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.

 

 

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 staff picks for Black History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press staff members select their favorite titles for Black History Month

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

I was totThe_Parker_Sisters_emboss_smally captivated by Lucy Maddox’s The Parker Sisters! In 1851, the two free black sisters were kidnapped from a farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and sold back into slavery for a full year. Their story reads like a novel with twists and turns at every angle as the true story of the two young sisters unfolds. True freedom was not to be had for many African Americans during that time, and for both the free and fugitive living in border areas like here in Pennsylvania and nearby Maryland, danger lurked everywhere. Slave catchers were a mighty force, getting legal and illegal assistance from both black and white. Through newspaper accounts, diaries, and courtroom documents, Maddox traces the sisters harrowing experiences and provides a glimpse into what life was like in mid-19th century America.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

I’m a complete sucker for Sandra Bullock and her film The Blind Side. But after reading Matthew Hughey’s The White Savior Film, I can’t look at this (or any other) film about racial uplift the same way again. Hughey’s cogent unpacking of “saviorism” has prompted me to call it out whenHughey_front_012814_sm I write about film, and also to find films that eschew this trope that perpetrates stereotypes about race, class (and even gender). Reading Hughey’s book makes me even more conscientious of racial equality in film. And “The DuVernay Test,” named for African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Selma), was devised to monitor films to ensure “African Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenLayout 1ery in white stories.” The current Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures, which features a trio of female African American mathematicians playing vital roles at NASA, passes the DuVernay test, and despite scenes of saviorism, is decidedly not a White Savior film. These women were real people whose abilities paved their way to success. Incidentally, Hidden Figures also evokes another Temple University Press title, Swimming Against the Tideby Sandra Hanson, about African American girls and science education, which also demands reader’s attention.

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Aden_2.inddThousands of people come to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia each year to visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the nation’s first White House, known as the President’s House.  There they’ll also see the only memorial to slavery on federal land.  As Roger Aden explains in his book, Upon the Ruins of Liberty: Slavery, the President’s House at Independence National Historical Park, and Public History, the memorial’s location is more than a gesture. When he came from Virginia to live in the President’s House, George Washington brought with him nine African slaves and later found a loophole in Pennsylvania state law that allowed him to avoid granting them their freedom.  The stories of freedom and liberty associated with the events that took place in Philadelphia rarely if ever acknowledged the existence of the slaves present as history was being made, and Aden’s book speaks to the importance of expanding the “history” commemorated at the site and describes the perhaps unexpected issues around doing so.  Its discussion of the sometimes uncomfortable presentation of this piece of our history speaks to many of the threads woven into Black History Month and to the need to change what we’re taught about how the notion of  liberty was applied.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Layout 1We’ve seen sports serve as an intensely visible and symbolic ground to showcase the slow march towards progress that has, in fits and starts, propelled black history. In sports we’ve seen exclusion become segregation, participation met with resistance, success met with fear, and finally and most ironically racial pride become national pride. This last transition is visible in the distance between now and the 1968 Olympics, when Tommie Smith scandalized America by celebrating his gold medal in the 200-meter dash with a raised fist gloved in black as the National Anthem played. That scandal forced spectators to reconcile America’s progress with its work to be done, that if it wanted to take pride in its native son’s achievement, it would also need to hear his protest. This seems to me emblematic not only of a step in black history but also in the telling of black history. Black history, taught and learned well, cannot be restricted to a story white people tell about statuesque historical figures frozen in time but must give a platform for those figures to speak for themselves. That is why I’d like to call attention to Silent Gesturewhich Temple published 10 years ago in which Tommie Smith tells his own story and his silent gesture takes on a living voice.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor in Chief

Tasting Freedom_AD(12-16-09) finalDan Biddle and Murray Dubin’s Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America is a masterfully told story about this important figure in both Philadelphia and American history. Catto’s heroic activism and tragic murder at the hands of a racist mob on election day in 1871 foreshadowed the century of civil rights struggle to come. As Philadelphia prepares to unveil a statue memorializing Catto’s life later this spring on the grounds of City Hall, please consider picking up a copy of this engrossing and important biography.

