The Apotheosis and Caffeination of George Washington


Purchase Photo Creamware Jug with the Apotheosis of George Washington, photographed
May 17, 1918.

Death, not birth, was the source of George Washington’s lasting fame. Whatever Washington had done right or wrong during his time on earth, when the Father of His Country passed on at Mount Vernon in December 1799 he also ascended to a special place in the American imagination. Grieving Philadelphians provided a mock funeral procession for an empty, draped casket led by a riderless horse. Even folks who didn’t know much care for the man while he was general or president joined Washington’s true and lasting following that continued in monuments all the way to the end of the new century.

No resting in peace for George Washington. Shortly after his burial at Mount Vernon, John James Barralet, an Irish-trained artist who arrived in Philadelphia during Washington’s second term in office (when the Capital resided in Philadelphia) imagined the restless scene in this commemorative engraving. It may as well have been real: the late President in his fresh burial clothes seems only a bit taken aback being met by allegorical figures of Immortality and Time. They lift Washington from his tomb while America mourns at his feet and Faith, Hope, Charity—behind an enthusiastic Bald Eagle—look on. This elevation, if not deification, came with the heady name of apotheosis, a treatment reserved only for very, very special characters since the days of ancient Greece and Rome.

Barralet’s print proved popular, so popular that British manufacturers of souvenir creamware in Liverpool and Staffordshire put aside the fact that they had been defeated by the late General and used their transfer printing process to put his image on a line of jugs for their United States market. Grieving Americans snapped them up.

The appetite for all forms of commercial and civic expressions in honor of the late President would include everything from statues to cities.  Sculptor William Rush’s full-length figure in pine from 1815 was noble enough, but only a gesture compared with what Congress commissioned on the occasion of Washington’s 100th birthday in 1832. Sculptor Horatio Greenough was asked to carve a great statue in stone for the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol and delivered a 30-ton “Enthroned Washington” based on Zeus at Olympia. This seated, sandal-wearing and bare-chested Washington was relinquishing his god-like powers to the American people, but so many were shocked by the half-naked President they made sure he never made it into the hallowed halls of the Capitol.

Not until 1865 did a classical and monumental depiction of Washington find its way into the Capitol dome, now a fresco apotheosis inspired by another of Hercules. This time, a fully-clothed Washington rises in glory, surrounded by thirteen maidens (one maiden per each original state) and flanked by allegories of Liberty and Fame.

Did the apotheosis, that ever-reliable, classical rebuff of death appeal to Americans deeply stung by the losses of the Civil War? Absolutely. After Lincoln’s assassination, souvenir makers came to rescue once again with a carte-de-visite image of this late President’s arrival in heaven. This time, instead of being guided by god-like allegories, Lincoln arrives into the waiting arms of George Washington’s heavenly self, who places a laurel wreath on Lincoln’s head.

Times and tastes changed, of course. After enough time residing in heaven, a Sesquicentennial reenactor stationed at Independence Hall brought Washington (and the Liberty Bell) back to life on earth. Meanwhile, visitors to the nation’s 150th anniversary exhibition in South Philadelphia stayed awake sipping “George Washington’s Delicious Instant Coffee” suggesting that there’s really no end to the ways Americans can, and will, remember.

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“This Scale Will Give Your Accurate Weight — Free!”

Why does this woman look so happy to be weighing herself in public? Those of us accustomed to taking our weight within the privacy of our own homes would probably avoid a public weighing scale like this one, sponsored by the Philadelphia’s City Commissioners Office during the 1959 Municipal Services Fair.

But, as historian David Lowenthal reminds us, the past is a foreign country. For people in the first half of the 20th century, public weighing scales were not only commonplace, they were a major draw–and a lucrative business venture!

Weighing scales were a novelty in the late 19th and early 20th century America. Like moving picture machines, personal weighing scales were a major technological innovation–a development so exciting, and so profitable, that manufacturers quickly marketed them as a kind of coin-operated vending machine. Drop in a penny, and you got to see your weight.

The earliest such machine arrived in the U.S. from Germany in 1885. Four years later, the National Scale Company manufactured the first coin-operated scale in the U.S., a device that weighed in at 200 pounds. By the 1920s and 1930s, hundreds of thousands of these scales dotted street corners, department store vestibules, movie theaters, public restrooms, and other locations throughout the United States. These machines proved a lucrative investment, even in the depths of the Depression. Costing as little as $50 a unit, these coin-drop scales could provide owners with dividends in the thousands. As Kerry Segrave records in his book Vending Machines: An American Social History, “With 40,000 weighing machines distributed across America, [one scale operating company] said they took in 450 million pennies, or $4.5 million, in a year. That averaged out to $112 a year per machine, $9 to $10 a month, 31 cents a day.”

