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

Engine House #24 - 17th District, Police Station, 20th and Point Breeze Avenue, November 9, 1896. (

17th District, Police Station and Engine House #24, 20th and Point Breeze Avenue and Federal Streets, November 9, 1896. (

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 the services started, began assembling along the route of the funeral procession,” reported the Inquirer. Lieutenant Harry Meyers of the 17th Police District at 20th and Federal Streets would send a 30-man “guard of honor” and largest floral wreath. Six officers from the station stepped up as pallbearers. They’d attempt to console McVey’s bereft mother, who responded: “I have but one wish…to live long enough to see my poor boy’s death avenged. He didn’t deserve to meet with such an end, to be killed by the bullet of a negro.”

Even though he was on vacation, one of those pallbearers-to-be, patrolman John Schneider, reported for duty that Monday, the day after the death of Thomas McVey and two days before his funeral. The streets of South Philadelphia still seethed with a toxic mix of mob violence and martial rule, which would prove nearly fatal for African American men—even those going about their business.

That morning, Preston H. Lewis visited his brother, hoping “to find a place to move because the family with whom he lived, at 2739 Titan Street, was moving on account of the riot,” reported the Inquirer. “He was met on the streets by Officers Ramsay and Schneider” who stopped and frisked Lewis and “finding a small pocket knife, beat him about the head inflicting about 20 wounds.” In fact, Ramsay and Schneider beat Lewis “until he was semiconscious” before sending him to the Polyclinic Hospital at 18th and Lombard Streets. There, with his face and head “a mass of bruises” Lewis “was laid on a cot to await his turn to have his wounds dressed.”

But Schneider wasn’t done. He “walked into the hospital…went to the Accident Ward, and without a word of warning, knocked down Miss Applegate, one of the nurses in attendance” and began to beat Lewis with his fists and then with his black jack. “Lewis was knocked unconscious…”

William Watson, an African-American officer from another district “who was on guard in the hospital drew his gun and threatened to shoot Schneider before he would stop beating Lewis” but “several white officers present wrenched the gun from his hand…” The head nurse telephoned the police of the 19th Police District—not Schneider’s own stationhouse—for assistance. Two officers arrived, resident physician William M. Cooperage would later testify: “I tried to stop [Schneider] but could not, and it took the efforts of three other policemen to drag him from the helpless victim.”

Schneider would later be charged and tried, but that day, right after the incident at the Polyclinic Hospital, Schneider went back to work, rejoining his partner, Robert Ramsey, at the 17th District Station house. From 20th and Federal, Schneider and Ramsey would return to the streets, looking for trouble.

[Sources: “Pays Fine Tribute to Victim of Riot – Rev. Francis A. Brady Praises Policeman McVay for Dying at Duty,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 2, 1918; “White Policeman Clubs a Race Riot Victim on Hospital Cot,” The Philadelphia Tribune, August 10, 1918; “Policeman Tried for Brutal Action,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 30, 1918; G. Grant Williams, “Cop Schneider on Trial,” The Philadelphia Tribune, September 7, 1918; “Echo of Race Riot – Policeman Schneider to Be Tried for Deadly Assault,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 25, 1918.]

More posts on the South Philadelphia Riot of 1918 here, here and here. Next time: Schneider and Ramsey encounter Riley Bullock.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Riot Continues: Targeting African-Americans on Titan and Stillman Streets

1522 S. Stillman Street. Home of Mrs. Eleanor Grant in 1918. (Google Streetview)

1522 S. Stillman Street. Home of Mrs. Eleanor Grant in 1918. (Google Streetview)

“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 July 30, 1918, the violence grew more intense. “With the coming of night the rioting continued unabated, while the police made feeble and frantic efforts to scatter the throngs which gathered in the streets armed with every sort of weapon. Some even carried hatchets but the most frequently used instrument was a blackjack. Hundreds carried bricks with jagged edges.”

Frustrated, Mayor Thomas Smith “confessed that he did not know how order was going to be restored.”

“One of the most serious acts of the infuriated white mob took place at the home of Henry Huff at 2743 Titan Street” (near 28th and Wharton) the man accused of killing police officer Thomas McVey. While Huff sat in a cell in Moyamensing Prison, about fifty men, “many of them neighbors and friends of the dead bluecoat,” reported the Inquirer, “marched into Titan Street, armed with clubs, knives, bricks and revolvers.”

“With wild cries they descended upon the Huff home. The door had been locked and the windows barred. Inside were two women and three children, said to be the children of Huff. … They smashed the [door] panels with axes, tore open the windows and climbed in, one after the other. … Meanwhile the women and children inside the house at fled through the rear gate to the home of neighbors. Once inside, the vengeance seeking crowd started to wreck the place. A piano was shoved through the windows and hurled by willing hands into the centre of the street. Beds followed from the upper floors; chairs were tossed through windows, carrying away sash and glass. Everything removable in the house was sent flying into the street where it was made into a huge pile. Matches were applied to oil soaked mattresses and in an instant the furniture was in flames. Inside the house other members of the raiding party had started a fire.”

When there was nothing left to destroy at the Huff residence, the mob turned to other houses occupied by African-American families. “Mobs of white men” rampaged, wrecking interiors house after house. Police showed up, according to new reports. “only after the damage had been done.”

“Hundreds of colored residents are leaving the danger zone for places of safety,” police told reporters. “Several men were found fleeing clad in women’s garments.”

Four blocks to the southeast of the attack on the Huff home, someone thought a shot might have been fired from a window of 1522 South Stillman Street, the two-story home of Eleanor Grant, an African American woman. “Within a few minutes a struggling, fighting throng had forced its way into the Grant home and swept everything before it.”

2th Street - South of Dickinson Street. National Alloy Company, May 10, 1916. (

25th Street – South of Dickinson Street. National Alloy Company, May 10, 1916. (

“The crowd became a mob of five hundred within a short time.” A dozen policemen “were powerless before the swaying mass of bodies locked in deadly struggle. Every window in the house at 1522 Stillman street was broken. The furniture was cast into the street and broken with axes. From the Grant home the crowd entered houses of five other colored residents, repeating their actions. The street was soon filled with broken furniture and glassware. Half an hour later a mounted squad of twelve policemen arrived and, by sending their horses directly into the crowd managed to break it up.”

