Searching for John Sloan’s Philadelphia Saloon

John Sloan, McSorley’s Bar, New York City, 1912, oil on canvas (Detroit Institute of Arts).

Artist John Sloan considered the back room of McSorley’s a “sacristy.” So, it follows naturally that his five oil paintings of the venerable New York ale house are sacred icons of saloon culture. Between 1912 and 1948, Sloan didn’t merely depict life at McSorley’s, he conflated, celebrated and elevated populist ideals of art, community and the urban male.

Sloan may have depicted this in New York, but he had his awakening as an artist of the people back home in Philadelphia.

“Mr. Sloan’s school of art was life itself, his own and that of others, and finally the streets of two great cities—New York and Philadelphia,” wrote John Butler Yeats at the time. He transformed, everyday scenes “of robust lower-class Americans” with “spontaneous brushstrokes and unpolished depictions” finding inspiration in everyday life. “I saw people living in the streets and the rooftops of the city,’ wrote Sloan, ‘and I liked their fine animal spirit.”

“Rembrandt would have delighted in McSorley’s,” commented Hutchins Hapgood, “Velasquez would have found his account there, too, as our own John Sloan does.” This camaraderie, speculated art historian Mariea Caudill Dennison, “must have reminded him of his youthful experience as a member of [Robert] Henri’s group in Philadelphia.”

Sloan left Philadelphia for New York in April 1904 at the hardly tender age of 33. In Philadelphia he first learned to appreciate what friend and mentor Henri liked to call “that eternal business of life.” Sloan would also come to share Henri’s firmly-held belief that painting was a “man’s vocation,” that “an artist’s life [was] a virile occupation.” Art deepened “mysterious bonds of understanding and knowledge among men.”

A perfect match for the long established, male-dominated saloon culture. Henri’s group, mocked as the “Ashcan School,” created a new kind of art, one that refused to pander to what Sloan referred to as “the ignorant Listless Moneyed class.”

Now that we surmise Sloan’s early saloon experiences were in Philadelphia, we’re faced with the challenge: which of Philadelphia’s many saloons was it? Where was it located? And does it survive today?

Patrick Rogan’s Taproom, Northeast corner, 9th and Berks Streets, February 24, 1903 (PhillyHistory.org)

Of course, Sloan’s Philadelphia saloon would have to offer something like McSorley’s, a place, as Dennison put it, where “a man could feel that he was the master of his own fate. …”a place where the world seems shut out, where there is no time, no turmoil. . .” A place with an owner and keeper who, according to Travis Hoke, was “considerably more than the mere proprietor” someone who is “one of the biggest figures in the neighborhood…a bartender, [a] counsellor in all the ways of life, [a] recipient of confidences, disburser of advice, arbiter of disputes, authority every subject.”

Hoping for clues, we turn to Sloan’s diaries and find mention of a return visit to his family home in December 1906. “Arrived in Phila. at 5 o’clock or thereabouts. The City (uptown) where I left the train looked so small I felt as tho’ I should be able to look in the second story windows of the houses — yet this is the neighborhood in which I grew up from 7 years old to 30 years about.”

What neighborhood was that?

The Sloans lived at 1921 North Camac Street, a rowhouse between 12th and 13th, Norris and Berks Streets. Back home in 1906 he savored some powerful memories, like making ice cream. “When I was a boy I had to twist the freezer handle 35 minutes down cellar.  . . .with the jam shelf swinging overhead. I can bring the whole thing back: the old damp piece of red carpet, ingrain, that I used to cover over the finished job.  The twist in the wooden stairs going down cellar. The heaving ruggedness of the earth floor, the joists overhead where, toward the front end opposite the round furnace, I had a trapeze. Out there the gas meter that I so longed to take apart. The hole of mystery under the marble steps [in] front.”

The left arrow indicates John Sloan’s residence at 1921 North Camac Street, what is now the center of Temple University’s Main Campus in North Philadelphia. The right arrow indicates Patrick Rogan’s Taproom, 9th and Berks Streets. (Source: 1910 Philadelphia Atlas, Philadelphia GeoHistory Network)

Interesting memories of this long-ago demolished house that stood north of where the belltower on Temple University’s main campus is now. But no mention of a visit to the local saloon.

Was there one? Of course there was.

On September 25, 1900, John McDermott sold to Patrick Rogan the building at the Northeast corner of 9th and Berks Streets. Sloan would have been 29 years old and only three blocks away when Patrick Rogan opened his etched-glass double doors and tapped his first kegs. We’re fortunate to have a photograph of it from 1903.

But, alas, Rogan’s saloon is long gone.

[Sources: Mariea Caudill Dennison, “McSorley’s: John Sloan’s Visual Commentary on Male Bonding, Prohibition, and the Working Class,” American Studies, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Summer 2006), pp. 23-38; Hutchins Hapgood, “McSorley’s Saloon,Harpers Weekly, Vol 58, October 25, 1913; Travis Hoke, Corner Saloon. The American Mercury, March 1931, pp. 311-322; Grant Holcomb, “John Sloan and ‘McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon,’” The American Art Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Spring, 1983), pp. 4-20; Bruce St. John,”John Sloan in Philadelphia, 1888-1904” The American Art Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Autumn, 1971), pp. 80-87; John Sloan, The Gist of Art (New York, American Artists Group, Inc. 1939); John Sloan’s Diaries, 1906-1913, The Delaware Art Museum; John Butler Yeats, “The work of John Sloan,” Harper’s Weekly, November 22, 1913; Real Estate Transfers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept 28, 1900]

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August 1901: All Hell Breaks Loose on Locust Street

Damage Done on the North Side of Locust Street (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 7, 1901)

August 6, 1901. “With an appalling roar that made buildings quake a quarter of a mile away, an explosion demolished five houses on Locust street between Tenth and Eleventh, last night. The extent of the death and disaster spread by the catastrophe could not be estimated—probably twenty were killed, and the burned and maimed reach scores.”

