Author Archives: Ken Finkel

A Walt Whitman Bridge? The Good Gray Poet Wouldn’t Want It.

No matter how much Walt Whitman’s philosophical beliefs and sexual preferences rankled the priests of Camden, no matter how many mimeographed form letters of protest were sent in by Camden’s parochial schoolchildren, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) held firm. The new bridge would bear Whitman’s name. Thing is, Whitman didn’t much care for bridges. […]
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The “Objectionable” Walt Whitman Gets His Bridge

Controversy swirled around the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge in Camden’s Catholic community late in 1955. As we learned in our last post, the Reverend James Ryan of nearby Westville, New Jersey claimed Whitman’s writings conveyed “a revolting homosexual imagery . . . permeates the fetid whole.” Not to be outdone, the Reverend Edward […]
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Naming Bridges in the 1950s: Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman

The vision to span the Delaware River goes back as far as 1818, but the Delaware River Bridge wasn’t completed for another 108 years. This project coincided with the Sesquicentennial Exposition, Philadelphia’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Here we tell the story of the bridges renaming and the […]
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The Re-Branding of Philadelphia as Arts Destination, 1955-1962

“Some of us may be inclined to think and talk of Philadelphia in terms of magnificent buildings, colossal machines and other products of imaginative planning,” said Mayor Joseph Clark in 1955. “Not forgotten, but somewhat less talked about today in the cultural vitality which has always identified Philadelphia nationally and throughout the world. Our city […]
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Realism at the Sesquicentennial: The Palace of Arts

Deep in South Philadelphia in the mid-1920s, Sesquicentennial planners carved up a brand new 68,000 square-foot pavilion beside Edgewater Lake into 48 galleries and dubbed it the Palace of Fine Arts. Along a mile-and- a-quarter of walls, they hung paintings, watercolors and prints. On pedestals they mounted sculptures from all over the world, more than […]
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An Architectural Census: Philadelphia’s 25 Carnegie Branch Libraries

Philanthropic alpha Andrew Carnegie singlehandedly upgraded American attitudes about access to knowledge. He funded the creation of more than 1,600 libraries across the land, more than a century ago, promising a hearty 30 for Philadelphia, as posted previously. Twenty five were built between 1906 and 1930. It’s quite a collection, these palaces to mass intellect. Individually […]
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How the Free Library of Philadelphia Grew its Branches

“I am in the library manufacturing business,” gloated steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who had been making dozens of grants around the country to build new public libraries. From New Hampshire to Texas, Maine to Montana, groundbreakings were planned or underway. New York had gotten the largest chunk of money, more than $5.2 million. Carnegie made […]
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This Educational Institution Welcomed Wealth from Slavery

“The academy never stood apart from American slavery,” argues Craig Steven Wilder in his book Ebony and Ivy. “In fact, it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.” “The American college is largely the story of the rise of the slave economy in the Atlantic world,” Wilder noted. […]
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African-American History Hijacked: the Rise and Fall of Phillis Wheatley on Lombard Street

Slavers kidnapped a frail, 7-year-old girl in West Africa. They forced her aboard The Phillis, transported her to Boston, and sold her to John Wheatley, a tailor, and his wife, Susanna. Phillis Wheatley (named for the ship) quickly mastered English, became versed in the Bible and learned Greek and Latin. A creative genius, her first poem […]
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Figuring Out a Photograph: the First St. Francis Xavier and its Long-Gone Neighborhood at Fairmount

The date, 1874, seems reasonable enough. So does the photograph’s title “Fairmount Bridge – East Approach.” But the buildings don’t seem to match the given address: “N. 25th St and Fairmount Ave.” And so we turn to the online version of G. M. Hopkins 1875  Atlas at The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network to figure it […]
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