Ghost Fairs

This week in North Philly Notes, Thomas Keels, author of Sesqui!: Greed, Graft, and the Forgotten World’s Fair of 1926debuts a new video for his book and explains the appeal of World’s Fairs.


In 1964, I was ten years old and living on a farm outside Princeton, New Jersey. Like many baby boomers, I was taken to see the New York World’s Fair. Like many baby boomers, I was blown away by the fair’s gleaming vision of the 21st Century, an endless episode of The Jetsons sprung to life. Ours would be a future filled with personable robots, out-of-this-world architecture, self-driving cars, and push-button picture-phones. Not to mention an endless supply of Belgian waffles!

Later, I was haunted by images of the fair’s demise after it closed on October 17, 1965. The media were filled with pictures of such seemingly enduring attractions as the Bell Systems and IBM Pavilions being reduced to rubble by the barest touch of a bulldozer.  Like the second Mrs. de Winter revisiting Manderley, I began to dream of returning to a ghost fair magically restored to its full glory. I would stroll past the Court of the Astronauts and through a sea of fluttering flags toward the Unisphere, its fresh steel gleaming in the sun and surrounded by sparkling fountains. All of these wonders still had to exist somewhere.  How could such a perfect world be realized for only a few short months, only to be obliterated?

Perhaps this childhood experience explains why I was fascinated by the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition of 1926 – aka “the Sesqui.” I stumbled across the Sesqui when I uncovered pictures of a giant Liberty Bell that straddled Broad Street at what is now Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia. It became the cover of my first book with Temple University Press, Forgotten Philadelphia: Lost Architecture of the Quaker City. Forgotten Phila sm I knew nothing about the fair, since I was a relative newcomer to Philadelphia. Then I realized that most people – even lifelong residents well-versed in local history – knew nothing about the Sesqui. It was a true ghost fair that survived only in faded photographs.

As I wrote Sesqui!: Greed, Graft, and the Forgotten World’s Fair of 1926, and researched the fair further, I learned how it had become a victim of the virulent boss politics that choked Philadelphia during the 20th century. Originally designed by Paul Philippe Cret to grace the Fairmount (now Ben Franklin) Parkway, the Sesqui was shoved down to the southern tip of town by a cadre of politicos in thrall to William S. Vare. Vare was the boss of Philadelphia’s all-powerful Republican Organization, and the U.S. Congressman for the city’s First District. Critics compared him to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for his iron grip on the city’s politics and purse-strings.

The Sesqui’s new site just happened to be in the heart of Vare’s district. His constituents gained jobs, paved streets, sewers, and trolleys. Vare’s construction company scored millions of dollars in lucrative contracts. And the Sesqui lost any chance of succeeding, since it cost over $10 million just to fill in the swampy soil before a single building went up. When the Sesqui opened on May 31, 1926, its huge exhibition halls were still wet with paint and empty of exhibits. Its first guests, a quarter-million Shriners holding their annual convention, took a gander, went home, and told their friends not to bother.

When the Sesqui closed on December 31, it had attracted roughly five million customers instead of the anticipated fifty million. Its official cost to the city was $33 million, although the real price tag was far higher. And the “Flop Heard Round the World” made Philadelphia a national joke. One of the reasons the Sesqui is forgotten today is that the Organization made a concerted effort to bury it the mSESQUI!_smoment its doors closed, both literally and figuratively. It was the only way to conceal the financial shenanigans and political chicanery that had doomed the Sesqui from the start.

I dream about the Sesqui sometimes.  Except my version is the fair that was meant to be, the visionary Cret design along the Parkway. I stand in Logan Circle and look at the great Beaux-Arts structures around me – not only the Free Library but the Palace of Justice and Victory Hall, an auditorium honoring the Great War dead. I stroll along the Parkway, lined with the new headquarters of the city’s leading institutions, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to the Philadelphia Club. I cross the Court of Honor and ascend the steps to the Museum of Art. Heading west, I cross the Schuylkill River via a magnificent bridge copied after the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I gaze downriver at the beautiful fountains and ornamental gardens that grace both banks of the Schuylkill. And I give thanks for the ghostly Sesqui-Centennial, the seminal event that transformed grimy, industrial Philadelphia into a true City Beautiful.

