Categories
Uncategorized

Notes on the Philadelphia Violin

Looking South from 11th and Sansom Streets, January 13, 1934 (PhillyHistory.org)

“What enables anyone, in any country, to make a really good violin?”

Musician, collector and instrument dealer David Bromberg had pondered this question for years. And he had an answer. Sure, a violin maker would need “some talent with woodworking” but they’d also had “to have seen a great violin. That’s the secret,” Bromberg added. “It’s true even in the town of Cremona. In order to make a really good violin, you have to have seen something great.”

Flying blind, as it were, didn’t stop the occasional 18th-century American. The Museum of the Moravian Historical Society in Nazareth, Pennsylvania preserves the earliest dated example of American violinmaking, an instrument crafted by the 19-year old John Antes in 1759.

If “colonial American makers were limited by the quality of the instruments on hand to copy” that situation would rapidly change when the European masters embarked on American tours.  According to Bromberg, “the European virtuosi treated America as their piggy bank—if they were broke, they came to America to make money. Along the way, they made a valuable contribution to American violin making, thanks to the great instruments they carried.”

“It’s possible that if you were able to trace the itinerary of these virtuosi, you’d see the lutherie improving behind them as they went,” claimed Bromberg.

Detail, Looking South from 11th and Sansom Streets, January 13, 1934 (PhillyHistory.org)

One early instance: an 1843 visit by the Belgian Alexandre Artôt, “the first European virtuoso known to have visited the United States.” Violin maker Ira J. White happily welcomed Artôt and his Stradivarius into White’s Boston shop.  Not long after, the Norwegian soloist Ole Bull stopped by with his Guarneri.

When Ole Bull’s tour brought him to Philadelphia, he visited the shop of John Albert. And Henri Vieuxtemps brought his Guarneri to the Arch Street shop of Albert’s son, Charles F. Albert, himself an “artisanal violin maker and restorer.” (Much later, the Vieuxtemps Guarneri found its way into the hands of Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman). And on one occasion, the younger Albert got to repair the Stradivarius of Polish-born Henryk Wienawski, who was to perform at the Academy of Music.

Albert successfully eliminated a wolf, an unwanted overtone, from Wienawski’s Stradivarius. After trying out the repaired instrument, according to Albert’s obituary, the master “embraced Albert, and “kissing him on the forehead, [and] exclaimed: ‘young man, you have done what no other man could do for me whether in Europe or America.’”

100 Block of South 11th Street, 1963 (PhillyHistory.org)

At the start of his performance at the Academy, according to The Inquirer, Wienawski “walked about a little among the players as if he were wishing to introduce his beautiful Stradivarius to the other violins in the orchestra, so that they might go well together… “

And go well together they did.

“How can we speak with sufficient praise of Wienawski’s remarkable gifts?” wrote The Inquirer, “he is altogether unequaled by anyone we have heard, [his performance] “all full of soul and fire.” Wienawski had “a magnetic dash which was quite contagious among the orchestra, who followed him with almost equal impetuosity. … “

Albert proudly framed the bridge he removed from Wienawski’s violin alongside the virtuoso’s autograph.

“American luthiers became as good as any luthiers in the world when they had access to iconic instruments…” wrote Bromberg, “It reached a point where America was making things as good as anything found anywhere.” Yet, the idea that Americans couldn’t match the Europeans persisted. Meanwhile, Philadelphia became a center of good, and occasionally great violin making by such makers as the Pennsylvania-born Joseph Eastburn Winner, John Pfaff from Bavaria, Joseph Neff from Baden, the brothers John G. and Frederick August Klemm, Charles A. Voigt, Charles Hammermiller, the Primaveras and the de Luccias. And then there was Martin Nebel, who traded under the name of Charles F. Albert on 11th Street, keeping the Albert name alive into the 1960s. And then there were the Moennigs, whose shops in Philadelphia survived for more than 100 years, lasting into the 21st century.

What did these accomplished Philadelphia luthiers have in common? More than one might think. Many incorporated American woods into their instruments: spruce from Blue Mountain and maple from the Poconos,  working in a local flair unknown to European luthiers.

[Sources: Erin Shrader, “David Bromberg on His Collection of 270 American-made Violins,” Strings Magazine, May 5, 2015; Christopher Germain, et al. The American Violin ( AFVBM Foundation, 2016); Rubinstein And Wienawski,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 30, 1872; “Famous Violin Maker Dead,” [Obituary for John Albert], The New  York  Times, January 3, 1900;  Charles F. Albert Succumbs to Cancer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 2, 1901.]

Categories
Uncategorized

The Inconvenient Truths of Rittenhouse Square

Detail of Mansions on Rittenhouse Square between 18th and 19th Streets, November 3, 1921 (PhillyHistory.org)

In the last third of the 19th century, fueled by wealth from the industrial revolution, Philadelphia’s Victorian aristocracy established itself on Rittenhouse Square. In rows of mansions, versions of the city’s classic rowhouses on steroids, lived the alpha families, the one percent, who controlled at least half of the city’s wealth.

“The lower 80 percent,” according to Dennis Clark, might have controlled only 3 percent of the city’s wealth, but they were indispensable “to prepare and serve the meals, shop, clean the household[s], do the laundry, and care for all the details of the privileged establishments…”

In fact, “it was impossible to pursue the extravagant lifestyle of mannered elegance and luxury without servants,” wrote Clark, even if “those most readily available were from a group alien in outlook, habits, and background.” Rittenhouse Square became a “scene of an interdependent relationship” between rich on the square and poor from nearby immigrant communities of Schuylkill, Devil’s Pocket, Ramcat and other nearby South Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Differences between the communities, created a “social dilemma” for both “the great households of Rittenhouse Square” and the overcrowded rowhouse neighborhoods where most of the Irish servants lived.

