The View from 27th and Aspen Streets

27th and Aspen Streets, "Near East Park," ca. 1880. Etching by Augustus Kollner, (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

27th and Aspen Streets, “Near East Park,” ca. 1880. Etching by Augustus Kollner, (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

Artist Augustus Kollner hit the ground running as soon as he arrived in Philadelphia from Germany in 1839. Thing is, the ground in Philadelphia was changing under Kollner’s feet.

In watercolors, lithographs and etchings, Kollner captured scenes of a city in transition, a grid expanding uniformly to accommodate the railroad, the factory and miles of previously unimagined rowhouses. Kollner’s wistful titles of his collections: “City Sights for Country Eyes” and “Bits of Nature and some Art Products, in Fairmount Park” speak, again and again, of his attraction for surviving surprises like the shack and tethered goat on the rocky outcropping at 27th and Aspen Streets.


From the 1910 Philadelphia Atlas by G. W. Bromley, (Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network)

Kollner the brinksman knew this texture—the goats, the shacks and the rocky remnants they stood on—were all disappearing. What could an artist do? He documented as much as he could, and preserved his work in tidy albums and portfolios, filling the better part of his house at 616 North 7th Street. When Kollner died in 1906, his life work was nearly lost, sold as waste paper for two dollars.

Long before then, of course, the flattened, expanded city grid had won out, replacing all remaining picturesque bits of rural life with industrial necessities. By the turn of the century, Domenic Vitiello tells us,the Baldwin Locomotive Works employed more than 11,000 and produced more than 1,200 locomotives each and every a year. Baldwin took over the triangular block along Pennsylvania Avenue between 26th and 27th hard by Pennsylvania Avenue’s sunken tracks with a roundhouse to launch its locomotives.

Pennsylvania Avenue Southward from 27th Street, Andrew D. Warden, June 11, 1931. (

27th Street at Aspen Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Andrew D. Warden, photographer, June 11, 1931. (

The industrial city was going strong when Baldwin decided to move its operations to Eddystone, Pennsylvania. At the same time, an alternate and competing vision for a grand civic boulevard, in the form of the nearby Parkway, promised to transform the city industrial into the City Beautiful. Within a couple of short decades, the smoky red-brick roundhouse (seen at the upper left in this photograph) was rendered obsolete—an antique.

What would replace it?

Just across 26th Street from the roundhouse, the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company would light the way. This Art Deco building from the late 1920s, a white-limestone temple to the gods of insurance, is seen here in an aerial view effectively separating the old, working-class, rowhouse neighborhood from the Parkway. Fidelity Mutual stood as a lodestar for the new idea for a 20th century civic city, a place that would continue to call itself the Workshop of the World, but in reality had moved beyond that very 19th- century identity.

Pennsylvania Avenue, 27th Street and Aspen Street, Wenzel J. Hess, October 17, 1940. (

Pennsylvania Avenue, 27th Street and Aspen Street, Wenzel J. Hess, photographer, October 17, 1940. (

The civic buildings along the Parkway would be up to the task of forging this new identity, but what could augment Fidelity Mutual’s beacon-like claim to the present?  First, the 2600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue would need to be connected to the new Parkway by covering the half-dozen depressed tracks with a new grade-level deck along Pennsylvania Avenue. Then the challenge of what the new high-rise residence dubbed “2601 Parkway” might look like could be tackled by the office of architect Paul P. Cret. In fact, the project would evolve over nine years. As David Brownlee put it in Building the City Beautiful, Cret eventually stripped his idea of a building “of all detail and produced a series of ‘moderne’ alternatives that assumed an “expressionist guise.”  No less than 161 drawings for the project are listed in the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings database, and at least one other drawing for a proposed design found its way into the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

Why was 2601 so important?

As we’ve come to realize nearly a century later, the success of the Parkway cannot be measured by the impressive facades and ambitious missions of the institutions along its path. Rather, what defines success in the post-industrial, civic city is the value these institutions have for the communities they serve. For that reason, the transformations of 27th and Aspen then, and now, complete the story.