Beginning in the 1940s, improvements in mechanical scale technology enabled companies to produce smaller, more affordable personal weighing scales for private home use. The increasing affluence, upward mobility, and suburbanization of the postwar years increased average Americans’ access to these machines, and the popularity of the penny scale began to decline. Operators and manufacturers, in last-ditch efforts to revive the popularity of these vending machines, tried new gimmicks, including a two-cent machine that provided a print-out of the user’s weight (rather than just a reading). Nevertheless, their popularity continued to decline.

With the domestication of the personal weighing scale came the idea that one’s weight should be taken in the most private of all private places: the bathroom.

Even though bathroom scales gradually became the norm across the U.S., early iterations were far from perfect. Accuracy was a major issue–and one that companies used to market their products. A 1954 ad for the Detecto bathroom scale proudly proclaimed that this machine was “the most TRUTHFUL bath scale ever!” Because of their larger size, public scales–vending and non-vending alike–contained more precise mechanisms, and could advertise a more accurate reading. Thus, even as late as 1959, patrons could be wooed to a public scale like the one at the Municipal Services Fair simply because of its more exact results.

Sources:
Rohde, Jane. “History of Bathroom Scales.” ArticleAlley.com.

Segrave, Kerry. Vending Machines: An American Social History. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2002. (The quoted material comes from page 24.)

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Looking for Love at the Centennial

"Love Blinds," by Donato Barcaglia (Milan, Italy) from the Art Annex at the Centennial Exhibition. Photograph by the Centennial Photographic Co., 1876. (The Free Library of Philadelphia.)

Americans just weren’t feeling it. Emotions ran high at the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, but these were more along the lines of patriotism, pride and progress than anything like love. Ten million enthusiastic visitors toured buildings packed with the latest machinery and encountered little in the way of old-fashioned romance. Even in the art galleries at Memorial Hall, Americans shied away from feelings of the tender sort. Those who strolled in (according the catalogue) found portraits, landscapes and battles—but little love. The closest things? A statue of Hamlet’s doomed Ophelia. Or a painting (Love’s Melancholy) by Constant Mayer, a New Yorker originally from France.

When it came to love, Europeans seemed in their element and ready to approach the full, ripe experience. The French shipped over Divine Love and also Venus led by Love. Brussels sent Motherly Love and Love is Conqueror. England hung The Poet’s First Love.  The Germans presented Love Conquers Strength.

But no one at the Centennial did love like the Italians. Their unabashed display of sentiment (supported and facilitated by John Sartain, the Chief of the Bureau of Art at the Centennial, who the Italian Government later knighted for his trouble) covered thousands of square feet in gallery after gallery. In Memorial Hall, Cararra marble stood on 85 pedestals.  The neighboring Art Annex packed in an astounding 236 more. These 321 works must be “the largest collection of sculpture ever displayed at any Exhibition” wrote one art critic.

Sentiment reigned and love themes prevailed in the Italian displays. No less than nine cupids had been sent in: The Birth of Cupid, Cupid on the Lookout; Venus and Cupid, Cupid Begging; Sleeping Cupid and Cupid Flying. To popular (though not critical) acclaim, Italian artists lavished upon visitors the entire amorous range in fresh marble: Lurking Love, Angelic Love, Birth of Love, Love’s First Whispers, Innocence Playing with Vice, and A Jealous Sweetheart.  A painting in the same gallery might have served as a label for the place: The School of Love.

Visitors dallied in the Italian galleries, which Sartain located near the entrance of the Art Annex. They studied Brotherly Love, The Mirror of Love, Love’s Net, Love’s Messenger, and The Rebuke, among dozens of other examples, which slowed foot traffic. And the works of Donato Barcaglia, a young artist from Milan, brought it to a halt.  Again and again, the sculptor demonstrated his facility in “works which trifled and toyed with the difficulties of the material” according to another critic. Barcaglia’s “barocchismo” captured the feel of fabric in The First Call, playful movement in Children Blowing Bubbles and dynamic tension in Flying Time. In Love Blinds (illustrated left), Barcaglia gave marble the appearance of flesh that was so close to real, prudish Americans reminded themselves as they stared: “It is only marble.”