Soon after, William Duberry, 33, an African-American resident who lived nearby at 1511 South Stillman Street, returned home. “A crowd of white men who still lingered in defiance of the police” spotted Duberry, chased him through his house, then through the alley behind Stillman Street and across a nearby lot to Dickinson Street. With the mob “at his heels…Duberry ran into the office of the National Alloy Company and sought refuge behind the desk of the president of the company, Henry P. Miller. The crowd demanded admittance, and as Mr. Miller went to the door it gave way before the pushing of the crowd. Duberry managed to evade capture…by scaling the fence.”

But by the time police arrived, the mob had caught and was “pummeling” the now unconscious Duberry. “With their revolvers the policeman held the crowd at bay while they put Duberry into an automobile and took him to St. Agnes hospital” where he was admitted with internal injuries and a fractured skull.

[Source: “Race Riots Grow In Fury As Police Fail To Curb Mobs,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 1918.]

More posts on the South Philadelphia Riot of 1918 herehere and here

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

South Philadelphia Erupts: The Race Riot of 1918

Annin Street - West from 25th Street. May 3, 1916. (

Annin Street – West from 25th Street. May 3, 1916. Two years before the riots. (

“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 we say to the colored people of the Pine Street warzone, stand your ground like men. This is a free city in a free country and if you are law abiding you need not fear. Be quiet, be decent, maintain clean, wholesome surroundings and if you are attacked defend yourself like American citizens. A man’s home is his castle, defend it if you have to kill some of the dirty, foul-mouthed, thieving Schuylkill rats that infest that district.”

The war of words soon became a war of weapons, one that quickly spread. “2 Slain, 20 Injured As 5000 Fight Race War in South Philadelphia,” read one startling headline Monday July 29, 1918.

“In a series of street battles waged for twenty-four hours yesterday…covering about two square miles, two white men, one a policeman, were shot and killed, several others, both white and colored, are believed to be in a dying condition and scores were seriously injured in the most terrific and bitter race riot that has ever taken place in this city. Half a hundred men were placed under arrest.”

“The rioting…began with the killing of a white man by a negro early yesterday [Sunday] morning, grew in intensity throughout the day with individual fights and mobs engaged in gun fire on nearly every other corner of a section bounded by Washington avenue, Dickinson street, 23rd and 30th streets.”

Facts and rumors swirled after the fatal shooting of Hugh Lavery, 42, of 1234 South 26th Street by Jesse Butler near 26th and Annin Streets. Did Lavery’s pregnant wife die of grief? No. Was their unborn child also a casualty? Untrue.

2506-2508 Federal Street, July 29, 1924. Six years after the riots. (

2506-2508 Federal Street, July 29, 1924. Six years after the riots. (

No matter. “From 9 o’clock in the morning until almost midnight the streets of the district were converted into a battle ground. For several hours it appeared as though the police of five downtown districts would be unable to cope with the situation…”

Fury only grew the next day after Henry Huff shot and killed police officer Thomas McVey, 24.

“In bands of thirty and fifty men the whites and the colored men met in the streets and waged their fight, using guns, razors, knives clubs or any weapons which were certain of inflicting injury. These encounters were taking place over every street in the district…”

“Federal Street was a seething mass of black and white bodies, swinging from one side of the street to the others. Men were trampled underfoot and left unconscious and bleeding. … The sight of men falling, dying and bleeding, failed to stop the rioting and it took a hundred policemen, sparing no heads or bodies, to scatter the men.”

Police closed off the streets, stopping and frisking every male and arresting many bearing weapons. In front of the Naval Home, “the fighting became so terrific that Commander Payne…offered the police the use of two hundred marines to aid in quelling the riot. By that time, there were more than 150 uniformed policemen struggling with the rioters, supplemented by half a hundred detectives from the Central Station and downtown station houses.”

“From barred windows and doors the women and children of the neighborhood listened to the progress of the battle. Shutters were closed tight, but in many instances this fact did not deter the rioters from venting their bitterness. They used axes to chop away the woodwork and then shattered the glass with bullets.” Some women and children, determined to attend church in spite of the situation, “ran screaming through the streets to places of safety when the shooting started.”

At dusk, during a brief pause in the rioting, a reporter looked up and noticed “in several small streets between Federal and Washington avenue, there were few houses which had windows left…”

Then, as nightfall came, chaos returned.

[Sources: “Dixie Methods Now In Vogue in Philadelphia—White Residents of Upper Pine St. Adopt Tactics of South Against Colored Tenants,” The Philadelphia Tribune, July 6, 1918; “2 Slain, 20 Injured As 5000 Fight Race War in South Philadelphia,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1918; Vincent P. Franklin, “The Philadelphia Race Riot of 1918,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 99 (3) July 1975, pp. 336-350.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Tale of Intolerance in Grays Ferry

Ellsworth Street, south side, 2900-38, east to west, December 6, 1965 (

Ellsworth Street, south side, 2900-38, east to west, December 6, 1965 – Nearly 50 years after Adella Bond moved in. (

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 poorly in some neighborhoods. She knew of the incidents in early July, 1918, when local “ruffians” welcomed a new family to the 2500 block of Pine Street with racial epithets before burning their furniture in the street. No, Adella Bond wouldn’t be looking at any houses near Fitler Square.

About a mile to the southwest, an African-American real estate agent was showing 2936 Ellsworth Street, a two story brick rowhouse near the end of a block wedged between the Henry Bower Chemical factory and the United States Arsenal. Bond “supposed colored people were welcome” there, and heard another woman of color, a Mrs. Giddings, had previously occupied the very same residence.

Bond wasn’t told that real estate managers were systematically terminating the $11-per-month leases held by working class Irish-Americans and offering rents of $14 or even $16-per-month to incoming working-class African Americans.

And if the new renters wanted to buy, all the better.

