Music of Antebellum Philadelphia

Music historian Jack McCarthy returns to Laurel Hill Mansion 2 p.m., Sunday, August 16, 2015 to present his third lecture program, Music of Antebellum Philadelphia.

Philadelphia had an active and diverse musical life in the years leading up to the Civil War, says McCarthy. Although it was no longer the preeminent American musical city it had been at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia was still an important music center in the antebellum period and home to many active musicians and musical organizations.

Musical Fund Hall

Musical Fund Hall

Jack McCarthy’s presentation, which focuses on the years between 1820-1860, combines lecture, archival images, and recorded examples to highlight the leading performing artists and composers, musical organizations and ensembles, and concert halls and music venues of the period. Among other interesting stories, the presentation features the founding of the nation’s oldest continuously active musical fund society, the Philadelphia bandleader and composer who was the first African-American to have his music published and first American to lead a musical ensemble on a tour of Europe, the establishment of the city’s first major orchestras, and the rise of grand opera and building of the nation’s oldest opera house, still in use today.


Jack McCarthy

A long-time archivist and historian, Jack McCarthy has a master’s degree in music history and specializes in Philadelphia music history. He has served as consulting archivist/historian to the Philadelphia Orchestra and for the 2013 radio documentary Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio. Jack gives walking tours on Philadelphia music history and writes on the topic for the on-line magazine Hidden City Daily. He is project director for Historical Society of Pennsylvania‘s Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR).

The 2015 lecture series is hosted by the City of Philadelphia’s Parks & Recreation (PP&R) Department and held at various historic house museums in Fairmount Park. Cost of the program is $15; free for students with accompanying adult. Light refreshments are served. Free parking is available. Plus, the mansion is easily reached via public transit.

Program fees are tax-deductible and go toward hosting future educational programs at the Fairmount Park mansions.

Laurel Hill Mansion, located at 7201 Edgley (Randolph) Drive, East Fairmount Park, is one of six historic mansions in the Park managed by the City of Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation (PP&R) Department that is open for scheduled public tours and programs. The historic mansion was restored in 1976 by the Women for Greater Philadelphia. The non-profit organization’s volunteers have been active in preserving and maintaining Laurel Hill Mansion ever since, while also presenting public programs that teach people about Philadelphia’s rich cultural history.

Laurel Hill Mansion

Laurel Hill Mansion



George & Edgar

EA Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

George Lippard

George Lippard

George Lippard and Edgar Allan Poe toiled in the trenches of Philadelphia newspaper and magazine journalism in the early 1840s.

One writer achieved enormous success, while the other struggled bitterly, only to have his star rise to the highest heights after his death, says literary critic Edward G. Pettit. 

Pettit will talk about the close friendship between George and Edgar in a program 2 p.m., Sunday, July 19, 2015 at historic Laurel Hill Mansion in East Fairmount Park.


Edward G. Pettit, The Philly Poe Guy

Witty and engaging, Edward G Pettit is a respected authority on Lippard, Poe and other Philadelphia Gothic authors. In addition, he served as the Charles Dickens Ambassador for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s year-long Bicentenary celebration of the author’s birth in 2012 and wrote the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion’s 2013 murder mystery play, Twisted, where he played Dickens.

…In 2009, the Philadelphia Library Company hosted the literary exhibit Philadelphia Gothic: Murders, Mysteries, Monsters, and Mayhem Inspire American Fiction 1798-1854. The exhibit can be viewed on-line.

Month of the Dog

vets-2015-218x300Every year, Philly’s Joel Spivak gifts City residents and visitors with a month’s worth of events and displays to honor Philly’s role in wiener history. Details about these special events can be found on the National Hot Dog Month in Philly website.

Here’s what’s planned to date for 2015:

• 2:30 p.m., Sunday, July 5,  Hot Dog History & Doll Display opens at 703 South 4th Street. Display on exhibit the entire month of July.

• 6-8 p.m., Friday, July 10. Remembering Famous Hot Dog Stands From the Past, meet at the corner of 40th & Lancaster Avenue, in front of Texas Wiener for a memorial display and FREE hot dogs!

• Noon, July 11. Third Annual South Street Hot Dog Crawl. Sample match_books-300x268special creations at five restaurants celebrating National Hot Dog Month.