True enough.  As true as is the cliché Barcaglia carved in stone.

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Charles Klauder’s Boy Scout Palazzo on the Parkway


Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos Boy Scout Building – 22nd and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
William A. Gee, Photographer, February 13, 1931.

What exactly is this little building that’s being treated like a child in a long and contentious custody battle? While would-be parents (the City of Philadelphia and the Boy Scouts of America) quibble over the question of child support, no one seems to be paying much attention to the personality the battle is about. And, as it turns out, there’s quite a little character here at 22nd and Winter Streets.

Behind the statue of the heroic (and stoic?) Boy Scout looking out at the Parkway is a gem of a building from the brink of the Great Depression. The Boy Scout Headquarters is one of many, many buildings imagined for Philadelphia’s grand civic boulevard, and among the relatively few that actually got built. (A chronology of the Parkway is found here.) It’s across from Paul Cret’s Rodin Museum, which it gently echoes, but where Cret’s taut lines suggest modern times ahead, the Boy Scout building holds onto, and indulges in, ideas about the past. According to David Brownlee, who wrote about the place in his Building the City Beautiful, here’s “a compact building of Italian Renaissance pedigree…delighting in the rich textures of Florentine architecture…”

Who was responsible for this?  That would be Charles Z. Klauder, the son of German immigrants who rose through the ranks from apprentice draughtsman, which he became at a tender Scouting age, to work with the Wilson Brothers, Cope & Stewardson and Horace Trumbauer before becoming chief draughtsman for Frank Miles Day, the firm that would eventually be his own. Klauder impressed colleagues as “a modest, almost shy man…who enjoyed the artisanship of masonry.” Shy in the studio, maybe, but Klauder wasn’t too shy to climb scaffolding when he needed to show his masons, first hand, the effect he was after.

Interior, Charles Z. Klauder’s Boy Scout Building, (The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania.)

Those effects in stone are seen here in a Renaissance Italian-style palazzo, and they are as elegant as they are antiquarian. What does it remind us of? The Drexel & Company Building at 15th and Walnut Streets, which Klauder also designed. But Klauder is best known for his work at colleges and universities. Visit any campus, from Princeton to Yale to Cornell to the University of Pittsburgh, for samplings of his work and evidence of his influence. One Klauder masterpiece is Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning—a campus in a skyscraper, but all of it, no matter how soaring, was done in the Collegiate Gothic style.

“Students may come and go, classes enter and graduate,” wrote Klauder, but “venerable walls and carved chimney-pieces, picturesque gables and vaulted archways endure forever.” He worked with college administrators to help them avoid being “helpless bystanders… at the invasion…of indifferent, if not atrocious, design.” As “sources of knowledge,” Klauder believed, colleges “should be the sources of good architecture.” And in his mind, good architecture would look medieval – something like those European universities that preserved classical learning for so long.

The compact Italian palazzo at 22nd and Winter doesn’t try to be Gothic, but then again, it isn’t setting out to evoke collegiate airs, either. It is, however, committed to historicism, and that goes for the interior as well as the exterior. Klauder’s treatments inside, never seen by the public, are even more expressive than those of his exterior. The architect deployed stone, tile, iron and light to create a courtyard “in the Italian fashion…roofed in glass to serve as a reception hall,” according to Brownlee. The place is “full of charming details.”

This charm should be sufficient to get our imaginations going.  What will this building become someday, when the custody battle is over and it’s finally allowed to grow up?

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Thomas W. Dyott, Snake Oil, Soda Water and the Perennially Seductive Philadelphia Bottle

View of the Glass works of T. W. Dyott at Kensington on the Delaware nr Philada., Lithograph by Kennedy & Lucas after William L. Breton, 1831. (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

Everyone in America, it seemed, wanted to wrap their fingers around a bottle. What poured from the bottle didn’t seem to matter all that much, so long as it made the consumers feel good about themselves.  It might be shoe polish, patent medicine or whiskey—something, anything, that was cheap to make and marketable by whatever claims it took to sell. When it came down to it, the bottle’s contents were almost secondary to a steady, affordable supply of pocket-sized, glass containers. Without bottles, manufacturers and merchants had no reason to create demand and no way to satisfy the desires of clambering consumers.

