Author Archives: Ken Finkel

Stenton Park: Green, Historic and Minutes Away

James Logan needed to get out of town. At forty, William Penn’s secretary had grown “heartily out of love with the world.” Planning his escape, Logan bought 500 acres five miles from the center of Philadelphia. In a retreat built in the 1720s, this “bookman extraordinary,” (he amassed a library of astronomy, mathematics, physics, linguistics, […]
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From Classic to Electric: Art Deco and American Business

Every once in a while, art and life imitate one other, sometimes with interesting results. Such was evident recently when the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission approved Comcast’s request to replace the GE logo atop 30 Rockefeller Center. In 2011, writers of the comedy TV series 30 Rock predicted as much. What they didn’t predict, […]
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The View from 27th and Aspen Streets

Artist Augustus Kollner hit the ground running as soon as he arrived in Philadelphia from Germany in 1839. Thing is, the ground in Philadelphia was changing under Kollner’s feet. In watercolors, lithographs and etchings, Kollner captured scenes of a city in transition, a grid expanding uniformly to accommodate the railroad, the factory and miles of […]
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The Labor Lyceum Movement in Philadelphia

Of all the places where Mother Jones might have started her famous 1903 protest known as the March of the Mill Children, which did she find the most strategic? Philadelphia’s Kensington Labor Lyceum at 2nd and Cambria Streets. Of all the halls where Mother Jones might have advised a thousand young seamstresses on the verge […]
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Reflections on a Funeral (for a Home)

The gathered mourners were done sharing memories. The moving eulogy was over and the choir’s hymn reached its final “amen,” echoing a dozen times through the streets of Mantua. Now, the waiting excavator reared back, its giant claw raised against the blue sky hovering over the two-story rowhouse at 3711 Melon Street. The Funeral for […]
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Mother Jones and the Fight Against Child Labor in Kensington’s Textile Mills

“During the Philadelphia textile workers’ strike in 1903,” wrote reformer John Spargo in his 1916 book, The Bitter Cry of the Children, “I saw at least a score of children ranging from eight to ten years of who had been working in the mills prior to the strike. One little girl of nine I saw […]
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What Became of Them

What became of the perpetrators of the Zanghi-Cocozza Memorial Day murders after Anthony “Musky” Zanghi named names and Piero Francisco testified? At first, city officials thought they might have come to the end of the gangster wars in South Philadelphia. In a sweep the Saturday night following the Memorial Day murders, police raided seven “sore […]
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Piero Francisco: Singing, Dancing Mob Murder Witness

Piero Francisco spent only three years in Philadelphia in the 1920s, and more than half of his time was behind bars. To earn this, Francisco had the misfortune to witness a pair of mob murders and the willingness to share what, and who, he saw. Francisco was only following the lead of his employer Anthony […]
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Zanghi’s Revenge: A Pivotal Mobster Moment

The third attempt on John Avena’s life took place on March 11, 1927 as the 32-year old gangster stepped out of a restaurant at 822 South 8th Street. Avena knew exactly who was behind the failed hit. And, as we learned last time, he had no intention of turning anyone in. “I like to settle […]
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John Avena and South Philadelphia’s “Bloody Angle”

As he liked to tell it, John Avena had friends at 7th and Carpenter Streets. Thing was, Avena, aka “Nozzone,” aka “Big Nose John,” was a Sicilian-born gangster who’d eventually head up the Philadelphia mob. And if he didn’t have friends exactly, Avena had allies at the old 33rd District police station. Avena’s interests would […]
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