Making and Remaking Philadelphia: From William Penn to Jim Kenney

This week in North Philly Notes, Roger Simon, author of Philadelphia: A Brief Historyexplains how the decisions of the past are linked to the issues of today

Last week City Council approved the first phase of Mayor Jim Kenney’s Rebuilding Community Infrastructure program to repair and rebuild the city’s parks, playgrounds, recreation facilities, and libraries.  One might ask:  Why is this initiative necessary? Why have those facilities been allowed to deteriorate in the first place? Has this effort been tried before? The starting point to answering those questions is to understand the city’s past. Philadelphia: A Brief History explains how the Quaker city evolved over three-and-a third centuries in a compact and an eminently readable format.

Philadelphia_A Brief History_smThe book is built around two important themes: First is the recurring tensions between communal needs and private and personal gain. This is a particularly salient tension in Philadelphia’s history because William Penn himself articulated the goal of a harmonious and holy community, but one that would also be a prosperous settlement for the residents and for Penn himself. The tension is embodied in the name itself: Philadelphia was a city in ancient Greece, and the word does mean one who loves his brother, but it was also a prosperous port, and a place to which Saint John the Divine addressed a message in the Book of Revelations. So it embodied the ideas of prosperity, brotherhood, and holiness.

The second major theme of the book is the role that the economy has played in shaping the city. The book is structured around the major economic and technological eras: the pre-industrial age, coinciding largely with the colonial period; early industrialism in the decades before the Civil War; industrial colossus, from the Civil War to World War II; and deindustrialization and the post-industrial age since the 1950s. Throughout the book, there is considerable emphasis on the physical city, the built environment, with three dozen illustrations and maps.

Philadelphia’s history is written all over its landscape. To know how to read that landscape, not just City Hall and Independence Hall, but the public spaces, transportation lines, public institutions, and those facilities that Mayor Kenney wants to repair requires a sense of the past. This volume is an excellent place to start.

Philadelphia: A Brief History is part of the Pennsylvania History series, short monographs on topics in the history of Pennsylvania published jointly by the Pennsylvania Historical Association and Temple University Press. These volumes are intended for a general audience as well as for high school and college classrooms.

 

 

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Temple University Press’ Fall 2017 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase the books from Temple University Press’s Fall 2017 Catalog.

“A Road to Peace and Freedom”

“A Road to Peace and Freedom”
The International Workers Order and the Struggle for Economic Justice and Civil Rights, 1930–1954

Zecker, Robert M.

The history of the International Workers Order’s struggle to enact a social-democratic, racially egalitarian vision for America

430 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1516-5
cloth 978-1-4399-1515-8

Against Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Against Capital in the Twenty-First Century
A Reader of Radical Undercurrents
Edited by Asimakopoulos, John and Richard Gilman-Opalsky

A broad, nonsectarian collection of anti-capitalist thinking, featuring landmark contributions both classic and contemporary

390 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1358-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1357-4

Against the Deportation Terror

Against the Deportation Terror
Organizing for Immigrant Rights in the Twentieth Century

Buff, Rachel Ida

Reveals the formerly little-known history of multiracial immigrant rights organizing in the United States

382 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1534-9
cloth 978-1-4399-1533-2

Believing in Cleveland

Believing in Cleveland
Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation”

Souther, J. Mark

Do reforms that decentralize the state actually empower women?

210 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1397-0
cloth 978-1-4399-1396-3

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate
The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher
Westcott, Rich
Forewords by Monte Irvin and Ray Mackey III

The first biography of arguably the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues

160 pp • 5.375×8.5 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1551-6

Communities and Crime

Communities and Crime
An Enduring American Challenge

Wilcox, Pamela, Francis T. Cullen, and Ben Feldmey

A systematic exploration of how criminology has accounted for the role of community over the past century

282 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-59213-974-3
cloth 978-1-59213-973-6

The Cost of Being a Girl

The Cost of Being a Girl
Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap

Besen-Cassino, Yasemin

Traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood

238 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1349-9
cloth 978-1-4399-1348-2

Exploiting the Wilderness

Exploiting the Wilderness
An Analysis of Wildlife Crime

Warchol, Greg L.