“The Times.” By H. R. Robinson after E. W. Clay, 1837. Detail. (The Library of Congress)

Thomas W. Dyott understood this dilemma, and overcame it. He called himself a doctor, which Dyott was not, but he was an operator, an entrepreneur and an ambitious visionary. As a poor, young arrival from England, Dyott polished shoes and mixed his own bootblack after hours. He sold as much as he could make and soon realized that while polish might put food on the table, cures would get him food and the table. Dyott added “M.D.” to his name and marketed and sold elixirs including “Vegetable Nervous Cordial,” “Infallible Toothache Drops,” and “Stomachic Bitters.” Before long, Dyott’s drug store at 2nd and Race Street had become the headquarters for the largest patent medicine businessman in the United States, with sales agents pounding the pavement in a dozen states.

As long as Dyott depended on others for a steady supply of bottles, his success was at their mercy. So he bought and breathed new life into the old Kensington Glass Works, located where a creek called Gunner’s Run flowed into the Delaware River. Dyott ramped up production to 8,000 pounds of glass each and every day. He undercut everyone else’s prices; he made and supplied quality bottles for his own ventures as well as those of his competition.

By the 1830s, the 400-acre Glass Works of T. W. Dyott grew into a company town for his labor force of up to 400, about half of whom were apprentices, some as young as six. Dyott demanded work, but he provided housing, healthcare, education, recreation, religion and rules. Dyottville had a farm to sustain his workforce and he guaranteed employment all year around. His factory made bottles in clear and tinted glass featuring images in relief of everything from the American flag to cornucopia, to everyone among the powerful, rich and famous: Washington, Franklin, Swedish singer Jenny Lind and, on occasion, Dyott himself.

As he grew richer, Dyott became known for excess and extravagance. And when he launched a private bank—The Manual Labor Bank–Dyott brought to bear his skill as a marketer and manipulator. He “induced a great many people, principally of the middling interest and poorer classes, to deposit their earnings” and issued paper money with presidential portraits, his own signature, and the assurance each note was “secured in trust.”

But when even the best banks collapsed during the Panic of 1837 and the economic depression that followed, so did Dyott’s Manual Labor Bank and his grand version of the American dream. In the celebrity trial that followed, the commonwealth charged Dyott with “defrauding the community” and “fraudulent insolvency.” Sixty-eight witnesses testified against him and the 70-year-old was sentenced to Eastern State Penitentiary. The factory closed and Dyottville became a ghost town.


Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos The old Dyott Glass Works at the Aramingo Canal in 1898.

In the 1840s, a fad for plain and flavored mineral waters spurred new and an even greater demand for bottles. Another immigrant entrepreneur, Eugene Roussel, took over Dyott’s shuttered factory. (Roussel soon diversified from perfumes to soda water, and soon distributed more than 15,000 bottles of his soda water, every day.) Meanwhile, investors widened Gunner’s Run into the Aramingo Canal to support Kensington’s burgeoning industrial landscape, which produced everything: paint, pottery, rope, stoves, wagons and ships. By the end of the 19th century, Dyott’s factory, by then acknowledged as the city’s oldest glass house, was still producing bottles.

In the 20th century, I-95 came through the Dyott site, which both obliterated its past above ground but left behind opportunities for some interesting industrial archeology. A recent dig reported no bottles, but even more important finds among the foundations that will help sketch in the larger story.

Where are the Dyott bottles today?

It turns out that they continue to have a life of their own. The Philadelphia Museum of Art holds a few, as do some collectors. Folks liked to wrap their fingers around Dyott’s bottles then, and, as it turns out, they still do. In 2010, a Dyott bottle nicknamed the ‘Firecracker Flask’ set a world record at auction, selling for more than $100,000.

After all these years, Dyott bottles still have a way of making their owners feel special.

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Is Independence Hall Tower in Sync with History?


Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos Fourth Floor – Independence Hall Tower – Showing Bell Tower – Clock Room.
Wenzel J. Hess, photographer, May 13, 1929.

All these years, when we thought we were celebrating a shrine to 18th-century independence, we were inadvertently confirming something quite different: the 19th-century obsession with time. And it’s taken a toll on how we understand the past.

After a recent restoration, the giant clock in the bell tower at Independence Hall will tell time again. But it won’t tell us much about the 18th century. Many assume this tower and its clock date back to the tower of the 1750s, and believe that both were present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the 1770s—but they were not. The original tower at Independence Hall had no clock. Time was, literally, pushed off to the side, as seen in the illustrated engraving from 1778. The State House’s original bell tower provided a sound track for life in the 18th-century city, one measured not in terms of hours but by civic events: ascensions of royalty, meetings of legislature, protests portending revolution. One thing the 18th-century tower didn’t tell—and wasn’t intended to do—was time. Back then, the relatively mundane act of telling time was simply not valued enough to give over the most prominent, symbolic steeple in the city.

