Author Archives: Ken Finkel

Notes on the Philadelphia Violin

“What enables anyone, in any country, to make a really good violin?” Musician, collector and instrument dealer David Bromberg had pondered this question for years. And he had an answer. Sure, a violin maker would need “some talent with woodworking” but they’d also had “to have seen a great violin. That’s the secret,” Bromberg added. […]
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The Inconvenient Truths of Rittenhouse Square

In the last third of the 19th century, fueled by wealth from the industrial revolution, Philadelphia’s Victorian aristocracy established itself on Rittenhouse Square. In rows of mansions, versions of the city’s classic rowhouses on steroids, lived the alpha families, the one percent, who controlled at least half of the city’s wealth. “The lower 80 percent,” […]
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The Railroad Tycoon of Rittenhouse Square

“It is difficult for Americans today to imagine the grandeur of the elite life-style of a Rittenhouse Square at the end of the nineteenth century,” wrote historian Dennis Clark. “The class culture of such neighborhoods created what amounted to a fairyland of elegance and display protected by Victorian codes of civility and discrimination. These enclaves […]
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When 23rd & Chestnut Streets had a There There

A handsome pair of facades at the northeast corner of 23rd and Chestnut Streets. Reading from the left: a cluster of bold, brick arches up, down and across an otherwise modest, two-story structure. Gilt letters and what must be a red cross on the glass doors announce the occupant. Here’s the Philadelphia School for Nurses, […]
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The Elite Clubs and their “Crusty Coagulate Mass of Traditions”

While plumbing the breadth of the city’s clubs and their very different cultures, Nathaniel Burt acknowledged the Mummers (“one of Philadelphia’s oldest and proudest traditions, but not at all Old Philadelphian”) before landing squarely at the threshold of the city’s most venerable and “crusty coagulate mass of traditions.” Where would this be headquartered? At Broad […]
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Philadelphia’s Cowboy Creation Story

In 1891, the fictional cowboy mounted his steed at 13th and Walnut Streets and never looked back. He galloped a circuitous route to the publishing houses of New York, then headed out to Hollywood and the American imagination. What was the cowboy doing at such an unlikely urban crossroads? There, in the Philadelphia Club (as […]
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Philadelphia’s “Cow-Boy” Monument

The banks of the Schuylkill were packed with onlookers. On a craggy outcropping overlooking a clearing by the river stood Frederic Remington’s new, larger-than-life bronze statue wrapped in American flags. Soon enough, the cord would be ceremoniously pulled to reveal the city’s latest equestrian monument: “The Cow-Boy.” Five thousand spectators turned out for the dedication. […]
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Pershing’s Short, Yet “Epochal” Visit to Philadelphia

Philadelphia lavished patriotic honors on General John J. Pershing, one year ago. The commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in World War I carved out only two-and-a-half hours for celebration in the City of Brotherly Love. No matter. Everyone seemed to make the most of what was touted as an”epochal visit.” “Pershing’s […]
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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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