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The Labor Lyceum Movement in Philadelphia

Kensington Labor Lyceum Hall, Second Street North of Cambria Street, 1898 (

Of all the places where Mother Jones might have started her famous 1903 protest known as the March of the Mill Children, which did she find the most strategic? Philadelphia’s Kensington Labor Lyceum at 2nd and Cambria Streets.

Of all the halls where Mother Jones might have advised a thousand young seamstresses on the verge of the “the great Philadelphia shirtwaist strike of 1909” which did she visit? Philadelphia’s Labor Lyceum at Sixth and Brown Streets. (Become “independent workers who will assert their rights…get the spirit of revolt and be a woman.”)

When Eugene V. Debs came to Philadelphia in 1908 campaigning for the U.S. presidency, on what stages did he proclaim: “We are today upon the verge of the greatest organic change in all of history. … We are permeated with the spirit of the new social order and of the grander civilization…. Here in the United States we are very happily approaching the third revolution”? Debs’ advocated his “third revolution” on stages at both Labor Lyceums: Northern Liberties and Kensington.

At the Kensington Lyceum in January 1921, thousands of textile workers filled “every seat and windowsill” and “every inch of standing room” before marching up 2nd Street to support strikers at the textile mills. “Bright-eyed girls,” burly men and “careworn women” were stirred by the “silver tongued” labor leader Abraham Plotkin and his warnings. “The fellow who hasn’t a job and is cold, and whose stomach hurts all the time from hunger is dangerous. … Out of unemployed come the tramps, out of the tramps come the criminals, and out of the criminals, the jails. We’ve learned this from hard knocks.”

The Labor Lyceums were places were free speech reigned and where all ideas were welcome.

The idea of the Lyceum was first presented at a Labor Day picnic in 1889, the brainchild of Frederick Wilhelm Fritzsche, a self-described “labor agitator” from Germany. The city’s first Labor Lyceum thrived in rented quarters at 441 North 5th Street and served as a headquarters for unions and a home away from home for workers. Members would come for meetings, for votes, and for “mental and moral improvements” in the form of classes in typewriting, singing, drawing, cabinetmaking and English. When Lyceums had the space, they’d also offer libraries packed with books, in German and English.

Northern Liberties Labor Lyceum Hall, 6th Street, north of Brown Street  (Google Books)

Northern Liberties Labor Lyceum Hall, Sixth Street, North of Brown Street in 1899. (Google Books)

In 1893, the Congregation Keneseth Israel vacated their large (126 by 96 feet), ornate 1860s building at 809-817 North 6th Street (just north of Brown Street) for a larger synagogue on Broad Street where Temple University’s Law School stands today. The burgeoning Lyceum immediately stepped in and bought the building.

Labor’s New Home,” read the Inquirer headline describing the move to the new quarters. “Over three thousand men were in line with banners and brass bands…entered the new building…” The Fresco Painters’ Union led the procession “with their blood-red flag and badges;” followed by the Typographers, with their banners with Guttenberg and Franklin. There were the Metal Workers, the Carpenters, Cigar Makers’, Cigar Packers, Dyers, Leathers Workers, Blacksmiths Wheelwrights, Harness Makers, Barkeepers, Waiters and the Socialist Labor Union.  They arrived at the new building and “crowded into the big hall… decked with greens and flags.”

The idea of the Lyceum was so successful that, less than two years later, the city’s textile unions hired architect A. C. Wagner to design and build the Kensington Labor Lyceum in the heart of the city’s s textile district, on Second Street just north of Cambria.

When Fritzsche died in 1905, the Lyceum on 6th Street became his memorial. “Thousands Mourn Dead Socialist,” read the headline. Fritzsche’s body laid “in state in the hall” as “five thousand men and women trudged through the rain and icy streets” to pay last respects. “The auditorium was decorated with long streamers of red bunting, the symbol of socialism, kept in place by black rosettes. Over the catafalque hung the inscription: ‘Arbeiter Aller Lander Vereinigt Euch.’” Workers of the World Unite.