“We had a perfect right to dispose of our properties if we wanted to,” said real estate agent A.D. Morgan. “These white tenants have been trying to ‘run this block’ for some time… We have had trouble with them for two years. They were always behind in their rent. … We got tired of dealing with these people. Yes, I employed a negro agent and sought to dispose of the eight houses I owned down there. We almost ‘begged’ the white tenants to buy the properties. They would not.”

“When we got a chance to sell the house to Mrs. Bond we did so. We have sold six of the houses. Yes, all to colored people. We have two more houses on the market. I would like to see them go to colored tenants for they are far better tenants than the element which is there now. … they’ll have to get out as soon as their leases are up. And when they are all gone and the colored people take their places, there will be no more trouble there.”

But there would be trouble.

“The second time I went down that street, I was stoned,” Bond later said. “If I had known that there was any objection to colored people in the block I wouldn’t have taken the house… It was only after I had bought the house that I knew of any objection. But since I could not get my money back, what else was I to do except to live there?”

On Wednesday July 24th, the movers arrived with Bond’s furniture. She answered her door brandishing a gun. The day went smoothly.

On Friday, as Bond later told it, “…about 100 white men and boys gathered in front of my house. I heard them talk about having guns, and I saw the guns and cartridges. At last a man came along with a baby in his arms. He handed the baby to a woman, took a rock and threw it. The rock went through my parlor window. I didn’t know what the mob would do next, and I fired my revolver from my upper window to call the police. A policeman came, but he wouldn’t try to cope with that mob alone, so he turned it into a riot call.”

The rock thrower, Joseph Kelly, 23, who lived a few blocks away on Carpenter near Twenty-third, had been shot in the leg. Both he and his brother, William, would be held without bail, pending investigation. Police arrested Bond for “inciting to riot.”

“LONE WOMAN HOLDS A MOB OF 500 WHITE BRUTES AT BAY,” read the page-one headline in The Philadelphia Tribune. “The plucky little probation officer… shot to kill in defense of her honor and home…” ran the caption below a full-length photograph of Bond.

“Can you blame citizens of color for mobilizing at 29th and Ellsworth Sts. To protect one of their own…?” wrote G. Grant Williams, The Tribune’s editor.

Bond’s attorney, G. Edward Dickerson, considered the irony of this and other incidents, just as American soldiers were being shipped abroad to fight for freedom. “How can a colored man go to France with a clear conscience?” he asked. “How can he willingly give his life for a country that will not protect his family during his absence?”

Unable to move back home for a week, Adella Bond worried about the same thing—and more. In her absence, as police were supposedly guarding her house, “white hoodlums” broke in, “robbed her of…valuables and…demolished her furniture.”

[Sources include: “Dixie methods in Philadelphia,” The Philadelphia Tribune, July 6, 1918; “Man Shot in Race Riot Over Negro Resident,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 28, 1918; “Mrs. Bond Determined to Occupy Her House,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 31, 1918; “Lone Woman Holds a Mob of 500 White Brutes at Bay: Adella Bond Shoots Into Mob Attempting Violence,” The Philadelphia Tribune, August 3, 1918; “The So-Called Race Riot,” The Philadelphia Tribune, August 3, 1918; “White Policeman Clubs a Race Riot Victim on Hospital Cot,” The Philadelphia Tribune, August 10, 1918.]

More on the Riot of 1918 here

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Jack Thayer’s Demons: A Philadelphia Survivor’s Tale

John B. Thayer (highlighted in white) in the c.1916 group portrait of the University of Pennsylvania soccer team. Source: PennHistory.

John B. Thayer Jr. (highlighted in white) in the c.1916 group portrait of the University of Pennsylvania soccer team. Source: PennHistory.

“There was peace and the world had an even tenor to its way. Nothing was revealed in the morning the trend of which was not known the night before. It seems to me that the disaster about to occur was the event that not only made the world rub it’s eyes and awake, but woke it with a start – keeping it moving at a rapidly accelerating pace ever since, with less and less peace, satisfaction and happiness. To my mind the world of today awoke April 15th, 1912.”   -John B. Thayer III, 1940

John B. “Jack” Thayer III seemed to have everything a successful Philadelphian could want.  He was the son of the second vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and educated at the Haverford School and the University of Pennsylvania.  He was married to Lois Buchanan Cassatt, granddaughter of Pennsy’s president Alexander Cassatt, the mastermind of New York’s Penn Station.  After graduating from college in 1916, Thayer served his country with distinction in World War I, and then worked in a series of investment jobs until he became partner in the investment firm of Yarnall & Company. In addition to serving his alma mater as its financial vice president, he also belonged to numerous clubs and societies.

Dr. Thomas Sovereign Gates, president of the University, called him a “loyal and trusted servant.”

Houston Hall undated.ashx

Undated photograph of Houston Hall, the student union at the University of Pennsylvania, 3400 block of Spruce Street. undated. A memorial plaque to John B. Thayer Jr. was placed here by his friends from the class of 1880.

Yet even as America celebrated victory over the Axis in that joyous summer of 1945, a dark cloud seemed to be enveloping the 50-year-old banker.  His beloved mother Marian had died the previous April.  His 22-year-old son Edward had been shot down over the Pacific a year before that.

And then there was the ever-present ghost of his father John B. Thayer Jr., whose legacy as railroad executive and sportsman was memorialized on a plaque in Penn’s Houston Hall.

Jack Thayer had spent the past three decades searching for peace.  And he found none.

On September 19, 1945, Thayer drove from his elegant home in Grays Lane in Haverford to the intersection of 48th and Parkside Avenue, parked his car, took out several wrapped blades, and slit his wrists. Then his throat.

The 4900 block of Parkside on July 2, 1954, near the spot where Jack Thayer committed suicide a decade earler.

The 4900 block of Parkside on July 2, 1954, near the spot where Jack Thayer committed suicide a decade earler.

His body was not discovered for another forty hours.

John B. “Jack” Thayer III left behind a book he had printed privately a few years earlier and inscribed to his friends and family.


