Category Archives: Uncategorized

July 14, 1948: Convention Hall’s Most Historic Moment

Of all the things that happened here—appearances by Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela; performances by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead; boxing matches featuring Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier (his pro debut); Atlantic Ten Conference and Big Five basketball games; and concerts […]
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The Randolph Mill Fire: Disaster, Indignation and Recognition

The two front doors on Randolph Street were locked tight. They said this was “partly to keep intruders out, and partly to keep the male hands in” during work hours. You know, to “prevent their slipping around the corner to get a drink.” Worst of all, in spite of the three-year-old law requiring fire escapes, […]
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A Would-Be Disaster Design Solution: The Iron Skeleton Fire Escape

How to safely exit a building on fire? The fire escape, of course. But what about before law required the familiar “iron skeleton fire escape”? In the greater part of the 19th century, when fire struck in the rising city, urbanites were at the mercy of fate. On more than one occasion, Philadelphia’s garret sweatshops […]
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Philadelphia’s Deadliest Fire

Walls of the Hunt, Wilkinson & Company furniture emporium came tumbling down the morning of October 25th, 1901. By lunchtime, firefighters declared the conflagration of the 8-story, 14-year-old building at 1219–1221 Market Street under control. Twenty-two were dead, ranking this as Philadelphia’s deadliest fire. Yet it’s missing from the top “25 Most Deadly Building Fires […]
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Saving Souls on Hell’s Half Acre: The Inasmuch Mission

“Born and brought up a true son of the tenderloin,” George Long survived as a child pickpocket in Madison Square Park in New York City. At the age of 14, having “been thoroughly schooled in the ways of the underworld, he launched himself upon his career as a ‘grafter.’” Long became addicted to cocaine and […]
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Chestnut Hill: Recognizing and Remembering the Real Legacy

Chestnut Hill is celebrating its legacy. The party’s on for what Henry Howard Houston and his son-in-law, George Woodward, started in the 1870s. Houston spent some of his fortune from the Pennsylvania Railroad on tracts of land for his envisioned community of Wissahickon Heights. Woodward continued the development of Chestnut Hill—that name stuck—designing, defining and […]
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The Zigzag Drama of a Memorial Day Monument

“All monuments have a message,” writes Dell Upton in Commemoration in America, “they direct us not simply to remember, but to remember in a certain light. That’s the first of Upton’s “three rules of thumb for monument-building,” principles especially useful in explaining the zigzag drama of Philadelphia’s All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors, […]
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The Center City Conflagration of 1897

Philadelphians couldn’t imagine their city in ruins. But the fire of January 26, 1897 provided a pretty good idea of how that looked and felt. That Tuesday morning, a fire started in the basement bakery of Hanscom Brothers, 1309-1317 Market Street, at 6:45 am. A porter sweeping out an upper story room saw smoke and […]
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Market Street: Fodder for Literary Legends

Do Philadelphia streets have distinct personalities? We know they do. Are they potent enough to stand out in the literary imagination? In 1920, Christopher Morley thought so. Morley considered how Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and Henry James might have sung the praises of (or, in the case of Poe, bemoaned fears about) a Philadelphia […]
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The Station-House Murder of Riley Bullock

A day after riots shook the city and a few hours after the Polyclinic incident, patrolmen Robert Ramsey and John Schneider returned to their station house at 20th and Federal before hitting the streets. Within minutes they encountered Riley Bullock, a 38-year old African-American who lived at 2032 Annin Street. Bullock would soon be dead. […]
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