“Residents of the neighborhood…say that the first flash emanated from MacClemmy’s store, at 1014. The block stretching from Alder street to Warnock comprises six brick houses, all three stories in height, with dormer windows. Following the first flash came an all-pervading roar, a burst of flame from other shops and the whole block, all but the two dwellings at the Alder street corner fell a mass of brick and mortar. Houses on the opposite side of Locust street had windows and doors blown in.”

The massive explosion occurred just as the city was settling down for the summer evening. The cause: a tank of gasoline stored in the basement of MacClemmy’s grocery store.  “In an instant the block of buildings was in flames. So great was the force that two woman’s bodies were blown clear across the street, and the dormer window of 1018 Locust was thrown upon the opposite roof. Telegraph and trolley wires were destroyed and windows were broken as far away as Ninth street and Eleventh street.”

“Locust street . . . was instantly a mass of flaming debris, and men and women ran screaming hither and thither, entirely unable to control themselves. Mothers were calling their children, wives for their husbands, husbands for their wives. None seems to know, and everybody fears that some near and dear one was among the injured—or dead.”

“Lizzie Watkins, as she appears in her cot at the Pennsylvania Hospital (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 7, 1901).

Twenty injured survivors were taken to the nearby Jefferson Hospital and at least eleven more to Pennsylvania Hospital. Among them: Lizzie Watkins, who rescuers dug out from the debris nearly five hours after the incident.

“It seemed as if the world had come to an end,” Watkins told an Inquirer reporter from her hospital bed. “I went upstairs to my room in the rear of the third floor over Gale‘s restaurant, at 1012 Locust St., about 9 o’clock. It did not take me long to get to bed, and when the explosion came I was sound asleep.

“The first I knew I saw blinding flash of light and then the walls of my room begin caving in. In an instant I felt myself falling, falling, and could see bricks and broken glass flying all around me. All it wants I came to a stop in my flight downward. But the bricks and timbers, which I could see plainly, did not stop, and not knowing what else to do, I threw up my arms to protect myself. Whether or not this did any good I don’t know. All I know is that while the lower part of my body felt as the lower part of my body felt as if it was being crushed by the bricks and other things, my head and shoulders were free from weight.

“I laid in the position for a year, it seemed . . .when I heard voices above me. Then I heard a sound as if axes were chopping at timbers.  I kept looking up, and all at once I could see sky. The next thing I heard a voice asking me if I did not want something to drink.

“I replied that all I wanted was to do was get out of where I was. I have hardly gotten the words out of my mouth when a class of liquor was handed down to me, with instructions to drink it. I did as I was told, and then laid back, waiting for them to take me out.

After the Explosion – Locust Street, west of 10th Street [August 1901] (PhillyHistory.org)

“Blind? No, thank God. I can see. I am badly burned on the right side of my face, and the lower part of my body is sore and bruised. But I guess I will pull through all right. Lucky? Well, I guess I am. . .

Indeed. Early on the morning of August 15, Lizzie Watkins was well enough to make her way to Broad Street Station to board the chartered charity train reserved for 400 city children and 75 mothers hosted at the Seaside Home at Cape May, courtesy of the charity Children’s Country Week Association.

A different fate awaited grocer George M. MacClemmy, the man whose actions paved the way to the fatal explosion. The city coroner charged MacClemmy with “criminal negligence in the storage of gasoline in his store, 1014 Locust street.” Only four months earlier, City Council had criminalized the unregulated storage of gasoline in quantities more than a gallon.

Officials put the injured MacClemmy, who wasn’t expected to fully recover, under house arrest in his home near 46th Street and Baltimore Avenue.

[Sources: “Ordinance Prohibits Storage of Gasoline,” Inquirer, August 7, 1901; “Many Killed and Injured in Locust Street Explosion,” Inquirer, August 6, 1901; “Lizzie Watkins Tells of Her Experience,” Inquirer; August 7, 1901; “Mc’Clemmy Put Under Arrest,” Inquirer, August 14, 1901]

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Centennial Chronology: The South Philadelphia Race Riots of July 1918

2504 Pine Street, 1964. (PhillyHistory.org)

“Every American who takes part in the action of a mob or gives it any sort of countenance is no true son of this great democracy, but its betrayer” declared President Woodrow Wilson in his denunciation of lynching one hundred years ago this week. Wilson called on all Americans to “actively and watchfully . . . make an end of this disgraceful evil.”

Philadelphia wasn’t listening.

White residents of Fitler Square “stoned the home of Mrs. T. Lytle” an African-American living at 2504 Pine Street in June. The same mob “burned two wagon loads of furniture owned by other colored tenants who were moving into houses at 2524-26 Pine.” Lytle would have initiated criminal proceedings—she knew the woman who led the mob—but chose silence after being told her house would be torched on Independence Day, if she filed charges.

Editors of The Philadelphia Tribune, the city’s African-American newspaper, drew a line in the sand: “We favor peace but we say to the colored people of the Pine Street warzone, stand your ground . . . . if you are law abiding you need not fear . . . if you are attacked defend yourself like American citizens.  . . . when they tread upon your rights fight them to the bitter end.”

Ellsworth Street, south side, 2900-38, east to west, December 6, 1965 (PhillyHistory.org)

Something like a bitter end would come a mile away the very same day Wilson delivered his anti-mob speech. (You might have previously encountered our posts about the South Philadelphia race riots of 1918 hereherehere, here and here.) This week marks the 100th anniversary of the events. It seems appropriate to sketch a chronology:

July, 24 1918: Adella Bond, a probation officer of the Municipal Court, moves into 2936 Ellsworth Street. “The second time I went down that street, I was stoned,” she told a reporter. “When movers arrived with her furniture . . . [Bond] appeared in her doorway armed with a revolver. Her white neighbors claimed that by this action, she had invited conflict.”

July 26-27, 1918: Friday night to Saturday morning. “About 100 white men and boys gathered in front of my house,” Bond said. “I heard them talk about having guns, and I saw the guns and cartridges.  . . . a man came along with a baby in his arms. He handed the baby to a woman, took a rock and threw it. The rock went through my parlor window. I didn’t know what the mob would do next, and I fired my revolver from my upper window to call the police. A policeman came, but he wouldn’t try to cope with that mob alone, so he turned it into a riot call.” Joseph Kelly, 23, had been shot in leg.