A contemporary criminological analysis of the African and Asian illegal trade in wildlife


208 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1367-3
cloth 978-1-4399-1366-6

From Slave Ship to Supermax

From Slave Ship to Supermax
Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel

Alexander, Patrick Elliot

The first interdisciplinary study of mass incarceration to intersect the fields of literary studies, critical prison studies, and human rights

266 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1415-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1414-4

Latino Mayors

Latino Mayors
Political Change in the Postindustrial City
Edited by Orr, Marion and Domingo Morel
With a Foreword by Luis Ricardo Fraga

The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

312 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper paper 978-1-4399-1543-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1542-4

Love

Love
A Philadelphia Affair

Kephart, Beth

From the best-selling author of Flow comes a love letter to the Philadelphia region, its places, and its people

New in Paperback!
176 pp • 5.5×8.5 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1316-1
cloth 978-1-4399-1315-4

On the Stump

On the Stump
Campaign Oratory and Democracy in the United States, Britain, and Australia Scalmer, Sean

The story of how the “stump speech” was created, diffused, and helped to shape the modern democracies of the Anglo-American world

236 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1504-2
cloth 978-1-4399-1503-5

Phil Jasner

Phil Jasner “On the Case”
His Best Writing on the Sixers, the Dream Team, and Beyond

Edited by Jasner, Andy

Three decades of reporting by famed Philadelphia Hall of Fame sportswriter Phil Jasner

264 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1494-6

Philadelphia

Philadelphia
Finding the Hidden City
Elliott, Joseph E. B., Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall

Revealing the physical and cultural intricacies of Philadelphia, from the intimate to the monumental

200 pp • 7.875×10.5 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1300-0

Rulers and Capital in Historical Perspective

Rulers and Capital in Historical Perspective
State Formation and Financial Development in India and the United States

Chatterjee, Abhishek

Explains the concomitant and interconnected emergence of “public” finance and “private” banking systems in the context of state formation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

188 pp • 5.5×8.25 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1500-4

Selling Transracial Adoption

Selling Transracial Adoption
Families, Markets, and the Color Line

Raleigh, Elizabeth

Examines cross-race adoptions from the perspectives of adoption providers, showing how racial hierarchies and the supply and demand for children shape the process

274 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1478-6
cloth 978-1-4399-1477-9

Suffering and Sunset

Suffering and Sunset
World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin

Bernier, Celeste-Marie

A majestic biography of the pioneering African American artist

New in Paperback!
552 pp • 6.125×9.25 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1274-4
cloth 978-1-4399-1273-7

Tasting Freedom

Tasting Freedom
Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America

Biddle, Daniel R. and Murray Dubin

Celebrating the life and times of the extraordinary Octavius Catto, and the first civil rights movement in America

New in Paperback!
632 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-59213-466-3
cloth 978-1-59213-465-6

Toward a Pragmatist Sociology

Toward a Pragmatist Sociology
John Dewey and the Legacy of C. Wright Mills

Dunn, Robert G.

An original study that mines the work of John Dewey and C. Wright Mills to animate a more relevant and critical sociology

198 pp • 5.5×8.25 • Fall 2017
cloth 978-1-4399-1459-5

We Decide!

We Decide!
Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy

Menser, Michael

Argues that democratic theory and practice needs to shift its focus from elections and representation to sharing power and property in government and the economy

360 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1418-2
cloth 978-1-4399-1417-5

Why Veterans Run

Why Veterans Run
Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789–2016

Teigen, Jeremy M.

Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it matters

320 pp • 6×9 • Fall 2017
paper 978-1-4399-1436-6
cloth 978-1-4399-1435-9

Click here to download the catalog (pdf).

What’s inside the new issue of Commonwealth


COMMONWEALTH: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics & Policy
devotes one issue annually to a policy topic of contemporary importance to the state. In 2016 the special issue focused on education, and the 2018 issue will be devoted to the opioid epidemic.

homepageImage_en_USWe are proud to announce that the 2017 special issue on Energy and the Environment is now available. The Special Editor for the issue is Christopher P. Borick, Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion as well as the Co-Director of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment. Dr. Borick is a well-known commentator on Pennsylvania politics, appearing regularly in media interviews nationally and across the state.

This special issue of COMMONWEALTH provides readers with an enhanced understanding of the complex issues that define energy and environmental policy in contemporary Pennsylvania. The issue begins with a number of engaging pieces on the most prominent issue of the era—hydraulic fracturing. First, Rachel L. Hampton and Barry G. Rabe, of the University of Michigan, provide an in-depth analysis of Pennsylvania’s unique policy response to the arrival of fracking in the state over the past decade. In particular, Hampton and Rabe provide valuable insight into why Pennsylvania has opted to forgo the types of energy extraction taxes that other states have made key components of their fiscal policy structures.