The pay-as-you-go crawl, with street serenade by The Wild Bohemians, begins at Copabanana/Redwood Restaurants, 4th & South Street. Free 2015 Hot Dog Month Philly T-shirt to all who complete the crawl!

• Tuesday, July 14 or 21. Visit the Levis’ Hot Dogs stand in Jenkintown, PA with a group of old timers that ate at the South Philly Levis many years ago. Their tales will be collected on video for a future film.

• Saturday, July 18. South Street Headhouse District’s Dog Days of Summer Cook-off celebrates its fourth year.

• 1-7 p.m., Thursday, July 23. It’s National Hot Dog Day! Join the folks at Primo Hoagies, 326 South Street, for its Annual Veterans Eat Free Sausage Sandwiches Day.

• 1-3 p.m., Saturday, July 25. Remembering Famous Hot Dog Stands From the Past, at 5121 Germantown Avenue, for free hot dogs and  a memorial tribute to The Little Dog House once located there.

•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

Franks for the Memories.  Dozens of shops in Philly sell hot dogs, wieners, or franks of every size and description. But nostalgia runs deep in historic Philly for the old-time shops.

The Original Levis Hot Dog and Sandwich Shop at at 611 S. 6th Street.

The Original Levis Hot Dog and Sandwich Shop at 611 S. 6th Street.

Perhaps the best known is Old Original Levis Hot Dog and Sandwich Shop. Fourteen-year-old Abe Levis left Lithuania to evade being drafted into the Czar’s army. In Philadelphia he married Anna Solo and together they started a hotdog push cart business. By 1895 they opened a little sandwich shop on South 6th Street, in the heart of the South Street business district, thriving with immigrant-owned businesses.

The shop sold hot dogs, sandwiches, fish cakes, ice cream and sodas. Levis even produced its own carbonation in the basement and became as famous for its cherry soda as it did for hot dogs. The shop lasted some 100 years at this location before heirs sold the business to Elliott Hirsh, who now owns rights to the brand and the formula for Levis’s signature soda, Champ Cherry®.

Although the iconic place no longer exists, its sign does.

Photo credit from

Photo from The large neon sign was restored by the Davidson Neon Museum and moved across town to sit atop the North Star Bar at the corner of 27th and Poplar Streets. The sign has since been removed and stored away, say its current owners.

Tracy Kaufman Wood writes about her grandmother, Ida Kravitz, and provides a recipe for Pepper Hash on her blog, Who Can Stop A Dream. Bubbe Ida passed on her recipe from the old country to her son, whose business, Lenny’s Hot Dogs, has achieved its own local fame, says Tracy.

“My grandmother Ida Kravitz, was one of the early hot dog vendors. During the Great Depression, she was known as Mom, selling hot dogs with the works – mustard, onions, sauerkraut and her own recipe of pepper hash (she couldn’t afford the pickle relish) from a push cart on the corner of Fourth and South Streets in South Philadelphia. She charged five cents and included a complimentary orange soda. She supported a family of thirteen from her efforts. In the late forties, she sold the business to her son Lenny, who created a chain of hot dog stands lasting through the seventies in Philadelphia and Margate.”

Mom’s Pepper Hash is simple enough to make and Tracy includes the recipe on her blog. But be sure to “sh’terein” lots of love into the pot as well if you whip up a batch.

For those anticipating Hot Dog Day with great relish, the City’s tourism bureau published a long list of Philly hot spots for hotdogs. Go out and get some!

City of Music

2f7a26ePopular historian Jack McCarthy explores Philadelphia’s great musical legacy in a program at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 14, 2015 at historic Strawberry Mansion, located in East Fairmount Park.

For more than 300 years, the City has nurtured numerous ground-breaking musical styles and artists, and has been at the forefront of some of the world’s most significant musical developments.

Jack’s presentation, Philadelphia: City of Music, features stories and archival images about America’s first song composer, the first African-American to have his music published, the nation’s first “mega concert,” the City’s legendary institutions such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia International Records, Cameo-Parkway Records, as well as many of the City’s foremost artists in classical music, jazz, gospel, rock n’ roll, rhythm & blues/soul.


The Commuter’s Companion

yellowbackYellowbacks were eye-catching, cheap, popular reading among rail travelers during the mid-nineteenth century.

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is showcasing some two dozen of these distinctive British books in a special exhibit Yellowbacks: Don’t Judge These Victorian Books by Their Covers at its gallery at 219 South 6th Street through the month of March.

