Manayunk: a place to drink

If you’ve only been up to Manayunk to see the Philly Cycling Classic, it may seem a little too apt that people believe the name of the place is derived from a Lenape word for “a place to drink,” but that’s the story. Originally known as Flat Rock, after a rock alongside one of the bridges, Manayunk received its modern name in 1824, an anglicized version of the word “manaiung,” which is believed to mean, “where we go to drink”—referring to the Schuylkill River as a source of water.

#7 Green Lane Over Schuylkill River - Schuylkill Navigation Canal and Reading Railroad - Looking Northwest From Canal Bank.

#7 Green Lane Over Schuylkill River – Schuylkill Navigation Canal and Reading Railroad – Looking Northwest From Canal Bank.

The name of the town is important, because for a while, during the years when Philadelphia was known as “The Workshop of the World,” the denizens of Manayunk were there own breed of people. There are still some left, but once upon a time it was a blue collar community with a distinctive character. People from Manayunk were called “Yunkers.” Odds are, you just read that word wrong. If you were from there, you’d know “Yunker” is pronounced “yoonker” and “Manayunk” is pronounced “Manayoonk” to its old timers.

Leverington Avenue Bridge-Looking Southwest from Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Bridge. Simister Mills Company

Leverington Avenue Bridge-Looking Southwest from Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Bridge. Simister Mills Company.

The original Lenape word could also mean “raging waters.” According to Deborah Del Collo’s Roxborough, the Schuylkill was, in those days, a raging river. It’s hard to imagine the ambling water way that way now, but it had to be calmed down. The story of Manayunk’s development is dependent on navigable waters.

Manayunk was a sparsely populated, bucolic farming settlement of only a few dozen people until the the Schuylkill Navigation Company began selling waterpower in 1818 or 1819 (accounts differ). From the beginning of power from the dam, however, things began to change rapidly in the area and the town began to grow as quickly. The first census of the area was conducted by a local pastor in 1827. He found 1,098 people living in the town, most of them working for textile mills.

The growth would continue. If you think of the textile industry before the Civil War at all, you probably think of the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts. In Workshop of the World—A Selective Guide to the Industrial Archeology of Philadelphia, the writers argue that Manayunk differed from Lowell in that its various mills were all privately held by families. This gave the families much more leeway in how to conduct their business, so that the Mananyunk mills were making a greater diversity of cloths, dyes and patterns. They were also ploughing much of their profits back into the business, so that in time the mills would dominate the banks of the Manayunk Canals.

Leverington Avenue Bridge-Down Stream View. S. Keely and Sons Lumber and Millwork. 1929.

Leverington Avenue Bridge-Down Stream View. S. Keely and Sons Lumber and Millwork. 1929.
This photo tells a little more of a story than it may immediately appear to. By 1929, the canals were all but completely out of use. In 1870, the canal industry had been defeated by the railroads and had sold the Philadelphia and Reading Railroads 110 year leases to their property.

At first, Manayunk’s mill owners were more inclined to invest in their plants than in housing for workers. Workers had to find their own places to live or build their own homes. As the 19th century wore on, that would change. More and more mill owners owned real estate and began to build cheap tenement housing further up the hill, away from the homes of the more prosperous nearer the mills and the rivers.

Stairway Connecting Upper and Lower Levels of Dupont Street at Silverwood Street. 1932.

Stairway Connecting Upper and Lower Levels of Dupont Street at Silverwood Street. 1932.

In 1854, the township would be annexed into Philadelphia and officially be part of the city forever more.

The town would have three industrial cycles. Shipping on the canal would peak in 1859 and end in 1917. At the end of the Civil War, Manayunk would be recognized as a major textile center, but that would unravel with the Great Depression. However, Manayunk would remain important as an industrial center, primarily by way of paper mills, up through the 70s to early 80s. Then it would go into a period of decline.

In the 2000s, Manayunk started to come back, but primarily as a residential area. Today, Main Street Manayunk is a social and shopping destination and a gathering place for the new denizens of the neighborhood. There’s been some tension in the neighborhood as longtime residents grapple with gentrification. Even as the Bike Race and the Manayunk Arts Festival bring a decidedly different sort of traffic to what has become something of a bedroom community within the dense Southeast Pennsylvania region,  some vestiges of an older Manayunk hang on, such as the Hi-Spot Lanes bowling alley on Hermit Street.




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Mother Jones and the Fight Against Child Labor in Kensington’s Textile Mills

Second Street, North From Cambria Street, 1898 (

Second Street, North From Cambria Street, 1898, with Kensington Labor Lyceum at right. (

“During the Philadelphia textile workers’ strike in 1903,” wrote reformer John Spargo in his 1916 book, The Bitter Cry of the Children, “I saw at least a score of children ranging from eight to ten years of who had been working in the mills prior to the strike. One little girl of nine I saw in the Kensington Labor Lyceum. She has been working for almost a year before the strike began, she said, and careful inquiry proved her story to be true.”

Spargo was trying to do something about the fact that, in the second half of the 19th century, urban industrialization had turned cities into giant child labor pools. American textile companies employed more than 80,000 children and Pennsylvania was among the worst offenders. As historian Walter Licht explains in Getting Work in Philadelphia, between 1860 and the end of the century the percentage of 14 year olds at work jumped from eight percent to more than 40 percent. In Philadelphia, the mills of Kensington were ground zero for child labor.

It hardly mattered that the employment of children less than twelve years of age had been illegal since the 1840s. State officials, mill owners, and parents all figured that 50,000 working children was simply an economic necessity. Even if it meant there’d be no education. Even if it meant the very lives of children were in danger. “Children who work in the dye rooms and print-shops of textile factories, and the color rooms of factories,” wrote Spargo, “are subject to contact with poisonous dyes, and the results are often terrible.”

