Curiosity killed the cat but has caused no catastrophic consequences for William Shefski. Roughly five decades after making a boyhood inquiry to his father regarding the Sparks Shot Tower, Front and Carpenter streets, the former inhabitant of the 300 block of Ritner Street has endowed the Queen Village landmark with added distinction, making it a key component of his book “Shot Tower: Harry and Silas Make The Big Shoot.”
“As a Philadelphian, I have access to tons of history, and I’ve often seen that structure as an emblem of our overlooked past,” the 59-year-old said from the playground that surrounds the 142-foot behemoth. “It’s easy to overlook its significance, but it essentially represents the birth of the American arms industry if we ponder its role as an ammunition producer for the War of 1812.”
The Fairmount resident began to pen the 198-page historical fiction entry two years ago. Commencing with the murder of Honora Cormack “in the shadow of the Shot Tower,” the plot finds her son, Harry, and his friend Silas Breed seeking the Southerner they consider the culprit, with the Civil War as a backdrop to their burgeoning senses of justice and self-discovery. Blessed with a probing personality through his father’s status as a sports journalist, the then-Whitman-situated youth looked to his patriarch for knowledge of the tower’s use, with the reply readying him to research not only its durability as a symbol but also its capability as a tale inspirer.
“I used to play sports at the site, so I had direct awareness of the tower,” Shefski said. “We’re all pretty impressionable, I like to think, so I retained the interest and decided to give homage to a spot that deserves more attention.”
The scribe celebrated publication of the piece, which finds the characters become scouts for the initial United States intelligence service and witness the South Carolina-based naval assault at Port Royal Sound, which locals dubbed “The Big Shoot,” on June 10. Along with allowing him to explore even more his affinity for the Civil War, including contemplation of homefront activity, and to craft “characters that count,” the product reveals the author as a persevering ponderer of the power of never letting one’s observations and ruminations perish.
“I’m not someone who wants to write something and put it away for nobody ever to see it,” Shefski said. “What initially compelled me to write was a love for communication, which has only intensified with age.”
The constant chronicler will call on that infatuation to give Harry and Silas two more occasions to collaborate, with the battles of New Orleans and Mobile Bay as the addressed conflicts, the former encouraging Shefski to trek to Louisiana for research.
“This one came out just last month, so I’m eager to see what sort of reactions I receive,” the creator, who from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight will hold a Meet the Author event at Dirty Frank’s Bar, 347 S. 13th St., said. “I think that people don’t think enough about the Shot Tower. It’s not on any tour, for example, and seems like a relic to most. Sure, it’s not active now, but it remains as relevant to me today as it did when I was 10 years old.”
The oldest of eight children, Shefski lived the first 13 years of his life in South Philly, with the 300 block of Dickinson Street bearing his first abode before his family moved to Haddon Township, N.J. Maturing in Whitman, he classified himself as “a corner guy,” with the word game “Ghost” uniting his friends and helping him to gain more appreciation for language and its workings.
“I had plenty of encouragement along the way,” he said of contributions from his father and his education at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, formerly 2329 S. Third St. “I wanted to explore writing as a potent means to find answers and establish connections.”
He pursued film and television studies at Temple University, with an unrelenting regard for the past leading to enrollment in numerous classes, including a History of Philadelphia course by Professor Morris Vogel, whom he acknowledges in the afterword of “Shot Tower,” that proved eternally telling. He would enter the fields of application/game development and computer forensics, but writing remained a passion, resulting in his beloved status as an early riser and frequent visitor of the Library Company and Free Library of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
“It really developed into a calling,” Shefski, whose website reveals his prodigious output, said of the discipline, noting his allegiance to historical and science fiction. “I felt it necessary to give voice to my stories, and I’m always wondering what I can do next.”
Having called locations such as the Garden State and Scranton home, Shefski contends he feels most at ease deeming himself a Philadelphian, adding he derives comfort out of tabbing himself a product of Southwark, the old appellation for Queen Village, at least internally.
“There’s so much to enjoy as a new source of fun, but there’s also tons of opportunities to reflect on what this city has meant to our nation’s development,” the insightful individual, who enjoys domestic bliss with wife Catherine, with whom he can boast of their children, Luke, Joe and Gabrielle, said. “Center City is undoubtedly a great spot for observation, as is Old City, but let’s not go start slighting South Philly. This area is vital, too.”
In his estimation of the city’s renown, Shefski will always revere Shot Tower, which turned 207 years old on Saturday, as a vital thread between the past and the present. With regards to his future, he plans to issue a science fiction work before returning to the world of Harry and Silas.
“I have to put them out there,” he said of his ideas. “You never know how something will affect someone, so you have to get it on paper and give it a chance.”
Contact Managing Editor Joseph Myers at email@example.com or ext. 124.