Tag Archives: Philadelphia

The Invention of Benjamin Franklin Part One: Franklin Gothic (1706-1748)

THE FIRST PODCAST   Benjamin Franklin did more in his first forty years than most people do in an entire lifetime. Had he not played a pivotal role in the creation of the United States of America, he still would have been considered an icon in the fields of publishing, science and urban planning.

How much do you know about Benjamin Franklin the inventor? In this podcast (the first of three parts), Greg takes a dive into his early years as a precocious young inventor and writer, a witty and determined publisher, and a great mind in search of the natural world’s great mysteries.

FEATURING: The origins of the lending library, the Franklin stove, swim fins and even kite-surfing!

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In a couple murals by Charles E. Mills, Benjamin Franklin 1) working hard at the printing press and  2) oversees the opening of the Library Company of Philadelphia.


The New-England Courant, where Franklin wrote as a teenager under the name Silence Do-Good:

From the Massachusetts Historical Society. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Ben Franklin in 1746 in a painting by Robert Feke. He’s very much emulating the style of a proper English gentleman in this image. He would later shed the finery and define his more personal, unwigged style.

A large Franklin stove although they would develop into different shapes and sizes in the hands of other inventors.

New York City and the Inauguration of George Washington

PODCAST Part One of our two-part series on New York City in the years following the Revolutionary War.

The story of New York City’s role in the birth of American government is sometimes forgotten. Most of the buildings important to the first U.S. Congress, which met here from the spring of 1789 to the late summer of 1790, have long been demolished. There’s little to remind us that our modern form of government was, in part, invented here on these city streets.

Riding high on the victories of the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers organized a makeshift Congress under the Articles of Confederation.  After an unfortunate crisis in Philadelphia, that early group of politicians from the 13 states eventually drifted up to New York (specifically to New York’s City Hall, to be called Federal Hall) to meet. But they were an organization without much power or respect.

The fate of the young nation lay on the shoulders of George Washington who arrived in New York in the spring of 1789 to be inaugurated as the first president of the United States. His swearing-in would finally unite Americans around their government and would imbue the port city of New York with a new urgency.

This is Part One of a two part celebration of these years, featuring cantankerous vice presidents, festive cannonades, and burning plumage! (Part Two arrives in two weeks.)

FEATURING Washington, Adams, Madison, Livingston and, of course, HAMILTON!

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The signing of the Constitution, September 17, 1787.

George traveling to his inauguration, as depicted in the 1896 book “The Century book of famous Americans : the story of a young people’s pilgrimage to historic homes” 

Internet Archive Book Images

And from an 1889 illustration:

Courtesy NYPL


President-Elect Washington crosses floating bridge (Gray’s Ferry) — and through one of many triumphal arches — on his inaugural journey, Philadelphia, April 20, 1789



Washington’s reception on the bridge of Trenton in 1789 on his way to be inaugurated 1st president of the U. S.



An illustration from 1855 depicts Old City Hall before it was renovated to house the new federal government.

Another view, with Washington’s six-horse coach in the foreground.



A depiction of Broad Street and Federal Hall as it looked in 1797, but you can easily picture how filled the streets would have been on Washington’s inauguration just eight years earlier.



Here’s how it looked on the 2008 HBO mini-series John Adams:

From an 1899 oil painting (artist unknown)


The presidential mansion on Cherry Street:



The lovely Richmond Hill, the vice presidential mansion home of John and Abigail Adams


St. Paul’s Chapel, where Washington worshipped in New York.  More information at Trinity’s website.

Wanamaker’s Airship: That one time in 1911 they launched a hydrogen balloon from Astor Place

A view of the balloon launch, looking north towards the Metropolitan Life Tower, which can be seen jutting up in the background. The Met Tower was the world’s tallest building in 1911.

Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker turned an abandoned train station in Philadelphia into the lavish department bearing his name in 1876, just in time for America’s 100th anniversary.  He would become one of Philadelphia’s largest employers, with 5,000 people working in the store, “the most valuable piece of property of its size in the city.” [source]

Meanwhile, in New York City, when shoppers weren’t flocking to Ladies Mile, they headed to A.T Stewart‘s equally grand ‘Iron Palace’ department store in Astor Place, with over thirty departments specializing in every sort of modern necessity, making it one of the largest stores of any kind in America.

Stewart’s store was located on Fourth Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets and was called the ‘Iron Palace’ as it was New York’s largest cast-iron building at the time.  (But not the first; that title goes to its neighbor, the American Bible Society building, at 51 Astor Place.)

Below: The original Wanamaker’s between 9th and 10th Streets. The building no longer exists.

It would take two decades for Wanamaker to make his way to New York, eventually buying up an old Iron Palace in 1896 and reopening it as New York’s first Wanamakers.

But a man who had filled an entire train station in Philadelphia would not simply be content with one lavish store; across the street, between 8th and 9th, he built another in 1902, using one of the world’s most revered architects — Daniel Burnham, who had just completed work on the Flatiron Building.  Customers could go between the buildings using a fanciful ‘bridge of progress’.

That is all, of course, to set this scene for the curious publicity stunt which occurred on the rooftop of Wanamaker’s on July 8, 1911.  For three days, a large hydrogen balloon (48 feet in diameter) sat tethered upon the rooftop of the new building, filling up with copious amounts of gas for a journey to Philadelphia — with a planned landing near Wanamaker’s other store.

In 1911, that old train-station store would be replaced with a new Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia’s Center City, also built by Burnham.  No better way to grab headlines for his new store in Philadelphia than to float a gigantic eye-catching object from one store to the other!

The balloon (called the Wanamaker No. 1), imported from Paris, was launched at 6 pm and gracefully floated over the city, across the Hudson, fadeing into the mists of Weehawken.

Unfortunately for the balloon’s two pilots, things went immediately awry, the balloon being a tricky one to control.  Instead of floating southwest, it headed due north.  After an hour and a half of wandering blindly through the clouds, the balloon ungraciously came down — in Nyack, New York.

But it wasn’t considered a failure by any means. Wanamaker’s wanted a publicity stunt and got one.  The launch made the front page of newspapers.  For a moment, the whole region seemed transfixed.  “Crowds turned out to gaze at the big airship as it passed over the Hudson River villages,” crowed the New York Times.

Some even claimed this was the beginning of a new phase in New York travel.  Rooftops could regularly be used to launch airships of all sorts.  “This is the first step towards making the roofs of the Wanamaker buildings in New York and Philadelphia into permanent aerial stations,” claimed the Evening World.  “Landing platforms and hangars for balloons and aeroplanes are to be built on the roofs of the department stores in both cities.”

Not to be outdone, the following month, Gimbels Department Store would stage a marvelous airplane race over the streets of Manhattan.

By the way, Mr. Wanamaker wasn’t even in the country when all this happened.  He rolled into town the following week aboard the White Star liner Oceanic, having celebrated his 73rd birthday in style by traveling to England and meeting King George and Queen Mary.

The original Wanamaker’s building is no longer there, but the south building, the one designed by Burnham and the one from which the balloon was launched, still exists today as the home of K-Mart.

Below: That same week, one could run into the store below the balloon and purchase this swell Victrola. This ad is from the July 10, 1911 issue of the Evening World

Pictures courtesy the Library of Congress.

‘Arctic blasts’, union rousers and hunchbacks: Ten bits of trivia about Ebbets Field’s opening day, 100 years ago today

Inside Ebbets Field, 1913, Library of Congress

The first-ever regular season baseball game at Ebbets Field was played 100 years ago today.  The legendary field, once located in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, was home to the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 until the team left for Los Angeles in 1958.

