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Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog.  Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection.  Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!

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Abridged History of the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant

This guest blog post is written by Sam Bocetta. Sam is currently working on his first book, and more information can be found at his homepage, www.Sam.Bocetta.com.

An aerial view of hte Scranton Army Ammunition plant, showing a number of rectangular buildings and a large parking lot. Image from Army.mil and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0.

 

Part 1 – The Early Years (1908-2006)

The history of the City of Scranton is normally written with a heavy emphasis on the city’s associations with coal mining and the railroad. These two aspects of the city are certainly important, but what is often forgotten is that they also facilitated the development of many other industries in the region. With easy and cheap access to both energy and transport, from the 1850s onward Scranton became home to a wide variety of different factories. Today, most of these factories stand as empty, mute reminders of an industrial past that has sadly disappeared. One exception, however, is the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant (SCAAP). This venerable old factory is still active, and is today one of the most advanced munitions factories in the world.

The story of the SCAAP is a complex one, not least because the site’s ongoing use as a military installation means that direct access to it is limited, and even many historical documents are still classified. Still, what we do know about the history of the plant makes fascinating reading.

It might surprise you to learn that the SCAAP was never designed as a munitions factory. Instead, it started life as a locomotive repair facility. The association of Scranton with the railroad starts way back in 1853, with the incorporation of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, which gradually built many lines in and around New York. Scranton, being reasonably central in the expanding network, was chosen as the site for the new Delaware Lackawanna & Western Railroad steam locomotive shops.

The construction of this factory began in 1908, and it was originally designed as a steam locomotive erection and repair facility. The subsequent century of development at the site has made the original buildings somewhat difficult to see. However, an archaeological survey conducted in 1984 suggested that much of the original plant is still extant at the site, albeit buried underneath more modern buildings. The survey found that:

‘1) the present-day surface may include mid-to-late nineteenth century archaeological cultural remnants of railroad-related industrial development which preceded the extant structures used by SCAAP, and 2) the original land surface, approximately 40 ft. below a fill deposit which comprises the current land surface. At least 16 structures stood on the original land surface as did several city streets. Remnants of these nineteenth century cultural resources may be present beneath the fill.’

Intriguingly, this same report also noted that there might still be prehistoric remains of pre-Colombian peoples underneath this same fill. It might be, therefore, that the history of the SCAAP goes even further back. However, a lack of direct evidence means that this must remain speculative.

From historical documents, however, we are able to tentatively reconstruct what the SCAAP looked like during its earlier incarnation. It seems that the locomotive shop consisted of four major buildings, constructed between 1907 and 1909. Each housed a different process in the construction and repair of steam locomotives, and at the time the plant was built it was regarded as one of the most advanced facilities of its type in the world.

Though the heart of the plant was to be found in these four buildings, the scale of the operations carried out also required a whole host of subsidiary structures. When the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, a thorough survey was conducted as to the remaining structures at the site, and this remains our best source of information as to the historical riches still to be found there.

Between 1899 and 1939, both the plant itself and the surrounding area became an important site for the manufacture and repair of steam trains. In addition the the Scranton facility itself, a number of other companies set up shop in the neighbourhood. Today, these are protected as part of the “Steamtown Historic District”, which includes some 16 ex-industrial buildings. Of these, four lie inside the Scranton plant:

  • Pattern Shop/Office Building (1907–1909)
  • Foundry/Forge Shop (1907–1909)
  • Blacksmith Shop/Heat Treat Building (1907–1909)
  • Machine and Erecting Shop/Production Shop (1907–1909)

These buildings are still visible from aerial photographs, though sadly access to them is limited by the ongoing use of the factory.

The peak of railroad activity at the Scranton site came in the 1930s, and after this date activity at the site started to decline. The railroad company abandoned the property in the late 1940s, after the growing efficiency of diesel locomotives made steam locomotives obsolete. The factory was condemned in 1951, and through these proceedings the Army acquired the property. The Korean war was then at its peak, and it was felt that extra ammunition manufacturing facilities were required.