Detail of Mansions on Rittenhouse Square west of 19th Streets, November 3, 1921 (PhillyHistory.org)

In 1870, noted Clark, “there were 24,108 domestic servants in the city of whom 10,044 were born in Ireland. Among the remainder a large portion or of Irish parentage.” In late-19th century Philadelphia, “Irish” and “servant” became “virtually synonymous.”

And for many White Anglo-Saxon Protestant families, this presented a problem that couldn’t be overcome. Diarist Sydney George Fisher wasn’t alone in his bias that the Irish occupied “the position of an inferior race in the business of life, because by nature and education [they were] fitted for it.” Housekeeping expert and author Eunice White Beecher warned “not one Irish woman in one hundred” could “be transformed into a neat, energetic, truth-telling servant.” Plus, Clark added, “these servants were seen as threats to the religious integrity of the family and the peril to the Protestant purity of its children.”

For the Irish, “a similar ambiguity characterized their connection with Rittenhouse Square. It was demeaning for them to be forced to serve families whose wealth was founded upon notoriously exploitive mills, factories, and railroads.  … Many a railroad pick-and-shovel man looked with deeply mixed feelings upon his daughters’ employment in the great houses of men whose railroads had meant for him a lifetime of miserable toil.”

Life on Rittenhouse Square was a mutually inconvenient, if essential, compromise until the early 20th century, when demographic and economic changes, in addition to a new appetite for life in the railroad suburbs, undid the old order. “As those whose families had reigned resplendent on Rittenhouse Square in the 1880s declined or decamped, the square became drab and unkempt. The great houses were shuttered, demolished, or converted to apartments. The flocks of servants to tend them we’re no longer affordable or fashionable. The girls from ‘Ramcat’ were becoming secretaries or nurses; some were even going to high school and college.”

1830 Rittenhouse Square, southeast corner of 19th Street, November 3, 1921, detail  (PhillyHistory.org)
Apartment – Southwest Corner – 19th and Rittenhouse Square. October 26, 1926 (PhillyHistory.org)

The square also took on a new look.

“Like tall chimneys, apartment hotels are circling around Rittenhouse Square” fretted the Inquirer in the Spring of 1924. Sale signs “tend to change completely the serenity which long dwelt in that abode of the socially elect.”

The 52-room mansion at the southeast corner of 19th Street and Rittenhouse Square where the Scott family hosted scores of soirées, receptions and teas only a decade before, was among the first to go. “Tearing Down Scott’s Mansion” bluntly stated an advertisement for scrap building materials in February 1913. The place was reduced to so much “lumber, doors, windows, [and] good hard brick,” all sold “cheap.”

Soon after, on the same site, rose the square’s first Beaux-Arts apartment building, designed by architect Frederick Webber. The next mansion to fall was that of the Drexel family, directly across 19th Street.  And in its place rose another 18-story apartment house, this one designed by Sugarman, Hess & Berger.

“Construction Boom Strikes Rittenhouse Square Section,” read one headline in 1924. “Landmarks are Razed for Fashionable Apartment Structures,” read another. And so, demolition of mansions and construction of high rises continued until a time when even apartment dwellers protested that such buildings would “shut off sunlight from the square.”

Nevertheless, development persisted.

[Sources: Dennis Clark, “Ramcat and Rittenhouse Square,” in William W. Cutler, III and Howard Gillette, Jr. The Divided Metropolis: Social and Spatial Dimensions of Philadelphia, 1800-1975 (Westport: Greenwood Press); “Tearing Down Scott’s Mansion,” [advertisement] The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 22, 1913; “Girard’s Talk of the Day,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 10, 1924;  “Construction Boom Strikes Rittenhouse Square Section,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 1924; “Seminary Moves to Green Hill Hotel,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 3, 1940.]

Categories
Uncategorized

The Railroad Tycoon of Rittenhouse Square

Thomas Alexander Scott Mansion, 1830 Rittenhouse Square from King’s Views of Philadelphia, 1902 (PhillyHistory.org)

“It is difficult for Americans today to imagine the grandeur of the elite life-style of a Rittenhouse Square at the end of the nineteenth century,” wrote historian Dennis Clark. “The class culture of such neighborhoods created what amounted to a fairyland of elegance and display protected by Victorian codes of civility and discrimination. These enclaves of privilege combined architectural eclecticism with passionate embellishment, lavish furnishings, and an adoration of English upper-class family etiquette. Flamboyant architects like Frank Furness and Theophilus Chandler designed edifices for an almost hysterical display of wealth.” Illustrations of these “wildly adorned shrines to aggressive vanity and the obsessive flaunting of riches” were published proudly in King’s Views of Philadelphia of 1902.

“At no other time in the city’s history, before or since,” wrote sociologist Digby Baltzell. “have so many wealthy and fashionable families lived so near one another.” Here was a neighborhood built by great industrial-era fortunes made in banking, investments, dental tools, pharmaceuticals, giant knitting mills, big sugar, and, of course, the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Perhaps the most opulent and most egregious of these houses, at the southeast corner of 19th and Rittenhouse, was Frank Furness’ 52-room design of 1875 for Thomas A. Scott. This “quintessential railroad man of his generation,” described by a New York newspaper editor as “the Pennsylvania Napoleon,” who came across as “ambitious to take possession of the republic under a nine hundred and ninety-nine-year lease.”

As great-great-granddaughter Janny Scott recently recounted, Thomas Scott transformed “what had merely been a Philadelphia-to-Pittsburgh carrier into a six-thousand-mile system of railroads stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.” The influence of his corporation “eventually extended as far as New Orleans, Colorado, Arizona and Mexico.” Scott and his predecessor, J. Edgar Thomson, controlled “not only the biggest freight carrier in the world but the most profitable corporation in North America.”

And, largely due to one infamous quotation, Scott would become “one of the most consistently and thoroughly vilified business executives in the 19th century.”