What’s left today? No buildings. Only faded memories, a handful of archived images and newspaper articles.

And a whole lot of history.

[Consulted newspaper articles include: “The Labor Lyceum,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 4, 1891; “Labor's New Home,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 1893; “World of Labor,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 15, 1899; “Thousands Mourn Dead Socialist,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 13, 1905.]

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The Philadelphia Stars: Philadelphia’s Other Pro Football Team

When most people think of professional football in Philadelphia, the topic is usually The Philadelphia Eagles. Fair enough then, as they have been around since 1931 and since the NFL is by far the most prominent professional football league in all of sports. However, it should be noted that between 1984 and 1986, there was another prominent pro football team here. That team would be the Philadelphia Stars of the long-defunct USFL (United States Football League), who won the league championship in two of three seasons in which the league existed and appeared in all three championship games. Technically, though, they were only a Philadelphia-based team for 2 of those 3 seasons as after the 1985 season, they moved to Baltimore. Despite this, they kept their operations here in Philadelphia, though this led to them essentially playing every game on the road.

The Office of the City Representative photo collection at the Philadelphia City Archives includes a few images from the victory parade (see below). The victory parade was held in July 1984 after the Stars beat the Arizona Wranglers in the championship game of the USFL’s second season.  The game was held in Tampa, Florida’s Tampa Stadium, which was demolished in 1999.

Philadelphia Stars victory parade circa 1984.

Philadelphia Stars victory parade circa 1984.

The Stars had future NFL stars like Bart Oates and Sean Landeta (both future New York Giants player who won 5 Super Bowl rings between them) as part of the championship crew and others like Sam Mills, a future All-Pro for the New Orleans Saints were also on the roster. Their coach for all 3 seasons was Jim Mora, who later went on to successful NFL coaching career with The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. Though largely forgotten now, a movie about the team and its role in the development of the USFL is currently in development.


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Reflections on a Funeral (for a Home)

"The Parkway Group" and Hathaway Removing 1st Brick on the Parkway.  422 North 22nd Street, February 22, 1907. (

“The Parkway Group” and Hathaway Removing 1st Brick on the Parkway. 422 North 22nd Street, February 22, 1907. (

The gathered mourners were done sharing memories. The moving eulogy was over and the choir’s hymn reached its final “amen,” echoing a dozen times through the streets of Mantua. Now, the waiting excavator reared back, its giant claw raised against the blue sky hovering over the two-story rowhouse at 3711 Melon Street. The Funeral for a Home had reached the moment where ceremony was about to give way to reality. The claw gently picked up the blanket of flowers placed above the cornice and brought it down to the street. The next bite would be a chunk of the 142-year old cornice.

Most of the hundreds in attendance considered this ceremony as something unusual and new. And it was unusual. But the event wasn’t entirely without precedent. Another Philadelphia rowhouse was celebrated before its demolition in February 1907, although the speeches then didn’t deal with memory or community.

In the Fall of 1907, inspired by a grandiose vision of civic progress, the city served notice to more than 700 property owners whose homes stood in the way of The City Beautiful.  The idea of a grand boulevard connecting City Hall and Fairmount Park had been talked about for more than thirty years. Now the Parkway was a project with a timeline. In January, contractor Howard E. Ruch signed a contract with the city to demolish everything between Callowhill to Hamilton Streets that stood in the way. He had 95 days to complete the job, even though the majority of the residents were still in place.

Director of Public Works John R. Hathaway decided if eggs were going to break, he might as well make an omelet. Hathaway cast displacement and demolition as historic “improvement” and commandeered George Washington’s birthday to choreograph a ceremony around the start of demolition.

