Events and People

PhillyHistory Turns 10!

Celebrate ten years of at a birthday event Wednesday, October 21, at City Hall!

City Hall Tower-Statue Penn's Head (
City Hall Tower-Statue Penn’s Head (

Back in 2005, the City of Philadelphia Department of Records launched the Photo Archives Website to provide access to historic photographs from the Philadelphia City Archives. A few months afterward, that site became and we launched the Blog to help tell the stories behind the photos. Ten years later, we’re excited to have over 130,000 historic photographs and maps from five organizations available that are viewed and searched by thousands of visitors each month.

We hope you’ll join us for a panel discussion on Wednesday, October 21, at 5pm at City Hall to celebrate ten years of We’ll explore PhillyHistory’s creation and development, lessons learned from ten years of maintaining a digital history project, and plans for future digitization initiatives. Please follow the RSVP directions at the event announcement if you’re interested in attending.

The “Celebrating PhillyHistory’s 10th Birthday” event is part of Archives Month Philly. Visit their website for a full list of events throughout the month of October!

Events and People Snapshots of History

Pope John Paul II Visits Philadelphia

Just about everyone knows that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit our area this weekend on Saturday September 26th- Sunday September 27th. Security will be tight, bridges will be closed, as will major highways and public transportation via SEPTA will be severely limited as well. Though it will be a major inconvenience for many Philadelphians who live and/or work in the affected area, it is expected to bring in millions of visitors to the city. This isn’t the first time that a Pope has visited us, though. Back in 1979, Pope John Paul II came here right after he was inaugurated.

This was a much quicker visit than what is being planned for Pope Francis next month, though. He arrived mid-day on October 3, 1979 and left at 11 AM the next morning for Des Moines, IA. During the time that he was here, he visited two churches and led a mass at the old Civic Center site and the day before, he led a large mass that attracted 1.5 to 2 million visitors at Logan Circle.




Events and People Historic Sites Neighborhoods

Powelton Avenue: The First Stop on the Main Line?

Footage of the last steam trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1954.

For those who regularly ride the Main Line trains: have you ever wondered why there are no stops between 30th Street Station and Overbrook?  After Overbrook, however, the train stops nearly every two minutes. There’s an old  — and very politically incorrect — mnemonic device for memorizing the towns on the Main Line: “Old Maids Never Wed and Have Babies. Period.”  Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr. Paoli.

30th Street Bridge.ashx
The bridge spanning the Schuylkill River in 1876, which connected Center City with the now-vanished Baltimore and Ohio station at 24th and Chestnut, designed by Frank Furness.

Thankfully, this phrase has fallen out of popular use.  As the Philadelphia Inquirer quipped in a 1988 article that quoted it: “But let’s not forget what the Main Line, at the bottom line, really is. The term is so ingrained in our local patois that we tend to detach it from the real meaning. The Main Line is – well, the main line. Tracks and sidings. Signals and stations. Switches, whistles.”

The demolished Baltimore & Ohio station at 24th and Chestnut, designed by Frank Furness. Source: HABS/HAER
The 44th and Parkside ballpark, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad YMCA. Source: Wikipedia.

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s development of its right-of-way was a shrewd real estate deal.  Rather than haggle with Philadelphia city government and acquire parcels piecemeal, they could buy up huge swaths of farmland outside of the city limits and develop it as they saw fit.  Until the turn of the twentieth century, there were two other stops before the Main Line trains chugged from 30th Street, through West Philadelphia, and across City Avenue: Powelton Village and Parkside.   According to architectural historian Robert Morris Skaler, Powelton became a popular residence for executives of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Baldwin Locomotive Works, and “even had a special railroad stop at Powelton Avenue for the Pennsylvania Railroad’s executives to travel by train to their offices.”  The Pennsylvania Railroad also had a stop at 52nd Street and Lancaster Avenue, labeled as the Hestonville Depot in an 1872 map. This stop later grew into a sprawling rail yard that cast a sooty, noisy pall over much of the adjacent Parkside neighborhood. Nearby was the 44th and Parkside ballpark, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad YMCA in 1903 and home of the African-American league Philadelphia Stars.

52nd Street and Lancaster Avenue 2.21.1949ashx
The intersection of Lancaster Avenue and 52nd Street, the location of the now-closed 52nd Street depot and passenger stop. Photograph taken February 21, 1949.

Therefore, it could be argued in fact that Powelton Village was the first stop on the Main Line, the stretch of track connecting Philadelphia with Pittsburgh.

Much of the grand residential architecture that survives in Powelton today is a harbinger of the grand suburban development that grew up around the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line tracks in the 1890s and early 1900s. Powelton is a hybrid of streetcar and railroad suburban development: for the second half of the nineteenth century, it was serviced by both horse drawn (later electric) streetcars and by Main Line trains.  The surviving freestanding mansions on Powelton Avenue, Baring Street, and Hamilton Street are large and ornate,  yet they are set within walking distance of each other rather than being secluded on larger lots as they were on the Main Line. They are also located within a few minutes walk of the former Powelton Avenue stop.  Unlike the Main Line developments, there are also a significant number of twin houses and row house blocks intermingled with the free-standing houses.

36th and Baring 12.14.1962.ashx
The Henry Cochran mansion at 36th and Baring Street, built in the 1890s by architect Wilson Eyre Jr. Photograph dated December 12, 1962

Several well-known Philadelphia architects got in on the act of building up Powelton.  Wilson Eyre Jr., designer of many large houses in Rittenhouse Square and the Philadelphia suburbs, also worked on at least two houses in Powelton Village.  One was a substantial freestanding mansion for wine merchant Henry Cochran, located on the corner of 36th and Baring Streets.  Another was a renovation of a narrow twin house on the 3500 block of Hamilton Street.  In both of these projects, Eyre displayed his characteristic sense of whimsy and invention, much of it medieval in inspiration. He also avoided the gaudy grandeur that characterized so much late Victorian architecture.  Among other commissions, Eyre was responsible for the University Museum, the Mask & Wig clubhouse, and suburban estates such as Horatio Gates Lloyd’s “Allgates” mansion in Haverford. In the words of the Historic Commission’s Diana Marcelo: “Eyre detested an overload of ornamentation. He had a feeling of proportion, and a tendency toward extended horizontal planes. His buildings had crisp lines and much expression, achieved by a careful blend of varying materials.”  The Cochran house bears more than a passing resemblance to the early residential work of Frank Lloyd Wright. In many ways, Eyre’s Powelton and Wright’s Oak Park were similar suburban communities.

