Author Archives: Ken Finkel

Patriotic Etiquette at the Liberty Bell — 1919 edition

After the conclusion of what would become known as World War I, mandatory visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell provide us, a century later, with a laboratory of contrasting and complementary patriotic practices. May 15, 1919: Eight miles of the “khakied legions” and their “forests of bayonets” march in celebration throughout the city. […]
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101 Years Later: Mapping the South Philadelphia Race Riot

“To one who is familiar with the political conditions in Philadelphia, the rioting of July 26-31 was not unexpected,” wrote Walter F. White, Assistant Secretary of the NAACP a few months after the dust settled. “The only surprising feature is that such an outbreak did not occur much sooner. It is doubtful if there is […]
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Avenue of the Arts: a mid-century concept that lives in the imagination

In a freezing drizzle in January 1993, at the corner of Broad and South Streets, Mayor Edward G. Rendell asked a modest gathering of creatives, advocates, developers and funders to ignore what was on the street in front of them and imagine an Avenue of the Arts. The big idea, a “cultural district initiative” would […]
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The One That Got Away: Marian Carson’s On Washington Square

The six, second-floor windows look out on Washington Square. They’re not very high, not even at the tree tops. On the outside they appear to be adjacent houses, except they are one, bought and joined together by Marian S. Carson, the widowed, single mother of two girls who traded their sprawling farmhouse in Bryn Mawr […]
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“Life Illustrated Thoroughly”

As we learned last time, Whitman much preferred the ferry. Not that bridges didn’t have their fine points. A night on the Mississippi, for instance. Whitman “haunted the river every night…where I could get a look at the [Eads] bridge by moonlight. It is indeed a structure of perfection and beauty unsurpassable, and I never […]
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A Walt Whitman Bridge? The Good Gray Poet Wouldn’t Want It.

No matter how much Walt Whitman’s philosophical beliefs and sexual preferences rankled the priests of Camden, no matter how many mimeographed form letters of protest were sent in by Camden’s parochial schoolchildren, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) held firm. The new bridge would bear Whitman’s name. Thing is, Whitman didn’t much care for bridges. […]
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The “Objectionable” Walt Whitman Gets His Bridge

Controversy swirled around the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge in Camden’s Catholic community late in 1955. As we learned in our last post, the Reverend James Ryan of nearby Westville, New Jersey claimed Whitman’s writings conveyed “a revolting homosexual imagery . . . permeates the fetid whole.” Not to be outdone, the Reverend Edward […]
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Naming Bridges in the 1950s: Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman

The vision to span the Delaware River goes back as far as 1818, but the Delaware River Bridge wasn’t completed for another 108 years. This project coincided with the Sesquicentennial Exposition, Philadelphia’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Here we tell the story of the bridges renaming and the […]
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The Re-Branding of Philadelphia as Arts Destination, 1955-1962

“Some of us may be inclined to think and talk of Philadelphia in terms of magnificent buildings, colossal machines and other products of imaginative planning,” said Mayor Joseph Clark in 1955. “Not forgotten, but somewhat less talked about today in the cultural vitality which has always identified Philadelphia nationally and throughout the world. Our city […]
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Realism at the Sesquicentennial: The Palace of Arts

Deep in South Philadelphia in the mid-1920s, Sesquicentennial planners carved up a brand new 68,000 square-foot pavilion beside Edgewater Lake into 48 galleries and dubbed it the Palace of Fine Arts. Along a mile-and- a-quarter of walls, they hung paintings, watercolors and prints. On pedestals they mounted sculptures from all over the world, more than […]
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