Author Archives: Ken Finkel

The Extraordinary Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay is gone. He left this earth two days ago. Those who knew him, who witnessed his performances, who read his books are the poorer, suspended in disbelief. This time there’s no resolution. There’s no final illusion like the one that captivated audiences when “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants” hit Broadway. There’s nothing […]
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Steps on the Waterfront – A Vestige of Penn’s Promise

Barreling northward through William Penn’s original city grid, I-95 barely skirts a massive abutment for the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Pulling slightly to the west before it reaches Callowhill Street, the highway spares a short block between Front and Water Streets. Somewhat forgotten, this survivor speaks of a dynamic that once defined the city’s waterfront. And […]
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The Hoagie is Venerable (but not as historic as we’ve been led to believe)

There’s been a lot of big talk and conflicting claims over the years, as to who invented the hoagie, and when. Was it conjured up for workers going to the shipyards at Hog Island in World War I? Was it first introduced by South Philadelphia sandwich purveyors Antoinette Iannelli, Al DePalma or the Scarsi Brothers? […]
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A Fresh Take on the Hoagie Origin Story

“Far across the low-lying meadows the great fringe of derricks rises against the sky,” wrote Christopher Morley in his love note to Hog Island. “Past the crumpled ramparts of old Fort Mifflin, motors and trolley cars now go flashing down to the huge new shipyard.” Morley stood in awe of “the marvelous stretch of fifty […]
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The Collector Collected: William Wagner and his Free Institute of Science

People aren’t caught like insects, poked through with pins and mounted behind glass, although photographer W. Curtis Taylor did something akin to that at America’s centennial celebration in 1876. With his camera (instead of a net) Taylor collected 87 “noteworthy citizens”and titled the collection Representative Men of Philadelphia. Among the assembled all-white cohort were lawyers, judges, engineers, […]
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They Were Wrong Demolishing Scottish Rite

Philadlephians gathered at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, also known as Town Hall, for all kinds of events between the 1940s (when the Christian evangelist Hyman Jedidiah Appleman launched his crusade) and the 1970s (when Dr. Timothy Leary presented “An Evening of Standup Philosophy”). Most were musical. Just about everyone stopped by, from Miles Davis to Peter […]
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Philadelphia’s Town Hall: Where Bob Dylan (and Many, Many Others) Performed

As mentioned last time, Bob Dylan will reopen the long-closed Metropolitan Opera House December 3rd, 55 years after his first Philadelphia appearance further down Broad Street. Where exactly did Dylan first perform in Philadelphia? Not the Academy of Music, which would be a logical guess (although Dylan did perform there in February 1966). On October […]
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Against All Odds and Expectations: The Metropolitan Opera House

During those long decades when Philadelphia’s many performing arts venues were disappearing, every last one of them had a friend in Irv Glazer, who “never met an old theater” he didn’t like. An accountant from Delaware County, Glazer spent much of his adult life assembling a massive research collection which he managed to distill into […]
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Bedfellows Not So Strange: Richard M. Nixon and Frank L. Rizzo

In 1952, as candidate for vice president during the Korean War, Senator Richard M. Nixon traveled the country stoking fears delivering his anti-communist message. “At a time when millions of young Americans are fighting and dying, fighting Communists overseas, we need a fair, a sane, but an absolutely effective program of dealing with the Communists […]
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The Rise of Rizzo

To win re-election in 1967, Mayor James. H. J. Tate figured he needed to send a law and order message. So even before the primary polls closed in the Spring, Tate announced his choice for police commissioner: Frank L. Rizzo. The day of Rizzo’s swearing in, Joe McGinniss, then a columnist at the Inquirer, described […]
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