“Progressive era reformers quickly singled out Pennsylvania as the worst offender,” writes historian Joseph M. Speakman.  As early as 1890, Florence Kelley noted that child labor in Pennsylvania, flourished “almost unchecked.” And Jane Addams pointed to Pennsylvania in 1905, noting “there were more children employed in manufacturing industries in the state than in all of the cotton states of the South.”

“The high point of publicity on the issue,” writes Licht, came in late 1906, when “more than 25,000 Philadelphians crowded into the city’s Horticultural Hall,” (on Broad Street adjacent to the Academy of Music) to see “’An Industrial Exhibit,’ which dramatized with shocking photographs the use and state of child labor in Philadelphia Industry.” Advocacy organizations were embarrassing Philadelphia, the city promoting itself as the “Workshop of the World,” with the equally well-earned and dubious title: “The Greatest Child Employing City.”

"Juvenile Textile Workers on Strike in Philadelphia," From John Spargo, The Bitter Cry of the Children, 1916 (Google eBook)

“Juvenile Textile Workers on Strike in Philadelphia,” in 1903. From John Spargo, The Bitter Cry of the Children, 1916 (Google Books).

But it took a special effort to move the issue child labor to the forefront, ahead of the other pressing concerns. In April 1903, wrote Philip Scranton, “all the unions in the textile industries of Philadelphia met in convention at the Kensington Labor Lyceum” and agreed that they would strike for better pay and a reduction from a 60-hour to a 55-hour workweek. Within a few months, more than 90,000 textile workers had walked off the job. Twenty-five percent of this striking workforce was less than 15 years of age.

Enter Mary Harris, aka Mother Jones, who once claimed: “I’m not a humanitarian. I’m a hell-raiser.”

Knowing full well that at least ten thousand of the textile strikers were children, Jones imagined the power of a spectacle: an army of children in protest. She quickly organized one in the center of Philadelphia.

“A great crowd gathered in the public square in front of the city hall,” wrote Mother Jones in her autobiography. “I put the little boys with their fingers off and hands crushed and maimed on a platform. I held up their mutilated hands and showed them to the crowd and made the statement that Philadelphia’s mansions were built on the broken bones, the quivering hearts and drooping heads of these children. That their little lives went out to make wealth for others. That neither state or city officials paid any attention to these wrongs. That they did not care that these children were to be the future citizens of the nation.”

“The officials of the city hall were standing the open windows. I held the little ones of the mills high up above the heads of the crowd and pointed to their puny arms and legs and hollow chests. … I called upon the millionaire manufactures to cease their moral murders, and I cried to the officials in the open windows opposite, “Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit.”

“The officials quickly closed the windows, as they had closed their eyes and hearts.”

On July 7, 1903, Mother Jones and her sign-carrying “children’s army” embarked on a 92-mile March of the Mill Children, departing the physical and spiritual home of organized textile labor in Philadelphia: the Kensington Labor Lyceum at 2nd and Cambria Streets. Destination: the Long Island, New York vacation home of President Theodore Roosevelt. The trek would become famous, if it’s impact was delayed. Not until 1909 did the state raise the minimum age of employment to 14 and reduce the work week to 58 hours.

For more on Philadelphia’s Labor Lyceum Movement, see this post.

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PhillyHistory Now Available on Field Trip

2014_05_16_FieldTripApp_PhillyHistoryWe’re excited to announce that select materials from PhillyHistory will now be accessible from your smartphone through the Field Trip app developed by NianticLabs at Google. Field Trip is designed to help you find and explore interesting locations in the world. With information on historical places and events, architecture, art and museums, and much more, Field Trip serves as a guide to the hidden history and culture all around us.

Want to learn more about the many historical events that have occurred in Philadelphia?  Curious about the history of the buildings and places that you walk by every day? The tens of thousands of images on have long provided a view into the city’s past with the stories behind the images told through posts on the PhillyHistory Blog. The Field Trip app includes selected images and articles from the PhillyHistory Blog that are connected to specific locations throughout the city. If you have the Field Trip app on your phone, you can read content from the PhillyHistory Blog about the history of locations near you. If you have notifications and location services turned on, you’ll even receive alerts when you pass a building or intersection connected to a story on PhillyHistory.

The Field Trip app is available for both iPhones and Android devices at no cost. After downloading the app, users can select from several fields of interest and view stories and images connected to that topic by clicking on the markers on the map. PhillyHistory falls under the “Historic Places & Events” category which are shown as pale orange square markers on the map. Click on a marker to see an overview of the story of that location and then click the top bar to view the full article and images. If you’d like to read more from the PhillyHistory Blog, click the “Full Article” button at the bottom of the page to view more info on the blog or click “PhillyHistory” to visit the website.

We hope you’ll explore PhillyHistory on the Field Trip app and discover the amazing history surrounding us here in Philadelphia!


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The History and Background Behind The World’s First Statue of Charles Dickens

Although I have lived in the West Philadelphia neighborhood of Cedar Park since 2006, I have not really given too much thought to the history of the Charles Dickens statue in the “Park A” part of Clark Park at 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue. In fact, the statue is of not only Dickens but his character “Little Nell” (i.e. Nell Trent, a character from his 1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop). I had heard that it is the world’s only statue of Dickens, but this is technically not true, as there is another one in Sydney, Australia and a very recently erected statue of his likeness in his birth city of Portsmouth. Still, I found it quite odd that of all the places on earth where a statue of Dickens could possibly exist, one was here in Philadelphia and not in London, which at least in theory would make much more sense. Thus, I decided to do some investigating.

Photo of statue of Charles Dickens and Little Nell in 1910.

