Author Archives: Ken Finkel

Searching for John Sloan’s Philadelphia Saloon

Artist John Sloan considered the back room of McSorley’s a “sacristy.” So, it follows naturally that his five oil paintings of the venerable New York ale house are sacred icons of saloon culture. Between 1912 and 1948, Sloan didn’t merely depict life at McSorley’s, he conflated, celebrated and elevated populist ideals of art, community and […]
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August 1901: All Hell Breaks Loose on Locust Street

August 6, 1901. “With an appalling roar that made buildings quake a quarter of a mile away, an explosion demolished five houses on Locust street between Tenth and Eleventh, last night. The extent of the death and disaster spread by the catastrophe could not be estimated—probably twenty were killed, and the burned and maimed reach […]
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Centennial Chronology: The South Philadelphia Race Riots of July 1918

“Every American who takes part in the action of a mob or gives it any sort of countenance is no true son of this great democracy, but its betrayer” declared President Woodrow Wilson in his denunciation of lynching one hundred years ago this week. Wilson called on all Americans to “actively and watchfully . . . […]
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Saloons: Rise and Fall of the “Ladies’ Entrance”

“Sloughing against the bar with one foot on the rail would have been unthinkable behavior for most ‘decent’ women, let along spitting into the cuspidors or allowing their skirts to trail in the beer-soaked sawdust,” wrote Madelon Powers. “For some women even entering a bar is a fearful prospect,” agreed Mary Jane Lupton in Feminist […]
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The Urban Saloon: Refuge of Men and Power

“I didn’t know anything about girls,” Jack London wrote, “I had been too busy being a man.” For London, as well as millions of other American men of similar vintage, the saloon was ground zero for “being a man” where the “test of true manhood,” as Madelon Powers put it, “was peer recognition for being […]
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Men And Their Saloons

Growing up as a newsboy on the streets of San Francisco, Jack London got to know and love “the wide-open, all-male flavor of saloonlife.” “I had no time to read. I was busy getting exercise and learning how to fight, busy learning forwardness, and brass and bluff. I had an imagination and a curiosity about […]
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Fake Façades: “The Polyester of Brick”

“If you enjoy the finer things of life, good cheer and good times in a beautiful atmosphere—if you take pride in your home—the FormStone club room is for you,” read an advertisement in December 1949. “That ‘lost’ space in your cellar can become the loveliest room you ever saw, with a FormStone beauty treatment. A […]
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Inconspicuous Consumption and Philadelphia Aristocracy‘s Last Preserve

“’Everybody’” belongs to the Philadelphia Racquet Club, proclaimed Nathaniel Burt more than half a century ago.  And by “’everybody’” Burt meant the subjects of his classic Perennial Philadelphians, the subtitle of which is our obvious tip off: “Anatomy of an American Aristocracy. One might have expectations that their clubhouse, designed by Horace Trumbauer, the go-to […]
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The Sawed-Off Shotgun: From Trench Sweeper to Police Power

Sergeant Fred Lloyd became an instant American wartime legend in September 1918, when he singlehandedly cleared an entire German-occupied village by walking the streets “pumping and firing” an army-issue, 12-gauge, Winchester Model 97 shotgun. Stateside, the shotgun had been the firearm of choice for game hunting. On the battlefields of World War I, it earned […]
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Curbstone Markets and the Farm-To-Table Movement

In his “Midnight Soliloquy in the Market House of Philadelphia,” Philip Freneau observed: The market house, like the grave, is a place of perfect equality. None think of themselves too mighty to be seen here, nor are there any so mean as to be excluded. Here you may see (at the proper hour) the whig […]
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