"A N.W. view of the state house in Philadelphia taken 1778," by Charles Willson Peale. (detail) The Library of Congress.

That original tower might have been important, but it was also rotten. By the time of the British surrender, the upper wooden sections had been pulled down for fear of their falling down. And for nearly fifty years, no tower rose above the rooftops at 5th and Chestnut. When William Strickland proposed a design for a “restored” steeple in 1828, his idea only vaguely resembled the lost original. According to historian Charlene Mires, a lawyer with a nearby office complained about Strickland’s initial design: “No man will be able to look at that building with its new steeple and be able to persuade himself that it represents the ancient State House.”

Strickland hadn’t set out to actually re-create the original steeple. At the level where four dignified windows once looked out, Strickland placed four glaring, back-lit faces of a giant clock to look at. In this new, rising commercial/industrial Philadelphia, Strickland’s steeple reminded the citizenry of their freedom, but conflated that message with a something new: Philadelphians, Americans, were falling under the spell of time.  And it was changing their lives.

George G. Foster, a journalist from New York, visited the steeple in the mid-century: “Clink-clank! what have we here! We go through this little door and stand in the center of the Illuminated Clock! … The wheels are as broad as mill-stones and the weights are attached to cables strong enough to fasten a steamboat to the wharf. … The pendulum, of the size of a steamer’s walking-beam, moves slowly to and fro, once in two seconds, clink clank! Morning and noon and night, Summer and Winter, up here alone in its mysterious and silent realm of wheels and springs and machinery, ever sits the brooding Spirit of the Clock.”

By the middle of the 19th century, the Spirit of Independence had begun to join with (and possibly succumb to) this “Spirit of the Clock.” According to Foster, “that which stamps itself most legibly and universally upon the [Philadelphia] character, the manners, the faces, the very costume, of its inhabitants, is the business of buying and selling, turning everything to the best possible account, and seizing hold of everything instantly by the utility handle. … The very clock on the State-House steeple appears to be calculating how much it can make by striking…”

Foster exaggerated, of course. But other Philadelphians were not in their calculations using time in the name of progress. As Philadelphia barreled forward to its destiny as a manufacturing center, time became increasingly monitored and manipulated. The city that proudly counted down its first century of independence in years, hours, and finally minutes, would soon count among its innovators the Quaker engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, who made efficiency a science. In Taylor’s famous time-motion studies, he broke factory jobs into component parts, used a stopwatch to measure workers’ motions, again and again, to study, then systematically enhance, productivity and profit.

When Strickland designed the tower of Independence Hall in 1828, he had no clue how profoundly the industrial mindset would come to transform the city and the nation. Strickland couldn’t have known that “Taylorization,” as it came to be called, would define the American way of life. He might have been naïve about the significance of a giant, four-faced clock in the steeple atop what was then and is now the nation’s most revered shrine. But we, with the benefit of hindsight and history, have no excuse.

The clock in the tower at Independence Hall is about the 18th century—by proximity only. Will future restorations acknowledge that fact? Time will tell.

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Good Luck With Your Thirteens, Philadelphia—Wherever You May Find Them


Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos News Stands at the Southeast Corner of 13th and Market Streets. Wenzel J. Hess, photographer,
January 3, 1950.

No dice. Well, not much luck, anyway. We searched high and low for photographs dating to Friday the 13th–any Friday the 13th. It didn’t help that searching for individual days isn’t an option here at PhillyHistory.org. So we did it the hard way, consulting a master list of Fridays the 13th going all the way back to 1801 (here’s a link to a.pdf list). We plowed through a couple of thousand images, one by one, making for a quiet winter evening. This yielded all manner of treasures that will come into these discussions later in the year, but slim pickings of what we were hunting for. The only image we could find from Friday the 13th was “Queen Lane Pumping Station-Showing United States Flag.” Not much, but that scene came with a bonus: it dates from 1913.

Could it be that city photographers avoided the streets on Fridays the 13th? After all, from 1890 to 2000 there were more than 150 of them. Could the photographers have completed their week’s assignments by Thursdays the 12th and reserved Fridays the 13th for work in the safety of the negative file room back in City Hall? Maybe…or maybe not. We’d be interested if anyone does run across other images taken on Friday the 13th in this collection—2012 has two more such Fridays in store.