This notorious quotation, uttered during what is known as the great railroad strike of 1877, is considered “the beginning of the age of industrial and class warfare in the United States.” Janny Scott explains in her book The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father: “Four years into the longest recession in American history, and in response to new wage cuts and work rules, train crews in Maryland and West Virginia walked off the job. Then a strike broke out in Pittsburgh, where railroad workers blockaded the yards. People with other grievances against the railroad joined the protest. So did factory and mill workers and others whom the recession had left homeless and unemployed. After the National Guard troops were called in, members of the crowd attacked them. Troops fired back, killing at least ten people and wounding many more. Protesters looted gun shops, seizing weapons. Someone lit a freight car on fire, and the blaze spread; other cars, filled with coke and oil, burst into flames. Roundhouses, an engine house, a machine shop burned. Troops killed more rioters. After three days, one hundred twenty-six locomotives and sixteen hundred freight and passenger cars had been destroyed. The railroad estimated the damage to its property at two million dollars. Ever since that time, Thomas Scott, then in his third year as the railroad’s president, had been quoted as having suggested the rioters be given “a rifle diet for a few days, and see how they like that bread.”

Little did it seem to matter that at least one historian has found “the most thorough contemporaneous accounts of the riot . . . makes no mention of any such statement,” Thomas Scott’s reputation as a ruthless railroad tycoon had long been seared into public memory.

[Sources: Dennis Clark, “Ramcat and Rittenhouse Square,” in William W. Cutler, III and Howard Gillette, Jr. The Divided Metropolis: Social and Spatial Dimensions of Philadelphia, 1800-1975 (Westport: Greenwood Press); Digby Baltzell,  Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class (The Free Press, 1958); Janny Scott, The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father (Riverhead Books, 2019).]

Categories
Uncategorized

“An Entirely Unsuitable Home” for the Free Library of Philadelphia

The Free Library of Philadelphia, 1217-1221 Chestnut Street, 1910.

It’s shocking to imagine this ramshackle structure was the home of the Free Library of Philadelphia between 1895 and 1910.  The Free Library came into existence in 1891 thanks to efforts of Dr. William Pepper, a celebrated physician and provost of the University of Pennsylvania. Pepper used $225,000 of his  family’s money to start Philadelphia’s library system, but that wasn’t enough to provide the main branch of the Free Library with a suitable building.  Other people of Pepper’s class opened their pockets to pay for the construction and maintenance for private libraries, most notably the University of Pennsylvania and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Public institutions got the short end of the stick.

University of Pennsylvania Library, designed by Frank Furness and completed in 1891, the same year as the founding of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Photographed on March 17, 1961

In 1895, the Free Library moved from its cramped quarters in City Hall into an old concert hall on the 1200 block of Chestnut Street.  The Italianate-style building dated from the 1850s. It was supposed to be a temporary home. Unfortunately, the Free Library would remain in this decrepit structure for over a decade.  The library employees were outraged at this set-up, describing it “as an entirely unsuitable building, where its work is done in unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded quarters, temporary make-shifts.” The ground floor of the building was occupied by Hanscom’s Cafeteria, which advertised potential readers: “Cafeteria in basement. Stop in and help yourselves. Lunch in basement.”  The library was flanked by two second-rate theaters, not exactly the best neighbors for readers seeking peace and quiet.

Owen Wister, who spent much of his leisure time (and some of his writing time) at the nearby Philadelphia Club, must have had the Free Library in mind when he wrote scathingly of his native city:

The city is a shame. They’re proud of it, yet take no care of it. . . . The bad gas, the bad water, the nasty street-cars that tinkle torpidly through streets paved with big cobble-stones all seem to them quite right. . . . Their school buildings are filthy. I heard a teacher who spoke ungrammatically and pronounced like a gutter-snipe teaching the children English. . . . Isn’t it strange that such nice people should tolerate such a nasty state of things?

Things were different in New York and Boston.  While the patrons of the Philadelphia Free Library read in rickety Victorian gloom, the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library rapidly raised funds to construct magnificent Beaux-Arts style structures by Carrere & Hastings and McKim Mead and White, respectively.

It wasn’t until the 1920 that the Free Library raised the funds for architect Horace Trumbauer to design a new structure on Logan Circle, modeled on the Hotel de Crillon in Paris. A bronze statute of Dr. Pepper graces the landing of the grand staircase.

Sources:

“History of the Library,” Free Library Company of Philadelphia,” https://libwww.freelibrary.org/about/history/. accessed December 11, 2019.

James M. O’Neill, “Owen Wister’s Lost Tale of Phila Published,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 4, 2001, http://articles.philly.com/2001-10-04/news/25305723_1_owen-wister-romney-philadelphia-area-locales, accessed December 1, 2015.

Categories
Uncategorized

When 23rd & Chestnut Streets had a There There

The Florentine Art Plaster Company, 2217-2219 Chestnut Street, October 17, 1911 (PhillyHistory.org) – 2nd

A handsome pair of facades at the northeast corner of 23rd and Chestnut Streets. Reading from the left: a cluster of bold, brick arches up, down and across an otherwise modest, two-story structure. Gilt letters and what must be a red cross on the glass doors announce the occupant. Here’s the Philadelphia School for Nurses, founded seventeen years earlier and formerly in rented space on Walnut Street, east of Broad. The nurses bought this site only five years before this 1911 view, bringing architect Clyde Smith Adams in to design a training school, dormitories and dispensary. A practical design, with a flourish in a first-floor window taken from a Florentine Renaissance palazzo.

Perhaps architect Adams meant this as a playful reference to the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale? Or a snappy rejoinder to “Florentine Art Plaster Co. Art Gallery” next door? Or possibly both?

Nearly falling off the edge of the image, a bit further to the right (east), we see a fragment of a one-story building offering up the barest of clues. “Stephen…Stone Carv…” it reads. A quick Google search turns up an issue of a journal titled Rock Products published in Louisville, Kentucky in 1906. We’re at the studio of Stephen Cazzulo, sculptor, who, we learn, “is busy getting out models for the large Lafayette Building” at Fifth and Chestnut Streets. Cazzulo “is an expert in his line and has done work on nearly all the skyscrapers and important structures erected during the last twenty years.”