St. Andrew's PE Church 12.14.1962.ashx
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (now St. Andrew and St. Monica’s Episcopal Church) at 36th and Baring Streets. This was the location of Max Riebenack’s funeral in September 1903. Photograph dated December 14, 1962.

The neighborhood prospered for a few decades thanks to the station stop and the infusion of railroad money. From the 1870s until the early 1900s, because of its proximity to the old 30th Street depot, Powelton Village was a neighborhood of choice for Pennsylvania Railroad executives.  Max Riebenack was perhaps  the most prominent of the PRR executives who lived in West Philadelphia. Riebenack was an American success story: a German immigrant whose parents brought him to America as a six year old boy in 1850. By 1895, he had risen to the position of comptroller of the Pennsylvania Railroad, working alongside executives like Alexander Cassatt, mastermind of New York’s Pennsylvania Station and its tunnels.  Yet rather than move to Rittenhouse Square or the Main Line, Riebenack preferred to live “North of Market” in West Philadelphia, close to fellow German immigrants such as brewer Frederick Augustus Poth. With his newfound wealth, Riebenack purchased a plot of land for $14,000 (the equivalent of about $300,000 today)  at the corner of 34th and Powelton Avenue.  He then commissioned architect Thomas Preston Lonsdale to build a spiky roofed Queen Anne style mansion that rose high above the street.

As a high-ranking executive of one of the largest corporations in the world, Max clearly liked living large, joining many clubs during his time on North 34th Street, both in town (the Union League) and in the suburbs (the Merion Cricket Club). The house, now Drexel University’s Ross Commons, was built for grand entertaining. The Philadelphia Inquirer breathlessly described the Riebenack’s silver wedding anniversary as follows:

“A largely attended reception was given last night at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Max Riebenack, at Thirty-fourth and Powelton avenue, on the occasion of the silver anniversary of their wedding.  The house was handsomely decorated and an orchestra furnished music in the spacious hallway from behind a fern-covered nook.  The house was lighted up throughout with electric lights and crowded with guests. Mr. and Mrs. Riebenack were assisted in receiving their guests by Mrs. Conrad T. Clothier.  Many of the presents were handsome and valuable.”

Max Riebenack
Max Riebenack, Comptroller for the Pennsylvania Railroad and builder of the mansion that now serves as Drexel University’s Ross Commons. Source:

Unfortunately, Max and Eleanor Riebenack suffered two terrible personal tragedies. In 1903, their thirty year old son Max Jr. died of typhoid fever in the family home on Powelton Avenue.  Five years later, another son, Henry  – an inventor and former track star at the University of Pennsylvania —  also died of disease, this time at the family’s beach house in Atlantic City, New Jersey. By the time Max Riebenack himself died in 1910, the neighborhood’s most fashionable days had past. When the Powelton Avenue stop closed, the neighborhood became much less accessible to Center City and the PRR’s offices at Broad Street Station.  Many of those with money moved to the Main Line towns past City Avenue, and the large mansions they left behind were converted into boarding houses.

So ended Powelton’s short reign as the “first stop” on the Main Line.


Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.77.

“West Philadelphia: The Basic History, Chapter 2: A Streetcar Suburb in the City: West Philadelphia, 1854-1907,” West Philadelphia Community History Center.

“227. N. 34th Street, Philadelphia,”

Sally Downey, “Tracking the Main Line from Overbrook to Paoli: The World from the 17 Stops of the R5 Local,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 5, 1988.

Diana Marcelo, “National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: Wilson Eyre Home” (Philadelphia, PA: The Philadelphia Historical Commission, April 1976.)


Behind the Scenes Events and People Historic Sites

Nicholas Biddle, Philadelphia Hellenophile

The Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut Street, 1859.
The Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut Street. A photograph from 1859.

Before he locked horns with President Andrew Jackson over the fate of the “many headed monster” (a.k.a. The Second Bank of the United States), banker Nicholas Biddle fancied himself something of a poet and aesthete.  Born to wealth and blessed with brilliance, Biddle graduated from Princeton University — at the head of his class — at the tender age of 15. This was only after the University of Pennsylvania refused to grant the Philadelphia wunderkind a bachelors degree a few years before.

The young Nicholas Biddle.
The young Nicholas Biddle.  Source: Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitalization Project.

Like John Quincy Adams, Biddle (1785-1844) was well-traveled from an early age.  In 1804, he accompanied the American minister John Armstrong to France as his personal secretary, and sat in the pews of Notre-Dame as Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France.  In England, the dashing and probably cocky Nicholas had the gumption to verbally spar with University of Cambridge dons about the differences between ancient and modern Greek. Biddle’s sojourns were hardly unique. By the early 1800s, scores of Americans had visited Europe either as diplomats or merrymakers on the “Grand Tour.” Another Philadelphian, the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, was still revered in France, where his bespectacled visage still adorned countless Parisian homes. John Quincy Adams had been as far afield as St. Petersburg, where he served as America’s first minister to Russia.

But Nicholas Biddle was only the second American to visit Greece, the birthplace of modern democracy. In May 1806, the young Philadelphian sailed from the Italian port of Trieste and landed in Zante, Greece. For three months, he roamed through the land which had been “the first brilliant object that met my infancy.”   Like many well-educated men of his time, Biddle supported Greece’s struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire.  Another aristocratic man of letters, Lord Byron, died fighting with the Greek army twenty years after Biddle’s visit. Composer Ludwig van Beethoven wrote incidental music for August von Kotzebue’s 1811 play The Ruins of Athens for a performance in Budapest. Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s engravings of classical ruins were wildly popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and inspired the Americans architects such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Latrobe.

