Events and People

Ees Da Sa Sussaway- Lets Get Started

To many, “ees da sa sussaway” would simply be syllables, but generations of Philadelphia children know differently. They know that these are the magic words of Chief Traynor Ora Halftown, beloved children’s entertainer and Philadelphia legend.

Chief Halftown began broadcasting his self-titled children’s television program in September of 1950. Originally intended to be a simple cartoon show, it grew into the longest running local children’s program in the history of television. For nearly 50 years, Chief Halftown was a part of the lives of Philadelphia children.

Chief Halftown was a full-blooded Seneca Indian born in upstate New York. His parents were both born on an Indian reservation near Buffalo and his grandfather had toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. He moved to Pennsylvania with the hopes of becoming the next great crooner and enjoyed moderate success until after WWII. While those dreams were never to be fulfilled, he did find his way to fame. When his children’s show began broadcasting, he had to rent his own costume from a shop on Chestnut St. Throughout the years, he always appeared on camera in native headdress, beads and buckskin. These signature marks were not just an aesthetic choice but also a teaching tool. His show, which began as a cartoon show, grew into a place to showcase the talent of local children and to teach about Native American traditions and culture.

In 1950 Chief Halftown was battling a prevalent stereotype. On television and in movies, there were very distinct depictions of Native Americans, generally as so-called savages or sidekicks. John Wayne and Jimmie Stewart both starred in films about Native American wars that year. If there were good roles for Native Americans, such as Cochise in Jimmy Stewart’s Broken Arrow, they were generally not portrayed by Native American actors. Fortunately, Chief Halftown refused to play to stereotype. He famously claimed, “I had no idea what it would come to, but I vowed that I would be myself. I wouldn’t talk like a Hollywood Indian…I made it clear that I was an Indian and no one was to tell me how to be an Indian.

Chief Halftown’s formula worked, making him an incredibly popular part of the Channel Six lineup here in Philadelphia. In addition to his television show, Chief Halftown made lots of appearances in and around the city. On the weekends each summer he could be found at Dutch Wonderland, a family amusement park in Lancaster, entertaining and educating children in person. He not only entertained children though. He also visited senior centers, schools, store openings, and charity events. When his show went off the air in 1999, Chief Halftown was 82 years old but that didn’t end his career. He continued making public appearances for several more years. He moved to Brigantine, NJ in 2002 to be near his children and passed away there in July of 2003.

Chief Halftown didn’t live an outlandish existence. He never considered himself a celebrity, yet he was a part of the lives of children here in Philadelphia for nearly half a century. Never pandering and always staying true to himself, he succeeded in the local television market in a way that is no longer possible. As national networks have increased their children’s programming, local shows beyond the news have died away. Chief Halftown was a pioneer. While he and his show may be gone, memories of his teachings will remain for years to come.


Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Website –

TV Party: Philly Local Kids Shows –

WHYY Website: Philly’s Favorite Kids Shows –

Events and People

Up, Up and Away

Before there were space shuttles or airplanes, men experimented with other options of ascending into the heavens. Some means were less successful than others, contraptions attached to the body imitating the wings of birds being but one example. In the late 18th century, men experimented with another possible method of flight, the hot air balloon. At first the balloons were launched with no passengers, then with various animal riders, and finally carrying men.


The first recorded manned flight in a balloon left from Paris on November 21, 1783. This 22 minute flight was piloted by Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis François-Laurent d’Arlandes. Many others pilots followed them into the skies, including Jean Pierre Blanchard who led the first balloon flight in America on January 9, 1793. His ascent is believed to be depicted in the woodcarving shown above.

Blanchard had flown many times before. This particular balloon flight was his 45th ascension. The French aeronaut planned a demonstration of his art in Philadelphia at the Walnut Street Jail, located near the site of what is now Independence Square. After marketing the flight ahead of time, Blanchard intended to charge onlookers $5 to see his balloon take off. This price was later lowered to $2 as he discovered fewer people were buying tickets because they reasoned that they could just as easily see the balloon fly from outside the prison walls.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among a number of other notable figures were present for the take off. Washington sent along with Blanchard a note explaining the demonstration and imploring that people aid him whenever and wherever he eventually landed. (When the first unmanned hot air balloon experiment landed in Europe, it is said that farmers attacked the balloon with a pitchfork, not understanding what it was). In addition to the letter, Blanchard also brought along a bottle of wine to present to any unsuspecting landowners he might encounter at the end of his flight. Around 10 am on that day he took off from the grounds of the Walnut Street Jail. While in the air he performed many experiments. In addition to the expected meteorological experiments (recording the pressure, temperature, and other general weather conditions), he also filled several bottles with air to be studied later, took his pulse (which, on average, he found to be higher while he was in the air than when he was on the ground), and weighed a stone. He later landed in Gloucester County, New Jersey.