A nice payoff for a minimum investment in keystrokes. We don’t always get so lucky.

Detail. The Florentine Art Plaster Company, 2217-2219 Chestnut Street, October 17, 1911 (PhillyHistory.org)

What might we learn about the Florentine Art Plaster Company? Once again, the web provides! The Smithsonian Libraries has in its vast collections a 140-page, illustrated catalogue. Even better, this publication was scanned and mounted online only a few years ago. We like to think that  Plaster Casts: Reproductions from Antique, Renaissance and Modern Sculpture has been residing in digital purgatory awaiting its fifteen minutes of social media attention. Now, reading the catalogue and perusing the illustrations of more than 2,700 items as we study the archival photograph, we feel an alignment of the research stars.

At left in the storefront window is a copy of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne on a fancy pedestal. The 4’9” pair is listed in the catalogue for $25, the equivalent of $630 today. On the right is Cupid and Psyche (not the erotic Antonio Canova version, which is tucked away inside, at the back of the shop) on an identical pedestal. Between the two, with dusky patina, is a bust of Christopher Columbus on a lion-head base. Connecting the dots, we realize the photograph was taken in mid-October, only a few days after Columbus Day. When did this become an official holiday? In Pennsylvania, only two years before.

The catalogue enables us to virtually transport ourselves through the plate glass of the storefront and into the main aisle of the showroom.

View of the main aisle of the showroom of the Florentine Art Plaster Co. Philadelphia, ca. 1914 (Smithsonian Libraries and Archive.org)

On the left we see a row of works starting with a life-size, kneeling Joan of Arc by Henri Chapu, listed for $60. Way back in the rear, there’s the unmistakable Nike, or Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the largest items in the showroom. It’s a copy of an original in the Louvre, in a place of honor atop the main stairs. This one is 5’ 3” and is listed for $100, $2,500 in today’s dollars. But you can take home a 3’ version for $15, or a 2’4” version for $9, or even a modest priced and sized (7 inch) Victory of Samothrace for $1, which amounts to $25 today.

How about a 20” by 30” copy of Andrea Della Robbia’s terracotta bas-relief of the Madonna and Child? That’ll be $5. Or Michelangelo’s Moses? You can choose a 3’ version for $25 or something half that size for a fifth as much.  Among other Michelangelo items are his Slave, 3’ 9” at $12 and a 2′ 6″ David for $8.

Interested in Alexander the Great? Bertel Thorvaldsen’s 22-panel opus, The Triumph of Alexander into Babylon made in honor of Napoleon’s visit to Rome in 1812 is a whopping $190.

The array of European Who’s Who, from Byron to Hayden, Chopin to Hugo, Galileo to Faust, Savonarola to Shakespeare, Voltaire to Marie Antoinette—was impressive. That’s not to say a constellation of Americans weren’t represented. One could choose from a half dozen versions of Washington, Franklin or Lincoln ranging from $.25 to $20. Or Stephen Girard, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mark Twain or Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And on a local level there was Thomas Eakins’ Anatomy of Horse, 23” by 30” for $5 and his more modest Skeleton of a Horse for $2.50.

From its start in 1900, the Florentine Art Plaster Company assured customers “faithful reproductions of classic subjects.” The “connoisseur of art” or the student or the teachers would not see any “cheap tawdry ornaments.”

Detail. The Florentine Art Plaster Company, 2217-2219 Chestnut Street, October 17, 1911 (PhillyHistory.org)

The talent behind the operation? Joseph Mazzoni, who, according to his obituary in 1948, “first came here from Italy as an advance agent for the Royal Italian Marine Band and settled here in 1900” to open a studio of sculptural reproductions.

And now, more than a century later, pausing to look even closer at the storefront, we see a man—whycould it be the proprietor himself? He’s looking at us from over Christopher Columbus’ left shoulder. (What a pleasant surprise.)

Here’s looking [back] at you, Mr.Mazzoni.

[Sources: “From Our Own Correspondents, Philadelphia,” Rock Products, vol. 5, no. 1;  Plaster Casts reproduced from Antique, Renaissance and Modern Sculpture … made and sold by The Florentine Art Plaster Co., Philadelphia, Pa. (The Company, 1914.); “The Latest News in Real Estate,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 4, 1906; [Obituary] Joseph Mazzoni, The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 30, 1948.]

Categories
Uncategorized

The Elite Clubs and their “Crusty Coagulate Mass of Traditions”

Union League – Southwest corner of Broad and Sansom Streets. July 26, 1927 (PhillyHistory.org)

While plumbing the breadth of the city’s clubs and their very different cultures, Nathaniel Burt acknowledged the Mummers (“one of Philadelphia’s oldest and proudest traditions, but not at all Old Philadelphian”) before landing squarely at the threshold of the city’s most venerable and “crusty coagulate mass of traditions.”

Where would this be headquartered? At Broad and Sansom and the Union League, perhaps? Not quite. “In Old Philadelphia circles,” Burt informs us in his classic book Perennial Philadelphians: Anatomy of an American Aristocracy, “it is understood that though the Union League is very honorable and important, it is not really socially flawless. A great many Old Philadelphians belong to it; for some it is their only club. It is grandly affluent and crusty, full of a rich Civil War fug, long portraits, gilt ceilings, marble floors, paneled banquet halls, thick carpets and curtains; but there is an undoubted tinge of boodle and smoke filled room about it. One seems to sense the absence of spittoons. It is a distinctly political club; once only those who had voted straight Republican could be members, and a good many figures, important politically but not very proper morally or socially, have in the past lounged in the corridors and dozed in the wide chairs. The aroma of Philadelphia’s old ‘corrupt and contented’ is very pervasive.”

Venerable and crusty? Definitely. But not “socially flawless,” and hardly “beyond reproach.”