"Lord Byron in Albanian Dress," an 1813 painting by Thomas Phillips.
“Lord Byron in Albanian Dress,” an 1813 painting by Thomas Phillips. Source: Wikipedia.

Biddle, himself possessed of Byronic good looks, was conscious of the influence that Greek philosophers had on American political theorists.  “Where are her orators?” he wrote of the Greeks. “Gone forth to enlighten distant nation without a solitary ray for their country. Whilst foreign erudition has lighted its lamp at the flame of their genius, their works are unknown to posterity.”

As Biddle gazed at the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, he came to believe that this architectural language was best suited to the ideals of new American Republic, which strangely like Greece was heavily based on chattel slavery. To Biddle, the best Greek buildings had an understated majesty. This was a result of their purity of form, use of the “Golden Ratio” of 1 to 1.618, and richness of materials over mere ornamentation.

The Doric Order as used on the Parthenon. The vertically grooved sections of the lintel are called triglyphs, while the blank portion are called metopes. The metopes usually were the backdrop for sculpture.   Source: Wikipedia.
The Doric Order as used on the Parthenon. The vertically grooved sections of the lintel are called triglyphs, while the blank portion are called metopes. The metopes usually were the backdrop for sculpture. Source: Wikipedia.

The Parthenon, commissioned by Pericles and designed by the architect Iktinos in the 5th century B.C., was built using the most “masculine” of the Greek orders: Doric.  In the Doric order, columns were massive and fluted, and topped by smooth flared capitals. The architrave – the stone lintel supported by the columns – was likewise spare, decorated with grooved triglyphs and metopes that mimicked earlier wooden post-and-lintel construction.  Because of its austerity, the Doric was the least popular order in neoclassical Western architecture, particularly in the churches and palaces that Biddle saw in France and Rome.  The other two orders, Ionic and Corinthian, were more elaborate and romantic in their aesthetic.  In the new American capital of Washington, D.C., architect William Thornton used the Corinthian order on the Capitol Building, while James Hoban used Ionic for his “presidential palace,” more popularly known as  the White House. But to Biddle, the Doric’s restraint appealed to his purest classical sensibilities, in which less was indeed more. And Doric was not tainted with associations with Imperial Rome and the European absolutist monarchies that followed it.

Piranesi's drawing of the Ionic order as used on the Roman temple of Portunus. Source: Wikipedia.
Piranesi’s drawing of the Ionic order as used on the Roman temple of Portunus. The Ionic order is used on the White House. Source: Wikipedia.
The Corinthian order, as used on the Pantheon in Rome. Source: Wikipedia.
The Corinthian order, as used on the Pantheon in Rome. The Corinthian order is used on the U.S. Capitol. Source: Wikipedia.

Biddle might have revered the ancient Greeks, but he was disgusted by the state of Athenian affairs in 1806.  He, like many Westerners, blamed Greece’s sorry state on the Turks.  The Parthenon was a victim of this long occupation.  In 1687, after having stood nearly intact for centuries, the Parthenon, which the Turks were using as an arsenal, was hit by a shell from Venetian guns.  Biddle gazed on the crumbling ruins with despair. “Are these few wretches, scarcely superior to the beasts whom they drive heedlessly over the ruins, are these men Athenians?” he wrote. “Where is their freedom?  Alas! This is the keenest stab of all. Bowed down by a foul oppression, the spirit of Athens has bent under slavery. The deliberations of her assemblies were once their laws; they now obey the orders of a distant master, and on the citadel itself, the protectress & the asylum of Grecian freedom, now sits a little Turkish despot to terrify & to command.”

Overture and chorus from “The Ruins of Athens” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The ruined Parthenon in the 1830s, with a mosque built in the center.
The ruined Parthenon in the 1830s, with a mosque built in the center. Source: Wikipedia.

The “little Turkish despot” Biddle referred to was most likely not a man, but the small mosque that the Turks had built in the middle of the ruined Parthenon.

When Biddle returned to Philadelphia, he must have looked with dismay at the architecture of his own sober Quaker City.  Most of its buildings were of plain red brick with white wood trim, various versions of the British-influenced Georgian or the somewhat newer Roman-influenced Federal style. Over the coming years, as Biddle rapidly ascended local and national power structures, Biddle made it his mission to transform the City of Brotherly Love (φιλεω “to love” and αδελφος  “brother”)  into the Athens of America.  He founded and edited Port-Folio, the nation’s first literary magazine. Soon after he married the heiress Jane Craig, Biddle remodeled his country residence “Andalusia” on the Delaware River and his city home on the 700 block of Spruce Street in the Greek style.  When appointed as the head of the Second Bank of the United States, Biddle commissioned the architect William Strickland to build an adaptation of the Parthenon as its new home. Completed in 1824, it was made entirely of Pennsylvania blue marble.

The Nicholas Biddle house at 715 Spruce Street, on the left, in February 1959. It has since been restored to its full glory.
The Nicholas Biddle house at 715 Spruce Street, on the left, in February 1959.


Nicholas Biddle House at 715 Spruce Street in 1972, post restoration.

Nicholas Biddle’s mortal struggle with President Andrew Jackson is well-known, as is his hubristic fall from grace.  Yet the beautiful Greek-influenced buildings he commissioned in and around Philadelphia still grace his native city, which was once known as the Athens of America.


William Harris, “The Golden Mean,” Humanities and Liberal Arts, Middlebury College.

R.A. McNeal, ed. Nicholas Biddle in Greece: The Journals and Letters (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), p.50, 219.

