Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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Tragic Train Wreck at 53rd Street and Baltimore Avenue

“The 17‐car accident occurred about 8:20 A.M. on Conrail’s West Chester-Media line, which passes through southwest Philadelphia. The site of the accident, near 53d Street and Baltimore Avenue, is an area of depressed housing, storefront businesses and abandoned automobile chassis situated about two miles from Center City.” -The New York Times, October 17, 1979 When finished […]
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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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Once Upon a Day: Philadelphia’s American Museum of Photography

As workers cleaned debris from the old Victorian brownstone at 338 South 15th Street, a framed set of photographs caught the eye of Marc Mostovoy, the building’s new owner. Mostovoy, a conductor of classical music with no knowledge of vintage photography, kept the curiosity from being tossed into the dumpster. That was 1970. Sixteen years later, […]
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A Vintage New Year’s Resolution: The Natatorium & Physical Institute for Scientific Instruction in the Improvement of the Physical Powers

“How common is the spectacle . . . youth falling into decay before manhood is reached, of middle age weighed down by accumulated ills and infirmities, while slowly, and more slowly move the hesitating wheels of life.” The pitch from a promotional pamphlet To Philadelphians on Behalf of the Natatorium & Physical Institute. The year: […]
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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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