Thursday, May 15, 2014

99 Years Ago In Philadelphia-- Third Week of May, 1915

Big-Ass Fire on Chestnut East

         A huge-ass fire consumed 1016-1018 Chestnut, the former Blasius & Sons Piano Building. It was then leased to the Banks Business College, where it was apparently perfectly acceptable for students to smoke cigarettes during class in a low-ventilation room full of typewriters mounted to 200 wooden tables. A student flicked his cigarette in the wrong direction and a 3-Alarm fire was the result. The orange glow of the fire was visible from West Philly.
           At Jefferson Hospital, then located in a bunch of lost buildings (one of them still stands at 10th/Sansom), patients started freaking out when they saw and smelled the fire coming from the building whose back faced across the street. The ceiling and third floor of Banks Business College eventually collapsed, injuring a firefighter. The total damage to the building and businesses nearby totaled $130,000, about $18 million today. $75,000 of that damage was to Banks Business College alone. They had just re-done their classrooms in full mahogany, so it was a bummer.
          Despite all this, the building itself did fine. The exterior walls and metal skeleton of the place was completely undamaged. It survived all the way until the 1950's when it was demolished to make way for Jefferson Hospital's Gibbon Building.

The building right before going down. That's-a nice-a building. Photo from the Philadelphia Historical Commission via the PAB.

Demonic Street Art Pops Up in Kensington

           In the third week of May, 1915, mysterious green graffiti starting being sighted all around Kensington. If this happened today, we'd think it was some kind of wannabe Bansky or Resurrect Dead type. Back then, people thought it was Satan!!! Upon viewing of these green images, many early 20th Century Kenzos panicked and called the cops, claiming that they must be demonic in nature, and if not, a system of symbols used by revolutionaries trying to overthrow the government (from Kensington).
           The cops investigated the symbols, trying to crack the code. Some of the symbols appeared to be Asian-inspired in nature, others resembled Greek letters. An Officer Phillips, while investigating the grafitti, happened upon a gentleman named Johnny Coogan carrying around an open can of green paint. Phillips followed Coogan around until he started painting mysterious symbols on a fence. He was arrested and taken to the 26th Precinct Police Station.
           When faced with Magistrate McCleary's court, Mr. Coogan explained that he'd been recently hired as a sign painter and was practicing painting lettering in order to be better qualified for this job, which he obviously wasn't qualified for. Of course, Coogan was also getting wasted as shit right before he was would practice, causing the fucked up lettering being spotted around town. McCleary sentenced him to 5 days in the County lock-up, where there were several signs in need of re-painting.

The station where Coogan was booked. Photo from Naked Philly.

Italian-Americans Getting Blown Up In South Philly

          At 3:45 AM on May 17th, 1915, a bomb exploded on the steps of 1621 South Franklin Street.  Mr. Corso, a baker, wasn't home. However, his wife and four children were. The explosion was forceful enough to knock the family out of their beds and knock over everything at the Beckman family residence on the second floor.
         This was the second time someone tried to blow up 1621 South Franklin. Three months earlier, a mystery assailant drove a horse and carriage swiftly down the narrow street and threw an explosive device at the same spot. The device exploded but caused no damage. Neighbors say that there are racial tensions on the street between Jewish- and Italian-Americans. Back then, these ethnicities were considered a race. Three detectives from Police HQ at City Hall and one from the local station were sent to investigate.

1621 South Franklin as it appears in Google Streetview

No More Mashers in Fairmount Park!

              Oh, so you thought it would be fun to whistle at young women and girls in Fairmount Park, eh? Well, you're fucked now. Captain Hayes Duncan of the Fairmount Park guards has declared war on "Mashers", an old-timey term for cat-callers and/or street-harassers. Magistrate Boyle joined in on the cause, declaring anyone accused of "mashing" would face a swift trial at the Woodford Guard House.
               Anyone found guilty would then be faced with a HARSH punishment: a $5 fine. Don't have $5 but still aching to do some mashing? The alternative was 10 days in the County lock-up. This, of course, ended mashing in Philadelphia for all time. Oh wait, no it didn't. There's currently an ad campaign running in the city that discourages mashing today.

One of the ads.
                  After 99 Years, all that has been done to prevent street harassment are two City Council hearings that discussed the issue. Therefore, in an era when women couldn't even vote, there was a harsher punishment for street harassment than there is now.


  1. What's the deal with that sign on Chestnut, "Keep Chestnut St Green Bring Cash: Stores (?) & Stocks Bought for Cash"? Any idea what kind of operation that would be?

    1. I noticed that as well-- more study is required. Could use a campaign like that for Chestnut Street today.