For the elite destination at the pinnacle of Philadelphia club life, Burt directs us to 13th and Walnut Streets, where, in its architecturally inconspicuous way, the Philadelphia Club has silently stood for the better part of two centuries. Here, “at the edge of the Gayborhood,” as the Philadelphia Magazine points out, is “the oldest and most guarded of the city’s old-guard clubs.” The scale of its plain, red brick building “is so great and its condition so pristine,” noted architectural historian Richard J. Webster, “that many casual observers mistake it for a twentieth-century example of the Georgian Revival.”

Casual observers would be wrong.

Philadelphia Club, North side of Walnut Street, 13th to Broad. June 14, 1931. (PhillyHistory.org)

“The Philadelphia Club can’t claim to be the oldest such club in the world,” Burt explains, “but it can and does claim to be the oldest in America.” The feel is “definitely stately, not to say austere, with high ceilings, white woodwork, dark portraits and discreet soft-footed servitors.” The interior “reflects a kind of ‘Philadelphia taste’ that takes many generations to lay down,” observes Roger Moss, “an effect that is well beyond simulation by the most skilled decorator.” Domestic leanings make sense when we consider that the building was originally intended as a city mansion for Thomas Butler, “kin of the Pierce Butler who married and divorced the actress Fanny Kemble” the grandmother of Owen Wister. In 1934, Wister served as club president and composed its centennial history.

Yet, in spite of its homey origins, the club has never been accused of being warm or inviting. “It is a very handsome affair, and full of handsome members,” says Burt, “but it rather lacks the Gemütlichkeit associated with most Philadelphia enterprises.”

“Blue bloods hang out to play an archaic domino game called sniff,” a home-grown variant of dominoes. The rules of this game are known only to members and explained in an otherwise unattainable pamphlet by member Benjamin Chew, entitled Chew on Sniff.

Admission to the Philadelphia Club has been equally unattainable.

“Metaphorically, at least,” Burt informs us, “bits of broken hearts litter of the pavement in front of the chaste fanlit door on Walnut Street, memorial to those who tried to get in and couldn’t. More than any other single institution except the Dancing Assembly the Philadelphia Club has stood and still stands is the Gibraltar of social order, defending the purity of Philadelphia bloodlines against the nouveau riches, and keeping up the tone of things.”

In the 1930s, Wister reminded his readers (all of whom were members, since the history was privately printed) that the club had very specific “requisites for admission.” These included “courtesy, self-restraint, a nice regard to the rules of etiquette, a command of speech, an elegance of dress, a familiarity with the habits of the leisure class, a respect for appearance, for the outside of things, a desire to make the passing moment pleasurable.” Subjective enough to deny entry to many a New Philadelphian and, as dictated by the “crusty coagulate” of traditions, all women.

Wister barely blinked as he imagined the club’s second century: “We carry on the tradition, patriotic, social, and civilized, of an honorable and happy past; and . . . we look forward to carrying our tradition on into a happy future.”

[Sources: Nathaniel Burt, The Perennial Philadelphians: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Originally published in 1963); Richard J. Webster, Philadelphia Preserved: Catalog of the Historic American Buildings Survey (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976); Benjamin Wallace, “Members Only,” The Philadelphia Magazine (May 18, 2005); Roger W. Moss and Tom Crane, Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia (Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Owen Wister, The Philadelphia Club, 1834-1934 (Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Club, 1934)].

Categories
Uncategorized

Philadelphia’s Cowboy Creation Story

The Philadelphia Club, 13th and Walnut Streets, 1913. (PhillyHistory.org)

In 1891, the fictional cowboy mounted his steed at 13th and Walnut Streets and never looked back. He galloped a circuitous route to the publishing houses of New York, then headed out to Hollywood and the American imagination.

What was the cowboy doing at such an unlikely urban crossroads? There, in the Philadelphia Club (as unlikely a place for a cowboy as anyone might ever imagine) Owen Wister, fresh back from his latest Western exploit, held forth in the club’s dining room with his drinking buddy Walter Furness.

Wister might just as well have been telling tall tales about a European Grand Tour, had he traveled eastward rather than westward. But in the Fall of 1885, Wister, a summa cum laude Harvard graduate set to begin law school, was plagued by headaches, vertigo, and the “occasional hallucination.” Fearing a nervous breakdown, Wister’s father sought out advice from family friend, the physician/author S. Weir Mitchell. “An extended visit to Europe for relaxation” would usually be Dr. Mitchell’s prescription. But in this case, he recommended that the anxious 25-year-old go West and live outdoors. “See more new people,” he told Wister, “learn to sympathize with your fellow man a little more than you are inclined to. … There are lots of humble folks in the fields you’d be the better for knowing.”

After a series of eye-opening trips to Wyoming and the Yellowstone from 1885 to 1891, Wister, now a full-fledged witness of the American West, returned to share glimpses of his newfound narrative riches. In time, he would come to advocate the idea that the American West, as opposed to the East, was the rightful center of the nation’s heart and soul. And the cowboy, its manifestation in flesh and blood, would be animated first in short stories, then, in 1902, in a best-selling novel, The Virginian.

The Virginian, first edition (1902)
Owen Wister at a campfire in 1891. The Owen Wister papers. (American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming)

But in order to make such a leap, Wister would require an epiphany. This blue-blooded Philadelphian needed to convince himself, his family and friends, that he was the one who could actually pull this off and become America’s Rudyard Kipling.

At the Philadelphia Club that Fall evening in 1891, Wister and Furness ate and drank (and drank) and as the evening wore on and the tales got taller, it occurred to Wister that he could write the stories that would bring the cowboy to life as the quintessential American.

Years later, he recalled the moment: “Fresh from Wyoming and its wild glories, I sat in the club dining room with a man as enam­oured of the West as I was. . . .  From oysters to coffee we compared experiences. Why wasn’t some Kipling saving the sage-brush for American literature, before the sage-brush and all that it signified went the way of California forty-niner, went the way of the Mississippi steam-boat, went the way of everything? . . . What was fiction doing, fiction, the only thing that has always outlived fact?”