The site was therefore converted into a munitions factory, and in 1953 the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant (SCAAP) was established. Initially, U.S. Hoffman Machinery were the operating contractor for the plant, but in 1963 a prolonged labor union strike led the government to terminate this contract with U.S. Hoffman. Subsequently, the contract was awarded to the Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation, and they remained the contractor right up until 2006.

Over this period, the site underwent much development. Following the conversion work undertaken in 1951-53, the plant underwent further modernization in 1970-75. It was during these works that many of the buildings still visible today were constructed, and a video of the production line from the 1980s already shows a modern, advanced munitions plant. As the capacity of the plant expanded, new rail lines were built to move finished munitions and raw materials, and today the SCAAP is simply huge, spanning 15.3 acres, with seven buildings and a storage capacity of 509,000 square feet.

 

 

Part 2: Scranton Today (2006-Present)

My own memories of the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant (SCAAP) begin in the 1970s. My mother’s family were from Scranton, and on visits back to see my Grandparents I would marvel at the scale of the factory that dominated the town. In those days, as a child, I found the plant both a source of wonder and of fear – there was something inhuman, perhaps dangerous, in the looming concrete buildings.

This is a feeling that persists to this day, despite my advanced years and extensive reading about the plant. To read about the plant today is to be confronted with mind-boggling statistics about the capabilities of the weapons made there, and the sheer number of munitions that are produced every year.

In my earlier article, I described the history of the SCAAP until 2006 – its early years as a steam locomotive plant, and then its conversion into a weapons factory in 1951-53. In 2006, the previous operator of the SCAAP, the Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation, lost their government contract. I have tried, believe me, to find out why, but these proceedings, in my experience, are always shrouded in layers of corporate and military secrecy. Unfortunately, therefore, I cannot tell you why the contract passed to General Dynamics in 2006, but it did.

General Dynamics have been the contractor in charge of Scranton since then. The company is huge, being most well known for making advanced missiles and aircraft systems. What is less well known is that they also continue to produce artillery and small-arms ammunition. Though less flashy than fighter jets, this production makes up the core of their business, with a lot of their profit generated from sales of top-of-the-line ammunition that is used both by the US military and higher end civilian small arms like the AR-15.

It is this kind of production that the SCAAP excels in. However, though the plant continues to develop, it has not had an easy ride in the modern era. in April 2013, the future of the facility looked questionable, when General Dynamics filed a potential layoff notice for 191 employees. The jobs provided by the plant are generally highly-skilled, and therefore high-paying, and its potential closure caused much worry in Scranton and the surrounding region. However, a resolution was eventually found, and that same year General Dynamics renewed their contract for three years. The Army then committed $45 million for new equipment at the plant.

It seems this money is now coming through, and is being used to further develop the technical capabilities of the facility. It has been reported that during the past ten years “over $30,000,000 has been invested in the SCAAP to address problems with the ageing infrastructure and to improve manufacturing capabilities”. These projects have included the upgrade of existing manufacturing equipment, including computerized controls; the installation of new manufacturing and testing capabilities; and automation equipment to increase manufacturing flexibility.

Today, therefore, the SCAAP is perhaps the most advanced munitions factory in the US. Indeed, some of the machinery at the plant is found nowhere else, such as the specially manufactured long stroke and nosing forge presses, and these make SCAAP the only active manufacturing plant able to produce certain types of ammunition. In particular, the SCAAP is the only maker of the SADARM (Search And Destroy ARMament) shell body, an advanced munition that utilizes laser-guided sub munitions.