Here are ten interesting facts about the opening game, played on April 9, 1913:

1)  The Dodgers were thirty years old by the time their lavish new field opened. The team was originally formed under the name the Brooklyn Grays in 1883 by real estate speculator Charles Byrne.  Like many early ball fields, their first home, Washington Park in today’s Park Slope neighborhood, was frozen over during the winter to become Brooklyn’s leading skating rink.

2)  They were originally nicknamed the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, for the treacherous skill exhibited by their fans crossing rail-covered streets to get to the ball field.  There were still a great many streetcar lines near their new home of Ebbets Field, but by 1913 the team was more affectionately known as just ‘the Dodgers’.

However several names would be casually attached to the team by fans and local journalists — the picture above calls them the Brooklyn Nationals — until 1933, when the name DODGERS would finally be added to both their home and road uniforms.

3)  As a nod to its first-ever day, Ebbets Field was allowed to open one day before everybody else in the National League.  One of their most popular players, first baseman Jake Daubert (at right), was presented with a golden bat and a floral horseshoe in a ceremony before the game and would, by season’s end, go on to win the league’s Most Valuable Player honor.

“Gentleman Jake,” as he was called, is better known today as being one of the founders of the baseball’s unionization movement.   This did not make him popular with the namesake of Ebbets Field, owner Charles Ebbet, who traded Daubert in 1917 after a salary dispute.   His union connection may also explain why this unique, well-liked and exemplary ballplayer is not currently listed within National Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

4)  The ceremonial first ball was thrown in by Brooklyn Borough President Alfred E. Steers, a resident of the neighborhood Ebbets Field made its home — Flatbush.   However, at an exhibition game played just a few days earlier, Ebbets’ lovely daughter Genevieve Ebbets tossed out the first pitch.

5) The Brooklyn Dodgers played the Philadelphia Phillies that day, which should have boded well for the team in their new home. The Phillies weren’t yet considered a formidable team and were more associated with constant injury. Despite this, the Phillies beat the Dodgers that day, 1-0.

6) Why did the Dodgers lose? Uh, it was unseasonably cold? The Tribune reported that the frightful chill kept the brand-new grandstand partially empty. From the New York Times, April 10, 1913: “It was so cold that the attendance was seriously affected, about 10,000 spectators braving the arctic blasts to see the Phillies win a well-played game by a score of 1 to 0.” [source]

7) The Phillies also had with them an unusual mascot — a hunchback teenage dwarf.  The Phillies home rival the Philadelphia Athletics had a hunchback mascot of their own named Louis Van Zelst, and owner Connie Mack wanted to emulate their success. By, apparently, finding his own young man with a hunchback. Unfortunately, this boy’s name is unknown, but he appears in a 1913 picture with the team:

NOTE: The Tribune infers that this may have been Mr. Van Zelst himself and not another teenager. As the name of the boy in the picture above has not been reported, it’s quite likely that this is the Athletics ‘mascot’.  Note that in the article, the Dodgers are called by yet another name — the Superbas.  

Courtesy the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society

8) As you could imagine with a 1-0 game, the first-day crowds at Ebbets Field were hardly cheerful.  One might even described them as bored.  The upper seats were barely filled, and the crowd didn’t exactly “wax enthusiastic until the eighth inning” when the Dodgers finally got somebody on base.

9) The first Dodger to ever score a hit in the new field was second baseman George Cutshaw who had only been with the team one year when he scored a single in the first inning.  Ironically, the second basemen was called out when he was caught trying to steal second base.

10) The Dodgers would fare poorly in their first season at Ebbets Field, eventually placing sixth out of eight teams. The winning team that season were their rivals across the East River — the New York Giants.  They would finally bring Ebbets its first pennant victory in 1916.

Six ways to celebrate 100th anniversary of the Armory Show this weekend

A study in madness:  a view inside one room of the 1913 Armory Show

This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art — aka, the Armory Show of 1913 — which stunned New Yorkers and revolutionized the direction of American art in the 20th century.