Philip J. Harold and Tony Kerzmann, of Robert Morris University, continue the examination of fracking in the Commonwealth with a thorough overview of public attitudes and preferences regarding this major addition to life in Pennsylvania. They find that state residents have responded to the expansion of fracking with increased awareness and highly divided levels of support for this means of natural gas extraction. Building on this examination of public opinion toward fracking, Erick Lachapelle, of the University of Montreal, contributes an engaging piece that compares perceptions of fracking among residents of Pennsylvania and New York. Lachapelle’s study finds alignment between the policy preferences of Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers and their states’ extremely varied policy approaches regarding hydraulic fracturing.

Renewable energy development has also been a feature of policy development in Harrisburg. Sarah Banas Mills, of the University of Michigan, examines the recent drought of wind energy development in Pennsylvania during a period in which wind power has grown substantially across the United States. Mills suggests that local land-use regulations may be more responsible than failures of state-level renewable energy policy for the lack of new wind power facilities in the Keystone State.

Somayeh Youssefi, of the University of Maryland, and Patrick L. Gurian, of Drexel University, examine another source of renewables: solar energy. They provide a powerful case that Pennsylvania’s efforts to incentivize the generation of solar energy have been limited by market factors that have made the state’s tax credits insufficient to increase development. Youssefi and Gurian offer elegant policy modifications that could remedy the struggles to grow solar energy options in the state within the broader constraints of a regional energy market.

The special issue concludes with invaluable perspective on environmental governance in Pennsylvania during a period of tremendous partisan conflict. John Arway, Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, provides insight into the challenges of protecting the Keystone State’s spectacular array of waterways and aquatic wildlife amid the partisan strife that has consumed the state capitol over the past decade. Arway’s experiences in his challenging position and his call for more cooperation between “technocrats, bureaucrats, and politicians on both sides of the aisle” provide a well-suited conclusion to the broader themes explored in this issue.

 

Temple University Press titles now available through Knowledge Unlatched

We’re pleased to announce the release of our latest round of titles available through Knowledge Unlatched.  The following books are now freely available on OAPEN and HathiTrust.

Hybridity, or the Cultural Logic of Globalizationby Marwan Kraidy

The intermingling of people and media from different cultures is a communication-based phenomenon known as hybridity. Drawing on original research from Lebanon to 1770_regMexico and analyzing the use of the term in cultural and postcolonial studies (as well as the popular and business media), Marwan Kraidy offers readers a history of the idea and a set of prescriptions for its future use.  Kraidy analyzes the use of the concept of cultural mixture from the first century A.D. to its present application in the academy and the commercial press. The book’s case studies build an argument for understanding the importance of the dynamics of communication, uneven power relationships, and political economy as well as culture, in situations of hybridity. Kraidy suggests a new framework he developed to study cultural mixture—called critical transculturalism—which uses hybridity as its core concept, but in addition, provides a practical method for examining how media and communication work in international contexts.

Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves, by Arnold Arluke

1837_regPsychiatrists define cruelty to animals as a psychological problem or personality disorder. Legally, animal cruelty is described by a list of behaviors. In Just a Dog, Arnold Arluke argues that our current constructs of animal cruelty are decontextualized—imposed without regard to the experience of the groups committing the act. Yet those who engage in animal cruelty have their own understandings of their actions and of themselves as actors. In this fascinating book, Arluke probes those understandings and reveals the surprising complexities of our relationships with animals. Just a Dog draws from interviews with more than 250 people, including humane agents who enforce cruelty laws, college students who tell stories of childhood abuse of animals, hoarders who chronically neglect the welfare of many animals, shelter workers who cope with the ethics of euthanizing animals, and public relations experts who use incidents of animal cruelty for fundraising purposes. Through these case studies, Arluke shows how the meaning of “cruelty” reflects and helps to create identities and ideologies.

Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations, by Stefanie Chambers

In the early 1990s, Somali refugees arrived in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Later in the decade, an additional influx of immigrants arrived in a second destination of Columbus, Ohio. These refugees found low-skill jobs in

2435_regwarehouses and food processing plants and struggled as social “outsiders,” often facing discrimination based on their religious traditions, dress, and misconceptions that they are terrorists. The immigrant youth also lacked access to quality educational opportunities.In Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus, Stefanie Chambers provides a cogent analysis of refugees in Midwestern cities where new immigrant communities are growing. Her comparative study uses qualitative and quantitative data to assess the political, economic, and social variations between these urban areas. Chambers examines how culture and history influenced the incorporation of Somali immigrants in the U.S., and recommends policy changes that can advance rather than impede incorporation. Her robust investigation provides a better understanding of the reasons these refugees establish roots in these areas, as well as how these resettled immigrants struggle to thrive.