Notwithstanding the production of high-tech munitions, the bread and butter of the plant is the production of various types of artillery shell – the 105mm and 155mm-diameter projectile bodies, including the M795, 120mm family of projectiles, M107, M804, M485, MK64-2, and the M110. The number of these shells produced every year at the SCAAP is a little hard to pin down because of the commercially sensitive nature of this data, but it is clear that it is staggering. In 2001, the latest year for which I can find data, 139,000 155mm HE M107 shells, and 78,000 120mm HE shells were produced at the factory, and I can only guess that these numbers have increased since. The factory goes through 500,000 gallons ofl water a day, and General Dynamics report that it has produced and delivered more than 23 million projectile metal parts and components over the years. In fact, the SCAAP dwarfs many other factories in the US – its production capacity is approximately ten times that of any commercial facility, and represents approximately 80% of the total existing North American capacity.

The pre-eminence of the site today is undoubtedly a product of its unique history. Built at a time when large, self-contained sites could be bought in the centre of reasonably large cities like Scranton, it’s difficult to believe that a plant the size of the SCAAP could be built today. Its sheer size means that the end-to-end production of munitions is possible, which makes it invaluable for the Army. In addition, its proximity to the large railroad network that spans the north-east, which of course was the original purpose of the building, means that finished munitions and raw materials can be moved around easily.

The SCAAP’s unique history – first as a locomotive yard, and then as a munitions factory – means that it remains one of our industrial treasures, as interesting for history buffs as it is indispensable for the military. This was recognised by General Dennis Via, visiting the site in 2014, when he noted that:

“Scranton is a unique, one-of-kind installation that has proven its valued position many times over to the Department of Defense and the Army … SCAAP has produced ammunition-related components that have proved invaluable to the joint services and our war fighters for more than 60 years.”

The General is right to stress the uniqueness of the plant, of course. As we’ve seen, the SCAAP is not only one of the biggest munitions plants in the US today, it is also one of the most advanced. This is perhaps surprising for a facility with such a long and varied history: the original architects of the Delaware Lackawanna & Western Railroad steam locomotive shops could hardly have imagined what their buildings would eventually become.

Bibliomancy in Early Pennsylvania

Image is a photograph of a brown box of cards, with more cards fanned out around them. From HSP's collection, record number 14187HSP’s collection includes an unusual deck of cards. A small leather box holds 381 cards printed by Christoph Sauer, Sr. in 1744. Each card has a short bible verse written in German, with four lines of poetry written under it. The short poems, each relating to the accompanying bible verse, were written by Gerhard Tersteegen.

Sauer and Testeegen were radical Pietists who lived and worked in Pennsylvania during the 18th century. This deck of cards likely possessed some ritual significance in their religious practices.

It is probable that the cards were used for biliomancy. This is a fortunetelling method that uses a book (usually a holy text) to reveal answers to questions of great significance or a cosmic nature. Randomly-selected pages of a book meant that the answer derived from the text was guided by the spirit of God.

In the case of Sauer and Testeegen’s deck of cards, a practitioner of biliomancy could use these cards to address pressing inquiries through reflection on the bible verses and poems.

One card from the deck features the following text (translation below):

 

Siehe, Ich [jesus] stehe vorder Thür, un klopse an, so jemand meine Stimme hören wird, und die Thür aufrhun, zu dem werde Ich eingehen, und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten, und er mit Mir. Offnb. 3, 20.

 

So Seel! GOTT warted deiner drinnen,

Und du läuf’ft au smit deinen Sinnen:

Ach! Laβ Ihn nicht alleine stehn;

Kehr ein, Er möchte weiter gehn.

 

Translation:

Behold, I [Jesus] stand before thee, and knock, if any man hear my voice, and raise up thee, and I will enter into it, and hold the supper with him, and he with Me. Revelations 3:20

Oh soul! GOD is waiting for you inside,

And you run out with your senses:

Oh! Do not let him stand alone;

Turn back, he will go on.

 

The men who made these cards were mystics. Pietists believed in biblical doctrine, individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life. Above all, they believed in replacing ecclesiastical religious practice (that is, having a human intermediary between oneself and God) with personal experience of the divine. Similar to the medieval mystics, radical Pietists saw their relationship with God as direct and intimate.

