Wednesday, December 17, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Middle of December, 1915

Big Fucking Snowstorm Hits Philadelphia, Worse in Other Cities

Picture taken at the height of the storm, somewhere on Market just west of City Hall.
            On December 13, 1915, Philadelphia was hit with a huge, unexpected snow storm that had been predicted by weathermen to be nothing but slush. It started out as just a little over an inch of snow all morning and appeared to have stopped completely. Then, all of a sudden, another 4 inches fell in blizzard form around noon and was done in a very short period of time.

The yards on top of the old "Chinese Wall" leading to Broad Street Station during the storm
               That's right, it was only a total of 5 inches. Nonetheless, the city was crippled. However, the effect in Philly was nothing compared to other northeastern cities. Trains were stuck all over the coast with passengers trapped inside. In the end, $2.5 million of damage was done. Telegraph and phone wires were down all over the northeast-- there was zero service of each kind between Albany and Philadelphia for days. Milk deliveries to Philly were suspended for at least one day-- all reserve milk was sent to hospitals and public institutions.
          It makes you wonder how these 1915 folks would have handled the badass winter Philly had last year.

View of Market East getting its ass kicked by the storm from City Hall

The Spirit of Giving, Kensington Style

The scene of Christmas Spirit from
            Hugh McCrane was a bum that primarily hung out at the corner of Front and York in Kensington who apparently loved himself some Christmas. Upon passing a store that had a large stuffed Santa Claus on display, he ripped the beard off of it and somehow stuck it to his own face. He then stole a bunch of baskets of apples from a nearby grocer and started handing the apples out to all the children on the street.
            The grocer himself was understandably pissed off by this and contacted his friend, Officer McClusker, who took McCrane into custody. Santa Bum was sentenced by Magistrate Glenn to 30 days at the House of Corrections. McCrane responded with an endless tirade of bad language.

Front and York today thanks to Google Streetview. Yes, that is the same building.

The Great Trunk Murder Caper

        In the basement of 4062 Frankford Avenue, the demolition of an old house lead to the discovery of a gruesome scene. One of the demolition workers, Louis Dehman, was digging up the cellar of the place when he found a wooden box containing a steamer trunk that contained a body that was completely covered in Quicklime aka Calcium Oxide.
       What came to be known as the "Trunk Murder" or "Box Murder" became big news over the next six months. The victim was 23-year-old Daniel J. McNichol, cousin of a State Senator. He had disappeared 20 months before and just happened to be carrying $2000 on his person at the time. 
          Edward F. Keller, partner of McNichol in a failed leather company, cooperated with police the day the trunk was found but soon became the prime suspect and was arrested the day after. Keller's story changed constantly thereafter but the circumstantial evidence against him piled up like a motherfucker. They found Quicklime at his house (which also happened to be the same kind of quicklime used at the leather plant), he told McNichol's pregnant fiance that he had abandoned her and moved to NYC, Norristown, and/or Detroit the day after he disappeared, Keller owned the commercial laundry business that had been using the building in which the trunk body was found (under a fake name) , and he was witnessed digging a hole in the basement. 
          Keller tried to claim that the man in the trunk was not McNichol at all and that McNichol was not only still alive, but in contact with him, claiming that he had become a bum in New York. This was all disproved pretty quickly using some science revolutionary to the period, aka checking the gold fillings in the corpses' teeth versus dental records. Keller also claimed that the laundry was located in a shitty neighborhood (it was) and didn't have locks on the doors (it didn't), so anyone could have buried that body there. In May, 1916, Keller was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10-12 years at Eastern State Penitentiary.
          After spending 8 years at Eastern State, Keller was released and found a job as a night watchman at the Corn Exchange Bank (this guy was such a pimp that he was able to get meet a woman and get married while in prison, who got him the job). On December 20th, 1925, he proceeded to steal $20,000 in cash from the bank. He fled from his home to the Lorraine Hotel (you know, the Divine Lorraine!) but then panicked and wanted to leave town. He hailed a cab and set about escaping Philadelphia forever. He opened his suitcase to admire the pile of money and died of heart failure, lying in the money he just stole. The same detective who solved the McNichol case (Detective Belshaw) was called to investigate the death of Keller. How ironic.
        The detective work connecting Keller to the McNichol murder was unprecedented in its use of science and forensics. The story still pops up every now and then, including a shitty 1991 MS-DOS video game called Murder!  and has appeared in detective training literature as recently as 2007.

Edward Keller

Fake Buttermilk and Other Offenses to Food Are Being Sold All Over The City!

             Special Agent Robert M. Simmons of the Pennsylvania State Dairy and Food Commission has made a disturbing discovery: 85% of the buttermilk being sold in Philadelphia is not real! In case you didn't know, back in 1915, people drank buttermilk, the by-product left over from the churning of butter out of cream, because it was believed that the shit made you into a super-healthy Stanless Steelsque mega-monster. 
             Special Agent Simmons discovered that some shady company was selling a specially-made powdered skim milk to most Philadelphia grocers that, when mixed with lactic acid, created an artificial buttermilk that tasted better than the real thing but had no nutritional value. Simmons also busted a bunch of stores for selling rotten "canned eggs", selling goat meat as lamb, and adding sulfer dioxide to cherries.
              Not a damn thing was ever done about it.

Those sulfer dioxide cherries are quite common today. Pic from

Monday, December 15, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Bell Telephone Diamond Exchange

1632 Diamond Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
                  Norf Philly has lots of architectural treasures to talk about but few seem to know about this old phone exchange... except me! Read it all at the Hidden City Daily!