This President’s Day, Think Twice Before Posting That Meme of President Trump

This week in North Philly Notes, in honor of Presidents’ Day,  we re-post this Chicago Sun-Times op-ed by Thomas Foster, author of Sex and the Founding Fathers, which considers character attacks on the Commander-in-chief.

In our divided nation, one thing that both sides agree on is that Trump has broken the mold. The sense that never before have we had a President like this inspires some opponents to employ unusual tactics. But as anti-Trump discourses proliferate with every new move the administration makes, think twice before sharing that photo of his face superimposed on Queen Elizabeth’s body, or the criticism of Ivanka Trump as his daughter/First Lady, or the image of Trump as a gay man soliciting sex. There’s no shortage of such internet creations and although they might seem novel, all draw on character attacks as old as the nation and as antithetical to a progressive agenda as President Trump himself.

Take the artistic work of Indecline that cropped up in cities during the campaign. Trump’s naked body on full display was meant to speak volumes, to challenge a vision of him as powerful and virile. “The Emperor Has No Balls” read the plaque at the foot of the piece.

Many perceived this as an effective way to counter the accusations made by President Trump that Hillary Clinton lacked the “stamina” to be President. But still others rightly noted that it did little but support those who seek an idealized body-type for masculine leadership – body shaming, indeed.

Creative? Yes. New? Maybe not. Although ever-changing, body ideals have been mobilized since the American Revolution and have been, in modern times, used to make figures such as George Washington appear more masculine and more in keeping with current standards than eighteenth-century types.

G-000865-20111017.jpgThen there are the popular images of Trump as Queen Elizabeth, a commentary on his authoritarian leadership approach but also, undoubtedly, to undercut his claims to manliness – and drawing very effectively on long histories that shame gender-blurring. Such contrasts also highlight and play on bodily and character differences that we assume to exist between leaders (manly) and others. This occurred even at the time of the Revolution when Washington was depicted by the British as a cross-dressing tyrant. Today they inform politicized art, such as in a colorful mural that plays on the image of Washington as the man’s man and make it possible for an image of him in a dress to carry such shock and resonance.

Trump has also emerged as a gay man seeking casual sex – a photo of him holding up an executive order has been modified so the text is instead of a tawdry personal add, worthy of eighteenth-century attacks on personal character in an effort to derail public policies and presence. And there’s this one of him holding onto a leather-clad Putin.

Even the criticism of his family members has historical roots. Melania Trump has been criticized for not immediately occupying the White House with family in tow to complete the nuclear family that we’ve come to expect from the President’s First Family.

And, Ivanka has been tarred as a daughter-First Lady substitute in her stead. We’ve seen this before. Aaron Burr’s relationship with his daughter was the source of intense criticism about the nature of their relationship (complete with incestuous insinuations) and widowed Jefferson relied heavily on his daughter, Martha, to serve functionally as a First Lady.

So, yes, to be that clichéd historian, we’ve seen it all before.

It’s no wonder that the first shiny thing that opponents see that criticizes Trump, sparks a reflex to share or retweet. After all, nothing of substance has yet seemed to stop the changes that we are witnessing. Perhaps this photo of him in a dress will do it? And if not, it will at least bring humor to those feeling beleaguered?

The memes are obviously well-aimed to get under his famously thin skin. And yet anti-Trump discourses have too often reverted to old tropes — and progressives would do well to steer clear of them lest we find ourselves reinforcing a world we work hard to leave behind.

Temple University Press’ Spring 2017 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes we showcase our Spring 2017 catalog of books and journals!

 

What Temple University Press staff wants to give and read this holiday season

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read this holiday season. 

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

audacity-of-hoop_smGive: As a recent Press tweet suggested, I’d give Alexander Wolff’s The Audacity of Hoop to those on my list who’ve been in a funk since November 8.

Read:  A review of Maria Semple’s new book, Today Will Be Different, pointed me to an earlier book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and I’ve had it on my list ever since. I love smart, witty, satirical contemporary novels and this looks to be just that.