Free noon-time public tours of the exhibit are available on Thursday, March 19 and again on Monday, March 30, 2015. Executive Director Sandra Tatman will talk about the library’s well-preserved collection of some 100 yellowback titles plus provide colorful history about this early pulp literature. No reservations necessary.

The years between 1855 and 1879 are considered the “golden age” of yellowbacks. Well-known artists often illustrated the luridly inviting front covers, while commercial advertisements for popular products, like Pears’ Soap, graced the back covers. Many yellow backs were reprints of popular fiction by best-selling authors of the day such as Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope. American authors like Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Bret Harte were also published.

Once inexpensively mass produced and sold for pennies at railway stations throughout Britain, yellowbacks in good condition today are hard to find and highly valued by collectors. Indeed, go online, for a number of book seller and literary websites provide wonderful details about the authors and publishers of the era. Emory University, with one of the largest collections of yellowbacks, has digitized some 1200 rare editions and made them available for free downloading.

For more information about the exhibit, contact the Athenaeum of Philadelphia at 215-925-2688

Music of Colonial Philadelphia


Jack McCarthy

Historian Jack McCarthy explores the music of Colonial Philadelphia from the 1670s to 1770s in a program on Sunday, November 23, 2014 at 2 p.m., at Laurel Hill Mansion, an historic house museum in East Fairmount Park.

Philadelphia’s early music culture was greatly affected by the prevailing influence of the founding Quakers, who were a decidedly unmusical people, says Jack McCarthy. Fortunately, the city also become home to many other religious and ethnic groups for whom music was important, and, eventually, a lively music culture took shape in the City. By the late 18th century, Philadelphia was the music capital of America, a position it would hold until the 1820s.

Jack McCarthy’s presentation, Philadelphia Lost Sites and Sounds: Music of Colonial Philadelphia, combines lecture, archival images and recorded examples featuring the music of the day, created by individuals, events and sites that shaped the city’s emerging musical culture of the Colonial period.



Laurel Hill Mansion Hosts Archaeologist Rebecca Yamin

The corner of 3rd & Chestnut Streets is the future home of the Museum of the American Revolution.

Right now, all that can be seen at street level is an enormous pit. But within this pit, dozens of feet deep, thousands of artifacts have been discovered, revealing the wonderful history of this old city that still lies beneath our feet.

For the past couple months, Dr. Rebecca Yamin, lead archaeologist at the site, has published a weekly update about these discoveries. For those that can make the date, every Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dr. Yamin can be found on the front steps of the historic First Bank of the United States at 116 South Third Street talking about the archaeological excavation underway across the street. (Update: The dig is over and construction is well underway at this location.)


Rebecca Yamin

October is Archaeology Month and in honor of International Archaeology Day on Saturday, October 18th, 2014 Dr. Yamin will be guest speaker at historic Laurel Hill Mansion in Fairmount Park, where she will discuss her team’s findings at this site and at other excavations that she’s conducted as an urban archaeologist.

The title of Rebecca Yamin’s presentation is From Chaos to Context: Urban Archaeology in Philadelphia.

While recovering artifacts from long-abandoned privies and wells is very exciting, the finds only become meaningful when they are connected to the people whose possessions they once were, says Dr. Yamin. She will discuss the urban archaeological experience from beginning to end, using Josiah Eddy, an Afro-American barber whose privies were found on the Convention Center Expansion site, as an example of a person “we get to know” through the archaeology, as well as revealing current findings at the excavation site at 3rd & Chestnut Streets.

Dr. Yamin has been doing urban archaeology in Philadelphia for the last 15 years. As an employee of John Milner Associates, Inc. she directed excavations on the sites of the Independence Visitor Center and the Liberty Bell Center on Independence Mall, on many sites in Independence National Historical Park, on Franklin Square, and on the Convention Center Expansion site at 13th Street.

Rebecca Yamin has also done extensive work in New York and New Jersey including the Five Points site in Lower Manhattan, many projects at Raritan Landing in N.J., and a major excavation in New Brunswick. She has a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from New York University. Her book, Digging in the City of Brotherly Love, was published in 2008.9780300100914



The Upcycle Is This

Dumpster Divers at the Archives

Dumpster Divers at the Archives

Philadelphia’s intrepid Dumpster Divers are at it again – making fine art out of nothing more than other people’s doomed trash.