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.”

Commonwealth: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy

This week in North Philly Notes, we promote our new online-only journal, Commonwealth.

Commonwealth_sm.jpgA peer-reviewed, online-only journal that publishes original research across a broad range of topics related to the politics, policy, and political history of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth is interdisciplinary in nature and appeals to scholars and practitioners across political science, public administration, public policy, and history fields.

Issues will cover general interest pieces, applied research, practitioners’ or experts’ analyses, research notes, essays, and book reviews. The first annual “special policy issue” of Commonwealth highlighted educational policies in Pennsylvania. The next special policy issue, which will focus on the environment, will be assembled by a guest editor selected in consultation with the journal’s editor and editorial board. The print “Year in Review” issue will be a compendium of the best articles of the year.

Commonwealth collaborates with the Pennsylvania Policy Forum to plan special issues… The Forum is a consortium of faculty members and academic and policy institute leaders… who share an interest in generating ideas, analyses, and symposiums that might prove useful… in addressing major issues confronting the Commonwealth and its government.

Highlights from  the journal’s Special Issue on Education Policy include:

Commonwealth invited Senator Argall… and Jon Hopcraft… to summarize the argument that the (property) tax is an antiquated and unfair levy and should be abolished. We invited Dartmouth College economist William A. Fischel… to summarize his argument that, compared to statewide taxes, the local levy provides voters – even in households without school children – with stronger incentives to support high quality public schools.

A paper that outlines the rationale behind Student-Based Allocations for Pennsylvania School Districts, and investigates the extent to which the (Basic Education Funding Commission) proposal would allocate funds on the basis of students.

An evaluation of Pennsylvania’s Keystone exams that finds that race, socioeconomic status, and a schools English Language Learner and special education populations drive performance.

Subscribe at: https://tupjournals.temple.edu/index.php/commonwealth/index

Getting Ready for the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta

This week in North Philly Notes,  Boathouse Row author Dotty Brown previews the annual regatta that will overtake the Schuylkill river this weekend. 

Every year, thousands of people pound down the paved backbone of the city in the sweaty exuberance of the Broad Street Run.

This Saturday and Sunday, in another extraordinary test of athleticism and determination open to anyone, the sound will be the beating of oars down a different city artery – the Schuylkill River.

Rowing out their hearts and lungs in the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta will be more than 8,500 competitors from 29 states and 12 foreign countries racing in 1,942 boats. They range from high school teenagers and college freshmen just picking up the sport to committed athletes striving for world competition to masters rowers in their 50s, 60s, 70s and yes, even their 80s.

hosr

Ann Jonik (left) and sister Marie Jonik win an eight-oared master’s race in last year’s Head of the Schuylkill Regatta. Both competed in the 1976 Olympics, the first year women had a rowing event. Photo by April Saul.

About half are now women, a fact that would shock the crowds who witnessed the first recorded regatta on the Schuylkill on November 12, 1835.

 

That day, seven eight-oared barges, much heavier than today’s hip-hugging vessels, competed. The event “brought to the shores of the Schuylkill more persons than were ever assembled on its banks before,” wrote John Thomas Scharf in his 1884 History of Philadelphia. They “came on horseback and in gigs and wagons and coaches, the number present being several thousand, and the event being also considered by some persons sufficient to justify a cessation of business for the day.”

Regattas soared in popularity after 1858, when the emerging boat clubs of Boathouse Row banded together to form the Schuylkill Navy,  the country’s oldest amateur athletic governing body.

boathouse-row_smBy the 1870s, when Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins painted his Central High School classmate, champion rower Max Schmitt, as many as 30,000 people would throng the river banks, crowd its bridges and pile onto rowboats and steamers to cheer the racers and wage bets. With baseball and football in their infancies, rowing was then the single most popular spectator sport in the country and Philadelphia was the place to see it.

Today, it still is.

The races will run Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. For information, go to http://www.hosr.org

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