July 27, 1918. Saturday night. Hugh Lavery, 42, shot and instantly killed by Jesse Butler, 18, on 26th Street between Annin Street and Oakford Street.

July 28, 1918. Sunday. A mob at 27th and Titan Streets gives chase to Henry Huff, 23, (who lives near 28th and Titan). Huff runs into a house and soon shoots and kills plainclothes police officer Thomas McVey, 24 (who lives at 28th and Oakford Streets). Detective Thomas Myers and civilian Frank Donohue are also shot and wounded.

Rioting erupts. “In a series of street battles waged for twenty-four hours . . . by more than five thousand white and colored men in a downtown section covering about two square miles,” reported The Inquirer, “scores were seriously injured in the most terrific and bitter race riot that has ever taken place in this city. Half a hundred men were placed under arrest.” Rioting “grew in intensity throughout the day with individual fights and mobs engaged in gun fire on nearly every other corner of a section bounded by Washington Avenue, Dickinson Street, 23rd and 30th Streets.”

Page one story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday July 29, 1918. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

July 29, 1918. Monday. Police officers Robert Ramsey and John Schneider severely beat Preston Lewis who is then hospitalized. Schneider attacks Lewis again as he lays semi-conscious on a stretcher in the accident ward. Later that day, the same two officers apprehend and beat Riley Bullock at the corner of Titan Street and Point Breeze avenue. Moments after arriving with in the 17th District Station House at 20th and Federal Streets, Ramsay shoots Bullock in the back at point blank range.

Also: A mob “many of them neighbors and friends” of [the murdered Thomas McVey] swarms into Titan Street “armed with clubs knives bricks and revolvers” and attacks the home of his alleged murderer, Henry Huff, at 2743 Titan Street.

July 30, 1918. Tuesday. Leaders of the city’s African American community call upon the mayor and director of public safety charging “failure of the police to protect the homes in persons of colored citizens” deploring “that [the] police have not been able to protect our citizens from mob violence.”

July 31, 1918. Wednesday. Saloons are closed. McVey’s funeral mass at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic church, 24th & Grays Ferry avenue. Two hundred additional police are assigned to the burial procession, “30 to a block.” Mounted policemen, Marines and guards from the Navy Yard, as well as members of the Home Defense Reserves, continue to aid the police.

Of course, the story stretches well past the end of July 1918. Riley Bullock’s family and friends bury him on August 2nd. Saloons, closed for days, reopen August 3rd. Services for Frank Donohue are held at St. Gabriel’s Church, 30th and Dickinson. On the 8th, “white hoodlums” somehow get past police assigned to “guard” Adella Bond’s home on Ellsworth Street, steal her valuables and destroy her furniture.

Every last one of the police in the 17th District Station House at 20th and Federal are transferred. The police department receives a judicial rebuke for “looseness in the investigation of the death of Riley Bullock.”

Murder charges against Ramsey and Schneider make their way through the courts. Ramsey admits the shooting was an accident, claiming “his gun went off when he slipped on the steps.” In December 1920, a jury finds Ramsey and Schneider “not guilty” after only a half hour of deliberation.

A century passes. And for the most part, both Philadelphians and makers of public memory do their level best to forget the entire story.

[See sources in the previous PhillyHistory posts: hereherehere, here and here.]

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Saloons: Rise and Fall of the “Ladies’ Entrance”

Shackamaxon Street and E. Girard Avenue, April 15, 1901 (PhillyHistory.org)

“Sloughing against the bar with one foot on the rail would have been unthinkable behavior for most ‘decent’ women, let along spitting into the cuspidors or allowing their skirts to trail in the beer-soaked sawdust,” wrote Madelon Powers.

“For some women even entering a bar is a fearful prospect,” agreed Mary Jane Lupton in Feminist Studies. “They might get bothered or insulted or embarrassed. Part of this apprehension is based on a realistic appraisal of male behavior. Part has to do with the rather intimidating architecture of the neighborhood barroom, with its L-shaped front bar and its lineup of stools . . . The L provides a defensive line; to break into that, to disrupt the pattern, is to place oneself in a vulnerable position.”

Yet, Powers claimed, “saloongoers were not totally anti-woman . . .  Many bar songs and stories portrayed females as merciful and decent and were surprisingly sentimental about mothers, wives, and women friends. Moreover, male customers accepted and indeed welcomed a female presence in certain areas of the saloon under well-defined circumstances. Though bargoers jealously guarded their male prerogatives and commiserated over male-female conflicts, there is no indication that these men as a group reviled or hated the women in their lives. Sexists and chauvinists they were, but not complete misogynists.”

“The only circumstance in which respectable women might legitimately linger unescorted” in saloons would be “in order to consume the saloon’s famous free lunch.” To access to this lunch, “free with the purchase of a five-cent drink,” women would bypass “the male-dominated ‘barroom proper’” by entering a side door marked “ladies’ entrance.”

Shackamaxon Street and E. Girard Avenue, April 15, 1901 – Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

This entrance, according to Powers, served a threefold purpose. “First, it permitted women to enter inconspicuously and minimize public scrutiny of their comings and goings… Second, women’s entry through the side door eliminated the necessity of their running the gauntlet through the establishment front room . . . undisputed male territory.  . . .  Finally, the side door afforded women quick and convenient access both to the far end of the bar, where they could purchase carry-out alcohol and to a second chamber known as the ‘back room,’ where they could feast on free lunches or attend social events hosted there.”

And so the “ladies’ entrance” to bars and saloons became universal protocol. Except for one notable case, the most traditional of saloons: McSorley’s Old Ale House in lower Manhattan. Philadelphia artist John Sloan, who moved to New York in 1904, famously and repeatedly painted scenes of its interior.

John McSorley “believed it impossible for men to drink with tranquility in the presence of women” though drinkers tolerated, and were even amused by, young boys running in and out of the back room, snatching “handfuls of cheese and slices of onion, before dashing out, “slamming the door.”  Where many saloons welcomed women, albeit with conditions and limitations, McSorley’s made its message clear with a sign: “NOTICE. NO BACK ROOM IN HERE FOR LADIES.”