See their results of their latest project at the National Archives building in downtown Philadelphia.

Entitled Archives Alchemy: The Art of the Dumpster Divers the unusual project is a first-time collaboration for Leslie Simon, director of Research Services at the Philadelphia National Archives, who teamed up with the Dumpster Divers, a collective of some forty classically trained and self-taught artists with a heightened fondness for found objects.

The challenge to the Dumpster Divers was to create artworks from the debris of many moves and renovations that was otherwise headed for the dumpster, says Leslie Simon. Some of the available materials included miles of obsolete microfilm and electronics, old ladders and library carts, aged leather book bindings, displays, posters, photographs and “lots of red tape.”

With an artist’s touch, the reimagined trash is a way of preserving and interpreting much of the history contained within the vaults of the Archives. Philadelphia’s Archives, one of fifteen facilities across the country, holds records of federal courts and agencies operating in five mid-Atlantic states. Records range from handwritten 18th century customs manifests to 20th century scientific data.

The Divers’ upcycled artworks have been exhibited before at places like the American Visionary Art Museum, Noyes Museum of Art, Perkins Art Center, Please Touch Museum, the Garbage Museum and at many other national and regional locations. 

The exhibit is on display January 10th through April 24, 2014. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. – 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. the second Saturday of each month. Entrance to the galleries is at 9th & Chestnut Streets. Photo ID required to gain entrance to the Federal Archives building. For more information, call 215-606-0101.

Update: The exhibit is extended through Friday, July 25th!

Credit: Press Information and photo from Don Brewer’s Philadelphia Art News Blog

Made In America

SS United State eases into port

The SS United States eases into port…

The SS United States is the greatest mid-century ocean liner ever built. Incredibly it’s still afloat.

Although it sits derelict, berthed on the Delaware River in South Philadelphia, it’s not truly abandoned, as passionate fans from around the world strive to fund its restoration.

Philadelphia author and historian, Steven Ujifusa, is one of its champions and he’s just published A Man And His Ship, a biography about naval architect William Francis Gibbs, who designed his technical masterpiece to be the fastest, finest and most beautiful ocean liner of its time.

The 2000-passenger “floating Waldorf Astoria” was “designed to be extremely safe – it was fireproof and had virtually no wood – and she had the speed and maneuverability of a Navy destroyer,” says Ujifusa, in an interview published recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Still, its technical marvels couldn’t compete with modern jet aircraft, and after seventeen years breaking sea records and safely transporting tens of thousands of passengers, the great ship was retired. By 2009, stripped bare to its hull and destined for a scrap ship graveyard in India, it was saved by last-minute funding from entrepreneur and philanthropist Gerry Lenfest, who came to the aid of the non-profit SS United States Conservancy, headed by Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of William Gibbs.

The ship’s long saga isn’t over yet, and its future is as precarious as ever, but there’s hope still to revitalize this former grand dame of the seas. To learn more, go to the Conservancy’s website at 

For an in-person visit to the great ship, it’s best viewed from the Ikea Store‘s large second floor restaurant windows, located at 2206 S. Columbus Boulevard, directly across the street from the ship’s dock site.

 Photo courtesy of  Telestar Logistics

About the Blog

File:Rittenhouse Square.JPG

Spring in the City… Rittenhouse Square

Philadelphia is a vibrant mix of old and new, historic and hip, traditional and trendy.

This City of many historic firsts and innumerable legends has long been a popular destination.

Centuries before William Penn sailed up the Delaware,  it was a gathering place of great reverence and relevance for generations of Native Americans who settled here, farming the ancient lands, hunting in its forests and fishing along its rivers and streams.

From its earliest beginnings as a City, it was an enclave that beckoned to millions fleeing religious or political persecution in their lands of origin. Philadelphia became a perfect melting pot of ethnicities, cuisines, and cultures.

Chinatown New Year’s celebration.

Home to the largest municipal park in the world, with tree-lined streets even in its business district, and pocket parks nestled throughout its many neighborhood communities, today it’s every bit the “green country town” that Penn envisioned long ago.

The City once renowned as “Workshop of the World” continues to attract international visitors and abounds in cultural amenities, many of them free. Events, programs, lectures, food markets, theater, art, sports and more do much to showcase the City’s rich historic profile.

This blog will guide out-of-town visitors and hometown residents who seek out the best of what the city offers.