On the early morning of April 15, 1912, 17-year-old Jack Thayer and his friend Milton Long found themselves stranded on the sloping decks of the RMS Titanic.  Two hours after the ship’s collision with the iceberg, the Titanic was down by the bow and listing heavily to port. There had been no general alarm or sirens.

The Titanic’s giant engines had stopped shortly after 11:40pm.  “The sudden quiet was startling and disturbing,” Thayer recalled. “Like the subdued quiet in a sleeping car, at a stop, after a continuous run.”

Then came the roar of escaping steam from the ship’s 29 boilers, and an occassional white rocket bursting in the night sky.

The two young men found themselves blocked from entering the lifeboats: “No more boys,” barked Second Officer Charles Lightoller.  In the distance, they saw flickering oil lamps coming from the 18 lifeboats that had made it off the ship. Jack’s mother Marian was in one of them.  The freezing cold Atlantic rose ever closer to the boat deck.  Lights from submerged portholes glowed green for a while in the black water before shorting out. Atop the officers’ quarters, a group of men struggled to free two collapsible liferafts lashed to the deck.  There was no hope of hooking them onto the davits and lowering them properly: they would have be floated off as the ship went down.

The "a la carte" restaurant on the RMS "Titanic."  First class diners who chose this 120-seat restaurant over the 500-seat main dining room paid extra for the privilege of eating here.  Source:

The “a la carte” restaurant on the RMS “Titanic.” First class diners who chose this 120-seat restaurant over the 500-seat main dining room paid extra for the privilege of eating here. Source:


“Mr. Moon-Man, Turn off the Light,” a popular song from Jack Thayer’s childhood that was almost certainly part of the Titanic band’s repertoire. From the 1979 film SOS Titanic.

Marian Longstreth Thayer. Source:

Marian Longstreth Thayer. Source:

A few minutes after 2:05am, first class passenger Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, who had helped women and children into the lifeboats for the past hour, was surprised to see a “mass of humanity” come up from below, “several lines deep converging on the Boat Deck facing us and completely blocking our passage to the stern. There were women in the crowd as well as men and these seemed to be steerage passengers who had just come up from the decks below. Even among these people there was no hysterical cry, no evidence of panic. Oh the agony of it.”

First and second class passengers had access to lifeboats from their deck spaces. But not steerage — they had been kept below until now. Except for those lucky enough to find their way through a maze of barriers and corridors to the boat deck level.

Gracie also noticed John B. Thayer Jr. chatting on deck with his fellow Philadelphia millionaire George D. Widener, whose wife Eleanor had also left in a boat.  Only a few hours earlier, the Widener and Thayer families had hosted a celebratory dinner in Titanic’s captain Edward J. Smith honor in the ship’s 120-seat a la carte restaurant on B-deck. Gracie remembered that the elder Thayer looked “pale and determined.”

John Borland Thayer Jr., Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Source: Wikipedia.

John Borland Thayer Jr., Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Source:

Jack Thayer lost his father in the milling crowd, which after realizing all the boats were gone, began to surge with panic.

At around 2:10am, the liner’s bow took a rapid plunge downward, as seawater burst through cargo hatches, doors, and windows.

“It was like standing under a steel railway bridge while an express train passes overhead,” he recalled of being stuck on the sinking ship, “mingled with the noise of a pressed steel factory and wholesale breakage of china.

Milton Long got ready to slide down the side of the ship by using one of the dangling lifeboat ropes. “You are coming, boy, aren’t you?” Long said.

“Go ahead, I’ll be with you in a minute.” Thayer responded above the din.

Long slid down the rope. Thayer jumped.  “I never saw him again.”

Thrashing around in freezing water, Thayer could see the ship in full profile as it sank deeper into the Atlantic.

“The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare,” he recalled, “and stood out of the night as though she were on fire…. The water was over the base of the first funnel. The mass of people on board were surging back, always back toward the floating stern. The rumble and roar continued, with even louder distinct wrenchings and tearings of boilers and engines from their beds.”

The Titanic’s electric lights flickered out, came on again with red glow, and then went out for the last time.

Newly-released CGI by “Titanic: Honor and Glory” showing the “Titanic” sinking in realtime.

Then he saw something even more terrifying: the ship breaking in half. “Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split, well forward to midship, and bow or buckle upwards,” he recalled. “The second funnel, large enough for two automobiles to pass through abreast, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks It looked as if it would fall on top of me. It missed me by only twenty or thirty feet. The suction of it drew me down and down struggling and swimming, practically spent.”

The water began to numb his limbs, and he looked desperately for something that could support him.  Everything was too small: deck chairs, crates, broken pieces of paneling.  He then banged his head on something big.  It was one of the two collapsible lifeboats, overturned, with about a dozen men scrambling to stay balanced on its wood-planked bottom. With his last bit of strength, he swam for the boat and hauled himself on top.

Jack Thayer's sketch of how he saw the "Titanic" sink. Source:

Jack Thayer’s sketch of how he saw the “Titanic” sink. Source:

He couldn’t just lie there.  To keep the boat from sinking, the men had to stand up, leaning to the right and left at the command of Second Officer Charles Lightoller, the same man who had said no more boys were allowed to board lifeboats.  Also onboard was Colonel Archibald Gracie. As cold and frightened as he was, Jack did not turn his eyes away from the spectacle. “We could see groups of the almost 1,500 people still aboard,” he wrote later, “clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, 250 feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a 65- or 70-degree angle.”

When the water closed over the Titanic’s stern–at 2:20am, April 15, 1912–Thayer heard a noise that rang in his ears for the rest of his life.

The sound of hundreds of people struggling in the icy water reminded him eerily of the sound of singing locusts on a summer night at the Thayer family estate on the Main Line.  “The partially filled lifeboats standing by, only a few hundred yards away, never came back,” he wrote angrily. “Why on earth they did not come back is a mystery. How could any human being fail to heed those cries?”

Among those voices that cried out in rage and desperation in that mid-Atlantic night were those belonging to his father John Borland Thayer Jr., as well as his friend Milton Long. Over the next thirty minutes, the cries gradually grew fainter and fainter, until there was only the sound of water lapping against the sides of the collapsible boat.