Demolition of 422 North 22nd Street. February 22, 1907. (

Demolition of 422 North 22nd Street. February 22, 1907. (

The first house to come down would be one of the few emptied rowhouses. On February 22nd, officials dressed for the occasion gathered at Ruch’s nearby office and then, just before noon, held a procession to 422 North 22nd Street, the first residence “marked for demolition.”

“The party… entered the house and one by one [climbed] up a rickety ladder…onto the roof. There, just as the clock struck 12, the Director raised his silver pick and began loosening a brick on the chimney. … Several hundred persons on the street below gave a cheer as the first brick was pecked out and held aloft.”

At a luncheon following the ceremony, City Councilman John W. Ford, presented Hathaway with the silver pick in its custom-made, satin-lined case. Accepting it, Hathaway proclaimed: “I regard this as an era in Philadelphia’s history, and I shall cherish this souvenir to my dying day.”

A contrasting scenario was playing out around the corner at 2223 Hamilton Street. John Kelley and his wife were attempting to keep their bricks, their home, in place. While Hathaway and his “Parkway Group” conducted ceremonial street theater, Kelley, who had previously believed “there was a chance of his home escaping demolition,” realized all hope was lost. Already ill and now grieving “over the fact that the house which he and his family occupied was to be dismantled,” he soon received a final notice to vacate. Within days, Kelley died. Grieved to Death over Loss of Home, read the newspaper headline.

Walking from the Melon Street ceremony, I overheard a conversation between two Mantua  neighbors.

“What’s this all about?” asked one resident.

“They’ve come to bury the neighborhood,” was the response.

This time, there wasn’t a silver pick to take home. But there were lots of questions about the history, meaning, and future of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

[Consulted newspaper articles, all from the archives of the The Philadelphia Inquirer, include: “Working on Parkway Property Owners Are Notified to Vacate,” October 23, 1906; “Contract Awarded for Parkway Work,” January 1, 1907; “Parkway Started by Razing of First Building,” February 23, 1907; “Parkway Progress Opposed by Tenants, “March 1, 1907; “Grieved to Death over Loss of Home,” March 3, 1907.]

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Trolley Barns and Grand Hotels: A Brief Look at the Widener Empire (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of “Trolley Barns and Grand Hotels.”
Part I can be viewed here.

Market Street, looking east from 10th Street, 1907. Note the Widener streetcars running along Market Street.

Market Street, looking east from 10th Street, 1907. Note the Widener streetcars running along Market Street.

The Philadelphia Traction Company, founded by Widener and his business partner William Lukens Elkins (1832-1903), held an iron-grip on the city’s horse drawn and electric trolleys.  As a monopolist, Widener not only sold transportation, but he also sold dreams to the city’s upwardly mobile.  Members of this aspiring, confident middle class were eager to purchase the ornate, modern houses developed by Widener in North or West Philadelphia. By capturing the nickels and dimes of Philadelphia’s Victorian commuters, Widener had harnessed a mighty river of cash.  This cash flow gave him strong leverage to invest in other business enterprises: U.S. Steel, American Tobacco, International Mercantile Marine. Widener also created other companies connected with real estate development, most notably the United Gas Improvement Company (UGI), which supplied utilities to his new streetcar residential developments.

As the city spread outward along Widener’s trolley lines, even the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad felt threatened.  In 1876, the year of the Centennial Exposition, the PRR bought up the trolley rights on Lancaster Avenue from 52nd Street all the way to Paoli.  Lancaster Avenue ran parallel to its “Main Line” right-of-way. It was a smart move, as it prevented Widener and his cronies from building more middle-class rowhouse neighborhoods that would compete with the Pennsy’s decidedly upscale, exclusive plans for the Main Line suburbs.  With the exception of Overbrook Farms, these communities would be located outside of the city limits, away from Widener’s political power base.

The Peter Arrell Brown Widener mansion (left) and the William Lukens Elkins mansion (right), at the intersection of North Broad Street and Girard Avenue, c.1900. Both structures have long since been demolished.

