Author Archives: Ken Finkel

The Demise and Demolition of Horticultural Hall

Distaste for Victorian architecture blossomed in the first half of the 20th century into unmitigated disgust. By the time the waves of demolition subsided, it was too late for many masterpieces that had been pulled down with confidence and even glee. We saw this before, with Frank Furness, who “embodied the worst of Victorian excess […]
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Stand in line, Frank Rizzo. Others have come and gone before you.

For more than a century, Philadelphia’s been playing a game of musical chairs with statues around City Hall. And it’s sure to continue, so long as we continue to ask monumental questions. Actually, sculptural comings and goings started a century before they cut the ribbon at City Hall. William Rush’s Nymph and Bittern stood for a […]
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Praising Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park

“In just under two years,” John Maass explained in The Glorious Enterprise, his book about the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, “architects Hermann J. Schwarzmann, assistant Hugo Kafka and five engineers transformed 285 acres of fields of West Fairmount Park, mostly “swamps and ravines, into building lots, gardens and landscaped grounds.” Schwarzmann’s team “moved over 500,000 […]
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“The only large building in the world entirely devoted to telephone purposes”

How did the thousands of Philadelphians wired for telephone service connect with one another? How would they talk with early adopters in other cities? Connectivity for the ever increasing numbers of subscribers was the ongoing challenge. As told recently in a post illustrated with the horse-drawn telephone parade float, Philadelphia’s telephone industry served less than […]
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“To be, or not to be?” That was no longer the question.

Alexander Graham Bell found only fifteen customers in all of Philadelphia the year after he demonstrated his telephonic invention at the Centennial. The question he transmitted: “To be, or not to be?” was still very much unanswered in 1877. By 1890, the telephone’s prospects were looking somewhat less dire. More than 3,000 Philadelphians had gotten […]
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Sculptural Meaning vs. Carved Ornament

Philadelphia’s first bridge over the Schuylkill River, confidently named “the Permanent Bridge,” wasn’t actually. It took only an hour before the bridge was “totally destroyed, consumed by fire and fallen into the river” one Saturday afternoon in November 1875. Only the masonry piers remained. Gone was Timothy Palmer’s giant span of wooden trusses set in […]
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Some Jump Rope Songs from Camingerly, ca. 1959

Not far from his small rented house on Iseminger Street, Roger Abrahams could hear echoes young girls chanting to the distinctive slap of jump rope on pavement. Folklorist antenna up, Abrahams recognized the chance to collect what he guessed wouldn’t be around much longer in his gradually gentrifying neighborhood—a community White newcomers called Camingerly. He […]
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Redefining Urban Folklore in Philadelphia’s “Camingerly”

The neighborhood called Camingerly doesn’t exist. What’s more, according to the list of nearly 400 Philadelphia neighborhood names, current and defunct, it never did. But thanks to the fieldwork of the late folklorist Roger Abrahams, Camingerly survives in scholarly literature, if not in the hearts and minds of would be Camingerlites. Abrahams explained his work […]
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After 200 Posts, What Left in the Void?

After six years and 200 posts here at PhillyHistory, I have a handle on what’s in the archives, at least the portion of it that’s online. So now’s a good a time as any to take a moment to reflect on what it means to delve into thousands upon thousands of images and write the […]
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A Century of Selling the Parkway as Cultural Cluster

The lost 30-foot model of the Parkway from 1911 was hardly the first time Philadelphia’s professional, public and political following was wowed in 3-D. In April 1875, Philadelphians enthused over a 40 by 20-foot model of Fairmount Park complete with the Centennial buildings exhibited at the Masonic Temple. And in 1947, the Better Philadelphia Exhibition […]
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