Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Tony Drexel Goes for a Walk (Part I)

Anthony J. Drexel was one of the wizards of late 19th century finance.  He also had big shoes to fill. His Austrian-born father Francis Martin Drexel emigrated to America at the dawn of the 19th century to seek his fortune as a portrait painter.  The elder Drexel found that he was more skilled at bond […]
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The Curious “Afterlife” of the Chicago World’s Fair

Chicago’s “World’s Columbian Exposition” closed its doors in October 1893 . Its magnificent neoclassical buildings, designed by McKim Mead and White and recently made infamous in Erik Larson’s narrative history The Devil in the White City, quickly vanished.  For all its grandeur, the “White City” was a mirage of plaster and lathe. For a few […]
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The Butler Family Feud (Part III)

Part I and Part II The Virginian was a tremendous success, selling 1.5 million copies during Wister’s lifetime, and became a template for countless Western novels and movies to follow. Despite his newfound fame, Wister found subsequent literary success elusive. Like most authors, he did not want to become a one-hit wonder. Once he was back in […]
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Gentlemen and Wise Guys in Girard Estates

  Stephen Girard, the French-born Philadelphia shipping tycoon, was famous for his hard driving work ethic.  He came to America as a teenager, an orphaned cabin boy from the city of Bordeaux, and quickly established himself as a merchant who sent his ships to China and the Caribbean.  Along with John Jacob Astor of New […]
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The Wreck of the “Governor Ames”

On December 9, 1909, the lumber schooner Governor Ames set sail from Brunswick, Georgia on a routine coasting voyage to New York. Onboard were 14 souls, including Captain King and his wife. Lashed onto her upper deck was a cargo of freshly cut railroad ties, most likely headed for the New York Central Railroad’s supply […]
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Nicholas Biddle, Philadelphia Hellenophile

Before he locked horns with President Andrew Jackson over the fate of the “many headed monster” (a.k.a. The Second Bank of the United States), banker Nicholas Biddle fancied himself something of a poet and aesthete.  Born to wealth and blessed with brilliance, Biddle graduated from Princeton University — at the head of his class — […]
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“I Live the Life I Love” – Echoes from the Mask and Wig (Part II)

Note: this is a sequel to “Echoes from the Mask and Wig” published on May 2.  Two weeks ago, I received a phone call from Don Fisher, who graduated from Penn in 1975 and was sort of a Tommy Lee Jones type: as an undergraduate, he balanced working on the Mask and Wig crew/ business staff […]
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Echoes from the Mask and Wig Club

Many years ago, when I was helping my grandmother decide which records to donate to the New York Public Library from her extensive collection, I found a set of fragile shellac discs protected by  brown paper sleeves.  They were old dance records from the 1920s that had belonged to my grandfather Joseph Follmann Jr., who […]
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Parkside Revisited (Again): A Look Inside 4230 Parkside Avenue

Note: the author has previously covered Parkside in “After the Fair” and “The Slifkin Family.”  A walk-through of the house with the author and University of Pennsylvania lecturer Hanley Bodek will be featured on an upcoming segment of WHYY’s Friday Arts.  On the outside, the houses on the 4200 block of Parkside Avenue are grand […]
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Walking West Philly with Joe Washington (Part 2)

Note: this is the second part of “Walking West Philly with Joe Washington.”  To read part one, click here.  When Joe Washington was a young man in the 1970s, Hawthorne Hall was a gathering place for Powelton and Mantua.  Its second floor auditorium hosted dance parties and boxing matches. Now, the orange brickwork is battered. […]
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