Photo of statue of Charles Dickens and Little Nell in 1910.

As it turns out, the statue was commissioned in 1890 by Washington Post founder Stilson Hutchins to be completed by New York City-based artist Francis Edwin Elwell. Initially, the idea was that it would indeed be placed in London. When Hutchins backed out of the deal, Elwell finished it anyway. The statue was then shipped to London and put on display with the hope of finding a buyer. However, this was unsuccessful namely because Dickens expressed a strong desire to not be depicted in such form. In fact, his will does not allow any “monument, memorial or testimonial, whatever. I rest my claims to remembrance on my published works and to the remembrance of my friends upon their experiences of me.”

The statue of Charles Dickens and Little Nell in Clark Park circa 1959.

The statue of Charles Dickens and Little Nell in Clark Park circa 1959.

After Elwell shipped the statue across the Atlantic and back, it won two gold medals at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1892-3. Despite the awards it received, the work failed to find a buyer and so it was then sent to languish in a Philadelphia warehouse.

Then in 1896, the organization that became the Association for Public Art (back then it was called the Fairmount Park Art Association) negotiated to keep the work in Philadelphia. In 1900, the FPAA purchased it for $7,500 (about $213,000 today) and in 1901, it was placed in its current location and it has stayed there since then despite numerous failed requests to move it to a more prominent location. In November 1989, the sculpture was vandalized but ultimately fully restored.

The entrance to Clark Park circa 1927.

The entrance to Clark Park circa 1927.

Every year in February, Dickens’ birthday is celebrated in Clark Park. In 2013, the celebration included Morris dancing, sampling of Victorian-era desserts, readings from his books and other events.

The statue of Dickens and Little Nell is the only statue that is placed in Clark Park and while we’re not exactly sure of how it got there in the first place, the likely answer is due to Clark Park’s namesake Clarence H. Clark himself. Clark was a wealthy financier and developer who sat on the artworks committee of the FPAA committee. Thus, it was purchased by the FPAA in 1900 and placed at 43rd and Chester in 1901.

In addition to the statue of Dickens and Little Nell, the park also contains a large stone from an area called Devil’s Den in the Gettysburg Battlefield during the Civil War. The stone was placed in the park in June of 1916 and was set up there to remember Union soldiers who were treated at the site, which was once Satterlee Hospital, and “services of the patriotic men and women” who cared for them.

Another example of public art in Clark Park is an initiative set up by the University City District called Heart and Soul. Last summer, 4 decorated pianos were set up all over the park with the goal being spontaneous, random piano performances by whoever wandered by and sat down to play.

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What Became of Them


Joseph Ida, John Avena and Luigi Quaranta (left to right) in a police lineup after the Zanghi-Cocozza murders, May 1927. (

What became of the perpetrators of the Zanghi-Cocozza Memorial Day murders after Anthony “Musky” Zanghi named names and Piero Francisco testified?

At first, city officials thought they might have come to the end of the gangster wars in South Philadelphia. In a sweep the Saturday night following the Memorial Day murders, police raided seven “sore spots” and “disorderly houses” between 5th and 11th, Christian and Federal Streets“all the places where men and women of questionable character congregate” and hauled in more than 100 suspects. “We are going to keep up the raids until all habitual criminals have fled from the city,” they declared, “the death dealing warfare must come to an end.”

But of the six arrested: John Avena and Salvatore Sabella (two of the gunmen on foot) Dominick Sesta and Luigi Quaranta (who fired shotguns from a car), driver John Scopoletti and Antonio Dominic Pollina, aka Mr. Miggs, all but Quaranta were soon back on the street. Despite hopes for law and order, more witnesses than perpetrators went to prison—for their own protection, of course.

Innocent bystander Piero Francisco saw more of Philadelphia from behind bars than anywhere else, during his visit to the city. Francisco briefly worked for Zanghi and had the misfortune of witnessing the murders. After his court appearance and several attempts on his own life, Francisco spent 20 months in protective custody. Finally, in the Spring of 1929, he left City Hall under armed guard to return to Italy on an unnamed steamer, never to seen or heard from again.

After his release from protective custody, “Musky” Zanghi returned to his usual gangland ways and met his end in New York City late one August night in 1934. Zanghi left behind a widow. Antoinette, seven children, and apparently a stash of counterfeit one dollar bills with which Antoinette augmented the earnings at her 8th and Montrose Streets fruit stand.

Instead of being the beginning of the end, the arrests in 1927 were more like the end of the beginning of the Philadelphia Mob. The arrests read more like a Who’s Who of the emerging Philadelphia mob. From left to right in the illustrated lineup we have:

Joseph Ida: Zanghi could not place Ida at the murder scene and he was quickly released. Ida would head up the South Philadelphia family in the 1940s and much of the 1950s, only to flee to Sicily after having escaped arrest, though not indictment, after the famous raid of the Apalachin Meeting in 1957. Ida’s successor was Antonio Domenic Pollina (“Mr. Miggs”), also arrested for the 1927 murders. Pollina briefly led the Philadelphia Family before the start of Angelo Bruno’s reign, which came to a conclusion with his own murder in 1980.

9th Street at Ellsworth Street, Looking South, February 7, 1937. Wenzel J. Hess. (PhillyHistory,org)

9th Street at Ellsworth Street, Looking South, February 7, 1937. Wenzel J. Hess. (PhillyHistory,org)

John Avena: “The biggest numbers man in South Philadelphia,” whose crime interests were as deep as they were wide, Avena took charge after Sabella “retired” in 1931. Avena had repeatedly been a target and on August 17, 1936, he was the first mob boss in Philadelphia to be killed, along with Martin Feldstein, another racketeer. They were standing at Passyunk and Washington Avenues when drive-by shooters, thought to be from the rival Lanzetti brothers, killed both men. Avena left behind a widow, Grazia, two children, a diamond-encrusted wrist watch and $8,000 in safe deposit box. Pius Lanzetti, who ordered the killing, was himself gunned down the following New Years Eve.

