Author Archives: Ken Finkel

Broad and Market Streets: the Intersection of Past and Future

Philadelphia’s past and future always collided at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets. From the conception of Center Square in the 1680s to the laying of the corner stone for City Hall in 1874 it was a tentative, slow-motion collision. After that, things sped up quite a bit. By the end of the 19th-century, […]
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Debt and Consequence

It’s a classic story. Behind a noble and refined façade, (thanks to the designs of Frank Miles Day and Louis Comfort Tiffany) Horticultural Hall on Broad Street was really a house of cards, a palace built on credit. After an earlier hall on the same site burned in 1893, insurance kicked in $25,000 for a […]
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Lost Days on Broad Street

Philadelphia’s decades-long “reign of architectural terror” had finally come to an end. The powerful influence of Frank Furness, whose “violent mind” generated a “degree of depravity not to be measured in words” had played out. In its place, critic Ralph Adams Cram saw the rise of refinement and a “delicate sensibility” of a new posse […]
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Fatal Collapse at 5th and Clearfield

“My God, it’s Reiss!” shouted Alfred Haggerty. The patrolman had noticed something at the bottom of the gaping pit at the intersection of 5th and Clearfield and stared at it for minutes before realizing it was the body of the missing police officer. A week before, Joseph A. Reiss and his partner, patrolman Joseph Cheplick, […]
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Wrong Turn, Wrong Street, Wrong Day

That morning, just like any other Thursday, John Connor stepped out of his family’s two-story rowhouse, near 13th and Moore Streets, and made his way up Passyunk Avenue to his job in Center City. Summer still lingered in the sunny September air, and the 23-year-old Connor looked forward to another day behind the wheel of […]
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Cohocksink: The Northern Liberties Cover-Up

With an investment of $100,000—the equivalent of millions in today’s dollars—City Fathers assured Philadelphians that the “noisome” Cohocksink, the creek that drained much of North Philadelphia, had finally been contained. No longer would its “fetid and polluted waters” meander in plain sight, sluggishly making their way to the Delaware. It was 1871, and this country-creek-turned-urban-sewer […]
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Liberty Unveiled

Little “blue-eyed, pink-cheeked” Nona Martin, the five-year-old from Chestnut Hill, stood motionless, “awed by the numberless masses that stretched away before her vision down Broad Street, as far as the eye could see.” By her side, on the platform, was her grandfather, William G. McAdoo, the “tall, gaunt, commanding” Treasury Secretary. Behind them loomed the […]
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1918: Death on the Home Front

September had been tough, especially the middle of the month, when more than a quarter of the soldiers at the Frankford Arsenal had been hospitalized with the “Spanish Flu.” On October 1, as the deaths were counted, the Inquirer grasped for a positive tone, pointing out the number of new cases had actually fallen off […]
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Censoring Philly Street Dance after the Shimmy Ship had Sailed

“Those moaning saxophones,” fretted John R. McMahon in the Ladies’ Home Journal, “call out the low and rowdy instinct.” And with degrading names like “the cat step, camel walk, bunny hug, turkey trot,” McMahon figured jazz dance mocked the dignified traditions of social dance. Most insidious of all was a move they called the shimmy. […]
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Taking to the Streets with the Philadelphia Police (Singing and Dancing)

Philly’s Finest got into the big band business while the getting was good. Only three years after 1912, when bandmaster Lieutenant Joseph Kiefer (formerly of the U. S. Navy) started up his talented squad, he expanded its ranks to 72 musicians. He then spent the better part of the next decade riding the rising tide […]
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