Influential sexologist and activist Magnus Hirschfeld founded Berlin’s Institute of Sexual Sciences in 1919 as a home and workplace to study homosexual rights activism and 2432_regsupport transgender people. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. This episode in history prompted Heike Bauer to ask, Is violence an intrinsic part of modern queer culture? The Hirschfeld Archives answers this critical question by examining the violence that shaped queer existence in the first part of the twentieth century.  Hirschfeld himself escaped the Nazis, and many of his papers and publications survived. Bauer examines his accounts of same-sex life from published and unpublished writings, as well as books, articles, diaries, films, photographs and other visual materials, to scrutinize how violence—including persecution, death and suicide—shaped the development of homosexual rights and political activism. The Hirschfeld Archives brings these fragments of queer experience together to reveal many unknown and interesting accounts of LGBTQ life in the early twentieth century, but also to illuminate the fact that homosexual rights politics were haunted from the beginning by racism, colonial brutality, and gender violence.

Comprehending Columbine, by Ralph W. Larkin

On April 20, 1999, two Colorado teenagers went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School. That day, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve fellow students and a teacher, as well as wounding twenty-four other people, before they killed themselves. Although there have been other books written about the tragedy, this is the first serious, impartial investigation into the cultural, environmental, and psychological causes of the Columbine massacre. Based on first-hand interviews and a 1846_regthorough reading of the relevant literature, Ralph Larkin examines the numerous factors that led the two young men to plan and carry out their deed. For Harris and Klebold, Larkin concludes, the carnage was an act of revenge against the “jocks” who had harassed and humiliated them, retribution against evangelical students who acted as if they were morally superior, an acting out of the mythology of right-wing paramilitary organization members to “die in a blaze of glory,” and a deep desire for notoriety. Rather than simply looking at Columbine as a crucible for all school violence, Larkin places the tragedy in its proper context, and in doing so, examines its causes and meaning.

Remembering the 1920s Backlash

This week in North Philly Notes, Jacob Kramer, author of The New Freedom and the Radicals, reflects on the similarities between 1920s politics and today.

I remember well watching the electoral prediction on the New York Times web site swing from a Clinton victory to a Trump win on November 8.  I was surprised, even though I had written in The New Freedom and the Radicals, “when this work went to press in 2015, a presidency that attracted the support—and sometimes criticism—of a broad coalition including antiwar protesters, equal rights advocates, and supporters of economic reform seemed … to have elicited a conservative backlash.”  I was drawing an analogy between the end of the Obama administration and that of the Wilson administration.  Woodrow Wilson’s presidency was followed by isolationism, immigration restriction, corporate cronyism, and a revived Ku Klux Klan.  The similarities between the 1920s and our own time seem palpable.

New Freedom and the Radicals_smIf one can forgive comparing Barack Obama to our foremost segregationist president, there are some important parallels.  Like Obama, Wilson came to power with the support of a coalition of reform-minded progressives, who at the time cautiously embraced movements to their left.  But during the intervention in the First World War, Wilson enacted sweeping measures of repression, unleashing reactionary forces that turned against progressivism in the 1920s.  Like Wilson, Obama became involved in conflict overseas.  Although he drew down the ground troops in Iraq, he became embroiled in war in Afghanistan, conducted secret military operations, and provided air support to a counteroffensive against ISIS.  Obama has not engaged in domestic repression to the same extent as Wilson, but during his administration the government did monitor international communications, and the Democratic National Committee does appear to have undermined Bernie Sanders’s bid for the presidential nomination.

Although the bulk of attention has been focused on Donald Trump’s unseemly statements, poor economic fundamentals may have been equally important to his victory.  World War I was followed by an 18 month recession from January of 1920 to July of 1921; similarly, recovery from financial crises is usually slow, and in the first 9 months of 2016 annual growth per capita was less than one percent.  Using 100 years of presidential election data, the economist Ray Fair at Yale has developed a regression equation that predicts the share of the presidential popular vote going to the Democratic candidate based on the growth rate and the inflation rate.  His equation assigned only a 44 percent vote to the Democrats.  Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win in his view was a testament to how poor of a candidate Trump really was.

The positions of both political parties in favor of free trade also left a political space open to someone who would advocate protectionism and infrastructure investment.  In the postwar period Republicans have usually been against tariffs in principle and since Ronald Reagan’s presidency have called for cuts in nonmilitary spending.  Since the first Clinton administration, Democrats have been in favor of reducing trade barriers, and since the 1960s, the party has been more focused on antipoverty policies than on public works spending.  These positions, combined with the ongoing effects of the financial crisis, made it difficult for Hillary Clinton to win the critical Rust Belt states that went for Obama in 2012.