Events and People Neighborhoods Snapshots of History

Say “Hallo” to Bart King, the Kingsessing Cricketer

The Belmont Cricket Club, which once stood at the intersection of 49th Street and Chester Avenue. The Kingsessing Recreational Center, built in 1918, now occupies the site. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
The Belmont Cricket Club, which once stood at the intersection of S. 50th Street and Chester Avenue. The Kingsessing Recreational Center, built in 1918, now occupies the site. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

A slice of England in West Philadelphia? There was once a “Sherwood Forest” — a grove of trees that stood at the intersection of 58th Street and Baltimore Avenue. Nearby was the Belmont Cricket Club at the intersection of  S. 50th Street and Chester Avenue, which for a few short years competed against the still-extant Germantown, Merion, and Philadelphia clubs.

On hot, hazy summer afternoons in the 1890s, the residents of the surrounding brick twin houses — porches bedecked with striped awnings — would stroll to Belmont Cricket and watch the local and international legend Bart King (1873-1965) play on the crease.

Bart King at bat at the Belmont Cricket Club in 1906. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Bart King at bat at the Belmont Cricket Club in 1906. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the “Gentlemen of Philadelphia” were a juggernaut that mowed down the best teams from England and her colonies.  The Associated Clubs of Philadelphia proudly declared that “with the vast improvement made in cricket at Philadelphia (and in fact everywhere in the country) since the last team visited England, there is every reason to expect very different showings this year.  Since the last time crossed the Atlantic, the representatives of the Quaker City have laid claim to more than ordinary honors.  In 1891, Lord Hawke’s team suffered a defeat at their hands. The following year the Gentlemen of Ireland had to lower their colors when they met the Philadelphians. In 1893, the Australian team of that year lost in Philadelphia. In 1894, Lord Hawke’s team was again beaten. The visiting Cambridge and Oxford teams lost to home players in 1985. ”

Leading the charge during cricket’s brief golden age was  Bart King.  A star bowler and a hitter, King would later be known as the “Bob Hope” of the cricketing world, for according to one account he, “told his impossible tales with such an air of conviction … that his audiences were always in doubt when to take him seriously. He made their task doubly difficult by sprinkling in a fair mixture of truth with his fiction.”  When King died in 1966, his obituary noted that, “his 344 for Belmont v Merion B stand as the North American record: he scored 39 centuries in his career and he topped 1,000 runs in a season six times, in 4 of them also taking over 100 wickets.”

"Sherwood Forest, 58th  Street and Baltimore Avenue, September 29, 1906.
“Sherwood Forest,” 58th Street and Baltimore Avenue, September 29, 1906. The Sherwood Cricket Club, located at 60th and Baltimore, was Belmont’s more rustic neighbor. For an image of the Sherwood Club, click here.

In those days, watching a cricket match was just as popular a past time as going to a Phillies game.  West Philadelphia’s Belmont was the scrappy sibling of Philadelphia’s league.  The haughty Pennsylvania Railroad built the Main Line and Chestnut Hill, while Peter Widener’s humbler trolley lines built the more democratic suburbs of West Philadelphia. The Belmont Club, founded in 1874, was prosperous, its grounds and buildings beautiful, but it did not put on aristocratic airs. Neither did Bart King. What John B. Kelly was to rowing, King was to the even more rarified world of cricket  Unlike most of his peers, the middle-class King had to work for a living.  In those days, a Philadelphia cricketer did not play for money.  To support his amateur habit, King worked in his father’s linen business — there were many textile mills in West Philadelphia at this time, which drew their power from Cobb’s Creek.  To preserve his status as a “gentleman amateur,” wealthy friends secured him a low-stress job at a Philadelphia insurance company.

By the early 1900s, America lagged behind England when it came to compensating its best players. In fact, King was surprised to learn that British cricketers actually got paid for their sport.

“Hallo Mr. King,” said an English professional who ran into King in London.

“Hallo, call me Bart,” King responded.

“But you’re a gentleman cricketer, sir?” the professional queried.

“Aren’t you a gentleman too?” King asked.

“Oh no sir, I’m a professional,” was the reply.

Despite its aristocratic associations, cricket in America had proletarian origins.  English textile workers from Nottingham brought the game to American in the early 19th century, and played six hour matches with gusto on their precious days off.  Spectators drank ale and freely placed bets.  Many cricketers also tried their hand at baseball, a faster American variant of the game (also with runs and innings) which gained traction during the Civil War.  By the 1880s, the well-heeled Wisters of Germantown and the Clarks of West Philadelphia — developers of the Spruce Hill neighborhood — took up the British sport and transformed the game of the millworkers workers into the past-time of the wealthy. The local, blue-collar cricket clubs such as Tioga — which King played for as a young man — and Frankford closed their doors, their creases and clubhouses replaced by blocks of row houses.

Belmont held out longer but succumbed on the eve of World War I. The surrounding neighborhood was populated by comfortable factory managers and small business owners  — like King’s family — who could not afford to be “gentleman amateurs” or attend games that lasted three to five days.  More importantly, the rise of professional baseball teams — with their big stadiums and open seating — were a more democratic way to spend an afternoon for the industrial city’s growing population.  Philadelphia formed its first official baseball team in 1883. Soon, the Phillies attracted bigger crowds. Spectators could cheer from the stadium bleachers when their favorite players scored runs, rather than demurely clap behind ropes at private clubs.  The rules of baseball were also much less arcane, and the  “seventh inning stretch” replaced leisurely breaks for lunch and tea.

Houses at 52nd and Springfield Avenue, near the site of the Belmont Cricket Club, March 21, 1960.
Victorian rowhouses at 52nd and Springfield Avenue, near the site of the Belmont Cricket Club, March 21, 1960.

Belmont Cricket Club closed its doors in 1914, but not before visiting English cricketer C. Percy Hurditch introduced its members to a more fast-paced field sport: soccer.  King saw which way the wind was blowing in West Philadelphia, and joined the Philadelphia Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, two years before Belmont went defunct.  He continued to play and tour internationally until his death at age 92.   The London Times eulogized: “Had he been an Englishman or an Australian, he would have been even more famous than he was.”

