six books, including Cape Odd and Cape Cod Harvest.