Author Archives: Ken Finkel

Crafting Pennsylvania Steel’s Macho Myths

Charles Walker’s gritty diary of labor in the bowels of an Aliquippa, Pennsylvania steel mill helped popularize the “men of steel” macho. Four years later, the same steel manufacturer that employed Walker, Jones and Laughlin, upped the ante commissioning a giant statue for the Sesquicentennial Exhibition, the world’s fair in Philadelphia. This grandiose sculpture, “the […]
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Men of Steel

“Steel is perhaps the basic industry of America” wrote Charles Rumford Walker, an Ivy Leaguer with a passion for Big Steel. In the summer of 1919, Walker “bought some second-hand clothes and went to work on an open-hearth furnace” at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. “In a sense it is the […]
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Will History Forget Philadelphia’s Sex Workers?

“Some people may think that this is the most virtuous place under the sun, but let them look over these pages, and perhaps they may open their eyes in amazement at the amount of crime committed nightly in “this City of Brotherly Love.” So began an anonymously-authored Guide to the Stranger, or Pocket Companion for […]
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Unveiling Equestrian Statues

We were pleased to find an international inventory of equestrian statues. It reaches way back to ancient times. Marcus Aurelius from the year 176 is there (of course) along with Alexander and many other greats from Europe and beyond: Brazil to Vietnam; Mongolia to Somalia; Congo to Uzbekistan. From the 1600s through the 1700s, the number […]
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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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