Karen Baker, Financial Manager
building-drexel_032816_smGive:
 Boathouse Row  by Dotty Brown and Building Drexel, edited by Richardson Dilworth and Scott Gabriel Knowles, as both of these books are beautiful. Since all of my family are born and raised in Philadelphia, they will make great gifts for them.

Read: A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans. This book was just brought to my attention because it is about to be made into a movie, and it looks like a fun read.

 

 

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

boathouse-row_smGive: Boathouse Row, by Dottie Brown. We at Temple University Press have done our part to make holiday gift giving a little easier on Philadelphians this year. Dottie is a terrific writer who is passionate about rowing, the book is gorgeous, and it’s the first full exploration of this fascinating and unique Philadelphia institution. Giving Boathouse Row is practically a required act of Philadelphia civic pride.

Read: American Amnesia, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. These authors argue we have apparently forgotten how a “mixed economy” — with a substantial role for public intervention as well as for free markets — was crucial to achieving American prosperity in the twentieth century. It’s hard to know where we’re headed these days, but with seemingly everything up for grabs this looks like the sort of fundamental civics lesson we could all use.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Ghostly Encounters_smGive: I’ll be giving folks copies of Dennis and Michele Waskul’s Ghostly Encounters.  It’s fascinating, readable, and (at least as far as I’m concerned) nothing says “holiday season” like ghosts.

Read:  I’ll be reading Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and Tom McCarthy’s Remainderthe latter of which I received as an early holiday gift from a good friend.

 

 

 

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

will-big-league-baseball-survive_smGive: Will Big League Baseball Survive? The World Series this year brought in so many viewers and gave them such a sublime show at just the moment that football looks like it might be losing a shade of its luster. Will baseball fandom remain arcane to casual audiences? Is a breakthrough imminent, possible, or even necessary? Lincoln Mitchell sees the path forward. His book is perfect for the baseball evangelists I know.

Read: Colson Whitehead’s NBA-winning (no – we’re not talking about sports anymore) Underground Railroad and Zadie Smith’s new Swing Time (read her speech on hope and history ) in fiction and I’m curious about Michael Lewis’s take on Kahneman and Tversky in The Undoing Project.


Nikki Miller, Rights and Contracts Manager

Give: Dotty Brown’s Boathouse Row, which takes you through the history of rowing with beautiful pictures along the Schuylkill.  It offers a relaxing balance of history and storytelling which makes it a perfect read for the holiday season.
Read: The holidays give me an excuse to lay by the fire and reread my favorite book: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.


Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

suicide-squeeze_smGive: Suicide Squeeze: Taylor Hooton, Rob Garibaldi, and the Fight against Teenage Steroid Abuse, by William C. Kashatus. This important story of the tragic steroids-related suicides of two up-and-coming student-athletes is an essential addition to the continuing education on the widespread problem of steroid abuse among young people.

Read: I hope to receive The Boys from Eighth and Carpenter, by Tom Mendicino, a novel about two brothers who grow up in 1960s South Philadelphia and then go their separate ways: one staying and taking over their father’s barbershop and the other moving away and becoming a high-society lawyer. When life goes awry, they reveal the strength of the bond between them.


Kate Nichols,  Art Manager
Give: I would give George Lipstiz’s How Racism Takes Place.
 
Read: I have already given myself Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (through a donation to WXPN).

Dave Wilson, Senior Production Editor

City in a Park_smGive: I thoroughly enjoyed working on and reading City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System by Lynn Miller and Jim McClelland. The authors recount a fascinating story of the birth of the park system, and I found myself wanting to visit the many places and houses so vividly depicted by the authors. The accompanying talks the authors gave made me more aware of one of the world’s greatest park systems, one that I didn’t fully appreciate until I had read this book.

 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

possessive_investment_rev_ed_smGive: I’d like to give a few of my friends copies of The Possessive Investment of Whiteness, by George Lipsitz, a book that illustrates the injustices suffered by and the advantages of white supremacy.

Read: I’m trying to catch up on my reading, so from the 2015 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books list, I just bought Loving Day by Mat Johnson to read over the holiday break.  Peace and love to all this holiday season!