The Peter Arrell Brown Widener mansion (left) and the William Lukens Elkins mansion (right), at the intersection of North Broad Street and Girard Avenue, c.1900. Both structures have long since been demolished.

By 1900, Peter Arrell Brown Widener was worth over $100 million, making him the richest man in Philadelphia and putting him in the same class of plutocrats as New York’s Astors and Vanderbilts. His son George Dunton Widener, who had married Eleanor Elkins (daughter of William Lukens Elkins) shifted the family’s real estate focus to the heart of downtown Philadelphia.  His three grandest commissions were all the work of architect Horace Trumbauer: the Widener Building at 12th and Chestnut, the Racquet Club at 16th and Locust, and finally the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Walnut and South Broad Streets.

In the spring of 1912, as the Ritz was in under construction, George, Eleanor, and their book collecting son Harry (a close friend and protege of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach) left town for a European vacation.  They booked their return passage on the RMS Titanic.  Only Eleanor returned to Philadelphia. She promptly commissioned the family’s favorite architect Horace Trumbauer to build a new library at Harvard, dedicated to her son’s memory.  Peter Widener, who had been an investor in the White Star Line’s parent company, died rich but heartbroken three years later in his cavernous Elkins Park mansion.

The city’s growth proved unsustainable, indeed. In the years that followed Widener’s death, the city’s population contracted and its economy de-industrialized. The trolleys could not compete with buses and automobiles.  Many of the comfortable neighborhoods surrounding the old trolley routes succumbed to decay and abandonment, in part because they were ill-suited to the demands of the automobile.  Today, much of the former Widener trolley empire has been absorbed by SEPTA.  The former Ritz-Carlton Hotel serves as classroom space for the University of the Arts.  Further to the west, the one surviving West Philadelphia trolley shed is the studio of artist Jordan Griska, creator of the “Grumman Greenhouse” sculpture on Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Construction an addition to the Widener family's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, December 18, 1913.

Construction an addition to the Widener family’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, December 18, 1913.


Brian Butko. The Lincoln Highway: Pennsylvania Traveler’s Guide (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2013). pp. 50–51

Andrew Heath, “Consolidation Act of 1854,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia,, accessed February 21, 2014.

Stephen Salisbury, “Sculptor Turns Bomber into a Greenhouse,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 27, 2011.

Philip Scranton and Walter Licht, Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1986), p.5.

Ron Soodalter, The Union’s Shoddy Aristocracy, The New York Times, May 9, 2011.

Preston Thayer and Jed Porter, “Philadelphia Traction Company Barn & Stable,” Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

David Whitmire, “The Wideners: An American Family,” Encyclopedia Titanica, January 11, 2008. 

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“Doctor, Dear Doctor!”: Echoes from the Mask and Wig Club, Part III

Broad and Spruce 1.12.1928

The intersection of South Broad and Spruce Street, with part of the Shubert Theater (now the Merriam) on the left. It was built in 1918, and it has hosted performers such as Helen Hayes, Sammy Davis Jr., Katharine Hepburn, and John Barrymore.

This is the final article in the series “Echoes from the Mask and Wig.” Click to read Part I and Part II.  

Doctor, Dear Doctor! premiered at Philadelphia’s Shubert Theater in November 1951. Grandpa and his fellow scriptwriters apparently left Moliere’s original plot alone, as the gags about the dimwitted, dissolute woodchopper Sganarelle turned doctor proved just as funny then as they were during the “Grand Siecle.”  The show received a glowing review from Henry T. Murdock in the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 21: “This reviewer wasn’t around in 1889 when Lurline launched the Wiggers’ history,” he wrote, “nor for a few years after that, but taking the standard of the last 25 years, few shows have been so attractively staged, so colorfully staged, or so swiftly danced as the current enterprise at the Shubert.”