Giuseppe Quaranta: Despite all hopes and plans for the end of mob domination with the Zanghi-Cocozza arrests, this “dapper little man,” as newspapers described him, was the only one to be convicted. In court, Francisco had testified that “Quaranta and Sesta fired the shotguns.” Quaranta claimed he was in his “chicken store” at the time of the killings, to no avail. He found himself quickly sentenced to life in prison. In 1935, on the eve of his own execution for the murder of a policeman, William “Mollyooch” Deni scribbled a note that Quaranta had gotten a “bum rap,” that Zanghi had set him up in an extortion attempt. It was enough to throw Quaranta’s life sentence in doubt. In 1938, he was pardoned and released.

Not only did no one else spent time in prison for the Zanghi-Cocozza murders, a few lived long and healthy lives. After retirement, Sabella lived out his life in Norristown, Pennsylvania and died of natural causes in 1962.  And Antonio Domenic Pollina, “Mr. Miggs,” died in 1993, not long after his 100th birthday.

(Newspaper articles consulted at Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center in files for John Avena and Luigi Quaranta include “Quaranta Guilty in First Degree,” June 19, 1927; “‘Big Nose’ Avena Slain by Gunmen in South Phila.” August 17, 1936; and “Executed Convict Frees Life Termer,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, December 20, 1935.)

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Venice Island Recreational Facilities: Coming Soon! (Again)

In the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, between the Schuylkill River and the canal, there is a small patch of land, under two miles long, referred to as Venice Island. With the exception of a new apartment building, it has been somewhat of an eyesore for the neighborhood in recent decades, with leftover buildings and equipment from when the canal was still in use as late as the 1940s. However, the Philadelphia Water Department, along with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Manayunk Development Corporation, have spent the last few years planning and fighting the elements in order to make the lower part of Venice Island something more than a parking lot used when grabbing brunch on Main Street.

In preparation for the upcoming Lower Venice Island Park and Performance Center’s grand opening, coming later this year, here is a look back at the area and its evolution from being part of a working canal in an industrial neighborhood.

Lock Number 68’s sluice house

Lock Number 68’s sluice house

In the early 19th century, coal usage was rising in the United States. With regions towards the middle of Pennsylvania having large coal reserves, easy transport was needed in order to get the coal to the major cities. As a result, the Schuylkill Navigation system came about: a 108-mile system of locks and dams that carried thousands of ships from the coal-mining cities of Pennsylvania, starting with Port Carbon, down to Philadelphia and further. The Schuylkill Navigation Company allowed areas along the route to purchase the energy thanks to water through turbines or similar equipment. This includes Manayunk, which saw a rise in its textile industry and neighborhood population during the 19th century as mills began to build along the canal.

Finished in 1819, the Manayunk section of the Schuylkill Navigation system contained three locks: 68, 69, and 70. Lock Number 68 was found on the upper section of Venice Island and pictured here.

With the rising use of railroads to transport coal, use of the canal dwindled and it eventually closed to commercial and recreational boats in the 1940s, leaving equipment abandoned on Venice Island. These photographs taken on the lower side of Venice Island provide a look into the Manayunk daily life in the 1950s, around a decade after the canal was no longer in use. It was purchased by the City of Philadelphia and incorporated into the Fairmount Parks Systems.

Lock tender's house on the side of the mainland (left) with the sluice house (right).

Lock tender’s house on the side of the mainland (left) with the sluice house (right).

Close up on the canal Lock 68.

Close up on the canal Lock 68.

Recreational areas have been a popular aspect of Venice Island and the surrounding area. There were playgrounds there as early as the 1950s (seen below) and the tow path on the Manayunk side of the canal is currently part of the Schuylkill River Trail that extends ten miles. Luckily, the new plans for the space also include such public areas like basketball courts and a children’s area! For more information on the Lower Venice Island Park and Performance Center, head to the project’s official page on the Philadelphia Water Department website.

Venice Island Playground

Venice Island Playground


Venice Island Playground


Peters, M. & Smith, K. (1993). The Manayunk Canal. Retrieved from

Levine, A. L. The Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill Navigation System: A Brief History. Retrieved from

Philadelphia Water Department. (2014).Venice Island. Retrieved from

Elk, Sara Jane. (1990). Workshop of the World. Oliver Evans Press. Retrieved from


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Echoes from the Mask and Wig Club

The Mask & Wig Club, 310 S. Quince Street, October 5, 1956.

The Mask & Wig Club, 310 S. Quince Street, October 5, 1958..

Many years ago, when I was helping my grandmother decide which records to donate to the New York Public Library from her extensive collection, I found a set of fragile shellac discs protected by  brown paper sleeves.  They were old dance records from the 1920s that had belonged to my grandfather Joseph Follmann Jr., who passed away in 1989.

The record of the 1927 production of "Hoot Mon."  Ujifusa family.

The record of the 1927 production of “Hoot Mon.” Ujifusa family.

A recording by the Mask & Wig pit orchestra of "I Live the Life I Love," probably with my grandfather conducting. Note the record label: the Pennsylvania Athletic Club Building is now the Parc Rittenhouse on the east side of Rittenhouse Square.  Ujifusa family.

A recording by the Mask & Wig pit orchestra of “I Live the Life I Love,” probably with my grandfather conducting. Note the record label: the Pennsylvania Athletic Club Building is now the Parc Rittenhouse on the east side of Rittenhouse Square. Ujifusa family.