The Belmont Cricket Club was torn down in 1918 and was replaced by the fields and buildings of the Kingsessing Recreation Center, which continues to serve the neighborhood’s athletic needs to this day.

The railroad overpass at the intersection of S.49th Street and Chester Avenue, near the site of the Belmont Cricket Club, February 20, 1960.
The railroad overpass at the intersection of S.49th Street and Chester Avenue, near the site of the Belmont Cricket Club, February 20, 1960.

Footage of the Colin Jodah Trophy Match at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, with a mention of Bart King.



Barker, Ralph (1967). Ten Great Bowlers. Chatto and Windus. pp. 124–155.

P. David Sentence, Cricket in America: 1710-2000 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2006),  pp. 93, .278 .


Events and People Neighborhoods Uncategorized

Zanghi’s Revenge: A Pivotal Mobster Moment

Police Lineup at City Hall (left to right): Joseph Ida, John Avena and Luigi Quaranta, Memorial Day, 1927. (

The third attempt on John Avena’s life took place on March 11, 1927 as the 32-year old gangster stepped out of a restaurant at 822 South 8th Street.

Avena knew exactly who was behind the failed hit. And, as we learned last time, he had no intention of turning anyone in. “I like to settle these things myself,” Avena liked to say.

Avena worked for Salvatore Sabella, who also liked to settle things for himself. Growing up in Sicily as a butcher’s apprentice, Sabella killed his abusive boss. Now in Philadelphia, this seasoned head of the Philadelphia mob joined Avena and a handful of others to send a  message, loud and clear: the streets of South Philadelphia were theirs—and would remain theirs.

This message would be delivered on Memorial Day. Anthony “Musky” Zanghi, 27, a bootlegger, bank robber, bigamist, hold up man, counterfeiter, and alleged cop killer had been making his way into the Philadelphia crime scene. He was standing on the very same stretch of sidewalk on 8th Street where Avena had been shot two months before, talking with his 19-year old brother, Joseph, and Vincent Cocozza, 30, whose own arrest record included burglaries, robberies and the sales of narcotics.

As “Musky” Zanghi later told it, Avena walked by and “gave me a Judas greeting.” Moments later, a car pulled up and as many as 20 shots rang out from pistols and sawed-off shotguns. “I saw two men lift shot guns and fire,” Zanghi stated. “After the shooting, I saw Cocozza on the ground in a pool of blood. Then I saw my brother had been shot. At the hospital I had found out that they had blown his brains out and he was dead.”

Zanghi had been warned that Sabella and his men were after him. “I was sent for by Sabella,” he told police. “The plan was when they fired at me to take my kid brother, too, he choked,” talking to the authorities.  According to The Public Ledger, Zanghi “was hysterical over the death of his brother.” And, for the first time “in the history of the police department” a gangster had broken the code of silence. From the newspaper clippings at Temple University’s Urban Archives we learn of  Zanghi ‘s willingness “to break all traditions of gangland and ‘squeal.’”

Police rounded up Sabella’s men, and Zanghi placed each one at the crime scene, except for Joseph Ida (at the left in the photograph). Zanghi “was positive in his identification of Avena as the man who fired the fatal shot as Joseph.”

As “he was taken past the ‘lineup’ at City Hall, Zanghi paused before Avena, his face turning purple with rage: ‘Oh, you rat,’ he shouted. ‘Why did you fire when my back was turned?'”According to reports, Zanghi “attempted to assault Avena, but was restrained…”

Zanghi also fingered Luigi Quaranta (at the right in the photograph) as the one who shot Cocozza with a shotgun; he identified Sabella as another shooter and John Scopoletti as the driver. In all, Zanghi identified six men involved in the incident.

On June 3, the day after the victims’ funerals, all six were led to their arraignments through cleared corridors of City Hall. “The faces of the prisoners were covered with heavy growth of beard” as they listened to the charges of murder and manslaughter. Each one responded to the charges through an interpreter. “Twenty four detectives sat on the two benches behind the defendants. The prisoners did not even glance at them. Their eyes were fixed on Judge McDevitt throughout.”

“A tough, hard-looking lot of thugs,” observed Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick, who inspected his Police Department’s unprecedented catch.

But star witness “Musky” Zanghi would drop from the scene before the trials started. Word on the street was he had been offered as much as $50,000 to disappear. The authorities would hold off on their original plan to try Avena first. On June 13, the District Attorney announced, and the newspapers reported that Quaranta, described as “a swarthy and rather dapper little man” was “unexpectedly chosen as the first to stand trial.”

Two days later, Quaranta “nervously twisted his gray-banded straw hat in his hand” and “transferred his gaze to the foreman of the jury” before they read the verdict: “We find the prisoner guilty of murder in the first degree.”

If Quaranta understood, he showed no emotion. He turned away from the jury and stared at the floor. “After a few moments elapsed, he looked questioning at his attorney, but finding the latter’s attention engaged elsewhere shrugged his shoulders.” Then Quaranta, who would be sentenced to life in prison, “was led from the courtroom and down winding stairs to the waiting patrol wagon” and taken to Moyamensing Prison, in what now seemed, to some, a safer South Philadelphia.

(The story continues… Piero Francisco: Singing, Dancing Mob Murder Witness.)

Entertainment Events and People

Big Band Jazz in Philadelphia

Broad Street’s former Pearl Theater was the site of a historic moment in 1932.

Bennie Moten and the Kansas City Stompers, key parts of the Big Band Jazz movement in the first half of the century, played so well that, according to The One O’Clock Jump by Douglas Henry Daniels, the crowd demanded encore after encore, until the theater owners opened the doors of the theater to the public. Here’s the sound that had everyone talking.

One member of the band that night was the legendary Count Basie, who just before the historic show, was recording with Moten’s band for Victor just across the river in Camden. Basie, pictured here, would leave Moten’s band in 1929, taking with him members that would form the core of the Count Basie Orchestra. Then Basie would take over Moten’s whole operation after his untimely death in 1935.