Glancing through the program book, I found a big surprise: among those in the show’s cast are a senior named Sydney T. Fisher and a sophomore named Barry E. Knerr, both of whom I would one day sing with in the Orpheus Club of Philadelphia.

Sydney T. Fisher fIFTH FROM left

The Glee Chorus of the 1951 Mask and Wig production “Doctor, Dear Doctor!” Sydney T. Fisher is fifth from the left. The Mask and Wig Club Archives.

knerr doctor

Partial cast photo for “Doctor, Dear Doctor!” Barry E. Knerr is in the first on the right, top row.  The Mask and Wig Club Archives.

That was the last year Grandpa contributed songs and his time as a rehearsal pianist to the Mask and Wig Club.   Perhaps, by then, he had realized that, despite his prodigious musical talent, making it big in show business was not in the cards for him.  By then, his career as an insurance executive was taking up more and more of his time. Despite the fine reviews, Doctor, Dear Doctor! was his last hurrah, and he knew it.  Within a few years, he had moved to New York, was widowed, married his second wife — my grandmother — and adopted her two small children — my uncle and mother.  He enthusiastically supported my mother’s studies as a classical violinist — the two of them spent many hours playing piano and violin sonatas in their Manhattan living room.

Yet my guess is that despite the local success of Doctor, Dear Doctor?, Grandpa then realized that American musical theater was destined to be his pastime rather than his livelihood.  He continued to attend shows and remain active in the Graduate Club — my  New York-born grandmother said that back then, there was no where to eat in Philadelphia except Bookbinders (of course) — but it seems that he cut back on his musical contributions.

Grandpa Joe died in 1989, aged 81. I was ten at the time.I now live in West Philadelphia, not far from where he grew up and only a few blocks from the University.  It is only now that I am asking questions that I wish my ten-year-old self could as he gleefully played the theme from “Peter and the Wolf” for my brother and me.  But for now, I must be content with these old images and what others remember of him, as well as the whoosh-clang of the Lancaster Avenue trolley that runs along the line that probably once took Granda Joe to college and a better life.

It’s not just “Peter and the Wolf” that I associate with Grandpa, but a wistful Mask and Wig tune from the 1937 show Fifty/Fifty that for so long sat unplayed in my family’s record collection: “I Live the Life I Love.

The  program cover for "Doctor, Dear Doctor?" The Mask and Wig Club Archives.

The program cover for “Doctor, Dear Doctor?” The Mask and Wig Club Archives.


The author and Grandpa Joe at 310 S. Quince Street, before attending the 2014 annual production “Wishful Sinking.”

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“I Live the Life I Love” – Echoes from the Mask and Wig (Part II)

M and W 5.9.1962

The Mask and Wig Club at 310 S. Quince Street, May 9, 1962.

Note: this is a sequel to “Echoes from the Mask and Wig” published on May 2. 

Two weeks ago, I received a phone call from Don Fisher, who graduated from Penn in 1975 and was sort of a Tommy Lee Jones type: as an undergraduate, he balanced working on the Mask and Wig crew/ business staff with breaking through the opposing football team’s defensive line at Franklin Field.  The former president of Mask and Wig’s graduate club, he had read my piece “Echoes from the Mask and Wig,” and told me that he had more information about my step-grandfather Joe Follmann, who was pianist and music director for the collegiate song-and-dance troupe in the late 1920s.

“I believe Grandpa Joe was a scholarship student,” I told him. “And I know that today, the audition process for Mask and Wig is extremely difficult.”

“The Club was a lot harder to get into in those days,” Fisher told me. “And I will tell you this: he must have been hot stuff in his time.”


The undergraduate members of the Mask and Wig Club, Joseph F. Follmann Jr. is in the center of the third row. The University of Pennsylvania Record, 1930. The Mask and Wig Club Archives.