Wister sipped his claret and staked out the plan. Then he blurted: “Walter, I’m going to try it myself! … I’m going to start this minute.” He headed “up to the library; and by midnight or so, a good slice of [the short story] “Hank’s Woman” was down in the rough.”

Success would require a bit more critical help from Dr. Mitchell. According to historian John Jennings, two of Wister’s manuscripts “gathered dust until Mitchell urged Wister to send them to Henry Mills Alden at Harper and Brothers, promising to provide a letter of introduction. Alden accepted the manuscripts and Wister was launched as a minor western author.”

Eleven years later, with The Virginian hot off the presses, Wister would become America’s major Western author. And the cowboy, originally “a rough, violent, one-dimensional drifter” would transition into a national hero.

[Sources: John Jennings, The Cowboy Legend Owen Wister’s Virginian and the Canadian-American Frontier (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2012); Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902); J. C. Furnas, “Transatlantic Twins: Rudyard Kipling and Owen Wister,” The American Scholar, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Autumn 1995), pp. 599-606; Neal Lambert, “Owen Wister’s “Hank’s Woman”: The Writer and His Comment,” Western American Literature, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 1969, pp. 39-50.]

Categories
Uncategorized

Philadelphia’s “Cow-Boy” Monument

“Cow-boys and Indians at the Unveiling of Remington’s ‘Cow-boy’ Statue on June 20, 1908.” (From the Fairmount Park Art Association, 1909. via Hathitrust)

The banks of the Schuylkill were packed with onlookers. On a craggy outcropping overlooking a clearing by the river stood Frederic Remington’s new, larger-than-life bronze statue wrapped in American flags. Soon enough, the cord would be ceremoniously pulled to reveal the city’s latest equestrian monument: “The Cow-Boy.”

Five thousand spectators turned out for the dedication. A band of cowboys (the musical variety) warmed up the crowd. Wyoming Jack, “a noted scout” and Chief He-Dog, in full regalia, did the honors. The popular cowgirls Mida and Lida Kemp were there. Mounted Sioux: Yellow Cloud, Cheering Horse and Driving Bear looked on as their families stood with VIP Philadelphia: leadership of the Fairmount Park Commission, the Fairmount Park Art Association (which had commissioned the piece) and others. A stand-in for Mayor John E. Reyburn apologized for His Honor’s absence. June 20, 1908 was a big day for dedications. The mayor had gone out to Valley Forge for the unveiling of another equestrian in bronze: Anthony Wayne.

The fictional “Cow-Boy” attracted a larger crowd than the real Revolutionary War hero.

One would have expected to see there that day the Philadelphian most responsible for the cowboy legend. More than anything else, Owen Wister’s best-selling novel, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, published six years earlier, had forged the cowboy in the popular imagination. Lauded as “one of the great triumphs of American literature,” The New York Times claimed Wister had “come pretty near to writing the American novel.” The Virginian was reprinted sixteen times; two million hardbound copies found their way into readers’ hands. There would be five film versions and, in the 1960s, a long-playing television series.

Statue – Remington’s “Cowboy” – Fairmount Park. April 12, 1910. (PhillyHistory.org)

“It is safe to say,” writes historian John Jennings, “that Wister launched the foremost popular mythology in American history.” And he did so by animating the cowboy with words as much as Remington did with images and figures. From the stormy evening in Yellowstone National Park where they first met in 1893, Wister and Remington together crafted and popularized this American character, the appeal of which, Jennings points out, “stood in stark contrast to the vulgar excesses of the Gilded Age.” But in 1899, Wister and Remington had a falling out. And so, that Saturday on the banks of the Schuylkill, Remington alone stood as the cowboy’s creator.

In fact, credit was due to the trio of Remington, Wister and Wister’s Harvard classmate and lifelong friend, Theodore Roosevelt. In 1888 Roosevelt admired the Dakota cowboy’s “quiet, uncomplaining fortitude.” He found the cowboy brave, “hospitable, hardy, adventurous” and “the grim pioneer of our race, [possessing] to a very high degree, the stern, manly qualities that are necessary to a nation.” This ready-made romantic figure was capable of reassuring some Americans “that the simple, honest virtues of Jeffersonian America were not lost.” With the cowboy, Remington, Wister and Roosevelt (now as the U.S. President who brought Remington’s Bronco Buster in the Oval Office) “manufactured a myth” of this, the “most popular American folk hero.”

The cowboy hadn’t always been the object of such unbridled admiration. Before Wister’s Virginian, this frontier type was more of “a rough, violent, one-dimensional drifter” familiar at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Remington identified something more, something special, in an article titled “The Texas Cowboy” published in 1892:

The cowboy is strongly unimaginative, absolutely unconventional, and his character is as tough as his life, made hard and narrow by combat with appalling dangers, great vicissitudes, and an absence of ideas at variance with his own. He shows in his method of verbal expression that he has succumbed to his environment, for he thinks horse, talks horse, and dreams horse, and awakens to find himself, with some meat and bread and a quart of coffee under his belt, sitting on a horse.  … The cowboy’s life is passed alone, with only his pony and the great stretch of solemn plains and the flat, blue sky. He has little use for his voice, though his thoughts may wander as far afield as any poet’s. . . .  You will find in his gaze a positive quality . . . for no English high-caste man ever regarded the rest of the world from so high a pinnacle as this tanned and dusty person who sleeps in a blanket and eats bacon three times a day.

Statue – Remington’s “Cowboy” – Fairmount Park. April 12, 1910. Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

Remington and Wister met the next year and soon elevated the cowboy a few notches higher, while revealing distinct biases along the way, in an article published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.  In the American West, wrote Wister, one could avoid the “hordes of encroaching alien vermin, that turn our cities to Babels and our citizenship to a hybrid farce.” He went on: “it won’t be a century before the West is simply the true America with thought, type, and life of its own kind. We Atlantic Coast people, all varnished with Europe, and some of us having a good lot of Europe in our marrow besides, will vanish from the face of the earth.” Accompanying this essay, titled the “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” were five illustrations by Remington, including, most notably, “The Last Cavalier,” depicting a cowboy on horseback “with a host of Anglo-Saxon knights, crusaders, cavaliers, frontiersmen, explorers, and soldiers of the Raj receding into the misty past.”