Big Band Jazz and swing music took hold so firmly that it dominated music for a decade, from 1935 to 1946. Philadelphia played a key role in that era, with many of the most notable bands coming through Philadelphia and some even rising up from the city.

The Pearl Theater played host to all the big names in big band jazz, including Duke Ellington. Jimmy Heath, one of the surviving musicians of Philadelphia’s jazz heyday, remembers seeing him at the Pearl in 1932, when he was six years old. He writes about it in his autobiography, I Walked With Giants (Temple U. Press, 2010).

Duke Ellington’s orchestra played a benefit show at the Municipal Stadium, September 7, 1962.

Duke Ellington and his orchestra played a show to 95,000 people in at the Municipal Stadium. The show was to benefit the children of policemen and firemen killed or injured in the line of duty. To get a sense of scale, see this photo from the preparations at the stadium. Ellington played Philadelphia repeatedly over the course of the height of his career. In Duke’s Diary: The Life of Duke Ellington by Ken Vail, it records his orchestra playing the Earle Theater for a week in 1952. The Earle was the most expensive theater ever built in Philadelphia at the time, with an ornate interior and exterior and seating for 2700. It had been located at 1046 Market St and was demolished in July 1953.

The Calvin Todd Orchestra, 1944
Jimmy Heath playing with the Calvin Todd Orchestra, 1944. From I WALKED WITH GIANTS by Jimmy Heath [Used by permission].
Jimmy Heath became a road musician out of Philadelphia at 18 years old, traveling with Omaha’s Nat Towles Orchestra. He writes in his book that he came back to Philadelphia in 1945. Heath saw Dizzy Gillespie as the swing era began to wane at the Academy of Music. Then he started his own band in 1946 and, for a time, John Coltrane himself was one of its members, first gigging with Heath’s band in 1947.

Also in the 40s, Philadelphia’s Pearl Bailey had begun to take off. She had relocated to New York City by then. After becoming a headliner at The Village Vanguard, she became a part of Cab Calloway’s big band orchestra; however, born and raised in Philadelphia, she has its Pearl Theater to thank for kicking off her career. She won an amateur dance contest there and got booked for her first professional job. Two weeks, at $35 per week. She was 15 years old, in the early 1930s.

Jimmy Heath Orchestra, Club Elate, 1947, from I WALKED WITH GIANTS
Jimmy Heath playing alto sax, leading the Jimmy Heath Orchestra, 1947, at Club Elate at Broad and Fitzwater [From I WALKED WITH GIANTS, Used by permission].
Accounts of Philadelphia during the 40s describe jazz clubs all over the city. All along South Broad and up in North Philadelphia, musicians would stay up late into the night and jam together. New York jazz musicians were coming to Philadelphia with the Bebop sound. The Bebop style of jazz was taking over from big band as musicians collaborated and shared ideas. Get a sample with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker’s “A Night in Tunisia.”

Philadelphia’s Odean Pope, a saxophonist, said that Philadelphia was an important place for spreading and sharing those ideas, which would lead to the next era in jazz.


Events and People

A century of Philadelphia parties

Get on the Party Car — we’re touring the city’s history of celebrations.

By Brady Dale.

With Spring set to usher in the city’s inexhaustible festival season, we can’t help but dream about gathering with friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Big parties are an anchor of any city and Philadelphia has a long, proud history of them. From the dozens of legendary Fourth of July’s to the annual Mummers Day Parade, parties are a local tradition. Here’s some parties of all shapes and sizes you can see documents of in the photo archives here on Philly History.


Founder's Day 1908, S. Broad St, Philadelphia, PA
Founders Day Celebration, Broad and Spruce, 1908.

The Founders Day Celebration in 1908 celebrated 225 years of Philadelphia as a city. From an earlier post on this site about that specific celebration.

Historical Day on Friday, October 9, featured a large historical pageant held on Broad Street. The pageant was divided into nine divisions with multiple floats illustrating the historic events that occurred in each division. Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer, a local historian and one of the pageant’s organizers, felt that the event should provide a historical and civic education to Philadelphians, rather than simply serving as another form of entertainment.


Clean Up Week Parade, Philadelphia, 1914
Broom Army marches south of City Hall, 1914.

The Clean Up Week Parade. Let’s bring it back? Here’s another great photo of this ensemble.


Hundreds of people gather in 1927 at the city’s market house, at 2nd and Pine.

A party at the New Market House, at 2nd and Pine, which was established in 1745.  There had already been a market attached to the court house at 2nd and Market, a bit to the north.

That first court house went up in 1707. According to Market Street, Philadelphia by Joseph Jackson (1918, a free ebook on Google Play). The court house got a market added to it in 1710.  The court house was the site for local elections and, notably, proclamations:

In all the pictures of the old Court House there is seen a little balcony projecting from the second story. … from the same balcony, in provincial days it was customary to read all proclamations. It was from this place that the citizens of Philadelphia in 1714 heard proclaimed that George I was their new king.

The court house was demolished in 1837, according to Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. You can see a drawing of the original court house in this History of Philadelphia.


Opening of the Philadelphia airport in 1938, marked with a model airplane show.

The opening of the airport gave the city something to celebrate. The marked the event exactly as we would today. By bringing out guys who build model airplanes to demonstrate their hobby for a cheering crowd.


United Service Organization Party, 1942. Historic Photo

New Year’s Eve formal dance at the Benedict Club, U.S.O.-N.C.C.S., 157 North 15th Street, Philadelphia, Pa. Photographed by Edward Hagan. The Benedict Club was apparently a space designated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for social affairs during war time, based on this record.


1951, the Curtis Institute’s Christmastime Costume Party.

The Curtis Institute’s Holiday Party goes back all the way to 1926. Here’s a photo of a costume party, in the tradition, from 1951.


Luncheon Party of Italian Mayors, 17th and Locust, 1962

This photo might seem a little sedate for the 1960s, but it is worth marking the fact that a group of Italian Mayors came to Philadelphia. Not so long ago, our Mayor Nutter joined a delegation of city leaders to go to Florence, after all.