At around 6:30am, the first pink light of dawn shone across the flat calm ocean.  Icebergs glittered all around. One of the partially-filled lifeboats drew up alongside the overturned collapsible.  One by one, the  men who had survived those awful few hours atop the boat scrambled aboard. Most of the 20 or so of his boatmates were crew members.   Thayer, the pampered scion of one of Philadelphia’s richest families, realized how little those distinctions mattered atop Collapsible B.  “They surely were a grimy, wiry, dishevelled, hard-looking lot,” he wrote of the men who had shoveled coal into the steamship’s boilers, seven decks below the paneled salons and suites of first class. “Under the surface they were brave human beings, with generous and charitable hearts.”

With the dawn came another sight: the smoking funnel of the small Cunard liner RMS Carpathia, whose master Arthur Rostron had steamed full-speed through the icefield after his wireless operator had picked up Titanic’s radio distress call.  She came a few hours too late to save everyone from the Titanic, but soon enough to pick up the 705 people who had made it into lifeboats.

“Even through my numbness I began to realize that I was saved,” Thayer wrote in his book, “that I would live.”

John B. "Jack" Thayer III. Source:

John B. “Jack” Thayer III. Source:


Archibald Gracie, Titanic: A Survivor’s Story (Stroud, UK, 2011), p.30.

“John B. Thayer 3d Found Dead in Car,” The New York Times, September 22, 1945.

“John Borland Thayer,” Encyclopedia Titanica,, accessed April 14, 2016.

“Forgotten Journal Reveals How Man Survived 1912 Disaster,” The New York Post, April 8, 2012.


Posted in Events and People, Historic Sites, Snapshots of History | 1 Comment

Retreating from “the Ranks of Acquiescence”

New City Government Shown in Diagram, February 9, 1920. Wenzel J. Hess, photographer. (PhillyHistory)

City’s New Government Shown in Diagram, February 9, 1920. Wenzel J. Hess, photographer. (PhillyHistory)

“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 legislation” adopted late in 1919, Philadelphia was “well on the way to become one of the best-governed cities in the world.”


Philadelphia Stirreth,” as one snarky reformer put it. But first things had to hit rock bottom.

In 1907, after Philadelphians engaged in Harrisburg’s Capitol building scandal dragged faith in government lower than was ever thought possible, novelist Owen Wister, who generally made a career escaping politics, cut loose. In “The Keystone Crime: Pennsylvania Graft-Cankered Capitol,” Wister blamed the Commonwealth, but pointed the finger back at the corrupt cultures of the Quaker City.

”The government of Pennsylvania has been since the Civil War a monopoly, an enormous trust almost without competition—like Standard Oil, but greatly inferior, because Standard Oil gives good oil, while the Pennsylvania machine gives bad government. It shield and fosters child labor; we have seen how it steals; it had given Philadelphia sewage to drink, smoke to breathe, extravagant gas, a vile street car system, and a police well-nigh contemptible. . . Well-to-do, at ease with no wish but to be left undisturbed, the traditional Philadelphians shrinks from revolt. …he may rouse for a while, but it is grudgingly in his heart of hearts…to…retreat back into the ranks of acquiescence.”

Even so, Wister did sense a whiff of possibility for change. Philadelphia’s “spark of liberty is not quite trampled out,” he wrote and held out hope that the city “may some day cease to be the dirtiest smear on the map of the United States.”

Meanwhile, everyone was asking the same question: “What is the matter with Philadelphia?

Everything, according to reformer John B. Roberts. “The cause of Philadelphia’s ills is the success of its political rulers in collecting bribes, carrying elections, and controlling the occupants of legislative, executive and judicial positions. The public knows that bribes are accepted by the political captains who rule over us. It knows that elections are carried by stuffed ballot boxes, bogus voters coming from policemen’s houses, repeaters travelling from one voting booth to another, and the subservience of judges. It sees that members of Council and of the Legislature, the Mayor, the City Treasurer, the Collector of Taxes, the Recorder, the Register of Wills, the District Attorney, the Judges and other officials are nominated and elected by these same active political leaders.”

“What more is needed, asked Roberts, “to prove that the corrupt and expensive government of this town is due to the men who control affairs in City Hall?” He believed “the blame for our shameful civic condition is due less to the boss, who sells franchises and special privileges, than to the Boards of Directors who buy them. … Let us “seek out, exhibit, prosecute, and put in jail the bribe givers; and it will not be long before we shall have representative councilmen and honest political leaders.”

That would take a deep-set commitment to reform. And it would take a new City Charter, which institutionalized many long-needed changes.

The charter of 1919 “gave the city a trimmer and more representative one-house City Council of twenty-one members,” writes Lloyd M. Abernethy. Abolished were the two cumbersome Select and Common Councils, a whopping 145 members in all—the largest municipal body of its kind. For the first time ever, council members would be salaried as they served their four year terms. Most importantly, no councilperson could hold another political office.

The charter did more: It required the city “to do its own street cleaning, paving and repairing, as well as garbage and refuse collecting,” a “direct attempt to eliminate the political manipulation of public service contracts…” Civil Service would (theoretically) blunt patronage. Police and firefighters were forbidden to engage in political activity or even to make political contributions. The charter of 1919 “offered the possibilities of eliminating some of the worst features of municipal government as practiced in the past.”

But would it be anything like “epoch-marking” legislation?

That depended on how serious Philadelphians actually were about stirring from their sleep and returning from “the ranks of acquiescence.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Philadelphia’s Central High School in Perspective (Part 2)

Central HS 5.21.1937

Rendering of Central High School’s Logan Campus at W. Olney and Ogontz Avenues, May 21, 1937.

This past January, I spent an hour speaking with Ron Donatucci, a native South Philadelphian and long-time Register of Wills. He has been a fixture at City Hall for the past three thirty-five years.    Before that, he was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a Democratic ward leader, and a lawyer in private practice.   He also serves on the Board of Directors of City Trusts, and Temple University’s Board of Trustees, the board of Girard College, and Wills Eye Hospital.He was childhood friends with the attorney Frank DeSimone, who I interviewed for a previous piece for PhillyHistory.