Why not introduce this larger-than-life American hero to the public in the form of a larger-than-life monument? “The fast disappearing Indians and western cowboy should be put in enduring bronze,” encouraged New York art editor Alexander W. Drake in a letter to Remington in 1899, “. . . this should be done by the only man in America who can do it,” he flattered. “What could be more appropriate for an American city?”

Statue – Remington’s “Cowboy” – Fairmount Park, October 13, 2019.

The Fairmount Park Art Association agreed. And so would The Philadelphia Inquirer, which described Remington as “the most truly American,” artist who “owed nothing of his craftsmanship to foreign study or to copying foreign ideas. He was a product of our own soil, educated in an American atmosphere.” Remington produced sculptures “with such fidelity to life that they will remain long after the last cow-puncher has gone to his grave.”

Many other cities wanted larger-than-life cowboys by Remington. Only Philadelphia would get one. A year and a half after the 1908 dedication, Remington died of complications from appendicitis. The Corcoran Gallery in Washington would be the first of many museums to purchase one of his bronzes (Off the Range, also known as Coming Through the Rye) but table-top sculptures, however spirited, just didn’t have the presence or the unexpected gravitas of this 12-foot “Cow-Boy” monument overlooking the Schuylkill.

[Sources: Frederic Remington, “The Texas Cowboy,” The Denver Republican, Sept 1892 (Published in Current Literature, Vol 11, September-December, 1892); Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: The Macmillan Company,1902); “Cowboy Statue to be Unveiled,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 19, 1908; “Picturesque Scenes Attend Unveiling of the Cowboy Monument in the Park,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 1908; Fairmount Park Art Association, Annual Report (Philadelphia: Fairmount Park Art Association, 1909);, “A Genuine American Artist, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 28, 1909; David Sellin, “Cowboy,” in Fairmount Park Art Association, Sculpture of a City: Philadelphia’s Treasures in Bronze and Stone,” (Walker Pub. Co, 1974); David A. Smith, “Owen Wister’s Paladin of the Plains: The Virginian as Cultural Hero,” South Dakota History, 2008, vol. 38, no. 1, pp 47-77; John Jennings, The Cowboy Legend Owen Wister’s Virginian and the Canadian-American Frontier (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2012).]

Disclosure: The writer is a member of The Association for Public Art (formerly The Fairmount Park Art Association) board of directors.

Categories
Uncategorized

Pershing’s Short, Yet “Epochal” Visit to Philadelphia

Philadelphia lavished patriotic honors on General John J. Pershing, one year ago. The commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in World War I carved out only two-and-a-half hours for celebration in the City of Brotherly Love. No matter. Everyone seemed to make the most of what was touted as an”epochal visit.”

“Pershing’s long, long, trail, blazed with the everlasting glory of victory, crossed Philadelphia,” glowed the Inquirer the following morning. “The city that cradled the Nation swept America’s military idol from his feet in the tumult and ecstasy of a welcome which veteran generals from overseas declared shamed those other historic moments of Paris, London and New York.”

“This demonstration to honor the man whose leadership and genius had wrought a final triumph, destined to live eternally in the pages of history, was majestically superb and gloriously epic. Business and industry went A.W.O.L. for hours in order that the city where American liberty and freedom first were translated into government might lay its tribute at the feet of a man who directed the might of America in crushing autocracy and tyranny in Europe.

“One half million throats roared acclaim to the splendid figure who rode in an auto at the head of the line, a figure who visualized to the cheering multitude the spirit of fighting, victorious America. A million eyes followed this military leader, alight with love, affection and idolatrous worship that the fires of renewed patriotism had kindled and kept aglow.

“Previous celebrations and fetes, hitherto apocryphal in the city, were overshadowed by this welcome. . . . Streets became living canyons, throbbing and pulsating to the emotional greeting of a people stirred to the depths by the man and all that he meant to those who had kept the home fires burning. Forests of flags nodded and waived and danced in the breeze, obedient to the chubby fist of childhood as well as the palsied hand of age.

“Women in their ecstatic jubilation pelted the Commander, home from the wars, with roses and other flowers. From the skies and windows of the great office buildings of the city came showers of confetti raining down upon him.  And behind all adulation, all this wealth of affectionate greeting and stupendous welcome, were the ceremonials which the city and State had arranged to give a stately touch to this riotous ovation that extended over three miles of march, and never once died down…

“Recent history holds no parallel to yesterday’s demonstration for enthusiasm. . . . From the moment that he stepped from his car . . .  he found his pathway figuratively carpeted with the hearts of his countrymen here. All along the stretch of this turn in the long, long trail, too, he found adulation and affection bloom and blossoming in his path.

“Deeply affected and immeasurably delighted, Pershing found that the charm and the splendor of this welcome rested largely in its spontaneity. His eyes greedily drank in their fill of the entrancing sight, and shone with the keenest appreciation and gratitude which found their outward expression when he spoke at the Union League. He told his hearers that the reception surpassed anything in his experience.”

General Pershing Speaking from Union League Balcony, September 12, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

“You have every reason to be proud of your patriotism because you inherited it from your forefathers and because of the way in which you have defended the principles for which they stood,” said Pershing at the Union League, overlooking Broad Street. “I wish I had more time to say what I feel in my heart, on being in this historic city of Philadelphia, I only hope that I many again come to drink from this fountain of patriotism.”