McSorley’s motto? “Good ale, raw onions, and no ladies.” When a female entered, Joseph Mitchell told in The New Yorker, “Old John would hurry forward, make a bow, and say, ‘Madam, I’m sorry, but we don’t serve ladies.’ If a woman insisted, Old John would take her by the elbow, head her toward the door, and say, ‘Madam, please don’t provoke me. Make haste and get yourself off the premises, or I’ll be obliged to forget you’re a lady.’”

Sloan considered McSorley’s back room “like a sacristy,” a place where “old John McSorley would sit greeting old friends and philosophizing. Women were never served,” added Sloan, “indeed the dingy walls and woodwork looked as if women had set neither hand nor foot in the place.”

Shackamaxon Street and E. Girard Avenue, April 15, 1901 – Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

Until June 25, 1970, that is, when, by court order, McSorley’s opened its doors to women. Shortly after Mayor John Lindsay signed the order, Lucy Komisar, a vice president of the National Organization for Women, approached “the old‐fashioned wooden doors” wearing, The New York Times felt compelled to inform its readers, “a purple jumpsuit, sandals and sunglasses.”

A waiter demanded Komisar produce her birth certificate.” The 28-year old Komisar offered her driver’s license. The waiter refused to accept the license as proof she was at least 18 (then the legal drinking age). Komisar attempted to push her way in. The two engaged in “a short wrestling match” before the manager allowed Komisar inside, “to a chorus of boos from some of the regular patrons.”

“Shortly afterward,” observed the Times reporter, “Miss Komisar was involved in an argument with “some young men who were drinking ale in their undershirts.” When “one tall, unidentified man showed her an obscene poem he had scrawled on a piece of paper, [Komisar] tried to snatch it out of his hand.”

“Why, you little ——–,” he shouted, dumping a stein of ale over her head.”

“’You can’t do that!’ she shrieked, lunging at him.” Again the manager intervened, escorting the protesting, undershirted poet to the sidewalk.

They’re really boorish, horrible men” commented Komisar, “drenched but smiling . . . as she sipped an ale at the bar.” They “have a lot of problems with their masculinity.”

Taking it all in nearby, “an old-timer in an open collar shirt shook his head sorrowfully. ‘That woman is trouble. All women are trouble. This is what happens when you let them in here.’”

Apparently, everyone had more work to do.

[Sources: Madelon Powers, Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920 (The University of Chicago Press, 1998); Mary Jane Lupton, “Ladies’ Entrance: Women and Bars,” Feminist Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3, (Autumn, 1979); Joseph Mitchell, “The Old House at Home,” The New Yorker, April 13, 1940; John Sloan, The Gist of Art (New York, American Artists Group, Inc. 1939); Grace Lichtenstein, “McSorley’s Admits. Women Under a New City Law, The New York Times, August 11, 1970.]

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The Urban Saloon: Refuge of Men and Power

“I didn’t know anything about girls,” Jack London wrote, “I had been too busy being a man.”

For London, as well as millions of other American men of similar vintage, the saloon was ground zero for “being a man” where the “test of true manhood,” as Madelon Powers put it, “was peer recognition for being a reliable ally and comrade in the volatile street culture of urban America.”

Jacob Binder’s Saloon, Northeast corner Thompson Street and Germantown Avenue, June 9, 1902, Photograph by Hervey B. Harmer (PhillyHistory.org)

“Drinking was a man’s sport,” reminisced Travis Hoke a decade into prohibition. “And women not only loathed the saloon for its intrinsic evils but, quite naturally, because men often sought each others’ company there and excluded women. Safe in his saloon, a man boasted of marital independence, complained of marital injustice, gained strength to defy the dominant sex. There he could play at being devil-may-care and independent and generous and brave and debonair, at being manly—and there no woman dared invade him with drab truths. The saloon was for men only. It was their last stronghold in a world of women…”

“One breasted the bar, downed a drink, and became a man among men.”

Detail of Jacob Binder’s Saloon, Northeast corner Thompson Street and Germantown Avenue, June 9, 1902, Photograph by Hervey B. Harmer (PhillyHistory.org)

According to Powers, “men who did each other the honor of drinking together were also expected to celebrate and reinforce their special bond through the swapping of drinks, favors, small loans, or other gestures of mutual assistance and friendship. . . . .by vying with one another in friendly contests of drinking, pool-playing, wagering, storytelling and the like, their displayed their ability and stamina to one another and reaffirmed their worth as clubmates. . . . rivalries were resolved through conventional forms of barroom interaction.”

America’s saloons, were men-only affairs where alcohol “was prized as a commodity of exchange, a thing intrinsically valuable that could function like money and all manner of transactions among men. When politicians, businessman, employers, union recruiters, or others wished to curry favor or reward jobs well done, they often did so not with cash, but with drink. Cash was valuable but crass; drink was both valuable and pleasurable” in the sacred space of a saloon that, we know from the noir novels of John T. McIntyre, “glittered with clusters of electric lamps and broad, gilt-framed mirrors,” its “marble-topped bar backed by pyramids of glasses and bottles.”

“The typical workingman’s saloon was readily recognizable by its swinging shuttered doors and wrought iron windows cluttered with potted ferns, posters and bottles of colored water,” writes Jon Kingsdale. “Inside was a counter running almost the length of the room, paralleled by a brass foot- rail. The floor was covered with sawdust. Across from the bar were perhaps a few tables and chairs backed up by a piano, pool table or rear stalls. Behind the bar and over an assortment of lemons, glasses and unopened magnums of muscatel, port and champagne hung a large plate-glass mirror.”

Men would revel in shared memories of the saloon as a unique and welcoming refuge. James Stevens was impressed by “the great mirror shown gloriously” above sparkling glasses and stacked labeled bottles. “Never before have I seen such an array of glasses, or such vivid colors, or such a vast mirror, or such huge carved and polished pillars and beams, or such enormous vessels of brass as the spittoons… . . The bar-room was strange and wonderful to look at, and even the smells were curious and pleasant to breathe.” John Powers “remembered vividly the strange beer smells, the sawdust on the floor, and the big men slouching against the bar with one foot on the rail.”

