Thursday, August 21, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia-- End of August, 1915

The Great Mosquito Genocide


           The Summer of 1915 was an especially hot, humid, and rainy one. That particular summer, mosquitoes had become a huge problem and the citizenry blamed the city-owned marshlands and creeks that surrounded Philadelphia at the time. After an entire summer filling pools of standing water with oil and digging trenches to drain marshes, it was decided that in the third week of August, 1915, a mass Mosquito Genocide should take place with what was left of the paltry $3500 the city had set aside (actually increased from $2500 to $3500 in mid-June) in their annual budget for this cause. The target? The marshes around League Island, where it was said that the swarms of mosquitoes were so thick that they cast a shadow over the entire area.
          Fifty employees of the Bureau of Highways surrounded the mosquito epicenter, located just east of Broad Street at Government Avenue, now the exact location of GlaxoSmithKline's fancy new Center City-ditching U.S. headquarters in the Navy Yard. The workers came at the marshes with scythes and then sprayed a whole shitload of "Chinese Punk" incense, so much that people near City Hall were able to smell it. After that, the kerosene made its appearance.
         Though some appreciated this effort, it wasn't enough. The Bureau of Highways was out of money and there were other well-known mosquito transwarp hubs at Cobb's Creek and all along the long-lost Curtin Street Canal. Two days later, a whole mess of realtors got together to complain that home values in South, West, and Southwest Philadelphia were going down because of the mosquito presence and the city better fucking do something about it.
        As it ends up, they did. The budget for mosquito control was increased more than tenfold (thanks to help from Senator Vare) in 1916. The crew handling mosquito breeding grounds were given some extra weaponry (cyanide, specifically) and dirt being moved for new road construction was dumped in existing marshes. Also, eight inspectors were employed to go house to house and eliminate any mosquito-causing situations that might be present.

Fifteen Pall Bearers Needed at 500-pound Man's Funeral

             At the end of August, 1915, one Edward J. Griess of 1540 Butler Street, a century ahead of his time in the Third Wave of the Fat Acceptance Movement, died of a heart attack at age 51. In preparation for his funeral at the Willis G. Hale-designed St. Stephen's Catholic Church, a massive coffin made of solid mahogany was constructed to hold the 500-lb man at the Battersby Funeral Home at Broad and Westmoreland. Once complete, Griess' corpse was somehow placed inside, wrapped up in a shroud because they couldn't find any clothes big enough to fit his 64-inch waist.
            Then they had to find a hearse big enough to carry the 800-lb combined weight of body and casket. They used a carriage normally meant for moving large amounts of cargo for the trip. Fifteen men then pall-beared Griess up the stairs of the church for his service, then hauled the monstrous casket in that big-ass carriage to the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham where he was to be interred in an extra-large plot. 

Griess' house as it appears in Google Streetview. Its a grocery store now... how ironic.

What the Hell is Under City Hall?

           It was time. Due to an extensive transit plan (that included a bunch of subways and els that never got built) created in 1912 after the success of the just-born Market Street Elevated, digging would soon have to begin under City Hall for the first time since the gigantic building was constructed. At that point, the Market Street line jogged around the foundations of City Hall, its builders not wanting to deal with the logistics of going underneath (though they eventually did 1929-34 when they built the modern piece of the MFL that goes under). The Broad Street Line, however, WOULD have to travel under the giant building.
         Things started at the end of August, 1915. S.M. Swaab and the Keystone State Construction Company drilled 10 borings and dug 7 test pits from various points in City Hall's basements to determine what kind of shit was underneath. The result? A lot. Loam, sand, clay, gravel, and mica schist were found at all varying depths and thicknesses. The bedrock varied from 59 feet to 40 feet below ground. Much to the engineer's surprise, no bit of the extremely heavy City Hall's foundation touched bedrock. In fact, the thickness of City Halls' foundation varied between 14 and 32 feet below the surface. How the fuck was this thing even standing?
         The engineers determined that the new subway tunnel 46 feet under the surface would require the movement of 100,000 cubic yards of earth and the blasting of some of the bedrock that was in the way. Also, they would have to underpin City Hall, connecting it to the bedrock underneath.
         This work would take the next five years and City Hall Station did not open for business until 1928.

1915 plan for City Hall Station. Only three of the buildings seen in this drawing still stand. That's a shame. PhillyHistory.org

Dude Gets His Ass Kicked By A Bunch of Chicks

                 Hugo Mulcrane doesn't like beef or pork, he likes chicken. After seeing a few random chickens walking around the city, Mulcrane had a bright idea: sprinkle some chicken feed around and he'll be able to catch one. After trying this out at the corner of Susquehanna and Girard for a few hours, the chickens didn't come. Mulcrane got frantic and started yelling "Chick! Chicken! Chick!" thinking that the chickens would hear him and come callin'.
                  Unfortunately for Mulcrane, some young ladies were walking by and misinterpreted his beckoning. One of them approached and clocked Mulcrane in the face with her parasol, stating "I ain't no chicken." You see, in Philadelphia of 1915, "chick" didn't just mean female, it meant under-aged female. These ladies were pissed off  1) for getting "mashed" on by this crazy bastard who was spreading chicken feed everywhere and 2) for being mistaken for under-aged girls. After the initial parasol attack, the rest ganged up around Mulcrane and proceeded to beat the shit out of him until his cries for help were heard by Sergeant John Hasslett. He rescued Mulcrane and brought him down to the East Girard Police Station.
               After explaining his story to the cops, they advised him to stick to roast beef. In regard to the young ladies, Mulcrane stated "I wouldn't of had any of 'em anyhow."

The scene in the incident as seen in Google Streetview

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