Thursday, June 26, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: End of June, 1915

After Flourishing 6 Decades, Camden's "Squattertown" Finally Destroyed

              In late June, 1915, Camdenites had about enough of Squattertown, the large shanty town that had existed for 60 years on city-owned land on the Delaware Riverfront at Spruce Street in Camden. Highway Commissioner Albert Sayers made it his goal to literally wipe Squattertown off the map. Camden residents of the day called it a "rendezvous of petty criminals, drunkards, and general trouble-makers" leading a "lazy existence".
             Sayers spent a whole afternoon warning the residents of Squattertown of its imminent destruction the next day, convincing most to leave. However, about 40 stayed behind in defiance. These 40 got their assess handed to them the next day, when every cop in town assisted by 100 day laborers descended upon Front and Spruce Streets, armed with picks and axes, ready to rumble. Horses were brought in to pull apart the ersatz structures in Squattertown and the whole kit and kaboodle was dumped into the adjacent Delaware River.
            99 Years later, Squattertown is called "Tent City", but it no longer on the riverfront.  Pretty much the same exact scene as above took place recently, when the city came in and destroyed it all over again.

The site of Squattertown as it appears on Google Streetview.

Thief Steals From Little Girl, Gets Ass Kicked

           Nine-year-old Katie Shuster was given a special task by her father: cash a $35 check and bring me back the dough. Katie followed her Dad's instructions and brought her baby brother with her in his stroller. Upon returning from her three block trek between the house and the bank on 52nd Street, she encountered the likes of John Williams, a local whacko in the neighborhood that everyone knew as "Nervy".
           Seeing the 35 bucks in the baby's stroller, Nervy grabbed the cash and ran, but must have not realized how many witnesses were about, including cops. All at once, scores of people started running after Nervy, having had enough of his bullshit over the years. Storekeepers, women who were shopping, newsboys, "white wings" (street cleaners), and a few policemen started chasing Nervy through the streets and alleys of West Philadelphia. Nervy managed to outrun them all, running into a vacant house at 5425 Chestnut Street and hiding in a closet. The owner of the house, one John Griffith, just happened to be checking on the place at the time, finding Nervy in the closet.
           Griffith, who also knew about this guy and also had enough of his bullshit, locked him in the closet and called the cops without even knowing about the recent robbery. The cops came along and, upon seeing who was locked in the closet, proceeded to beat the everloving shit out of him before locking him up.

The D.F. McConnell Modern Porch House where Nervy tried to hide via Google Streetview

Successful Test of the Curtis Building's "Water Blanket" 

The Water Blanket test with a nice portrait of Fire Marshal Barnum, whose office was in the same building.
                   City dwellers of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were obsessed with fire prevention. Fires were always a big concern because any single one that grew too big could take out the entire city. 1915 was an especially bad year for Philadelphia fires. One that occurred in May was located in a building that was right next door to Christ Church, and nearly took it out-- causing even more paranoia than usual
              To prove that new buildings in the city were equipped with the finest in fire prevention, a demonstration was held at the new Curtis Publishing Company Building for 2,000 spectators and every fire official for 100 miles. While the building had been open for a little while at this point, this was when installation of the "Water Blanket" was just completed. This "Water Blanket" was a big-ass waterfall that would go down the side of a building to prevent a fire in a building nearby from spreading. On the 9th floor of the Curtis Building, several water tanks holding 168,500 gallons each were installed, letting down a deluge of 2500 gallons per minute through sprinklers located above the windows on every other floor on the Sansom and 7th Street sides of the building (the other sides don't face other buildings).
             For the demo, there was a fire drill for the company's 4000 employees, after which Battalion Chief Moodle activated the machine from a switch on the 5th floor (one of many in the building), surprising the fuck out of anyone nearby who didn't know it was about to happen. The system squirted down all of its water over a 30 minute period and made news across the globe.
             The Curtis Publishing Company loved itself some fire prevention. In addition to the Water Curtain system, the building hosted its own city fire station and had a volunteer company made up of Curtis employees. The system was tested one more time in 1922 and I can't seem to find any other record of it being used after that. Even though the building had been renovated and renovated again since, one can still spot the little sprinkler heads sticking out of the facade on the Seventh and Sansom Street sides of the building.

Water Blanket test via Fire and Water Engineering, Volume 58

Who the FUCK Are the Stonemen!?!?

Screen test for a deleted scene in Star Trek V.
              Late June, 1915, suspicions arose across the city regarding a new fraternal organization known as the Stonemen's Fellowship. It was founded in 1910 by Episcopal leader H.C. Stone at the Holy Trinity Memorial Chapel at 22nd and Spruce Streets and only had about 200 members at the start of 1915. However, by late June, that number grew to 6,500. The organization hosted huge banquets every week and allowed members to make use of a huge clubhouse at 2216 Spruce Street (long gone) that offered all the same level of amenities that the big-time motherfuckers like the Union League and the Philadelphia Club did.
              The weird part was that there were NO DUES for membership and all the offerings of the club were FREE of charge. Also, members were allowed to belong to any Christian denomination or political group, or none at all! Membership grew so rapidly in early 1915 that the club was forced to start having meetings in UPenn's gymnasium. The goals and philosophy of the club were kept a tight secret, even to members. One had to achieve the third degree to even get a hint.
             Philadelphians, especially church leaders, began questioning the motives of this new organization, who was funding it, and how the fuck they were recruiting so quickly. Some even thought that this might be some kind of devil-worshipping club and that the benefits of membership for free were the ultimate temptation. Rumors of whacky rituals didn't help matters, neither did stories of individual members recruiting over 80 neophytes a day. The club had no officers, H.C. Stone himself the sole leader.
             As it ends up, the goal of the club was to start a massive Protestant Unification that was planned to sweep across the nation. By the end of 1915, the club had 100,000 members. Ten to thirty thousand at a time would travel to other cities to recruit new chapters, and it always worked, especially because the press would write about how 30,000 members of the same club just reserved all the seats on 20 trains at a time, causing travel woes for others. The unification was to create another church called the Church of God, which members would get baptized into upon reaching third degree membership. While the club stated that there were no conditions for membership, they were decidedly anti-Catholic. When the anti-Catholic part of the club's mission was revealed, there was a huge loss in membership.
            The Stonemen's Fellowship's funding source was never found, but many think that there were a couple of Old Philadelphians involved. Members included some of the city's biggest movers and shakers, including Director of Public Safety (Police Commissioner) George D. Porter and George Wharton Pepper of UPenn. The club seemed like it was going to take over the world and much was written about it until 1917, when World War I claimed a huge part of the membership. After the war, the club was pretty much over and forgotten, though they did exist in a small way as late as the 1930s.

A picture of Stone in 1917, presiding over a memorial for 300 members who died at the start of the WWI.

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