Thursday, July 10, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Second Week of July, 1915

Troubled Youth? Let Them Beat the Shit Out of Each Other!!

Ad for boxing gloves from 1915.
              In the neighborhood surrounding Front & Fairmount, in what is now considered the lower part of Northern Liberties (but what was back then considered the middle of it), there was a fucked up neighborhood where homes, factories, lumber/coal yards, warehouses, and freight lines were all interspersed together in one location. The kids growing up in this little hood were what we call "troubled" or "disadvantaged" or "underprivileged" or "at risk" today, but back then they were just known as "pains in the asses".
         The biggest problem with them was, in the minds of the adults in the neighborhood, that these kids were dangerous. Not because they formed gangs and robbed people (which they did), but because they were always running around and playing in the streets between the factory buildings, warehouses, and freight lines, causing delays in work because they would give you shit when you asked them to get out of the way of your horse carriage that was piled 10 feet high with steel springs. Teens were an especially painful pain the balls, because at the time, those aged 14-16 were only required 8 hours of schooling per week and those over 16 didn't have to go to school at all!
        In order to get these motherfuckers off the streets, a James Welsh organized the Delaware A.C. Boxing Club, knowing that one thing these kids liked to do was pummel the shit out of each other. Welsh dealt with these miscreants often in his job as nightwatchman for the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, where he had to guard the company's many properties in the neighborhood overnight.
        Welsh got permission to use one of the large warehouses on their double-wide pier (Piers 33 and 34 North) as a boxing arena. PRT was suspicious at first, thinking Welsh was trying to set up some kind of event venue where people would pay to watch street kids beat the fuck out of each other, but Welsh proved that it was going to be legit. On the second week of July, 1915, Welsh put out the call to the neighborhood boys between 16-19 years old, offering them the chance to fight 3-round bouts against each other with regulation boxing gloves. About 50 boys responded and the Delaware A.C. Boxing Club was born.
         Today, the location of Welsh's club is now the northern piece of Festival Pier. Boxing clubs to "get youth off the streets" are relatively common and there are still many active organizations of this type in all parts of the city.

We've Got To Do Something About these Schlags!!

              The word Schlag has a lot of meanings in many different time periods and regions of the world (a kind of Viennese whipped cream, an over made-up woman, a punch/slap, the list goes on), but in 1915 Philadelphia, the word meant one thing and one thing only: the owner of what would now call a "Pop-up" store. This, in the view of storeowners and real estate agents of the period, was something that needed to be eradicated from existence.
              You see, chronically vacant storefronts were just as big a problem in Philadelphia 99 years ago as they are now. One thing, in the minds of business leaders of the day, that kept these storefronts vacant, were schlag stores that purposely opened for one month or one season and would move out. These stores would often cater to a certain type of customer or a certain time of the year, either offering shoddy merchandise or seasonal items that would become useless in a month at super-low prices, under-cutting the permanent stores in the same neighborhood. Sometimes the Schlags would collect sales samples and rejected/damaged merchandise from all different factories and stock an entire store with it. Other times the Schlag would be a traveling salesman or a buyer that ran into a dearth of low-overhead merchandise and wanted to dump it all right away. The presence of Schlag stores prevented other storefronts from getting filled, because other merchants and real estate dudes were so weary of the Schlags that they would never want to open a store next to one.
             On top of all that, based on the municipal laws of the period, these short-term stores didn't qualify to take out business licenses or pay mercantile taxes. These motherfuckers were considered quite a drain on the retail and real estate communities. In the second week of July, 1915, a huge call was put out in all the city's publications denouncing the Schlags and begging the city government to do something about them.
            Today, Schlag stores still exist, but most are welcomed to the community and get to be called "Pop-ups", showing up in all parts of the city and even in the King of Prussia Mall. The vast majority have a different kind of purpose today, usually attached to some event or offering some kind of "limited time only" merchandise. If you look closely enough, however, you can still find a true old-fashioned Schlag store or two around the city. The unnamed dvd/cd store that I call White Rectangle Video on the unit block of South 11th Street comes to mind.
           Since that "Pop-up" name is kind of getting old already, why don't we go back to calling them "Schlag stores"? The Art Star Schlag Market? The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator Schlag Shop? I think its a good name. 

Watch Out! Pud Corrigan Found a Sword!

           In the second week of July, 1915, a local drunk miscreant named Pud Corrigan found a broadsword just lying around at the corner of Hope and Huntingdon Streets in Fairhill. Isn't this how Joan of Arc got started? Anyway, good ol' Pud did what anyone would do if they found a broadsword on the street-- he started waving it around, having a swordfight with the air.
          Some guys of they type that used to be called "corner-sitters", probably at the corner of Huntingdon and Howard, got a kick out of Pud's antics and started making fun of him. Pud, in a fit of rage, came at the guys with his sword, swinging it all over the place. The sword wasn't very sharp so it didn't end up slashing the guys, but still managed to hurt them. Eventually, others came out to denounce Pud's swordplay and also got a mouthful of broadsword for their trouble.
           Eventually, there was a wake of injured people all along Huntingdon Street that started getting the attention of passersby. A mob soon formed that drew the attention of Policeman Rainey. Rainey approached Pud to see what was going on. Pud responded by charging at full speed toward Rainey with his sword pointed directly at him. Rainey dodged Pud and tripped him, then proceeded to kick the shit out of him in front of the crowd.
         While Rainey walked the defeated Pud to the police station at 4th and York Streets (still standing!), the crowd followed, screaming curses at Pud until he was brought inside. You'd think someone would get a harsher sentence for randomly fucking people up with a sword, but ol' Pud only got 10 days in jail for his crime. The sword's owner was never found.

Where the broadsword was found as it appears in Google Streetview.