By 1888, Philadelphia had 5,773 licensed saloons. If “set side by side,” calculated the Inquirer, they’d “form a line nearly twenty-two miles long…” By 1915, New York would have more than 10,000, or one for every 515 persons; Chicago had one licensed saloon for every 335 residents; …  “A survey of Chicago found that on an average day the number of saloon customers equaled half the city’s total population.”

In saloons, according to Hoke, “millions of American men spent a sixth of their time and almost as much of their wages.” Saloons “had more influence on more men than all the colleges from Harvard to Stanford.” They “affected profoundly politics, religion, the lives of families, the destiny of the nation…”

“Half the Democratic captains of Chicago’s first ward at the beginning of the 20th century were saloon proprietors,” Kingsdale tells us. “One-third of Milwaukee’s 46 city councilmen in 1902 were saloon-keepers, as were about a third of Detroit’s aldermen at the end of the 19th century. Tweed’s ‘Boodle Board’ of aldermen was composed in half of saloon-keepers or ex-saloon-keepers; in 1884 nearly two-thirds of the political conventions and primaries in New York City were held in saloons; and in 1890 eleven of New York City’s 24 aldermen were saloon-keepers.”

Unfortunately, Kingsdale didn’t delve into saloon politics in Philadelphia. We’ll have to leave that story to future research, or, if we like, our florid historical imagination.

Detail of Jacob Binder’s Saloon, Northeast corner Thompson Street and Germantown Avenue, June 9, 1902, Photograph by Hervey B. Harmer (PhillyHistory.org)

[Sources: Madelon Powers, Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920 (The University of Chicago Press, 1998); Travis Hoke, Corner Saloon. The American Mercury, March 1931, pp. 311-322; Jon M. Kingsdale, “Social Functions of the Urban Working-Class Saloon,” American Quarterly, vol. 25, No. 4. (Oct., 1973); “Comparative Saloon Table,” The Inquirer, May 28, 1888, p. 4.]

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Men And Their Saloons

Growing up as a newsboy on the streets of San Francisco, Jack London got to know and love “the wide-open, all-male flavor of saloonlife.”

“I had no time to read. I was busy getting exercise and learning how to fight, busy learning forwardness, and brass and bluff. I had an imagination and a curiosity about all things that made me plastic. Not least among the things I was curious about was the saloon. And I was in and out of many a one. . . .”

“The saloon was the place of congregation. Men gathered to it as primitive men gathered about the fire of the squatting place or the fire at the mouth of the cave.”

Marsh’s Saloon, Shackamaxon Street and E. Girard Avenue, April 15, 1901 (PhillyHistory.org)

“By way of the saloon I had escaped from the narrowness of woman’s influence into the wide free world of men. All ways led to the saloon [whose] doors were ever open. And always and everywhere I found saloons, on highway and byway, up narrow alleys and on busy thoroughfares, bright-lighted and cheerful, warm in winter and in summer dark and cool.”

“Yes, the saloon was a mighty fine place, and it was more than that. … The saloons are poor men’s clubs. Saloons are congregating places. We engaged to meet one another in saloons. We celebrated our good fortune or wept our grief in saloons. We got acquainted in saloons.”

“In the saloons, life was different. Men talked with great voices, laughed great laughs, and there was an atmosphere of greatness. Here was something more than the common every-day where nothing happened. Here life was always very live, and, sometimes even lurid, when blows were struck, and blood was shed, and big policemen came shouldering in. Great moments, these, for me, my head filled with all the wild and valiant fighting of the gallant adventurers on sea and land. There were no big moments when I trudged along the street throwing my papers in at doors. But in the saloons, even the sots, stupefied, sprawling across the tables or in the sawdust, were objects of mystery and wonder.”

J. J. Mallon’s Saloon, Southeast corner, Front Street and Girard Ave, July 7, 1905 (PhillyHstory.org)

And more, the saloons were right. The city fathers sanctioned them and licensed them. They were not terrible places I heard boys deem them who lacked my opportunities to know. Terrible they might be, but then that only meant they were terribly wonderful, and it is the terribly wonderful that a boy desired to know. In the same way pirates, and shipwrecks, and battles were terrible; and what healthy boy wouldn’t give his immortal soul to participate in such affairs?”

“Besides, in saloons I saw reporters, editors, lawyers, judges, who names and faces I knew. They put the seal of social appeal on the saloon. They verified my own feeling of fascination in the saloon. They, too, must have found that there was something different, that something beyond, which I sensed and groped after. What it was, I did not know; yet there it must be, for there men focused like buzzing flies about a honey pot.”

J. J. Mallon’s Saloon, southeast corner, Front Street and Girard Avenue, July 7, 1905 (PhillyHistory.org)

In saloons, confirms Madelon Powers, “men defined themselves as men. They established standards of manly comportment and continuously reaffirmed their personal and group esteem by observing. . . standards. They sought out men of the same age cohort whose experiences and interests chronologically paralleled their own. . . . Single men, married men, migrating men whose families waited behind—all sought fellowship and solace from barmates in comparable situations. As regulars dealt collectively with these deeply personal concerns, they cultivated the kind of intimate, emotionally charged relationships associated with community.”

“Bolstering the regulars’ ethic of manliness was the ambience of the saloon itself. Indeed, nearly every feature of the saloon’s interior seemed designed to promote an aura of freewheeling masculinity. The air was redolent with beer fumes and cigar smoke. The bar’s footrail was itself ‘a symbol of masculinity emancipate’ . . . Wall decorations often included photographs of prizefighters such as John L. Sullivan . . . depictions of cockfights, horse races and battleships, Also popular with lithographs of buxom, scantily clad women who posed provocatively.  . . . Brass cuspidors stood within convenient spitting distance, with sawdust scattered about to accommodate lapses in marksmanship. For those disinclined to answer calls of nature, a few establishments even featured a urination trough on the floor running lengthwise along the bar counter, built on a slight tilt to facilitate flushing.