Blanchard had hoped to make enough money from selling tickets to view the flight to cover his expenses. When he fell rather short of this goal, Blanchard remained in Philadelphia experimenting and inventing other forms of transportation. He remained here until moving on in 1795 when yellow fever epidemics in the city caused people to be cautious about gathering together in groups to witness his experiments.


Events and People

The Life of Thomas McKean


Though the majority of the images in PhillyHistory are ‘geocoded’ or associated with a specific address, there are quite a few images and documents that either had no location associated with their creation or did not contain enough location information from the original photographer or author to determine an accurate location. I often conduct searches on with the “Include records without a location” box checked and stumble across some fascinating images.

Recently I came across one such image – a portrait of a man named Thomas McKean (pronounced McKane).

McKean was born in New London Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1733. He was raised in Delaware, and would rise to prominence there as a lawyer and a politician. He was a soldier in the continental army, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Delaware.

Following the American Revolution, McKean served as the ‘President of Delaware’ (equivalent to ‘Governor’) for a short time before moving to Philadelphia to become a Chief Justice, a position which he held from 1777 to 1799. After his tenure, he was elected to three consecutive terms as Governor of Pennsylvania. He was in office from 1799 to 1808. McKean resided in Philadelphia until his death in 1818.

During his time in office McKean was a supporter of free education for all. However, he was met with opposition because he supported strong executive power, which eventually led to a bitter feud with the Aurora newspaper publisher, William Duane, and the Philadelphian populist, Dr. Michael Leib. In 1807, McKean was impeached, but the trial was delayed until his term ended the following year. Despite the controversy, McKean has solidified his place in Pennsylvania history. He has a county in Pennsylvania and a street in South Philadelphia at Pier 78 named after him.

McKean is one of a long line of people who moved to Philadelphia, fell in love with it and stayed here for the rest of his life. He lived at the northeast corner of 3rd and Pine, and attended the First Presbyterian Church at 21st and Walnut.


Events and People

The Calm after the Storm


Philadelphia’s first public recreation facility, Starr Garden, was built at the corner of 7th and Lombard Streets in 1908. Seeing the location in this 1907 photograph and the many people there enjoying free time outdoors, it is hard to imagine that this same location laid along a path of violence and destruction in the fall of 1842. Marked today by one of the many familiar blue and yellow markers of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission at 6th and Lombard Streets, the area between 5th and 8th Streets on Lombard was the location of a major race riot that occurred August 1-2, 1842, when local African Americans marched to celebrate the end of slavery in the British Empire.

In the decades preceding the riots on Lombard Street, many freed and fugitive slaves, as well as other immigrants, moved into the city. Understandably, such a large increase in population (in the period from 1810 to 1830, the African American population increased by 48 percent) caused tension among the residents (DuBois 26). When African Americans marched that day in support of the temperance movement and in celebration of abolition, the anger of neighboring whites grew. The mob of angry whites that subsequently formed assaulted African Americans, looting and burning their homes and public buildings along the way. Among the buildings torched were Smith’s Hall, a meeting place for abolitionists, and the Second African American Presbyterian Church. The mob continued to grow throughout the night and into the next morning when it was stopped by the militia.

The Lombard Street Riot of 1842 was the last–at least momentarily–in a series of race-related riots that had begun thirteen years earlier (DuBois 27-30). The increase in the number of African Americans in the city brought about fear in white inhabitants, who perceived the newcomers as a threat. This was especially the case when the African American community expanded in both wealth and population. Unfortunately, whites’ coped with their racial fears through violence.


Events and People

Cradle of Independence


Every July Fourth, the nation gears up for a big party celebrating its independence from Great Britain. Nowhere is this more true than in Philadelphia, which has been at times called the “Birthplace of a Nation.” It was here in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress met to commission and adopt the Declaration of Independence. Meeting in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall, above), the body selected a “Committee of Five” to draft a list of their grievances against the British Crown. For a time after independence–between 1790 and 1800–Philadelphia stood again in a position of great importance, serving as the country’s capital.

With such a background, it is not surprising that the government and the American people became interested in preserving the architecture surrounding these events. On June 28, 1948, President Truman signed into law a bill allowing for the creation of Independence National Historical Park, which included such sites as Independence Hall.

The area around Independence Hall did not always appear as open as it does today. When plans began to create the park, the surrounding locale was a commercial district, as is somewhat evidenced in this much earlier photograph, taken in 1900. The plans called for the demolition of “non-historic” nineteenth-century buildings, leaving behind only Revolutionary-era structures. However, because the federal government did not own the land in the proposed park, it became the first national park to require the purchase of the property it was to be built upon. The government spent close to $3 million alone for the block opposite Independence Hall (Chestnut and Market Streets). Some local businessmen opposed the proposal, suggesting that the money could be better spent cleaning up Philadelphia’s rivers and slums. Planners moved forward, regardless, ultimately creating the park we know and celebrate today.


  • Grieff, Constance M. Independence: The Creation of a National Park. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
  • Mires, Charlene. Independence Hall in American Memory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
  • National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Independence National Historical Park. (accessed 29 June 2006).