When asked what he felt was the most formative experience of his childhood, he replied that it was his three years at Central High School in the mid-1960s.

For Ron Donatucci, asking, “What class were you in?” is his version of the classic Philadelphia question, “Where are you from?”

He grew up in the Girard Estates section of South Philadelphia, a comfortable enclave of 1920s Tudor and Spanish revival homes within the boundaries of St. Monica’s Parish.   With a few, mainly Jewish exceptions, the Girard Estates neighborhood was Italian-American and devoutly Catholic, mostly second and third generation Americans who had become doctors, lawyers, and small business owners. Donatucci’s father, an old school “Roosevelt Democrat” and local ward leader, ran a successful plumbling supply business.

After attending the local parish school at 18th and Ritner, Donatucci went to Bishop Neumann High School for a year.  He then tested into Central’s 224th class, and joined about 15 other neighborhood kids who got on the Broad Street subway each morning to the Logan campus.

Donatucci remembered going up to his English teacher, Dr. Logan, saying, “I’m new here. How many books do we need to read.”

“One book a week,” Logan responded.

Outside of the guidance counselor’s office, Donatucci saw a boy sitting on the floor looking bereft.

“I screwed up,” he muttered sadly. “I got a 1590.”

“You screwed up?” Donatucci replied with amazement over his fellow student’s almost perfect SAT score.

The Central High School of the 1960s took Philadelphia’s smartest boys out of their neighborhood and parish schools and threw them together in a rigorous, competitive environment.

“All of the sudden, I was in a high school that was predominately Jewish.” Donatucci remembered. “These were the students that wanted to pursue an education that was free, and the type of competition was scary.” Among the future stars in Donatucci’s 224th class was Raymond Joseph Teller of the magician duo Penn and Teller. In 1964, the school newspapers reported that Central’s 224th class boasted more National Merit Semi-Finalists than any other school in the country.  At Neumann, he said that he would study about two hours a day after class let out. At Central, he upped his study time to six.

The all-boys experience was a critical part of the Central experience. “We weren’t distracted,” he claimed. So was meeting people of different ethnicities.  At lunchtime, people tended to separate into their neighborhood ethnic groups: African-Americans, Jews, Italians, and Ukrainians.  “The guys from South Philly would sit at the same table,” he said.  Yet the cultural exchange continued with swapping lunches. “I would give them pepper and egg sandwiches,” he said. “The Jewish kids would bring in blintzes. The Ukranians brought in perogis.”

He often found himself at the homes of his Jewish friends for the High Holidays.  When describing Jewish and Italian culture, he said, “They are so similar.” He joked that his Jewish name was “Ronny Dumberg.”

Donatucci graduated from Temple University in 1970, and aside from a stint in Baltimore for law school, has remained in Philadelphia ever since. His two sons did not follow him to Central: they went to St. Joseph’s Preparatory instead, which remains an all-boys school, unlike his now-coed alma mater.  Yet he still remains on the Central board of managers. “I’ve met guys in Central who are my friends today,” he said.  “It’s such a great feeling when you’re talking to someone and you ask, ‘What class are you in?'”

Central High School under construction, August 25, 1938.

Central High School under construction, August 25, 1938.



“Ronald R. Donatucci,” Mationi, Counselors at Law,, accessed April 5, 2016.

“Central Leads the Nation in Merits,” The Centralizer, October 7, 1964.

Interview with Ronald Donatucci by Steven Ujifusa, January 26, 2016.

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Events and People, Snapshots of History | 3 Comments

In the Heart of Philadelphia’s “Lead Belt”

Caption (PhillyHistory)

Southeast Corner – 7th and Columbia (Cecil B. Moore) Avenue, August 30, 1904. (

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 the Philadelphia city average.” Of all the city’s 195 elementary schools, “the one with the lowest fourth-grade reading score was located dead in the middle of District 5,” wrote Binzen. “The total performance of children in this school was abysmal.”

Was it something in the air? Maybe in the water? Or in the street grit?

Herbert Needleman, a public health physician at Penn, had a hunch that might be the case. About the same time as Binzen was conducting research for Whitetown, U.S.A., Needleman set out to measure the lead levels of inner city children, and targeted those of District 5. Ideally, Needleman would have wanted bone biopsies to obtain the most reliable data, but that wasn’t possible. So he adopted a method employed by environmental scientist and peace activist Barry Commoner who raised public awareness about cancer-causing strontium-90 from nuclear tests. Commoner obtained his data by analyzing children’s teeth. Needleman collected 69 baby teeth in District 5 and compared their lead levels to those of a control group from District 8, in the Northeast section of the city.

Detail: Southeast Corner - 7th and Columbia (Cecil B. Moore) Avenue, August 30, 1904. (

Detail: Southeast Corner – 7th and Columbia (Cecil B. Moore) Avenue, August 30, 1904. (

Results of the “tooth fairy project,” as it became known, were published in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Urban children had nearly five times the concentration observed in their suburban counterparts.” Lead poisoning in District 5, manifested in psychological and neurological symptoms, including permanent developmental delays, would be described as “stark and startling.” The contrast with data collected in District 8? Cases of lead poisoning in the Northeast were “vanishingly rare.” See this map by Miad Ahmed Alfaqih.

The “tooth fairy project” became a watershed public health moment. District 5 would gain notoriety as Philadelphia’s “lead belt,” and lead would be considered a severe, national, public health problem—one not entirely understood and very much out of control.

Continuing his research, Needleman reported on what he found in District 5’s schools identified only by their initials. “PT” is Potter-Thomas at 6th and Indiana, “PLD” is Paul Laurence Dunbar at 12th and Columbia (Cecil B. Moore); “JRL” is James R. Ludlow, at 6th and Master; “GC” is George Clymer at 12th and Rush; “JE” as James Elverson at 13th and Susquehanna; and “JF” is Joseph Ferguson at 7th and Norris. In these schools, and others, Needleman’s team collected and tested “interior dust,” “playground dirt” and “gutter dirt.” They tested 219 children for lead and confirmed their earlier, grim findings.