In the opening years of the 20th century, the urban saloon served to” reinforce feelings of uninhibited masculinity and gender solidarity among workingmen.” It was a place, as Hutchins Hapgood observed of McSorley’s Saloon in New York, where “no woman ever passed or passes the threshold.” A place where “workingmen . . . sit quietly for hours over one or two mugs of ale look as if they never thought of a woman. They are maturely reflecting in purely male ways and solemnly discoursing, untroubled by skirts or domesticity.”

[Sources: Madelon Powers, Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920 (The University of Chicago Press, 1998); Jack London, John Barleycorn (1913); Hutchins Hapgood, “McSorley’s Saloon,Harpers Weekly, Vol 58, October 25, 1913.]

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Fake Façades: “The Polyester of Brick”

16th and Vine Streets, northwest corner, 1964 (PhillyHistory.org)

“If you enjoy the finer things of life, good cheer and good times in a beautiful atmosphere—if you take pride in your home—the FormStone club room is for you,” read an advertisement in December 1949. “That ‘lost’ space in your cellar can become the loveliest room you ever saw, with a FormStone beauty treatment. A major home improvement that enlarges your home, increases its value and helps make home life beautiful. A club room or recreation room for adults, a playroom for the children, a television setting par excellence. Hand-sculptured by skilled craftsmen, in any design, with an special effects to suit your taste, arches, pilasters, bars, etc. Architectural ideas and estimate without charge or obligation.”

“FormStone is Foremost,” read another pitch a few months later. “It’s in a class by itself. Your FormStone Home is a work of art, every inch hand sculptured painstakingly by master-craftsmen. Guaranteed 20 years, it will actually last a lifetime. FormStone  is America’s favorite home beauty treatment…nationally proven… highly endorsed by more than 3,000 homeowners during the past 15 years. It’s the natural stone, carefully selected for color and durability, compounded with finest grade cement. FormStone improves with age! It mellows with weathering, remains forever beautiful, rugged, weatherproof…and insulating. Economical, too—initial cost is modest, and it’s the last; no upkeep, no repair, no painting. Applied over any surface, anywhere, exterior or interior—over shingles, weatherboard, brick, stucco, concrete or cinder block. … Your home deserves FormStone.”

Fake stone, or “simulated masonry” as preservation expert Ann Milkovich McKee calls it, “played a large role in the changing aesthetics of the American public begin­ning in the 1930s.” Perma-Stone, the earliest and best known “of the simulated masonries that could be applied directly to a building” originated in Columbus, Ohio in 1929. Other brands, we learn from The Old House Journal, “included Rostone, Tru-Stone, Fieldstone, Bermuda Stone, Modern Stone, Romanstone, Magnolia Stone, Dixie Stone, Silverstone.” And there was FormStone. Each “was applied in a manner similar to stucco, usually in multiple layers, to wire net or lath attached to existing exterior walls, then scored with simulated mortar joints to suggest individual stones. Adding to the illusion were often artful coloration and sometimes mica chips that would sparkle on a sunny day.”

“Form-Stone, is a man-made stone, a hand-sculpted, modern surface for building new homes or renewing old homes,” read the earliest Philadelphia advertisement from March 1947, a decade after Baltimorean Albert Knight patented the process. By then, it had been “tried and proven” by more than a thousand customers in the Baltimore-Washington area. Testimonials aimed to convince Philadelphians: “We are even more proud of our FormStone than we were the day it was finished,” said Joseph Biles. “It has lived up to expectations in every way. In fact, we are sure that it is becoming more beautiful with each passing year.”

“We were tired of worrying about regular repainting, of moisture penetration and dampness,” said a Mrs. Lake. “We wanted something permanent, something that would make your home beautiful and keep it that way. Formstone did just that for us.”

1328 Walnut Street. October 27, 1949. (PhillyHistory.org)

I can safely say that you have added at least twice the value of the improvements to the full value of my house” claimed Major Robb.

A self-described “choosy” restaurant owner declared he “selected FormStone to beautify [his] place. Only FormStone could give me exactly what I wanted: in design, color and effect.”

“We wanted a façade with dignity and beauty and we got it in FormStone,” said a pharmacist, adding the benefit of “everlasting weather protection and freedom from repairs.” A tavern owner considered “it one of the best deals I ever made.” And a car dealer claimed “it has actually attracted customers to our establishment. In the thirty three years we’ve been in business, we consider this the finest improvement made to our property…”

The “last word in lasting beauty.”

Undertakers, 809 South 9th Street, March 19, 1954. (PhillyHistory,org)

Americans carried on their love affair with fake façades until the waning decades of the 20th century. About then, John Waters of Pink Flamingo and Hairspray fame (never one to miss a trend in popular culture) produced a 30-minute video Little Castles: A Formstone Phenomenon.

In a 1998 documentary, Waters provided a nickname for the popular, pastel, sometimes sparkly façade cement long loved by Baltimoreans and Philadelphians alike:

He dubbed FormStone “the polyester of brick.”

[Sources: Advertisements from the Inquirer: March 23, 1947; December 4 1949; March 19, 1950 and March 26, 1950; Ann Milkovich McKee, “Stonewalling America Simulated Stone Products,” in Cultural Resource Management: Preserving the Recent Past (The National Park Service, 1995) vol. 18. no. 8;  and Paul K. Williams, “The Faux Stone Follies,” Old House Online, June 2003.]

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Inconspicuous Consumption and Philadelphia Aristocracy‘s Last Preserve

Racquet Club, 215 South 16th Street. February 20, 1908. (PhillyHistory.org)

“’Everybody’” belongs to the Philadelphia Racquet Club, proclaimed Nathaniel Burt more than half a century ago.  And by “’everybody’” Burt meant the subjects of his classic Perennial Philadelphians, the subtitle of which is our obvious tip off: “Anatomy of an American Aristocracy.

One might have expectations that their clubhouse, designed by Horace Trumbauer, the go-to architect for over-the-top client expectations (a recent monograph is titled American Splendor) would be something of an opulent, urban sports palace. After all, Trumbauer created crenelated “Grey Towers” for the sugar magnate William Welsh Harrison, the 110-room “Lynnewood Hall” for streetcar baron P. A. B.  Widener and the lavish”Whitemarsh Hall” for investment banker Edward T. Stotesbury. But when it came to making a statement at this 16th Street sporting and eating refuge for old-money Philadelphia, Trumbauer chose the muted Georgian revival, which blended right in with old, original red-brick, white stoop Philadelphia.