In our search, we did find thirteens-all kinds of them to share. Most noticeable in the archive are depictions of that somewhat perennially down-on-its-luck street we know as 13th. Wenzel Hess’s noir gem, illustrated above, might be considered the epitome on the 13 genre.

And talk about luckless gems, we also fell for this image from 1919 depicting a forlorn “Battery of Thirteen Water Closets” behind 2976 Emerald Street set deep within the Kensington neighborhood.

But we don’t have to visit the outmoded outhouses of Kensington to wallow in our myriad of thirteens. Philadelphia is rife with all manner of them: Here’s 1313 South Broad Street in 1915; 1313 Locust Street in 1916; 1313 Walnut Street in 1925; 1313 Jefferson Street in 1959 and the sidewalk of 1313 Filbert Street in 1960.

But it’s all random, isn’t it? Thirteen is just a harmless number, until you are on the 13th floor of Philadelphia’s 13th tallest structure, the PSFS Building, and then, all of a sudden, it becomes very personal.

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Picture of the Year


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12th and Market Streets-Northwest Corner, 1911.

PhillyHistory.org offers up in excess of 84,000 photographs, more than what the most hopeless visual addict would care to peruse. Even a decade’s worth is daunting. (From 1900 to 1910 you’ll find 4,287 images online.) But if you parse PhillyHistory more closely and narrow your search down to a single year (there are 333 photographs from 1911) you’ll have something that’s not only reasonable, but rewarding.

One blogger’s opinion: The Best Picture Of The Year is the illustrated photograph of 12th and Market Streets. Are there runners up? Not really. But a number of other images made their way into a list of top choices. Each in its own way gives a feel for Philadelphia a century ago.

We were delighted to come across this classic image of the doorway at 305 Delancey Street. The door as artifact speaks to the city’s perennial interest in the past; the children make it a distinctive moment in the present of 1911.

Halfway across town, near City Hall, we see some aggressive commercial signage on Juniper Street. Around the corner at 1427 Arch Street, E.R. Williams made and sold much needed “Artificial Limbs.” We found both images compelling.

Why would a city photographer record the side-by-side Philadelphia School for Nurses and the Florentine Art Plaster Company? The peaceful pair of buildings at 2217-2219 Chestnut Street would soon be disrupted by the widening of the bridge over the Schuylkill.

Nineteen eleven saw an impressive improvements to the city’s infrastructure. See the tracks and trestle at Pier #6; an impressive bridge superstructure as Passyunk Avenue crossed the Schuylkill; a monster sewer project at Mill Creek (48th Street and Haverford Avenue) and the fresh, new “Northeast Boulevard,” before it acquired the Roosevelt name.

But the image of the intersection at 12th and Market beats all. It displays every form of transportation known to Philadelphians at the time: horses, automobiles, trolley cars and the railroad, by proximity. (There’s a meager slice of the Reading Terminal Head House visible on the right, but anyone and everyone knows the building dominates the intersection like a cliff hovering over a canyon.) It’s a photographic capture of the spirit of busy Market Street, a retake of John Sloan’s 1901 painting at East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia which hangs today in The Columbus Museum of Art.

The idea of both images is not about buildings, or transportation, but the liveliness of the street. When Sloan’s friend and mentor Robert Henri saw the partially-finished painting he urged Sloan to: “get the figures below to give as much of that eternal business of life – going in and coming out.”

Yes, that’s it. Our anonymous photographer from 1911 captured that “eternal business of life,” something we’ll always be looking for—no matter what the year.

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Silent Night, Weird Night and a Game of Landmark Laser Tag


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Christmas at City Hall, December 7, 2005. Photograph by Dick Gouldey.

As far as Walt Whitman was concerned, light did right by Philadelphia City Hall. Encountering the building’s unfinished “magnificent proportions” one evening, Whitman wrote of “a majestic and lovely show there in the moonlight—flooded all over, façades, myriad silver-white lines and carv’d heads and mouldings, with the soft dazzle—silent, weird, beautiful…” Foreshadowing Andy Warhol’s quip about fleeting fame, Whitman added: “I know that never when finish’d will that magnificent pile impress one as it impress’d me those fifteen minutes.”

We can only guess if Whitman would have been as impressed by the theatrical holiday lighting of City Hall’s portals in 2005. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, architectural historian George Thomas recalled Whitman and critiqued the project as “less silent and more weird.” Reporter Amy Rosenberg wondered: “Is it art deco or Victorian? Did the Mummers have something to do with it?” Could it have been “something out of Disney? … People who come to see it often don’t know what to make of it.”