Pietism grew out of a number of religious movements in the late 17th century, as reformation swept across Europe. Radical Pietists split from their churches to found a ‘religion of the heart’, with a focus on ethical purity, inward devotion, asceticism and mysticism. They formed distinct and separate communities, and practiced their faith freely in the Pennsylvania colony.

Johannes Kelpius is perhaps one of the better-known radical pietists in the Delaware Valley.

By creating these small, carefully-written cards, Saur and Tersteegen were following the tenets of their faith. The cards were a way to directly interact with the Divine, with no other intercession needed. Tersteegen’s wordplay is experimental, using clever rhymes and puns to invite meditative association.

This small artifact, likely used to answer questions and help make decisions, ties a printer in Germantown to an 18th century religious revolution changing the ways that Christians in Europe and the American colonies interacted with God.

White Gloves and the Archivist

Recently, the BBC reported that an 800-year old coffin at the Prittlewell Priory Museum in England was damaged when parents placed their small child into the coffin for a photograph.  Although repairable, the damage to the coffin is serious, and highlights the importance in paying attention to obeying barriers and other protective measures.

However, not all protective measures are actually helpful, and some may be actively harmful! The dreaded-by-some, beloved-by-others white cotton gloves are one of these harmful measures. Although white gloves are a stereotypical symbol of the dedicated archivist and conservator, they are no longer used and for good reason.

HSP’s Director of Conservation and Preservation Tara O’Brien explains: “It is better if one does not wear gloves but handles documents with freshly washed and dried hands (no lotion). Your fingertips are incredibly sensitive. They can feel the edge of the paper, they can feel the weight of the paper, and can even sense how paper will behave if you try to turn a page. That sensitivity is blocked when wearing gloves. Brittle edges of paper can snag easily on the any loose fibers of the gloves without the wearer even noticing.”

We are used to depictions of a researcher wearing white gloves to protect priceless documents as he (it is usually a he) pages through treasures to find some needed scrap of information. The common knowledge is that the documents must be protected from the damaging oils and acids on the skin of the hands. This common knowledge, though, ignores that many of these documents were handled for centuries before being placed into a museum or archives. If they were going to be damaged by human touch it would have happened well before the time of our researcher.  As explained by HSP’s conservator, the most careful handling results from taking advantage of how sensitive fingertips are. Clean, dry hands will certainly be clean enough to protect documents and books.Color photograph of a hand wearing a tight-fitting white latex glove on a dark background. Image credit: By — Melkom - — Melkom, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43131

Not every object can be handled without protection, of course. Photographs, in particular, really are vulnerable to the pH of human skin. In that case, though, white cotton gloves are still a poor choice. They simply block too much sensation and information, in addition to vulnerable edges catching on the fabric. Tight-fitting nitrile or latex gloves are a far better choice, if one is handling objects that would be damaged by coming into contact with bare hands.

The impulse to protect the artifacts of the past is a good one, and this isn’t meant to discourage that. But be cautious in sticking to old standards: just because they’ve been around for a long time doesn’t mean they’re a good option!

The Philanthropist and the Prince: Joseph Fels and Peter Kropotkin in HSP's Collection

(The following entry was written by Marie Jordan and Patrick Glennon.)

HSP’s collections include documents of many types. Personal letters in particular provide insight into the private lives of their authors and recipients.

For this entry, I want to look at five letters in HSP’s collection. Written between 1908 and 1912, these letters record the friendship and intellectual collaboration between Philadelphia’s Joseph Fels and the Russian Prince and political writer Peter Kropotkin.

Photograph of Joseph Fels. The photo is in black and white and shows an older, balding, Caucasian man in 3/4 profile. He is facing the viewer's right and wearing a dark suit and bowtie. Library of Congress, not under copyright.The intellectual lives of these evolved within the tumultuous evolution of political thought that defined the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Throughout industrialization, new ideas for the organization of labor and the distribution of wealth proliferated. Densely populated cities served as the central points of production in the increasingly mechanized economies of North American and Europe. These environments inspired various macro-level political and economic systems that set the stage for the great ideological battles of the 20th century.