Nothing on the façade telegraphed the fact that the clubhouse foreshadowed modernity (it was one of the city’s first reinforced concrete structures) or that its above grade swimming pool was among the world’s first. Nor did the building reveal that inside, members competed in “the sport of medieval French kings” on a “literal indoor reproduction of the original palace courtyard.” There was nothing else like it in the city, and only a few like it in the country, this court tennis court, “with all sorts of antique penthouses, windows at odd intervals.”

Court tennis only vaguely resembled the much more popular (and derivative) lawn tennis. By comparison, this court is “immense: 93 feet long by 31 feet wide… 15 feet longer and 4 feet wider than the standard lawn-tennis singles court.” The “crimson-trimmed net was two feet lower in the middle than at the ends.” Dimensions vary. England’s Hampton Court “is some 24 inches longer and 19 inches wider than the two courts at the New York Racquet Club.” (That’s right—New York has two.) In Britain, the “walls are rougher, which means that the ball will bounce off them at a steeper angle.”  The slope of the penthouses running along three of the walls can be different, although the window-like openings at odd intervals appear the same.

Racquet Club, 215 South 16th Street. February 20, 1908 (PhillyHistory.org)

One way players score in this complicated game, is to hit the heavy, hand-sewn, lopsided ball into these holes at speeds approaching 150 miles per hour. Yes, the esoteric rules and hard-acquired skills take years to master.

The history and lore of the game is actually far more interesting  Word has it that the young Henry VIII brought the game to Hampton Court in 1530. “His second wife Anne Boleyn was said to be watching a game when she was arrested and the king was playing tennis when news was brought to him of her execution.”

“Shakespeare mentioned the game in six of his plays. … Chaucer, Erasmus, Edmund Spenser, Rabelais, Pepys, Gower, Chapman, Rousseau, Ben Jonson, John Locke, Montaigne, and Galsworthy are among the men of letters who made mention of tennis.”

“Proper tennis” had been played by royals and wannabes for about three-quarters of a millennium before it arrived on American shores. Whether it first landed in Boston in 1876 or New York in 1890 or Chicago in 1893 is a matter of prideful debate. But one thing, pointed out by Burt, seemed clear: the game was imported “during the Gilded Age as a piece of extremely conspicuous consumption.”

And for the longest time, and perhaps still today, the Philadelphia version of the game is a “preserve of the aristocracy”—albeit inconspicuously as possible.

[Sources: Nathaniel Burt The Perennial Philadelphians: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999; originally published in 1963); Sandra L. Tatman, Horace Trumbauer (Philadelphia Architects and Buildings; The Athenaeum of Philadelphia); Allison Danzig, The Royal & Ancient Game of Tennis: A Short History; Robert W. Stock, “The Courtliest Tennis Game of Them All, The New York Times, March 6, 1983; James Zug, Introduction to Court Tennis, A Guide to Tennis.]

 

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Apothecary Roses of Germantown

Wyck, 6026 Germantown Avenue, September 20, 1957.

The Wyck mansion, located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, is not just one of the oldest structures in the city, but is also home to the oldest surviving rose garden in the nation.

The first section of the dwelling dates to 1690, when Germantown was a satellite of the new city of Phialdelphia. For the next three centuries, it was occupied by the descendants of the Milan-Wistar-Haines families, German Quakers who had settled in Pennsylvania to escape persecution and to find better opportunities in William Penn’s religiously tolerant colony.  As the family prospered over the years, the house grew in size and comfort. In the 1820s, architect William Strickland, designer of the neoclassical Second Bank of the United States and the Merchant’s Exchange, extensively renovated it into the spacious dwelling it is today. Yet true to its owners’ Quaker values, Wyck remained solidly plain, inside and out.  Members of the Society of Friends prized quality, but scorned extravagance. For families like the Haines of Wyck, prosperity was an important spiritual test of their values, and not an excuse to be idle or indulgent.

“Celesiana” Damask Rose, also konwn as the “Germantown Rose” because of its wide cultivation in Germantown during the 18th century. Painting by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Wikipedia Commons.

As William Penn said: “There is but little need to spend time with foolish diversions for time flies away so swiftly by itself; and, when once gone, is never to be recalled.”

Like the house itself, the rose garden at Wyck is a superb blend of neoclassical aesthetics and Quaker utility. The garden’s layout is a simple square, bisected into quadrants by two walkways. It lacks fussy formal elements such as box hedges and elaborate plantings. In the early 19th century, roses had medicinal as well as aesthetic value, a practice hat went back to the Middle Ages.  In monastic apothecary gardens, medicinal plants were grown to cure all sorts of ailments.  Physicians believed that illnesses were caused by imbalances in the body’s four elements, or “humours.”

  • blood (air)
  • phlegm (water)
  • yellow bile (fire)
  • black bile (earth)

It was the physician’s job to bring balance back to these four humours, and the job of the apothecary (a predecessor to the modern-day pharmacist) to dispense the right combination of herbs and plants. Herbs cultivated for their supposed medicinal value included sage (‘fresh and green to cleanse the body of venom and pestilence’), hyssop (a hot purgative also used to heal bruises), chamomile (a sedative and poison antidote), dill (a cure for indigestion), and cumin (soothing ointment for skin and eyes).  Although most of these remedies were based in superstition, some proved to be based in science, most notably foxglove, which is still used to make medication for congestive heart failure.

The Wyck rose garden, restored in the 1970s after decades of neglect, contains many varieties thought to have been lost. These include historic varieties renowned for the beauty and fragrance of their flowers, but unlike modern “hybrid tea” bushes most the roses at Wyck only bloom once a year. Among the formerly “lost roses” catalogued by rosarian Leonie Bell in 1972 are “Elegant Gallica” and the “Lafayette,” the latter supposedly named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette to commemorate his 1825 visit to Wyck.