Children growing up in Philadelphia’s “lead belt” were seriously at risk.

Lead-laden industrial Philadelphia had left a toxic legacy behind. The area known as Philadelphia’s “lead belt” had long been home to the Philadelphia Lead Works, Standard White Lead, Color and Putty Works, Western White Lead Co., as well as other 19th-century and 20th-century manufacturers upwind from the tested schools. They spewed pollution, tainted the water, soil and dust. More: the very houses citizens called home had been painted, again and again, with “pure white lead” paint. Thousands of deteriorating, 19th-century homes coated with layers of chipping and peeling paint were poisoning their occupants. In an environment this compromised, with lead embedded in everything and everywhere, researchers found startling levels in their samples collected inside the schools, from playgrounds, from the streets. Lead had made its way into the teeth, into the blood and into the brains of growing, learning children.

They didn’t have a chance.

Lead paint would be banned in 1978. But according to the 2014 Childhood Lead Surveillance Annual Report, Philadelphia still ranks as Pennsylvania’s “top county for children under 7 years of age tested for lead.” Experts believe 10 percent of Philadelphia’s children have “elevated blood lead levels”—maybe higher—they don’t really know. Even today, decades later, the vast majority of children are not even tested.

It still doesn’t make sense.

[Sources include: Laura Benshoff, Eleanor Klibanoff, Marielle Segarra and Irina Zhorov, The Legacy of Lead in Pennsylvania Cities, Keystone Crossroads (2016); America’s ‘Lead Wars’ Go Beyond Flint, Mich.: ‘It’s Now Really Everywhere,’ Fresh Air, NPR, March 3, 2016; Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children (California/Milbank Books: 2014); Herbert Needleman, et al. “Lead Levels in Deciduous Teeth of Urban and Suburban American Children,” Nature, January 1972, Vol. 235, Issue 5333; “Subclinical Lead Exposure in Philadelphia Schoolchildren — Identification by Dentine Lead Analysis,The New England Journal of Medicine, 1974, 290: 245-248; and “Dentine Lead Levels in Asymptomatic Philadelphia School Children: Subclinical Exposure in High and Low Risk Groups,” Environmental Health Perspectives, May 1974, Vol. 7; Peter Binzen, Whitetown U.S.A. (Random House, 1970); 1976 Bulletin Almanac (The Evening and Sunday Bulletin, 1976).]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Philadelphia’s Central High School in Perspective

The original Central High School building, Juniper and Market Streets, c.1850.

The original Central High School building, Juniper and Market Streets, c.1850.

The effort of a free people to provide for the education of their children as a necessity for the maintenance of the their political institutions makes a story of interest and importance. Especially is this true when the movement meets with criticism and opposition, when its leaders are hampered by the absence of any general appreciation of the value of the issue, and when violent prejudice of race, religion, and class is aroused and must be overcome. 

-Franklin Spencer Edmonds, 1902

For some perspective about the dismal state of today’s Philadelphia public school system: a century ago, a high school education was a luxury, not a necessity.  According to a recent article in The Atlantic: “Teens didn’t create ‘high school.’ High schools created teenagers.'”  In the 1920s, only 28 percent of American children attended high school.    For the rest of America’s teenagers, adulthood began at 14. This meant getting a job to help make ends meet: helping their parents out on the family farm, stocking the shelves at the mom-and-pop, or learning a trade such as carpentry, shipbuilding, or baking.  For the very poor, work began even younger than that: rolling cigars or sewing garments in dark, ill-ventilated sweatshops; picking stones out of coal on conveyor belts (breaker boys); collecting full spools of thread in a textile mill (bobbin boys); selling copies of the Philadelphia Inquirer on street corners (newsies), or shoveling coal into the boilers of a foundry. Child labor was not formally abolished by the Federal government until 1938, with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act under the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

During the first half of the twentieth century, those students lucky enough to attend public high school went to classes in grand buildings that looked more like castles than schools.  West Philadelphia High School, completed in 1910, had an auditorium equipped with a pipe organ. In those days, a public high school degree was generally sufficient enough to propel a graduate into the white collar middle class.  The city’s Roman Catholic population turned to an extensive network of parochial schools to provide reasonably priced education to its youth.  St. Joseph’s Preparatory in North Philadelphia was one such institution that traditionally gave working class Roman Catholics a chance at a better life than their Italian, Irish, German, or Polish immigrant parents.

Yet a college education, public or private, was out-of-the-question except for the rich or exceptionally hardworking student. If a public school graduate gained admission to Penn or Temple University, they typically commuted to and from their parents’ house by trolley or elevated rail, and had to juggle jobs and family obligations in addition to their studies.  My grandfather, a 1926 graduate of West Philadelphia High School, paid for his undergraduate studies at Penn’s Wharton School with money earned from dance band gigs.

The city’s expensive preparatory schools–which catered to the Rittenhouse Square/Chestnut Hill aristocracy–were all but closed to the city’s burgeoning immigrant and African-American populations.  They were also the surest feeders to the Ivy League, with few questions asked.

Then there was Central High School, a magnet high school that was arguably one of the most powerful engines of economic mobility in the city.  Founded in 1836, it is the second-oldest continuously operating public school in the United States. Its first home was at the intersection of 13th and Market Streets, and started holding classes only just after the Philadelphia city fathers rather grudgingly conceded to fund a public school system.  Much of the push for free education for Philadelphia’s children came from Quaker activists such as Roberts Vaux, who objected that parents had to declare shameful  “pauper status” in order to send their children to a charity school.

Central High School building at North Broad and Green Streets, March 8, 1910.

Central High School building at North Broad and Green Streets, March 8, 1910.