Here’s what I did know: my grandfather  was an excellent pianist, equally at home playing Beethoven and jazz standards His parents were working class German-Americans from West Philadelphia — according to my mother (his step-daughter) his mother was a Bavarian Catholic and his father a Prussian Protestant who may have worked as a coal miner in his youth.  There’s a photograph in my parents’ house showing him around the age of 10, with long blonde hair and dressed in a sailor’s suit. He is standing at the knee of a grizzled looking old man reading a book —  most likely his own grandfather.

Grandpa Joe’s obsession with economy — served up with  stereotypical Teutonic severity  – continued into his adulthood, even after he had achieved financial stability.

Leaving the lights on in an empty room was a pet peeve.

Many of his fellow students at the Wharton School were being groomed for leadership in tightly-held businesses.  In those days, there were many such family concerns in Philadelphia, from manufacturers (Disston and Baldwin) to magazines (Curtis) to banks (Philadelphia Savings Fund Society) to railroads (the Pennsylvania).   In those heady years just before the stock market crash, Grandpa had no desk at a family business waiting for him after graduation.  Studying finance was a practical route; what he really wanted was to be a professional musician. Perhaps Grandpa was dreaming of following in the footsteps of Ted Weems, who had also graduated from West Philadelphia High and Penn seven years ahead of him and had cut a big figure in the American “collegiate” hot jazz scene during the booming Roaring Twenties.

Mask and Wig dorm undated

University of Pennsylvania quadrangle dormitories, designed by Cope and Stewardson, showing the Mask and Wig wing. 36th and Spruce Streets. undated.

The Mask and Wig — which so was so prosperous that it had donated money to build a quadrangle dormitory — was a particular preserve of the “Old Philadelphia” elite, who had the time and the funds to indulge in such musical skylarking.  Their show program books were chock full of advertisements from prominent — and now largely vanished — Philadelphia businesses. The clubhouse, a converted church a long trolley ride from campus, had been lavishly renovated by Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre Jr. in the 1890s, and its first-floor bar adorned with murals by celebrated artist Maxfield Parrish.  In those days, one did not formally join the Mask and Wig Club until senior year,  after a year or two of working as a choral alternate…little more than a grunt. According to the show programs, Grandpa was listed as a choral alternate his sophomore and junior years, and he was not formally elected to full membership until his senior year.

Grandpa’s eagerness comes across in the photograph of The Mask and Wig undergraduate club in the 1930 University of Pennsylvania Record — amidst his stone-faced, bolt-upright compatriots, a fresh-faced Grandpa Joe looks alert as he leans jauntily to one side, his eyes sparkling.  His ears stick out from his head, just the way I remember them when he was older. He had made it, his hard work at the piano and at his composer’s desk had paid off, and he was proud.  He had been the music director and co-writer of that year’s show  John Faust, Ph.D, a comic spoof on the German legend popularized by Christopher Marlowe and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

faust cover

The program cover for “John Faust, Ph.D,” 1930. The Mask and Wig Club Archives.

This was a time when songs from Mask and Wig and other collegiate groups became national hits, covered by the likes of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Frank Sinatra.  Perhaps Grandpa hoped that one of his songs would hit the big time. Grandpa continued to contribute to the club well after graduation.  In fact, he contributed songs to Mask and Wig shows for the next two decades — most notably in the 1937  production Fifty/Fifty – and culminating in the show Doctor, Dear Doctor! of 1951.  By then, the Club’s roster of undergraduate members had diversified considerably from the blue-blooded old days. Grandpa conceived the book and produced the show,  basing it it on Jean-Baptiste Moliere’s 1666 play Le Médecin malgré lui (A Physician in Spite of Himself).  A photograph from the show’s program shows Grandpa Joe — looking a bit more as I knew him, balding and with more pronounced jowls — smiling with delight as he pours over a set of scenery mock ups with a colleague.

“You know those ancient bronze busts of Roman senators?”  my grandmother once said. “Well, he looks just like them.”

Click for Part III

Follmann show co writer 1951

Grandpa Joe (left) looking at scenery sketches for “Doctor, Dear Doctor.” The Mask and Wig Club Archives.


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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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