“Celebration of the Roses,” May 26, 2018. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Rose garden arbor at Wyck. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The most “practical” rose at Wyck is Rosa Gallica Officinalis, also known as the “Apothecary’s Rose.” The Haines family almost certainty used its blooms to brew teas, as well as make remedies for stomach ailments, sore throats, rashes, and eye problems. Another rose cultivated at Wyck, Celesiana (known in the 18th century as the “Germantown Rose”), whose bright pink petals were mixed into pipe tobacco.

Today, Wyck’s master gardener Martha Keen and her staff continue to cultivate these rare local varieties, selling cuttings to the public every spring. Wyck, along with Bartram’s Garden, the Philadelphia Flower Show, and Chanticleer, all contribute to the Quaker City’s unofficial status as “America’s Garden Capital.”

Note: the author is proud to have Wyck specimens of Celesiana, Elegant Gallica, and Lafayette in his West Philadelphia garden. 

Sources:

“Quaker Quote Archive,”Ben Lomond Quaker Center, http://www.quakercenter.org/quaker-quote-archive/, accessed June 1, 2018.

“The Wyck Rose Garden,” http://wyck.org/home/rose-garden/, accessed June 1, 2018.

The Rose Garden at Wyck (Philadelphia: Wyck Historic House and Garden, 2018), p.3.

Mark Whitelaw, “The Apothecary’s Rose: Medicinal Values,” Rose Magazine, http://www.rosemagazine.com/articles04/medicinal/, accessed June 1, 2018.

“What to Grow in a Medieval Herb Garden,” English Heritage, May 6, 2016. http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/grow-medieval-herb-garden/, accessed June 1, 2018.

 

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The Sawed-Off Shotgun: From Trench Sweeper to Police Power

Shotgun Squad, September 1922 (PhillyHistory.org)

Sergeant Fred Lloyd became an instant American wartime legend in September 1918, when he singlehandedly cleared an entire German-occupied village by walking the streets “pumping and firing” an army-issue, 12-gauge, Winchester Model 97 shotgun.

Stateside, the shotgun had been the firearm of choice for game hunting. On the battlefields of World War I, it earned the nickname “trench sweeper.” Germans considered the weapon so lethal they filed a diplomatic protest, charging it caused “unnecessary suffering,” that its use violated the Hague Convention.

After the war, American police put the shotgun to work on city streets, claiming it outperformed the submachine gun.

Philadelphia police had already adopted the motorcycle as a crime fighting tool. In 1915, the department argued that a “Flying Squadron” of 200 officers on motorcycles “would be equivalent to 1,000 footmen …more effective than men on horseback” and less costly. When they added shotgun-wielding sharpshooters in sidecars to the mix, urban policing would take an aggressive turn.

“A new era in the development of the Philadelphia Police forces is scheduled to begin today,” reported Richard J. Beamish in the Inquirer of December 23, 1920. “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready: 150 armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars, a stack of sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession. A battalion of intensively trained motorcycle and automobile drivers whose daring and sharpshooting will make them deadly foes to bandits.” A handpicked, photogenic “squad of ‘bandit hunters’” would overcome getaway cars going as fast as 80 miles per hour. With their “sawed-offs,” police were “guaranteed to blow the tire from a motor car or end the career of a fugitive robber.”

For sheer effectiveness, but also for the optics of power, shotguns became the go-to weapon. In 1954, Police Commissioner Gibbons’ “shotgun squad” aimed “a stepped-up war on violent crimes, especially those committed by ‘hop-heads,’” referring to drug users. Every squad car in the detective division had at least two men with sawed-off shot guns, not stowed away, but on full display.

“Shotgun Squads Patrol the Streets” read the headline.

It was only a matter of time before the shotgun became a symbol of police power in a racially divided city.

According to the The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, the police department, then 95 percent white, “fielded ‘shotgun squads’ of officers patrolling in cars with sawed-off shotguns leaning out the windows in a show of force” in African-American neighborhoods. On repeated occasions, in the 1950s, Police Commissioner Thomas J. Gibbons “ordered mass arrests of hundreds of young black men.”

“Of the thirty-two people shot and killed by police between 1950 and 1960, twenty-eight—87.5 percent—were black, even though blacks made up 22 percent of the city population.”

As a symbol of power, the shotgun would be brought by police and brought up by protestors. During the 1964 campaign for the integration of Girard College marchers “announced their readiness to physically resist police violence,” wrote Matthew J. Countryman in Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. “To the tune of ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the protesters sang ‘We Shall Overrun.’ One favorite chant promised violent revenge on the police: ‘Jingle Bells / shotgun shells / Freedom all the way / Oh, what fun it is / To blow a bluecoat man away.’ Another began ‘Cecil’s got a shotgun,’” referring to leader of the protests, civil rights activist and later City Councilman, Cecil B. Moore.

Two years later, police Commissioner Frank Rizzo “organized four squads of shotgun-toting cops to raid offices and an apartment associated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) heavily armed police backed by 1000 uniformed officers raided four buildings.”

Rizzo’s men would arrive in bulletproof vests carrying sawed-off shotguns.

(Sources: Tom Laemlein, “The Trouble with Trench Guns,” The American Rifleman, January 23, 2018;  Glenn H. Utter Guns and Contemporary Society: The Past, Present, and Future of Firearms and Firearm Policy (ABC-CLIO, December 1, 2015); “’Flying Squadron’” is Potter’s Plan,” The Inquirer, March 5, 1915;  “New Police Plan Before Council’s Committee Today,” by Richard J. Beamish, The Inquirer, December 1, 1920; “Bureau of Police Ready for Bandits,” The Inquirer, December 23, 1920; “Philadelphia’s ‘Bandit Chasers’ and their ‘sawed-offs,’” The Inquirer, August 8, 1922; “City’s War on Crime Calls for Frontal Attack,” The Inquirer, September 20, 1954; “Gibbons Places Top Police on 24-Hour Crime Vigil – Shotgun Squads Patrol the Streets,” The Inquirer, November 21, 1954; Matthew J. Countryman, Up South:  Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); Jake Blumbgart, “The Brutal Legacy of Frank Rizzo, the Most Notorious Cop in Philadelphia History,”  Vice.com, October 22, 2015.)

 

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