Author Archives: Ken Finkel

“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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A Centennial Celebration: Eight Views of the Long-Lost Parkway Model

Architects of the Renaissance would have expected more for Philadelphia. Oh, they’d have seen some wisdom in the city’s original city plan. Leone Battista Alberti imagined grandiose “public ways” leading to “some Temple, or the Course for Races; or to a Place for Justice.” Andrea Palladio concurred in the importance of creating large, “Broad” streets […]
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Would Rocky Run Up These Steps?

When architects first designed the far end of the parkway at Fairmount, the biggest challenge was to make an extravagant project palatable to taxpaying Philadelphians. In the Spring of 1907, street car magnate and would-be philanthropist Peter A.B. Widener proposed an art museum, acropolis-style, atop Fairmount. As architect Paul P. Cret first designed it, the […]
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Atop the Shifting, Toxic Dump Now Known as The Logan Triangle

“Should nothing be done,” warned engineers after the 1986 Valentine’s Day explosion and fire that destroyed a row of houses in Logan, “catastrophic failure of numerous dwellings is highly probable.” But doing something would have been the exception to the rule. A powerful early warning that the neighborhood of Logan was sinking came 27 years […]
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