These were 78s, and thus could fit only one song on a side.  The songs included “Say That You Love Me” by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians and “Old Man River” by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra.  All were recorded at the Victor Studios in Camden, New Jersey.  Among them were two discs of songs from old Mask & Wig productions.

My grandmother had a 78 setting on her record player  – or as she called it, a “victrola.”  We put on a record of “Gems from ‘Hoot Mon,’” from the 39th annual production of the Mask & Wig Club, which included the foxtrot “We’ll Paddle Our Canoe” recorded by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra and the Mask & Wig Glee Chorus.  Then there was  ”I Live the Life I Love” from a record labeled “50/50,” the name of the 1937 show. According to alumnus Don Fisher, my grandfather was credited as the conductor and rehearsal pianist — he loved the Club so much he came back seven years after graduation to assist with the show.

The sound was scratchy and thin, the voices high pitched and nasal.

We saved the records.

I was only ten when Grandpa died, yet I knew that he loved the Mask & Wig Club, that legendary theatrical troupe started by a group of University of Pennsylvania students in 1889 and whose song-and-dance antics have been delighting Philadelphia (and American) audiences ever since.  Among the group’s notable alumni was Bobby Troup, who composed the jazz standard “Route 66.”  

Among the pictures in my parents’ home is a photograph of Grandpa Joe seated with the West Philadelphia High School orchestra.  He was a pianist, so unlike the other members who are proudly holding their flutes, violins, and trumpets, he is sitting hands folded next to the portly, mustachioed conductor.  There is also a framed certificate of his election to the Club dated May 1, 1929, and his Club rosette sits in an old Penn shot glass.  ”Made in France,” the rosette’s brass clasp reads.

West Philadelphia High School, 48th and Walnut Streets, from an architectural rendering date December 1910.

West Philadelphia High School, 48th and Walnut Streets, from an architectural rendering dated December 1910.

Grandpa served as music director of the Club his senior year, composing many of the songs and the pit band. In those days, the Club toured around the country in a special Pullman train, graciously provided by the Pennsylvania Railroad. He graduated from the Wharton School in 1930 with hopes of becoming a professional musician. According to family lore, he even played piano at the Folies Begere in Paris and recorded with dance bands such as Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, whose most famous song was “Collegiate,” a hot jazz riff on the carelessness of Roaring Twenties college life: “trousers, baggy, all our clothes look raggy, but we’re rough-and-ready. Yay. Rah Rah. Very, very, very, seldom in a hurry. Real collegiate are we.”

Members of the Mask & Wig Club rehearsing at 310 S. Quince Street in 1930, my grandfather's senior year.

Collegiate. Members of the Mask & Wig Club rehearsing at 310 S. Quince Street in 1930, my grandfather’s senior year. Source: Wikipedia.

Yet the life of a professional musician is always tough, and during the Depression it was nearly impossible to be  ”seldom in a hurry” to make ends meet.  He went into the insurance business and married a stage actress, dividing his time between New York and Philadelphia.  He became close friends with a number of people in the Philadelphia arts scene through his involvement with the Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley, befriending actors such as Richard Basehart (who played Ishmael in the classic movie Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab) and Eleanor “Siddy” Wilson (an actress and artistic polymath from the Wetherill paint family, who created abstract canvases well into her 90s).

Grandpa Joe lost his first wife to cancer in the 1950s, and took a cruise on the Holland-America liner Maasdam. It was onboard this ship that he met my grandmother, tragically widowed at a young age with two children — my uncle and mother. The two were married shortly afterward, and Grandpa Joe moved permanently to New Rochelle, New York.   Grandpa retired from his job as an insurance executive in the 1960s, taught as an adjunct at NYU’s Stern School of Business, wrote a few business books,  and continued to play the piano, both jazz and classical.

My brother Andrew and I spent a lot of time as young children at our grandparents’ Upper East Side apartment.  The piano was at the center of the living room, a 1926 Steinway that Grandma and Grandpa had purchased together. A two foot high statue of Beethoven, painted to look like bronze, sat on the piano case, along with two brass candlesticks.  Grandpa loved playing the Peter’s theme from Serge Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” for my brother and me, and we could not get enough of it. Sometimes, he would put my hands over his as he ran his fingers over the keys.

I never learned how to play.  I tried the oboe instead.  ”That’s one difficult instrument,” Grandpa scoffed.  He was right.  After I had braces put on, I got lazy, stopped practicing, and that was the end of that.

In his early 80s, Grandpa Joe began suffering from memory problems.  One day, he sat down at the Steinway and started to play a piece he had composed many years ago, according to my grandmother a short “filler” piece for the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Yet he could not remember it.  My grandmother said he closed the piano, walked away, and never opened it again.  He died soon after from a heart attack.

The Mask & Wig records are now at my parents house, locked away in a case along with other records from Grandpa Joe’s extensive classical library that did not get donated to the New York Public Library.  Yet there is no turntable  to play them now, either at 33 or 78 RPM.

Beethoven is there too, standing with his arms folded amidst a forest of houseplants.  He did, after all, like taking afternoon walks in the Vienna woods.

Grandpa Joe's caricature at the Mask and Wig Club house, directly behind the piano in the ratskeller. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Grandpa Joe’s caricature at the Mask and Wig Club house, directly behind the piano in the ratskeller. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

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Piero Francisco: Singing, Dancing Mob Murder Witness


Curb Market – Southwest Corner 9th and Washington Avenue. May 23, 1937. Frank Siegner, photographer. Nearby was one of John Avena’s two gambling houses. (

Piero Francisco spent only three years in Philadelphia in the 1920s, and more than half of his time was behind bars. To earn this, Francisco had the misfortune to witness a pair of mob murders and the willingness to share what, and who, he saw.