So on top of celebrating Presidents Day weekend, add a little art to your agenda this week! Some ways to celebrate across the country

1  “Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York features many works that were displayed at the Armory Show, including the powerful “Dances at the Spring” by Frances Picabia.  The show will be open a few more weeks.

2  The 69th Regiment Armory at 68 Lexington Avenue is where the lunacy took place, so walk by and imagine the rows of limos and carriages and the throngs of shocked art enthusiasts spilling out on to the street.

3  For a new show focused specifically on the Armory Show, take a short ride to the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, NJ, for their new show “The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show 1913” which celebrates some of the American stars who participated in the show, including John Marin and Robert Henri. According to their website, Edward Hopper will also be featured, so I assume they will have his little sailboat.

4  The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the permanent home of the Armory Show’s most notorious entrant — “Nude Descending A Staircase, No. 2” by Marcel Duchamp — and I assume it’s still there confusing audiences, if it hasn’t been loaned out.

5  A new documentary about Marcel Duchamp’s participation in the Armory Show makes its debut this Sunday in Provincetown, MA, at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.  The film was made by Richard N. Miller, who worked with Duchamp during a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Armory Show. If you’re in Cape Cod and want to check it out, visit their website for more information.

6 But the easiest thing to do is simply listen to the Bowery Boys podcast on the Armory Show! Download it for free on iTunes, find it on Stitcher, or click this link to listen to it on the original blog page. Art Insanity: The elegant audacity of the Armory Show of 1913, the daring exhibit that awed and outraged America

Staten Island, by way of Cezanne?

I was in Philadelphia this weekend checking out the outrageously popular ‘Cezanne and Beyond’ show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a diverse program sitting some of Paul Cezanne’s greatest paintings next to works they inspired.

Near one of Cezanne’s many depictions of the Bay of Estaques is a rather surprising view of old Staten Island. “Landscape, Staten Island” (pictured above) was painted in 1927-28 by Arshile Gorky, a disciple of Cezanne who fled his native Armenia and lived for a time here in New York.

I’m not sure what area of Staten Island Gorky has supposedly painted, as any distinctive features are abstracted into stylized shapes and colors as a virtual homage to Cezanne. However, if you squint, you may be able to see something resembling this old postcard image of the Staten Island neighborhood of St. George.

(Pic courtesy NY Public Library)

Philly’s New York nude treasure

I was in Philadelphia for the holiday but couldn’t leave the Bowery Boys behind, stumbling into an attractive nude lady with a connection to old New York.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, known less for its collections of Thomas Eakins than for its usage in the movie Rocky, holds an old piece of Stanford White’s original Madison Square Garden. Standing at the top of the entrance staircase is Diana, a delicate depiction of the Roman goddess by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of New York’s most important civic artists.

The 13 foot tall woman was placed at the top of the ornate Garden building on 27th street and Madison Avenue in 1893, where she actually served as a weather vane, twisting about on her axis 350 feet above the city. Diana even came with a billowing cape, a ‘flying drapery’, which would whip behind her during a violent gust. One can easily image her inspiring future comic book writers.

This was only the second Diana on top of the Garden rooftop. Gauden made an even larger version in 1891, but the 18 feet Diana proved to bulky to serve as a graceful vane and was replaced with this one. The original Diana moved to the White City, the famous World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where she was damaged in a fire.

Augustus used New York’s most famous model at the time as inspiration for Diana — Julia “Dudie” Baird (seen below), who posed for many artists at the time and whose body has inspired more than a few pieces throughout the city, including the golden Victory at Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza.

By 1925, White’s Madison Square Garden was torn down and moved uptown. Diana was displayed elsewhere for a few years before moving to Philly in 1932, where she has sat at the top of the art museum’s stair ever since.

If you’ve never been to Philly but find the statue somewhat familiar, it’s because Saint-Gaudens rendered smaller versions in bronze, including the one most notably held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (below).