City photographer Dick Gouldey captured the special effects on both east portal (illustrated) and west portal (seen here) in versions of the four, rotating lighting schemes that challenged traditional expectations. Covering all bases, the City also put up a traditional evergreen and strung it with lights. Gouldey photographed that, too.

Six years have come and gone and we’ve not heard calls for more of this brand of landmark lighting. If anything, the public memory of this $300,000 production mounted by the Center City District is fading to black. Blame a preference for traditionalism; blame the recession—we’ve never seen anything like it since. And that seems to be OK.

Not that we haven’t used theatrical lighting on historical buildings. For decades, city planner Ed Bacon had promoted the idea of developing such a project to create sets for public performances. In the 1990s, that idea morphed into Lights of Liberty which has become part of Philly’s repertoire to help tell the story of 1776.

By contrast, the City Hall portal project seemed to be light for light’s sake. Its designers borrowed from the most advanced theater lighting techniques and digital photography, but other than the technology itself, the finished work shared no story; it offered no narrative.

The public’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for the 2005 project begs the question: Can a state-of-the-art “fusion of theatre, artistic programming, theatrical design and lighting,” devoid of narrative also be successful? Or does the public need more than a heady collaboration of international creatives (Artlumiere and Casa Magica) and their “extraordinary new form of expression,” even if they deliver on their promise of visibility “along the entire length of Market Street”? There’s more to success than visibility.

The very same special effects had been used “to create a destination and a sense of place” at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, an Apple Computer store in Paris, and other sites around the world. But Philadelphia’s formula for success is more demanding, more complex. Philadelphia already has a sense of place. What folks here want is fireworks and freedom, the spark and the story. Otherwise, the special effects might be impressive, but they’ll amount to little more than an expensive game of landmark laser tag.

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Lawson Sanderson: Early Aviation Pioneer

The end of the calendar year offers many opportunities to remember and appreciate the American servicemen and -women who protect our country in the armed forces.  There’s Veteran’s Day, followed closely by the anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps, along with Pearl Harbor Day.  Today, when we take these opportunities to think of our military, we think of one of the most technologically advanced bodies in the world.  While this has been true for a long time, there was an era not so far in the past when pioneers were still experimenting with what we’d now consider basic combat maneuvers as well as creating new forms of machinery and weaponry.  One of those pioneers was Lawson H. “Sandy” Sanderson.  PhillyHistory features a photo (below) of Sanderson in the Sesquicentennial Collection.  While we cannot be sure, Sanderson may have participated in Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial celebrations as one of the many pilots who put on aviation demonstrations as part of the festivities.

Sanderson rose to the rank of Major General, a two-star post, in the Marine Corps and was a skilled, daring aviator.  He was a trailblazer in perfecting a combat technique that would become crucial to modern warfare:  dive-bombing.  In 1919, the United States was involved in a skirmish in Haiti when some Marines were trapped by the rebels they were fighting.  Then-Lieutenant Sanderson was the commander of the 4th Squadron there.  He realized the US forces in Haiti were in need of assistance from the air.

Dive-bombing was just the thing, invented by British forces during World War I, but plagued with problems of inaccuracy.  Pilots were limited by an inability to clearly see their targets and properly aim their munitions.  Aviators had to release their bombs while flying horizontally, using only their rear observers’ directions and best guesses as to where the explosives would land, which Sanderson realized wouldn’t work in the close confines American troops were dealing with in Haiti.

Clearly, new technology needed to be perfected.  Sanderson was just the man for the job.  He undertook several trial-and-error experiments before figuring out a technique that worked.  He improvised a sight by mounting a carbine barrel, lined up with the plane’s long axis, to the windshield of his aircraft, an unarmed training craft, called a Curtiss JN-4 or “Jenny.”  Through his experiments, Sanderson found that dropping his plane’s nose and flying in at a 45° angle, then considered steep, was the most effective course of action.  He understood that the aircraft needed to dive toward the target in order to reduce the amount of time the bomb fell through the air.  The distance a bomb had to fall was highly influential in the accuracy of the hit.  The shorter the distance of the descent, the more precisely the bomb would hit the intended target.  Once Sanderson figured out the ideal angle, he then strapped a bomb in a canvas bag to the belly of his plane and flew into combat to rescue the stranded American forces.  He dropped the ordnance himself from approximately 250 feet and accurately hit his Haitian target, thus single-handedly liberating the trapped US troops.  However, the nearly vertical ascent necessary for recovery from the dive almost caused his aircraft to disintegrate.  Sanderson managed to avert crisis on this occasion, but it would not be the last time he experienced such dangerous flying conditions.