There were, however, other currents of thought that focused on agrarian and/or small-scale economic organizing. These models often positioned local communities front and center. Fels and Kropotkin - born on opposite sides of the world - both belonged to this latter category of progressive political and economic theory.

Fels was born in 1853. He became a philanthropist and social reformer, thanks in no small part to the formidable wealth he inherited. He was a particularly vocal proponent of the single tax movement, which advocated for a system that abolished all taxes except those based on the value of land. He funded several land reform experiments and remained an advocate for these issues until his death in 1914.

Peter Kropotkin was born into Russian royalty in 1842. He was a scientist, activist, and philosopher who ranks among the most prominent advocates for anarchism. Kropotkin’s ideal society involved small voluntary associations of self-governing communities, supported by worker-run enterprises. Much of his theory grew out of his experience pursuing scientific research in Siberia, where he saw the utility of small, tightly-knit, self-sustaining communities. After escaping imprisonment for subversive political activity, Kropotkin lived and wrote in exile from 1876 to 1917. He was able to return to Russia only after the 1917 revolution.

Both men supported the taxation plan laid out by Henry George in his 1890 essay “The Single Tax and Why We Urge It,” seeing it as a model that permitted much-needed land reform while accommodating private ownership.

These topics come up in the letters from HSP’s archives. Yet the documents provide a humanizing view into the lives of both men that expands our understanding of these important historical figures. Although not dull, these accounts are ordinary. They mention the weather and family matters. In one, Kropotkin thanks Fels for books he had sent.Photograph of Peter Kropotkin. Image shows an older, balding, Caucasian man facing the viewer. He has a flowing white beard and wears small eyeglasses, and is wearing a dark, double-breasted jacket.

One letter written by Kropotkin in 1908 reads:

All this time I have been working under high pressure. In August we have spent, we two, with my wife, four weeks in a lovely place in Suffolk, and I took advantage of the [illegible] for pushing on with my work.

 

One of Kropotkin’s letters from 1912 reads:

We have passed the winter without illness, and are very pleased with our stay at Brighton.  The house is quite comfortable and the winter was so mild that the lungs behaved quite satisfactorily. […] Still I have not had much to complain of, as all winter I have been working.

Though he includes fewer detail about his personal life in the one letter he wrote to Kropotkin in HSP’s collection, Fels nonetheless writes warmly, closing a letter on the Single Tax by writing:“I am glad to see the cheerful note running all through your letter.”

It is sometimes easy to forget that people from the past - especially those like Kropotkin who are survived by their writing - had daily lives to attend to in addition to matters of politics and philosophy. There is a narrative moving through the lives of Fels and Kropotkin, connecting the influences of early activities on their later writings and beliefs. They are both products of their age, formed by their experiences. These letters remind us that they also knew life’s daily victories and disappointments. They were real people, who cared about one another, each other’s happiness, and the books they sent to one another.

Letters such as these let us connect with the past in a personal way that formal writings and historical surveys cannot.

Focus on the Collection: Thelma McDaniel Collection

This is the first in an occasional series that will examine specific collections drawn from HSP’s extensive archives. This week, I’m exploring the Thelma McDaniel collection. (Link goes to finding aid.)

Though little is known about Thelma McDaniel, we know that she collected radical literature of the 60’s and 70’s. The documents in her collection relate to events, correspondence, and calls to action in and around Philadelphia during the time period. The specific movements represented in these documents include Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Communist Party of America (CPA).Image is a poster consisting of a black-and-white portrait of Angela Davis (an African-American woman), her head turned to the viewer's left, standing against a plain, light background. Below her face is lettering reading "Free Angela Davis Now!"