July 4th parade, 1977

To make sure that July 4th, 1977, was really a party, Mayor Frank Rizzo got Frank Sinatra to come back to town and receive the Freedom Medal.


1987’s Africamericas Festival took place in North Philadelphia.

North Philadelphia’s Africamericas Festival included a wide array of avant garde and traditional arts, and culturally spanned from America to Africa to the Caribbean. More from

“When the City Representative’s office told me that they wanted to do the festival in North Philadelphia, I viewed it as a chance to do something positive for the area,” said coordinator Kofi Asante, a performing artist who has worked with such cultural organizations as the Arthur Hall Afro American Dance Ensemble, the Avante Theatre Company and the Black Theater Festival.

Also in the 80s, John Travolta marked the occasion of completing Blow Out with Brian DePalma.


West Oak Lane Neighborhood Festival, 1997.

Mayor Rendell greets future voters. In 1997, ten neighborhoods held festivals around July 4th to welcome America. West Oak Lane’s included a gospelrama, as well as the usual festival atmosphere.

Do you have photos from parties in years gone by? Upload them somewhere and let us know how to find them.


Events and People

Philadelphia Marathon: 54 races later, its first winner still stands out

Philadelphia Marathon 2001 Address: Benjamin Franklin Pky & N 21st St
Philadelphia Marathon 2001
Benjamin Franklin Pky & N 21st St

The Philadelphia Marathon was host to to is 54th annual race last weekend, with more than 30,000 participating runners. That’s an incredible amount of growth from its humble beginnings in the 1950s; the second Philadelphia Marathon drew about twenty runners, according to this account. The pioneers of that race might be surprised today to see that major American marathons often include more participants and attendees in one day than some small cities have in population all year.

One of those pioneers — who was truly critical to the growth of running in our country — was a man named Ted Corbitt.

Corbitt won the first Philadelphia marathon in 1954 and stands as the only person to win it more than two times: he won again in 1958, 1959 and 1962. Seven other men and three women have won the race twice.

Ted Corbitt’s place in running history is an intriguing one, because by all indications, he doesn’t fit the mold of a ferocious athlete. His athleticism is without question: his best race, 1958, when he finished the course in 2:26:44 would have bested 1979’s top finisher, Richard Hayden. But all accounts of the man express a gentle spirit and an exceptionless equanimity. He just loved running and other runners. That’s even reflected in the words of encouragement he offered in the book First Marathons: First Encounters with the 26.2 Mile Monster, as quoted in his New York Times obituary:

The marathon demands patience and a willingness to stay with it. You must be willing to suffer and keep on suffering. Running is something you just do. You don’t need a goal. You don’t need a race. You don’t need the hype of a so-called fitness craze. All you need is a cheap pair of shoes and some time. The rest will follow.

Tedd Corbitt leads the pack. Photo courtesy of

His other achievements include:

  • He took part in developing a method to measure and certify long distance race courses that is still in use today.

  • He helped to start running organizations like the Road Runners Club of America and the New York Road Runners Club, which plans the New York City Marathon.

  • He ran 199 marathons and ultramarathons.

  • At 84, he completed a 24 hour race, walking 68 miles.

  • He competed in the 1952 Olympics marathon in Finland.

Running on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Running on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Additional past two-time winners with notable achievements:

  • Adolf Gruber (1963, 1964) was a notable Austrian runner, who won four American Marathons in 1963 and the Austrian championship twelve times in a row. At the end of his running career, he failed as a tobacconist because he couldn’t hide the fact that he disliked smoke from his customers. An annual race is still run in his honor.
  • Moses Mayfield (1970, 1971) was a Philadelphian and member of the Penn Athletic Club. He was still training young runners in 1992.
  • Jan Yerkes (1981, 1982), a Bucks County native, was also the first Villanova woman to compete in the NCAA women’s cross country championship, starting a legacy that would make Villanova the dominant school in that competition ever since.
Philadelphia Marathon 2000
Spring Garden St & Kelly Dr

Events and People Neighborhoods

Alexander Johnston Cassatt: The Man Who Spanned the Hudson

The mansion of Alexander and Lois Cassatt, 202-206 S.19th Street/West Rittenhouse Square, 1971, just prior to demolition.

Alexander J. Cassatt (1839-1906) was not a Philadelphian.  He was a Pittsburgh transplant who had started his career as an engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and proved himself to be a master of transportation logistics.  As vice president of “The Railroad,” Cassatt enjoyed the good life.  He was the proud owner of a Frank Furness-designed mansion on West Rittenhouse Square and bred hackney horses on the Main Line, which his company had developed in the 1880s.

Cassatt was first and foremost a workaholic — he received his academic training from the notoriously rigorous Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, the same school that produced Brooklyn Bridge designer Washington Roebling. In 1899, Cassatt came out of retirement to assume the presidency of the mighty corporation. “Mr. Cassatt is a man of wealth, independence, and social prominence,” The New York Times noted in 1899. “He is fond of the comforts and enjoyments which wealth enables its possessors to enjoy, and it was only a few years ago that he voluntarily retired from the post of First Vice President of the Pennsylvania system because the work had been too exacting. In his letter of resignation at that time he said, ‘My only object in taking this step is to have more time at my disposal than any one occupying so responsible a position in railroad management can command.”

It was a decision that ultimately cost Cassatt his life.

After assuming the presidency of the Pennsy, he started planning one of the greatest construction projects in the country, one that would push the limits of engineering and his emotional endurance: a new set of tunnels underneath the Hudson and East Rivers, crowned by a new railroad terminal in the heart of Manhattan. He would battle accidents, reversals, and the extortionist machinations of New York’s Tammany Hall.