Once established, Central High School gained the financial support of several of Philadelphia’s richest families, including the Whartons and the Biddles. Central’s first president was Alexander Dallas Bache, a distinguished professor at the University of Pennsylvania and grandson of Benjamin Franklin.  Over the next century, Central was housed in a series of grand structures until the 1930s, when it settled in its current Art Deco campus in the Logan section of North Philadelphia.  Its counterparts in other cities include Boston Latin in Boston and Stuyvesant High School in New York. An applicant had to pass a grueling entrance examination, but once in, he (it remained all-boys until a 1975 Supreme Court ruling) found himself surrounded–and pushed to excel– by the best and brightest students from all over the city.  For many, it was their best shot at making it into a top college, and then onward to a successful career, in Philadelphia or beyond.  The school’s alumni roster reads like a who’s who of Philadelphia’s meritocracy: linguist Noam Chomsky, artists Thomas Eakins, architect Louis Kahn, mayor Wilson Goode, and industrialist Simon Guggenheim.

Yet students who had grown up in tightly-knit neighborhoods, rigidly segregated by ethnicity and class, the transition could be just as difficult as it was thrilling.

To be continued… 

Rendering for Central High School's Logan campus, August 1936.

Rendering for Central High School’s Logan campus, August 1936.


Derek Thompson, “America in 1915: Long Hours, Crowded Houses, Death by Trolley,” The Atlantic, February 11, 2016,, accessed March 14, 2016.

Franklin Spencer Edmonds, History of the Central High School of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1902), pp. 7, 13, 35.

“List of Alumni of Central High School,” Wikipedia,,_Pennsylvania), accessed March 14, 2016.

Posted in Historic Sites, Snapshots of History | Comments closed

A Trail of Abandoned Cars

East side of 9th St. Between Master & Jefferson Sts. July 12, 1954. (

East side of 9th St. Between Master & Jefferson Sts. July 12, 1954. (

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 ended up as landfill, pushed into abandoned quarries or into foundations for new buildings. Along the Mississippi River cars found an afterlife bulking up levees.

“Wrecking and scrapping” became big business. But abandoned cars soon hogged the majority of dump space. So, more and more often they were simply left where they stopped. Best guess: by the mid-1960s, the nation had 30,000,000 car carcasses littering the landscape. That’s a 47-square-mile problem, big enough to blanket more than a third of the entire city of Philadelphia.

Abandoned cars were thought to be “breeding places for rats and mosquitoes” and, worse than eyesores, curbside wrecks “provided a prominent visual index” for the “deteriorating quality of urban life.”

In Detroit, Motor City itself, the number of abandoned cars grew from 2,000 in 1964 to 13,000 two years later. New York’s count quintupled between 1960 and 1963 and again between 1964 and 1969, growing to 70,000. By the late 1980s, New York’s population of abandoned cars would double. But then the New Yorkers successfully cracked down, heading into the Millennium with less than 10,000.

Hmmm. If New York could do it, figured the campaigning candidate John Street as the mayoral election of 1999 approached, certainly Philadelphia could, too.

Philadelphia’s own formidable backlog of abandoned cars also seemed countless, and bottomless. More than 12,500 had been hauled off the streets in 1985. Three years later, authorities towed twice that number. A decade later, 23,000 replacements sat curbside. What better a campaign promise than to rid the city of its most visible and most unwanted?

Junk Car and Trash. 2329 N. 10th St., July 12, 1954. (

Junk Car and Trash. 2329 N. 10th St., July 12, 1954. (

Through the Millennium Winter, Philadelphians counted curbside carcasses. Forty thousand. Though the target wasn’t moving, it was expanding. Every week, citizens called in another thousand.

Removing all the wrecks would be a Herculean effort, but Street was committed to “blight removal.” In addition to towing cars, he aimed “to raze dangerous houses and commercial buildings around town in a $250 million program” to be named the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative—NTI.  And, as some liked to point out, it launched, in the Spring of 2000, a promise of “biblical” proportions, a gigantic 40,000-car disappearing act that would last for 40 days.

On the very first day 1,028 vehicles were hauled away from the streets of West and North Philadelphia. Authorities slapped large electric-green stickers onto “trashcars without vehicle identification numbers, those “valued at less than $500.” More than two dozen salvagers directing 127 tow-trucks targeted the stickered vehicles for immediate crushing. For every wreck removed and recycled, the city earned $25.

The whole operation depended on a healthy market for scrap steel, something that had been missing for many decades.

McCarthy writes: “The postwar scrap metal market peaked in 1956,” when 41,000,000 tons of scrap were sold “to domestic and foreign steel makers.” Soon after that, the scrap market collapsed. Steelmakers modernized, replacing open-hearth furnaces that could work with a higher proportion of scrap metal. “The new basic oxygen furnaces used just 20-25 percent scrap. This change alone effectively halved the steel industry’s demand for scrap metal. … When steelmakers began substantially to reduce their overall demand for scrap, the market…practically vanished.”

And American cities found themselves awash in abandoned cars.

Philadelphia salvagers sold their steel at the going rates, which plummeted from $80 to $55 a ton just before Mayor Street’s campaign got underway. The value of a “crushed Chevy” dropped by nearly a third.

So. Was Philly’s biblical-slash-millennial sweep the stuff of legend, or merely urban legend?

Depends who’s asking, who’s talking and how they’re framing the facts. In 2002, Mayor Street spoke of removing 100,000 cars. Before she left office, Councilwoman Marian Tasco reminisced NTI’s “removal of 224,886 abandoned cars.” Deborah Lynn Becher writes of a more modest, but still impressive, 60,000 disappearing cars. But Haverford College political scientist Stephen J. McGovern claimed the city towed 33,318 cars in forty days.

Not quite 40K in 40 days. But in its modest asymmetry, moving, crushing and recycling 33,318 abandoned cars has the makings of a good tale—and maybe even a believable one.

[Sources include: Tom McCarthy, Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment (Yale University Press, 2007); “Fighting the Abandoned Car Problem,” by Bill Price, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 20, 1989; “Street Plans Sweep of 40,000 Junk Cars Starting Monday,” by Cynthia Burton, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 2000; “Abandoned Car Crushes Man Trying To Tow It Away On The 2d Day of Phila.’s Cleanup,” by Monica Yant and Maria Panaritis, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 5, 2000; “What’s Next For Street’s Towing Plan,” by Monica Yant, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 2000.]

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment