Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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Aftermath of the Race Riots of 1918: The Station House at 20th and Federal

After a weekend of rioting the likes of which Philadelphia had never seen, families of the deceased planned funerals for two of the men killed in the mayhem. Grieving for their fallen 24-year-old patrolman, the McVey’s would have Requiem Mass sung at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, 24th and Fitzwater streets. “Thousands of persons, hours before […]
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The Riot Continues: Targeting African-Americans on Titan and Stillman Streets

“The fighting spread yesterday,” reported the Inquirer, to include a giant swath of South Philadelphia: Twentieth to Thirtieth streets, Lombard to Dickinson. Pawnbrokers were forbidden to sell “weapons of any kind until further notice” and saloons were ordered closed. Streets were roped off and police stationed at corners, allowing access to residents only. Still, on Monday […]
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South Philadelphia Erupts: The Race Riot of 1918

“Can you blame citizens of color for mobilizing…to protect one of their own…?” wrote Tribune editor G. Grant Williams after the attack on Adella Bond near 29th and Ellsworth. Earlier the same summer, in 1918, responding to violence against newcomers to 24th and Pine, Williams struck the same chord of warning: “We favor peace but […]
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A Tale of Intolerance in Grays Ferry

Adella Bond figured the 2900 block of Ellsworth Street would be a safe place to live. She figured wrong. Described as a “short, young woman of light brown color, with a quiet but emphatic manner,” Bond worked by day as probation officer in Municipal Courts. As an African-American, she knew that racial tensions played out […]
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Retreating from “the Ranks of Acquiescence”

“Spasms of reform” had “accomplished very little … but the spark of ambitions would not be quenched,” claimed William Bennett Munro. Finally, with a new City Charter in hand, Philadelphia had tools to make “heroic efforts” and live down its rightfully earned “corrupt and contented” reputation. With the help of this so-called “epoch-marking piece of […]
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In the Heart of Philadelphia’s “Lead Belt”

It didn’t make sense. In the mid-1960s, several public schools in Kensington and North Philadelphia were performing dramatically below both national and local standards. In reading and arithmetic, fourth graders in these schools (all in Philadelphia’s District 5) were, according to Peter Binzen, “a year and two months behind national norms and three months behind […]
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A Trail of Abandoned Cars

Cars transformed America’s landscape and cityscape—and hardly for the better. In 1925, a million vehicles jammed the nation’s junkyards. Before the decade was out, nearly three million cars a year were stopping in their tracks. “A good number ended up working as stationary engines to run farm equipment,” tells Tom McCarthy in Auto Mania. Old cars […]
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