Francisco was only following the lead of his employer Anthony “Musky” Zanghi. Talk about making bad choices.

Zanghi, owned La Tosca Café at 9th and Fitzwater, but Zanghi was no restaurateur. He was a gangster who hired Francisco, a down-on-his-luck dancer, to entertain café clientele. In the Spring of 1927, Zanghi was target of a failed hit that claimed the lives of his 19-year old brother Joseph, and Vincent Cocozza, an associate. After the shooting, Zanghi broke the code of silence and named names. He talked to the press, the police, the district attorney and the judges. But when it came time for the murder trial of Luigi Quaranta, the first of the assailants to face murder charges, Zanghi disappeared, leaving the State with Francisco as its one and only star witness.

Piero Francisco’s American tour wasn’t supposed to go this way. In fact, Francisco hadn’t even figured on visiting Philadelphia when he and his dance partner set sail from Italy for New York the year before. They planned to make their way to Hollywood and display their mastery of the edgy, new Apache dance style. But Francisco’s partner died while crossing the Atlantic. And having no luck finding a new one in New York, the “small, sleek-haired young ‘Apache’ dancer” made his way to Philadelphia where he earned “a comfortable salary” giving “dancing exhibitions” in Zanghi’s “cabaret”

Until the day of the Zanghi-Cocozza murders.

Iva, Avena and Quaranta - 1927

Joseph Ida, John Avena and Luigi Quaranta in a Police Lineup, May 1927. (

“Dancer Replaces Zanghi as Witness, Names 3 in Slaying” reads one headline, reporting on the first of what officials planned to be a dozen trials of the six men charged with murder.

“When the court convened . . . Francisco, a pleasant faced, dark complexioned” man in his mid 20s took the witness stand. “His dashing brown suit, his patent leather shoes, and general dapper appearance contrasted strongly with his air of perturbation.”

Throngs packed the Court in City Hall (Room 453), where Judge John Monaghan presided. And they would not be disappointed.

“Do you remember Decoration Day,” Assistant District Attorney Charles F. Kelley asked his witness. “I do, replied the dancer in a low voice” beginning more than an hour of testimony. “Francisco’s identification was positive,” Philadelphians would learn. “His account of the double murder was clear cut and unshaken on cross examination.”

“I was within three doors of this restaurant when I saw a blue sedan automobile going down 8th st. I saw John Scopoletti at the drivers wheel and saw Quaranta in back with another man I do not know.”

“When Francisco pointed to Quaranta, the stocky, immobile prisoner’s face relaxed into a cynical smile. Then Mr. Kelley asked that the other defendants be brought into the court room. The atmosphere seemed to grow tense as the men came in, and many of the spectators rose and peered at the defendants as they entered in single file.”

“Looking over the prisoners with a hesitant yet deliberate air, Francisco pointed to Scopeletti, who was standing in the middle, and said, “That man was driving the car. Make him put on his hat.”

“With a half grin, not unlike the savage grimace of Quaranta when he was first identified, Scopoletti put on his hat and Francisco then said, emphatically, “That’s him. He was driving the car.” Francisco also identified Dominick Sesta as the other man with the shotgun sitting beside Quaranta.

“I went into a cigar store three doors from the restaurant and when I came out I saw Quaranta, Sesta and Scopoletti in the car. Then I heard shooting. The first shooting was very loud. The second shooting was like pistols. I could see smoke around the automobile.  The shooting was coming from the blue sedan they were riding in. There were about eighteen or twenty shots in all, and some of them sounded like pistol shots.” Francisco saw Joseph Zanghi fall to the pavement; he saw Cocozza being put into a car to be taken to Pennsylvania Hospital where he would be pronounced dead.

There had never been such a trial in Philadelphia. According to the newspapers, “The word went out in gangland to get” Francisco. The morning of his first appearance in City Hall, as the witness “walked along the street, downtown . . . a number of shots whizzed past him, missing him narrowly.” A few days later, Francisco “was awakened . . . to find the house where he lived burning and shots riddling the walls in a further effort to bump him off.”

To protect his witness, Judge Monaghan sent Francisco to the House of Correction. When Zanghi resurfaced, the Judge sent him there, as well.

After Quaranta’s conviction and sentence to life in prison, the other trials proved less successful. Some resulted in acquittals, others were postponed or never materialized. After twenty months of protective incarceration, Francisco and Zanghi were both released. Zanghi left Philadelphia for New York, where, in 1934, he would be killed in a fight over the spoils of an otherwise successful crime. (.PDF). Francisco, who gained fluent English reading novels during his incarceration, had no intention of staying in America. “Free Gang Witness to start a New Life,” read the headline.

Francisco had saved just enough from his daily witness fee to pay for a 2nd class ticket on a steamer to Italy. “Officials would not reveal the exact date of his sailing, nor the ship.” And detectives accompanied him as he left the District Attorney’s office, “a free man at last.”

In newly acquired, perfect English, Francisco “thanked all those who had helped protect him” and set off, the newspaper reported, “to live quietly under Italy’s Fascist regime” having had his fill of “America’s gangland entanglements.”

(Newspaper articles consulted at Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center include “Dancer Replaces Zanghi as Witness, Names 3 in Slaying,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, June 16, 1927; “Free Gang Witness to start a New Life,” Evening Public Ledger, March 9, 1929; and “State Aids Zanghi Witness to Flee,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 10, 1929.)

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The Philadelphia Ice Cream Tradition of Innovation

700 Block of Sansom. 1963. DOR Archives.

Abbott’s Ice Cream advertised for sale on Sansom Street, 1963.

By Brady Dale.

With spring and summer upon us (not to mention an announcement that even Yuengling has entered the ice cream business, the history of local ice cream has been on our mind.