 

 

 

Emma Pilker, Editorial Assistant

framing-the-audience_smGive: Framing the Audience by Isadora Anderson Helfgott, to my art history colleagues. Anyone interested in the social history of art will appreciate Helfgott’s analysis of pivotal 20th century movements that shaped today’s art world.

Read: I have been putting off reading Fox Girl by Nora Okja Keller because of the heavy themes, but the end of the year is the perfect time to commit to some historical reflection and cultural

 


Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

consuming-catastrophe_smGive: Considering how 2016 was, Timothy Recuber’s Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster an appropriate gift. Recuber looks at how the media covered four crises–the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings and the 2008 financial crisis–and how our concern for the suffering of others help soothe our own emotional turmoil.

south-philadelphia

Read: I just started read Michael Chabon’s Moonglow, which actually acknowledges a Temple University Press book–Murray Dubin’s South Philadelphiaas source material for the depiction of South Philadelphia in the book. This video of Chabon, made during his Free Library of Philadelphia appearance on December 8 opens with him talking about how Dubin’s South Philadelphia influenced his “autobiographical novel.”

Temple University Press Annual Holiday Sale!

Celebrate the holidays with Temple University Press at our annual holiday sale
November 30 through December 2 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm (daily)
in the Diamond Club Lobby, lower level of Mitten Hall at Temple University

All books will be discounted

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Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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Students’ views on Obama, Basketball, and Alexander Wolff’s book

This week in North Philly Notes,  six students from  Rebecca Alpert’s Honors Sports and Leisure in American Society class at Temple University write about meeting with The Audacity of Hoop author Alexander Wolff. 

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Marcus Forst, Physics major

President Obama has been in office for nearly half my life. Although I only see Obama as he is presented by the media, I feel that I know a little bit about the person that is Barack Obama. Basketball connects me with Barack Obama; I see him as a person instead of a figure because I identify with his interests.

The Audacity of Hoop, written by Alexander Wolff, is a window into Obama’s relationship with basketball—a close up look at the person that I had previously imagined. I had the opportunity to speak with Wolff about his experience writing the book as well as about the content itself. I asked if basketball would still have been an effective means for Obama to connect with common people—and distance himself from a purely intellectual image—had he been extremely good at basketball. My thinking was that Obama’s normalcy in basketball contributes to making him seem human and relatable. Mr. Wolff responded by saying that if Obama had been an incredible basketball player, he likely would not have been a politician. He stressed the crossroad in Obama’s life in which he decided to move away from dreams of basketball stardom and turned towards college and a future in politics, albeit while carrying with him “the love of the game.” Wolff added that Obama has used this story of a crossroads throughout his presidency in order to encourage young black males to strive for success in more traditional careers, while still bringing a love of basketball with them.

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Catherine Devlin, Biology major

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Alexander Wolff, the author of The Audacity of Hoop, before his promotional presentation about the book. He talked, of course, about the important role that basketball played throughout Obama’s campaign and presidency (the basis of his book). One of the most fascinating discussion points, for me, was his description of the campaign and the racial divide Americans experienced. The historic 2008 election of the first African American president will forever be remembered as a turning point in our history. The road to Obama’s election, though, was anything but easy.  According to Wolff, basketball was a deliberate and imperative part of the campaign that cannot be ignored. In 2008, Americans were looking for reassurances. The early questions into Obama’s citizenship, however, were not the main concern for the campaign. Surprisingly, the population of Americans who needed the most reassuring consisted largely of African Americans.

As Wolff put it, “How do you win African Americans just because you’re an African American?” We often have this intrinsic distrust of politicians that can end up either making or breaking a campaign. Images of Obama playing games of pickup basketball eventually gave the African American community the confidence to believe that Barack Obama was just a regular guy looking to make a difference. Wolff also discussed the intricate balance between portraying Obama as an “Average Joe” and avoiding playing into the stereotypes associated with being an African American male who plays basketball. The ingenious strategy was to introduce the candidate as a politician first and then slowly introduce his love of basketball in small groups of voters who had come to know him quite well. Obviously, the Obama campaign was able to find just the right middle ground.  Winning over enough Americans to be elected the leader of the nation is certainly not an easy feat. Being an African American candidate presented extra challenges for his campaign, but Barack Obama managed to make history.  The groundbreaking strategies on the road to the White House were, according to Wolff, only aided by Obama’s genuine love of America’s favorite game. It seems only fitting, then, to document as Alexander Wolff has done so beautifully, the unique and successful relationship between basketball and America’s first African American president.