During the second half of the 19th century, the Vanderbilt family’s New York Central had a monopoly on Manhattan railroad traffic.  Their Hudson River and Harlem lines leapfrogged into the city across relatively narrow river crossings on the northern end of the island and terminated at Grand Central Station at 42nd Street and Park Avenue.   The Pennsylvania Railroad, on the other hand, which approached New York from the southwest, was blocked by the mighty Hudson River, almost a mile wide at the line’s Weehawken terminus.  After disembarking from the train, passengers were herded into ferries that landed them in the midst of Manhattan’s “Tenderloin” district, which the New York Herald described as “Least wholesome spot in town, where vice and greed full many a man brought down…The iron horse has sent your dives to join the other nightmares of the Tenderloin.”  Even worse, freight had to be offloaded from cars and manhandled onto barges and pushed across the river by tugs. Most of the brothels and saloons paid protection money that flowed directly into the pockets of Tammany Hall and the police department.

For Cassatt, head of the largest corporation on the face of the earth, this was unacceptable for his passengers and shippers.  Excavation of the railroad tunnels under the Hudson River started in February 1904, under the direction of engineers C.M. Jacobs and George Gibbs.  Several blocks of brownstones, saloons, and wooden boarding houses were dynamited to make way for the new railroad station.  Oddly enough, Cassatt and the Pennsy board skipped over Frank Furness — designer of Philadelphia’s Broad Street Station and the president’s own Rittenhouse Square mansion —  and selected the august New York firm of McKim, Mead & White, whose most notable Philadelphia commission was the Germantown Cricket Club.  Perhaps Cassatt wanted to win political and cultural favor with New Yorkers by using a New York firm.  Moreover, by the early 1900s Furness’s wild, polychromed style was out-of-date compared to McKim Mead & White’s restrained, academic classicism. Charles Follen McKim, the firm’s most academic and tightly-wound partner, drew up an enlarged adaptation of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, built out  of solid pink granite and covering four square blocks of Manhattan.   The Pennsylvania Railroad declared that the designers of the station, “were at pains to embody two ideas.  To express in so far as was practicable, with the unusual condition of the tracks below the street surface and in spite of the absence of the conventional train shed, not only the exterior design of a great railway station in the generally accepted form, but also to give the building the character of a monumental gateway and entrance to a great metropolis.”

When New York’s Pennsylvania Station opened on September 8, 1910, it was heralded as the greatest railroad station in the world, “and the largest building in the world ever built at one time.”  Not only did trains arrive under the Hudson River from Philadelphia, but also from the recently-acquired Long Island Railroad.   The concourse, modeled on that of Paris’s Gare d’Orsay, was like the nave of a Gothic cathedral wrought of steel and glass rather than limestone.  And unlike Philadelphia’s Broad Street Station, trains did not have to pass over a hideous “Chinese Wall” viaduct. Rather, they ran silent and smokeless through tunnels, powered by electricity.

What Furness thought about his rival’s Pennsylvania Station is unknown.  What is certain is that by 1900, Furness had fallen upon hard times, and was struggling for commissions.   Thankfully, Cassatt did select Furness to design the 13-story Arcade Building at 15th and Market, cheek-by-jowl with his older (and increasingly soot-stained) Broad Street Station.

Broad Street Station, 15th and Filbert Streets, October 26, 1925.

Yet the project mastermind did not live to see his dream come true.  Cassatt died of heart failure 1906 at his home on Rittenhouse Square, one of several Pennsylvania Railroad presidents who dropped dead on the job due to stress and overwork.  A colleague eulogized Cassatt as “the only railroad statesman this country has ever produced.” The thousands of men slaving away in the tunnels battled mud, physical overexertion, and decompression sickness, otherwise known as “the bends.”  In addition, the residents of the area who did not lose their homes had to endure dangerous blasting; on November 19, 1904, Bridget Markey suffered severe lacerations to her face when a flying rock smashed through her window.  “Families living near that spot said yesterday that their houses might be on the same layer of rock,” The New York Times reported, “for whenever a blast when off it shook their pictures off the wall and shook everybody up.”
Excavating the Pennsylvania Station tunnels, 1905.

Cassatt’s above-ground architectural legacy did not fare well after his death.  Broad Street Station and the Arcade Building came down in the 1950s, replaced by the bland office towers of Penn Center.  In 1961, amid much public protest, the ailing and bog-bound Pennsylvania Railroad ripped down their New York terminal and replaced it with an office tower and sports complex.  Finally, in 1972, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, owners of Alexander Cassatt’s mansion on Rittenhouse Square, tore down the old brick structure and replaced it with a high-rise hotel. By that time, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had merged with the New York Central in 1968, had collapsed into bankruptcy, never to emerge again.

Pennsylvania Station in 1911, a year after completion. The PRR boasted that although the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia was larger, their new station was the largest building ever erected at once. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The statue of Alexander Cassatt that once graced Pennsylvania Station now resides, lonely and out-of-context, at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Lancaster County.  It bears the following inscription:

Alexander Johnson Cassatt, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad 1899-1906. Whose Foresight, Courage and Ability achieved the extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad into New York City.

Four of the pink granite eagles that once adorned the facade of Penn Station are now perched on the Market Street bridge over the Schuylkill River.  The rest of the station’s remains ended up in the swamps of the New Jersey Meadowlands.

Today, the name Cassatt is usually associated with Alexander’s sister Mary, the famed Impressionist painter.  Penn Station might be a distant memory, but for the 300,000 people who travel through the Hudson and East River tunnels every day, Alexander Cassatt’s legacy has stood the test of time.

Even if they do, to paraphrase historian Vincent Scully, come and go like rats rather than gods.

Portrait of Alexander Johnson Cassatt by his sister Mary. Source:


“Alexander J. Cassatt,” The New York Times, June 18, 1899.

“Houses Set A-Tremble from a Heavy Blast,” The New York Times, November 19, 1904.

“New Pennsylvania Station is Opened,” The New York Times, August 29, 1910.

Jill Jonnes, Conquering Gotham, A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels (New York, NY: Viking Press, 2007), p.129, p.244.

Noble, Alfred (September 1910). “The New York Tunnel Extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The East River Division.” Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers 68. Paper No. 1152.