Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Gangs of Philadelphia

“Armed to the teeth” with “pocket pistols, knives, or those horrible inventions known as ‘slung-shot,'” Philadelphia’s gangs dominated the streets of Southwark and Moyamensing in the 1840s, raining bricks and reigning terror. How had it gotten so out of control? The lack of police beyond the city’s southern border – then South Street. And the […]
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Nuclear Apocalypse at 12th & Arch

As the 10th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings approached in 1955, horrors of nuclear war seemed closer, not farther away. Millions of American viewers were rattled to see the disfigured “Hiroshima Maidens” on reality TV (This Is Your Life), victims visiting the United States for reconstructive surgery. Even more frightening—if such a thing […]
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The Audacious, Cantilevered, Disappearing Cornice

Going back a century or so, the well-dressed edifice would carry itself with proud bearing. Such buildings lined public avenues instilling character through style and substance. At the Manufacturers Club, for instance, a grand entrance framed by pairs of freestanding columns finished in the Corinthian classical order welcomed (or intimidated) visitors. Rising above, entablatures and […]
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A More Balanced History of Rittenhouse Square

PhillyVoice called the other day with a burning PhillyHistory question: “When did Rittenhouse Square get its ritzy rep?” And always willing to help out, I explained how the place managed to become and remain “Philadelphia’s most fashionable neighborhood.” Brandon Baker’s fine column (read it here) focuses on the city’s who’s who: the wasp-y aristocratic types, […]
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Waiting for the Mummer Crowds

Mummery took a fortuitous step in 1949 when weather forced postponement of the New Year’s Day parade. A week later, on Saturday January 8, Nature and Public collaborated to produce the best turnout ever. An estimated 2 million people, double the million celebrants from previous years, came out and lined Broad Street. As 1950 rolled […]
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William Rush and What’s Left of the Nymph

This wooden head is all that remains of William Rush’s carved sculpture from 1809. That standing, life-sized “Nymph,” Philadelphia’s first free-standing piece of public art, held aloft a marsh bird, a bittern, which spouted a column of Schuylkill water. Originally, the sculpture and its fountain stood in front of architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s pump house […]
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Chant of the Coal Heavers: “From Six to Six”

Being a Schuylkill coal-heaver wasn’t much of a life. Bosses hired fresh arrivals from Ireland to unload canal boats at the coal yards. By the hundred, crews manned wheelbarrows on the riverbank for a dollar a day, dawn to dark, six days a week. As many as 14 backbreaking hours during the summer months. One […]
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Gritty King Coal

In the 1820s, Philadelphia investors “awoke as if from a dream” to the “immensity of the riches concealed in the mountains and ravines of their native State.” As “news of fortunes accumulated by piercing the bowels of the earth, and bringing forth [coal] from the caverns of mountains,” wrote Edwin Freedley, the anthracite trade, which “appeared […]
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The Silent Film Era Was Anything But

In 1913, “seventy vaudeville and motion picture theatres were under construction” wrote Irvin Glazer. And “virtually all of them were open by the fall,” providing Philadelphia with about 350 venues theatres that excluded downtown “legitimate theatres.” Each and every one screened silent films. Viewing options were everywhere. In addition to the Victoria at 913 Market […]
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Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō Had Arrived

“With Secret Service men and city detectives following in a motor car and mounted policemen galloping ahead and behind, the Japanese commander was whirled around the west side of City Hall and South on Broad street. Those who caught a fleeting look at his immobile face gave him a noisy welcome. From the windows of […]
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