General John J. Pershing, Governor William C. Sproul and Mayor Thomas B. Smith at Independence Square, September 12, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

“Mayor Smith and Governor Sproul were among the prominent personages of the city and State on hand to meet the General, as spick and span and smart as any subaltern fresh from West point . . . Flanked by the Governor and Mayor General Pershing strode . . . . Here he found the real guard of honor drawn up to greet him. Two dozen or more boys who had won the Distinguished Service Cross for their valorous deeds in the armies which the distinguished guest had commanded. The moment that Pershing’s eyes fell upon these heroes he deserted his civilian hosts and became the soldier and the commander instantly, and unaffectedly.”

“Goddess of Liberty” at Reception to General Pershing, Independence Hall, (PhillyHistory.org)

“His eyes roved over the men, rested for a moment or two on the decorations that embellish their tunics, and questions several of them as to the deeds which brought this distinguished recognition. As he walked away, he turned to the little knot of civilians in his wake and said musingly: ‘These are the real men: the real fellows who did the work. Real men, every one of them; don’t forget that.'”

Flags of Allied Nations at Independence Hall, September 12, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

“His short visit—all too short for the big welcoming host of Philadelphia—will never be forgotten,” wrote John Wanamaker. “General Pershing must come back and give us more time, when we will see that Philadelphia, big as it is can give him a bigger welcome and more courtesies than could be crowded into the brief visit of yesterday.”

Really? How could another visit have possibly topped this one?

[Source: “General Acclaimed By Thousands Here in Epochal Visit,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 1919; [Advertisement letter by John Wanamaker] “General Pershing, the Great American Soldier and Commander of Our Victorious Armies,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 1919.]

See more on Pershing’s patriotic encounter with the Liberty Bell.

Categories
Uncategorized

Patriotic Etiquette at the Liberty Bell — 1919 edition

“Philadelphia Paying Tribute to Its Soldier Sons,” Broad and Spring Garden Streets, May 15, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

After the conclusion of what would become known as World War I, mandatory visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell provide us, a century later, with a laboratory of contrasting and complementary patriotic practices.

May 15, 1919: Eight miles of the “khakied legions” and their “forests of bayonets” march in celebration throughout the city. On Broad Street and the new Parkway, “bands blared their music, cheerleaders awakened the stands to fresher and more frequent tumult, while songs burst upon the air, like some festival prepared for a Roman general back from his journey of conquest into other lands.”

At Independence Hall the spirit of celebration turned serious. If ever there was a ground zero for understated expressions on behalf of American Freedom, Liberty and Independence, it was Independence Hall, and more particularly, at the Liberty Bell. “While the cheering and the tumult multiplied in many places,” here it was “chained by a somber realization that silence could best pay tribute…” For this special day, the Liberty Bell was brought into the sunlight of Chestnut Street where all those who passed could feel its powerful, mute presence.

Liberty Bell outside Independence Hall, May 15, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

July 4, 1919: The first peacetime Fourth offered another opportunity to celebrate American victory with song, dance, speeches and other patriotic displays. This time, the Liberty Bell is carried out to Independence Square “and placed on a pedestal banked with ferns and potted plants.”  If it wasn’t for the blazing sun and extreme heat, the event would have attracted more than 100,000. Only “meager thousands” turned out for the traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence and what came after.

In an unscheduled speech, Judge John M. Patterson, a candidate for Mayor, took over the podium. He described the Liberty Bell, as “the holiest relic in the world.” Then the earnest, unctuous Patterson, who would lose his mayoral bid, took a right turn away from the usual  somber, bell-based patriotic etiquette.

“The bell could proclaim to the Bolshevists today that America is a land of law and order,” Patterson declared.  And “as long as we have religion and patriotism, the red flag of anarchy will never oust the flag of the United States. Let the churches see that every member of their congregations is an American in deed as well as in word, and if he is not, then let him be an outcast from the Church as he is from the Nation. We can array good people against the bad and blot out this menace. Let the Bolshevists and those who rail at our laws and liberties understand that if they don’t like this country and the way its government is administered then the best thing they can do is go to some place that does suit them.”

General Pershing at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall September 12, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

When Patterson stepped down, Iowa Congressman James W. Good, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, replaced him at the podium and continued. “There is no room in America for any flag but the flag of America and your duty and mine in this country, in times of peace as well as in times of war, is to obey the law and pay obedience and reverence to the flag of the United States. There is no place in America for the Red flag. It means the destruction of all that our civilization represents.”

September 12, 1919: General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front returns. He visits the Bell and the Hall and re-focuses with silence and somber tones after a welcome by Mayor Thomas B. Smith. “We stand on holy ground, General Pershing,” says the mayor. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence signed it within these four walls. This is the home of the Liberty Bell, loved by one hundred million free people.”

The General walks up to the Bell, ensconced and decorated for the occasion “mute but glorious in its cradle. . . . Unconscious of the shouts and the cheers, or the interruption of the photographers’ flash lights, the soldier stood there, silent before the venerable relic of the days when liberty was first proclaimed throughout the land. With head bared and eyes softened, the man who had led the great army overseas to carry to victory the armed purpose that sprang to life in this historic shrine, riveted his eyes upon the Bell.”

“For several moments he stood tense, and then his eyes roved over the symbol of freedom, and he seemed to be pondering in his mind if his stewardship were worthy of the traditions which the Bell conjured to his mind. Then, bending low, as if to press his lips to the Bell, he saluted paused for a moment and then walked out to address the throng.”

Pershing had an adoring crowd. By the time he made his way to Broad Street, “the sidewalks were jammed with great masses of cheering people.”

Pershing briefly toyed with the idea of running for public office. He never did.

[Sources: “Commonwealth and City Pay Magnificent Tribute to Valorous Sons Who Risked All in Liberty’s Cause.” The Inquirer, May 16, 1919; “Wide Celebration of First Peace 4th Held In This City,” The Inquirer, July 5, 1919; “City Will Accord Big Welcome Today To Gen. Pershing,” The Inquirer, September 12, 1919; “General Acclaimed By Thousands Here In Epochal Visit,” The Inquirer, September 13, 1919.]