Overall, the collection is one of irreplaceable primary documents, evidence of activism that led to over a decade of upheaval and change. The collection is made up mostly of fliers, newsletters, and related ephemera from these movements, which show that they influenced one another. Labor activism intertwines with civil rights, as in the first issue of “The Negro Longshoreman”. Communism and Black Power interact in a number of materials relating to Angela Davis and her work with CPA and African-American communities.

Though the collection is primarily focused on events and publications related to the Philadelphia area, there are archival materials from national and international publications. For example, an issue of the scholarly journal Masses and Mainstream contains articles by a number of prominent contributors including Patrice Lumumba, then-prime minister of the Congo.

Unsurprisingly, many of the documents refer to issues that are still addressed by activists and radical movemImage is a poster. In white text on a black background is the heading "Victims of Philadelphia Police Abuse 1977" and a list of names and violent acts. Below the list is a stylized drawing of a broken nightstick, broken glasses, and a pool of blood. "Stop Police Abuse" is written below the image.ents today. They also show the dealings of people still active in public life. John Cornyn is advertised as a speaker for an event, as is Nikki Giovanni. A bumper sticker demands the release of Angela Davis. Lectures and shows are announced at the Lee Cultural Center, which exists at 44th and Haverford Avenue to this day. Posters and newsletters discuss voting rights and the prevalence of racism. They call political leaders out and demand change.

The Thelma McDaniel collection isn’t the only source of primary documents from political and civil rights movements of the era – other collections at HSP include documents from NOW, a booklet from Students for a Democratic Society, and much more. But this collection in particular contains a vital record of Philadelphia’s activist history, and provides a link between the fights of the past and the ongoing struggle today.

 

 

The Women's Land Army During WWI

When America entered WWI on April 6, 2017, a number of government agencies were created to oversee various aspects of the war effort. Some of these focused on the homefront. Agricultural production was a chief concern, essential for sustaining the country during wartime.

And so the Women’s Land Army was created.

Women had already been recruited for agricultural work in other nations participating in the way as farmers went off to fight. Although some farmers and government officials opposed bringing women in as farmworkers, the program was successfully carried out.A poster advertising the Women's Land Army. it shows three women in silhouette pushing tillers, with a silhouette of trees behind them. At the bottom of the poster are the words "Land Army Enroll Now at 1607 Walnut St." circa 1918. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania War Posters Collection [V95].

Beginning in the summer of 1917, women were broken up into units, trained in agricultural skills, and sent out in groups to work on farms. Experimental techniques were tried, as well as more traditional farming. By the summer of 1918, the Women’s Land Army had been fully incorporated, and trained squads of women were being deployed to assist with farming across America.

The story of the Women’s Land Army didn’t end with the Armistice. Food shortages following the war meant that the United States had to maintain a high level of production. The nation ultimately sent twenty million tons of food to famine-stricken Central and Southern Europe.Photograph shows a young Caucasian woman with brown hair (identifed as Lu on the back) kneeling in a field of corn. She's wearing dark shoes, hose and bloomers, and a white sailor's top. A straw hat is hanging from the cornstalk she's tending. circa 1917. From the Philadelphia War Photograph Committee collection [V03]

The Women’s Land Army was moved to the Department of Labor in 1919, in part to reflect that many of the women serving had come from urban areas. The Land Army, with its pay of $2 a day, was an opportunity for employment. However, as soldiers were demobilized and returned home, the need for laborers from the Women’s Land Army rapidly decreased. By 1920, many women had returned home, themselves demobilized. In January of 1920, the national leaders of the Women’s Land Army decided to dissolve it entirely.

Although it only existed for 18 months the Women’s Land Army trained and placed over 20,000 women in committees, training camps, and farms across America.