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Bridgette Devlin, Biology major

Recently, I interviewed Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated writer and author of The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama. In the book, Wolff tracks basketball’s involvement throughout Barack Obama’s campaign and Presidency so far. One section, specifically, focuses on “Baracketology” – Obama’s annual NCAA March Madness bracket. So, what makes these brackets so important? Alexander Wolff thinks it’s all about Obama’s political strategy, relatability, and legacy.

The author easily listed examples of how the President’s March Madness picks can seem politically charged. Obama received criticism over his brackets’ large proportion of swing states and frivolity. Despite pushback from across many spectrums, Wolff says the yearly bracket simply conveys Obama’ sincere love of the game. Wolff described the tradition of inviting the champions to the White House to meet with the Obamas. He easily bantered with the teams. He jokes with the players and the coaches, proving that he keeps up-to-date with both the game and the latest league news. Regardless of his motivations, Obama’s NCAA bracket has provided him an opportunity to connect with the American people, showing them he is an average, relatable, and trustworthy person. Wolff notes that Obama’s connection to basketball and the tournament comes across as incredibly genuine, not as though we are being “spun” by an expert politician/manipulator. Wolff even goes so far as to speculate basketball’s influence on Obama’s Presidential legacy: “Will Obama be remembered as the President who shared his brackets with us?” Perhaps “Baracketology” will become a tradition, carried on by the next Commander-in-Chief as a way to reach the American people. The once-criticized practice has now become commonplace political strategy.

The author conveys in his book as well as in his interviews that Obama is very much an agent of change. During his Presidency, he has created a coalition to bring a much-divided nation together, often using basketball as his starting point and common thread. The sport has even given the public a glimpse into Barack Obama’s personal life, providing the entry point into his youth, career, and marriage. Obama’s connection to basketball has become intertwined with his legacy in many senses. I would venture to say that the same is true for Alexander Wolff, whose own legacy will surely include not only basketball, but also the Age of Obama.

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Austin Zwolenik, Biology major

Wolff’s writing, filled with comparisons and analysis is somewhat atypical in informative books, as they usually only lay out facts with no real opinion written by the author. The Audacity of Hoop caters to the people that subscribe to the acronym “tl:dr,” meaning: too long; didn’t read. Wolff even addressed this type of thinking in his talk as he referenced the style in which The Audacity of Hoop was written. It is a coffee table book filled with many pictures to tag along with the writing. This writing medium is excellent for the purpose of creating a dynamic where the pictures explain what words sometimes cannot.

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Long Duc Nguyen, Management Information Systems major

I had a great chance to meet the author of The Audacity of Hoop, Alexander Wolff. The author gave us some insights on President Obama, his campaign, and how the President’s use of sports affects American society. When President Obama fills out the March Madness bracket, it shows that he is just another person with the love for sports and creates a sense of trust among the African-American community. The most interesting story that the author told us is how Barack Obama, through his qualities on the basketball court, won the heart of the demanding Michelle Robinson.

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Isabella Menzies, Early Childhood Education major

While interviewing Alexander Wolff, the author of The Audacity of Hoop, I asked what brought his attention to the fact that Barack Obama had used basketball as a campaign strategy. Wolff stated that the influence of basketball on Obama’s campaign first grabbed his attention in 2008. He noted that he had always been interested in politics and basketball, so the potential intersection of those two entities allowed him to investigate a story that brought together both of his interests. Wolff acknowledged that he initially questioned if he had just strained to make connections between basketball and Obama’s campaign. Nonetheless, evidence of the influence that the former had on the latter (and vice versa) grew, and Wolff ultimately concluded that Obama had used basketball to connect with voters. Such a conclusion enabled me to realize the intentional (rather than coincidental) nature of the relationship between politics and sports.

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