Philadelphia has long been a leader in ice cream production, and the city is still home to Bassett’s Ice Cream, which started here in 1861. In a previous Philly History post on another famous brand, Breyer’s Ice Cream, we wrote about the ups and downs of a company that changed hands many times before it finally left Philadelphia in 1993. Breyer’s started here in 1866 and its first store was at Frankford Ave and Somerset, in Port Richmond, which the company opened in 1882.

By 1900, the North Bros. Manufacturing Company (acquired in 1946) was a leading manufacturer of ice cream freezers and other ice related equipment. So even if companies made ice cream elsewhere, they still needed Philadelphia goods to make it happen. Founded at 23rd and Race Street, the company really became big when it moved its operation to Lehigh and American Streets.

Abbott’s Dairies, Chestnut and 30th St. 1930.

Abbott’s Dairy shut down in 1984, after 108 years. It is too bad. It sounds like it was a fun company. In 1937 they put out a book called Raggedy Ann and Maizie Moocow, with an ice cream driven plot (meant to illustrate the healthful benefits of ice cream). It’s dairy truck drivers are remembered to have been known to throw kids free ice cream sandwiches, in Philadelphia ReflectionsIn truth, Abbott’s core business wasn’t ice cream so much as dairy. It had a home delivery business that started selling non-dairy products in 1967. By 1975, non-dairy sales by milkmen were making up some 20% of their home delivery sales, according to The Times-News.

Here’s a photo of some Abbott’s trucks in South Philadelphia. Here’s a photo of stacks and stacks of Abbott’s branded ice cream.

Ice cream for sale near UPenn’s campus, 1952.

Let’s talk ice cream innovation, too. To start, let’s focus on something that’s been subject to a long history of debate: the city origin of fried ice cream. Today, the inventive dessert is often found in Asian and Mexican restaurants, though it’s connection to those cuisines is debatable. Some say the desert was introduced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but other sources around that time credit it to Philadelphia. A recipe called “Alaska Bake,” effectively the same thing as Fried Ice Cream, turned up in the Philadelphia Cook Book in 1886.

Philadelphia is also the birthplace of another spectacular snack. While the Jack & Jill Ice Cream Company was still operating here, one of its VPs created the Choco-Taco in 1984, an ice-cream confection that continues to engender cavities to this day.

There’s something about ice cream that’s meant for travel. While the milkmen is a fondly remembered icon of the past, the ice cream truck is still going strong. One of the pioneers of wandering trucks luring children’s allowance away from them started here in 1956, the still familiar Mister Softee.

Fulleborn's Bakery, Germantown, 1957. DOR Archives.

Bassett’s and Dolly Madison Ice Creams for sale in Germantown, 1957.

Unfortunately, this last story is not as great as it could be. All the good details seem to have been lost to the winds of time. Augustus Jackson was an African-American man who was born in Philadelphia in 1808 and worked as a chef at the White House. He came back to Philadelphia after a while, though, in his early 20s, and started an ice cream company. We don’t know its name. There are accounts of Jackson all over the web. They say he was prosperous, that he invented new flavors that are still popular today and that he improved the process of making ice cream. That’s where the trail goes cold. He never filed for any patents, so the details of his contributions to the creamy confection business seem to have been lost. If anyone knows any more, please let us know in the comments.

Here’s to your first ice cream cone this season: Let it not melt.

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Parkside Revisited (Again): A Look Inside 4230 Parkside Avenue

Note: the author has previously covered Parkside in “After the Fair” and “The Slifkin Family.”  A walk-through of the house with the author and University of Pennsylvania lecturer Hanley Bodek will be featured on an upcoming segment of WHYY’s Friday Arts

The 4200 block of Parkside Avenue, May 17, 1954.

The 4200 block of Parkside Avenue, May 27, 1954.

On the outside, the houses on the 4200 block of Parkside Avenue are grand indeed, a brick parade that marches proudly along West Fairmount Park. Their roofs are a jumble of scalloped and stepped gables topped by terra cotta urns and copper cornices. Their yellow Roman brick facades boast bow-front windows, latticed dormers, and terra cotta angel faces.  Alleyways are secured with high scrolled iron gates, possibly made by the workshop of Samuel Yellin.

Built in the 1880s and 1890s by brewer/developer Frederick August Poth, they were pitched towards Gilded Ages executives and factory managers, as well as prosperous business owners and professionals.  Some were probably occupied by the top leadership of F.A. Poth & Sons, who could commute to the brewery by taking the eastbound trolley across the Girard Avenue bridge. These homes were meant to impress and dazzle passers-by on foot, trolley, or coach.  Less was not more in those days.  And why not?   Philadelphia was one of the richest cities in the world in the 1890s, and many of the architectural, mechanical, and decorative features were made right here, in the self-proclaimed workshop of the world.  And these homes were located across the street from the site of the 1876 Centennial Expositions, one of the crowning events in Philadelphia’s history.

Poth must have taken a special interest in his Parkside development.  He sold his freestanding mansion at 33rd and Powelton to his daughter Mathilde and son-in-law Joseph Roesch, and moved with his wife into a brand-new mansion at 4130-40 Parkside Avenue.  He died there in 1905.

During the early 20th century, Parkside changed from an upper-class German-American neighborhood to a middle class Eastern European Jewish one. During the Depression, most of these big twin homes were divided into efficiency apartments and rooming houses, and lost most of their interior fixtures.  Yet at least one of these homes survives with its original floor plate and some of its interior detailing intact: 4230 Parkside Avenue, situated directly across from the Centennial Exposition’s Memorial Hall (now the Please Touch Museum).

The 4200 block of Parkside Avenue, May 27, 1954.

The 4200 block of Parkside Avenue, May 27, 1954.