Sanderson’s improvised dive-bombing technique was so effective that other pilots began utilizing his system.  He was then tapped to teach it to other combat forces.  The innovation in dive-bombing that Sanderson came up with greatly enhanced the ability of the US military to stage raids from the air.  Sanderson’s improvement would be pivotal when the US later intervened in Nicaragua.

Undoubtedly, Sanderson was an aviation pioneer.  He was one of a group of several other crack fliers of his time.  This was an era when Americans were fascinated with airplanes and flying, which gave rise to many exciting aviation demonstrations.  One such event was the Pulitzer races, which took place from 1920-1925.  Sanderson was one of the participants in the Pulitzer races.  During this time, he experienced several more near-misses similar to the one he averted in Haiti.

These races were sponsored by Ralph Pulitzer, journalist and the son of Joseph Pulitzer, who established the Pulitzer Prizes.  The contests were a chance for pilots to show off their maneuvering skills and their planes.  Many of the aircraft were cutting-edge or even experimental.  Aviators could exhibit their daring and demonstrate just how fast their planes could fly.  Often, these fliers pushed the limits of their vessels’ abilities, setting new speed records and, occasionally, crashing their aircraft or making emergency landings after pushing them to their limits.  The pilots flew at such high, unheard-of speeds that many reported losing consciousness on turns because their planes weren’t equipped to combat the extreme gravitational forces they were experiencing.  Naturally, passing out in the cockpit led to a few mishaps.  Sanderson was not immune.  He won the prize for best air speed in a 1922 race, but lost another race he nearly won when he ran out of gas.  The race required each pilot to make several laps of a course and then taxi on the water during certain passes.  Sanderson had to drop out a mile from the finish due to his empty fuel tank.  In the next race, in which Sanderson flew what was known as the “Navy Mystery Plane,” his engine failed and Sanderson was forced to drop out in the penultimate lap.  He executed a somewhat controlled crash in a lake and then had to swim back to shore.  In 1923, Sanderson flew in a race in which he crossed the finish line just as his fuel gauge read empty and landed in a haystack.  His top speed during that event was just over 230 miles per hour.  Participating in the races was only a small piece of Sanderson’s remarkable life.

Sanderson spent his career in the Marine Corps and went on to serve in World War II.  He became a part of history when the Japanese government surrendered Wake Island.  Japan used Wake in part to launch the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Some American forces were stationed there, but the Japanese took the island in late December of 1941.  Later, Japan would use Wake Island as a command post and to launch further offenses on Hawaii.  Throughout the war, the US repeatedly attempted to take back Wake Island.  The Japanese finally relinquished Wake to the US on September 7, 1945.  By that time, Sanderson was a Brigadier General, and the official to whom the Japanese surrendered the island.

Sanderson was born on July 22, 1895 in Shelton, WA.  He died on June 11, 1976 in San Diego, CA.  He was 80.  Sanderson Field, an airport in Shelton, WA, formerly called Mason County Airport, was renamed for him in August of 1966.

“Lawson Sanderson: Early Aviation Pioneer” is part of the “Snapshots of History” series that provides background info on select images from the PhillyHistory.org database.

Sources:

1. “Airpower and Restraint in Small Wars,” Aerospace Power Journal, Fall 2001 http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj01/fal01/johnson.html

2. “Army Flier Speeds 220 Miles an Hour,” New York Times, October 9, 1922, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F20A15FB345411738DDDA00894D8415B828EF1D3

3. “Dive bomber,” Wikipedia article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dive_bomber

4. “Lawson H. Sanderson,” on Early Birds of Aviation, Inc., Ralph Cooper, http://earlyaviators.com/esanders.htm

5. “The Pulitzer Races,” Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Rankin, USMC, Proceedings Magazine, the US Naval Institute, September 1959, Vol. 85/9/679, http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1959-09/pulitzer-races-1920-1925

6. “Ralph Pulitzer,” Wikipedia article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Pulitzer

7. “Sanderson Field,” Wikipedia article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanderson_Field

8. “To Hell and Back:  Wake during and after World War II,” Dirk H.R. Spenneman, from Marshalls: Digital Micronesia, http://marshall.csu.edu.au/Marshalls/html/Wake_WWII/Wake_WWII.html

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