The comparison may be extreme, but Juan J. Linz’s concept of “political space,” developed in articles written in 1976 and 1980 to explain the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, is helpful in understanding the upsurge of what Stanley Payne has called “right-wing populist nationalism” more recently.  Linz suggests that because fascism emerged later than 19th century democratic political ideologies, such as socialism, classical liberalism, and conservatism, it did not correspond to a specific social group and had to compete for votes.  Fascists made a nationalistic appeal to those disgruntled with the results of World War I, threatened by a rising Marxian left, and resentful of internal minorities.  As Robert Paxton has explained in his textbook on twentieth century Europe, authoritarian economic control was appealing, especially to middle class persons who feared socialism, during periods of unemployment or inflation when laissez-faire policies proved ineffective.  In The Anatomy of Fascism, he has observed that to achieve power fascists also needed help from conservatives.  They were not able to assume leadership based on their own electoral victories, but in poorly functioning democratic systems they could offer a mass base to conservatives who invited them into government.

A similar situation appears to have obtained in the United States in 2016.  Obama’s expansion of health insurance, Sanders’s democratic socialism, and Clinton’s shift to a more progressive message seemed to many voters to threaten a significant expansion of the public sector.  Trump occupied a space that was nontraditional for Republicans and had been left uninhabited by Democrats for some time—protectionism and massive infrastructure spending—at a time when Democrats’ restrained economic policies had restored only minimal economic growth.  Conservatives such as Chris Christie willing to overlook his extreme statements about ethnic minorities seemed to outnumber moderates like Michael Bloomberg willing to defect from the Republican Party and support Clinton.  Support among economically disenchanted groups was just enough to eke out a victory in an outmoded electoral college despite a loss of the popular vote.

These lessons are helpful, but as the historian Joseph Sramek has reminded me, it is probably best to understand Trump within American traditions.  Here Richard Hofstadter’s classic book The Paranoid Style in American Politics is relevant.  Drawing on Theodor Adorno, Hofstadter described as “pseudo-conservative” those who conceal beneath a conservative façade “impulsive tendencies” that would produce consequences “far from conservative” if realized.  In his expounding of conspiracy theories, criticism of NATO, and bellicose positions on North Korea, Trump echoes the apocalyptic rhetoric of Barry Goldwater.  If he were to involve the United States in a large conflict, the latitude given to the executive in wartime, combined with Trump’s avowed hostility toward particular groups, makes one uneasy about this particular replay of the 1920s.

Temple University Press and Libraries receive NEH grant to make out-of-print labor studies titles openly available

This week in North Philly Notes, we are proud to announce a grant Temple University Press and Temple Libraries received from the NEH.

Temple University Press and Temple University Libraries have received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to make 25 to 30 out-of-print labor studies titles freely available online as part of the Humanities Open Book Program. The titles were selected based on their impact on and ongoing relevance to scholars, students, and the general public.

unnamedMary Rose Muccie, Director of Temple University Press, said, “The Press has long been a leading publisher of labor studies titles, many of which have gone out of print. We’re grateful to the NEH for their support as we make these titles available again without access barriers and help them to find new audiences.”

Joe Lucia, Dean of Libraries, added, “Temple University Press and Libraries welcome the opportunity to leverage our already strong relationship and partner on the digitization of these important titles. This is one in a series of projects that support our shared mission of making scholarship widely accessible.”

The books will be updated with new cover art and will include new forewords by experts in the field of labor studies that will place each book in its appropriate historical context. The selected titles reflect a range of disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, and education.

The digitized titles will be hosted on a custom project portal where readers will be able to download them in EPUB and PDF formats. A print-on-demand option will also be provided.

About Temple University Press
Founded in 1969, Temple University Press chose as its inspiration Russell Conwell’s vision of the university as a place of educational opportunity for the urban working class. The Press is perhaps best known as a publisher of books in the social sciences and the humanities, as well as books about Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley region. Temple was an early publisher of books in urban studies, housing and labor studies, organizational reform, social service reform, public religion, health care, and cultural studies. It became one of the first university presses to publish in what later became the fields of women’s studies, ethnic studies— including Asian American and Latino studies, as well as African American Studies.

About Temple University Libraries
Temple University Libraries serve as trusted keepers of the intellectual and cultural record—collecting, describing, providing access to, and preserving a broad universe of materials, including physical and digital collections, rare and unique books, manuscripts, archives, ephemera and the products of scholarly enterprise at Temple. We are committed to providing research and learning services, to providing open access to our facilities and information resources, and to fostering innovation and experimentation. The Libraries serve Temple’s students, researchers, teachers and neighbors on Main, Center City and Health Sciences Center campuses in Philadelphia and on our Ambler and Harrisburg campuses.

About The National Endowment for the Humanities

NEH Logo MASTER_082010Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

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.

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