4230 Parkside Avenue. Note the polished granite columns. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

I recently got a look inside the house, thanks to the current owner.  It has been vacant for over a decade. The inside of the house is cavernous and musty, with soaring ten foot ceilings.  The walls, once wainscoted with dark stained paneling, are painted white or gray.   After passing through the front hallway, I marveled at the massive grand staircase, which rose three stories up through the center of the house.  The newel post was probably once topped with a finial, or even a bronze statue light fixture. The dining room, filled with wood scraps and other debris, can easily hold a table set for a dozen.   The second floor library, which faces the park,  still has its original shelves topped by carved cornices.  The bay window once had curved glass panes and sashes, now replaced by standard flat ones. Almost all of the massive wood mantelpieces, save the one in the basement butler’s pantry, had been yanked out years ago, leaving their outlines behind.  The brass fireplace grates and polychrome tiles remain, giving a hint of the fine craftsmanship that once graced these Parkside homes.   A pencil diagram, probably drawn by the carpenters who built the house 120 years ago, is still extant in the dining room.

The main staircase of 4230 Parkside Avenue.  It rises three stories. There are two other service staircases in the house, one of which has been floored over. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The main staircase of 4230 Parkside Avenue. It rises three stories. There are two other service staircases in the house, one of which has been floored over. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Pencil sketches once hidden by a mantelpiece (now stolen probably left by the construction crew that built this house in the late 1880s or early 1890s.  Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Pencil sketches once hidden by a mantelpiece (now stolen probably left by the construction crew that built this house in the late 1880s or early 1890s. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The dining room. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The dining room. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The house’s layout is not completely intact. A previous owner had attempted to convert the mansion into a boarding house, adding shoddily-built bathrooms and partitions.  A piece of plywood covers over the archway between the foyer and the parlor, which originally was separated by sliding pocket doors.  A large, twisted chunk of pressed copper lies in the kitchen.  It originally came from the rear window bay, torn off by thieves scavenging the vacant house for scrap metal.  Squatters once stored drugs underneath floorboards and behind radiators.

Tile fireplace surround and brass grate in the front parlor. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Tile fireplace surround and brass grate in the dining room. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

At 5,300 square feet, this was a house built for a very large family. There are six bedrooms, located on the second and third floors. The built-in armoires remain in place, as is some of the decorative plasterwork.  The window of the third floor front bedroom perfectly frames the Please Touch Museum.  A large cedar closet, located off the master bedroom, could have stored many wool suits with room to spare.

View from the third floor front bedroom, towards Memorial Hall, once the main building of the 1876 Centennial Exposition, later the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and now the Please Touch Museum

View from the third floor front bedroom, towards Memorial Hall, once the main building of the 1876 Centennial Exposition, later the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and now the Please Touch Museum

Built-in armoire in the master bedroom. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa

Built-in armoire in the master bedroom. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa

When Frederick Augustus Poth built 4320 Parkside Avenue, it was at the cutting edge of Victorian domestic technology.  One expert who has renovated many large homes in Fairmount described the house as equivalent to today’s Toll Brothers mansions, built for an aspirational and demanding clientele.  Although equipped with several gas fireplaces, the house was originally heated by steam radiators, powered by a hand-stoked coal boiler in the basement.  The house may have originally been piped for gas lighting, as electricity did not become widespread in American homes until the early 1900s.  With its flickering pale glow, gas lighting was an improvement over pre-Civil War whale oil candles. But houses such as 4230 Parkside were almost invariably dark and gloomy, with their stained paneling, overstuffed furniture, heavy drapery, and piles of curios and knick-knacks. Dust must have been a problem, especially for anyone with allergies.

Plaster moulding in the second floor library.  Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Plaster molding in the second floor library. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The front parlor, full of debris. The window looks out on Parkside Avenue. Note the Delft-style tiles.

The front parlor, full of debris. The window looks out on Parkside Avenue. Note the Delft-style tiles.

In their fleeting glory days, these Parkside Avenue homes were Downton Abbey in miniature.  In Victorian Philadelphia, immigrant servant labor, usually Irish, was inexpensive and plentiful.  A house like 4230 Parkside would have a staff consisting of a cook, laundress, maid, governess, maybe even a butler.  They worked long hours, received only one weekday evening plus every other Sunday off, and received an average salary of $3.50 per week (about $45.00 today), well below the modern minimum wage.* They were quartered downstairs.  The butler’s pantry, accessed by a separate back staircase that is now floored over by a later bathroom addition, survives almost intact.  The kitchen, located at the rear of the first story, has lost all of its original fixtures except for the china cabinet and the lower half of its wall tiles.  The cook toiled over a mammoth coal fired iron range, which lacked the temperature controls we take for granted today.  The iceman would make frequent deliveries to restock the icebox.

The butler's pantry/servants' dining room, located in the basement. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The butler’s pantry/servants’ dining room, located in the basement. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

China cabinets in the kitchen, located in the rear of the house on the first floor. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

China cabinets in the kitchen, located in the rear of the house on the first floor. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The future of the house remains in question.  Two doors down, however, the owner of a nearly-identical house has recently completed a total restoration. The copper trim has all been renewed, the brick scrubbed, a new balastrade added to the front porch. He has even replaced the curved sashes and panes in the second floor bay windows.  The view of the park and the newly-restored Please Touch Museum from the new roofdeck must be spectacular.

Is this a harbinger of things to come?

*Glessner House Museum:

Roof details. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Roof details. Note the stepped Dutch gables and the terra cotta corbel. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Memorial Hall, built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition and now the Please Touch Museum.  Photographed on March 22, 1924, when it housed the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Memorial Hall, built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition and now the Please Touch Museum. Photographed on March 22, 1924, when it housed the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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