In Philadelphia, women interested in joining the WLA could enroll at 1607 Walnut Street. HSP’s collection includes a simple poster advertising the location – including an image of three women decidedly not in the WLA uniform.  Several photographs from the Philadelphia War Photograph Committee Collection [V03] show members marching in a parade and working on a farm. Other evidence of the WLA in Philadelphia appears in the Garden Club of Philadelphia records, which was active in the WLA and in agricultural reconstruction in France. Although not yet digitized, these papers are available for research at HSP!

Spiritualism in Pennsylvania

Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century, the Spiritualist movement saw a leap in popularity in the United States, including a large number of followers in Philadelphia. Spiritualism is the belief that spirits of the dead have the ability to communicate with the living, and that they willingly do so. During this period, Spiritualists regularly held séances, camp meetings, and other gatherings to reach out to the dead. They were primarily interested in what their spirit contacts could reveal about ethical issues, the afterlife, and the existence of God. The movement quickly became known for attracting radical socialists, anti-slavery activists, and women’s rights activists.

Initially unorganized, the movement had begun to coalesce around churches and more formal organizations by the latter half of the 19th century. Always subject to skepticism, formal accusations of fraud were growing, leading to a decrease in popularity. Nonetheless, spiritualism is still practiced today, primarily through organized spiritualist churches. Painting showing a man in dark clothing, his face turned away, standing over a seated woman in a white jacket and striped dress. She is lying back against a pillow, and her eyes are rolled upwards. Several men in dark clothing watch them. Hypnotic Séance by Richard Bergh in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. 1887. Public Domain.Painting shows a man in dark clothing (facing away from us), leaning over a woman in a white jacket and striped dress. He has one hand on her shoulder and is holding the other before her face; her eyes are rolled up and she is lying against a pillow. Several men and boys in dark clothes look on. Hypnotic Séance by Richard Bergh in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. 1887. Public Domain.

Several figureheads of the Spiritualist movement have connections to Philadelphia. Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, lived and worked in West Philadelphia beginning in 1875. Heavily influenced by occultism, she viewed contacting spirits as a way to gain specifically esoteric knowledge. She was unique in her approach, though, as most spiritualists were more interested in contacting human spirits, with little interest in her mystical theories.

Nelson and Jennie Holmes  — more traditional spiritualists — were two of several hundred mediums working in Philadelphia in the 1870’s. They are best known for their manifestations of the spirits of John and Katie King, who claimed to be the pirate Henry Morgan and his daughter, respectively.

Katie King was noted for being rather attractive, and it was possible to purchase images of her spectre after the séance.

The manifestation of Katie King, however, was proved fraudulent. The accusations against the Holmeses were part of the growing wave of debunking Spiritualist mediums at the time.

A number of documents and ephemera from the period of Spiritualism’s greatest popularity can be found in HSP’s collections. Notably, the constitution of the First Association of Philadelphia Spiritualists (dated 1867) lays out the legal and financial structure of this association, which initially met in 1952. An illustration shows a woman sitting with several articles of spiritualist equipment, showing some of the many, many devices invented to help mediums physically show the results of their contact with the other side.  And from 1850, A History of the Recent Developments in Spiritual Manifestations has been digitized. This book, written relatively early in the Spiritualist movement, records the practice of Spiritualism in Philadelphia, and provides a first-hand view into local theories and practices.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

This August marks the 150th anniversary of the first public gay rights protest. It consisted of a single man taking the stage at a theater in Munich, Germany. Despite the small size of the protest, it would influence a movement, encouraging the use of science as a tool to explain the validity of queer identities.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was born in 1825 in Aurich, in Lower Saxony.  In 1862, he began writing under a pseudonym, defending the love between men as natural and arguing that such relationships possessed a biological basis. His essays established scientific categories and terms to denote different types of desires: men who loved men were urnings, men who loved women were dionings. There were terms for bisexual and heterosexual women, as well as intersex people. Ulrichs saw sexuality as defined by three axes: sexual orientation, preferred sexual behavior, and gender characteristics.

Above all, he defended the idea that there was nothing wrong with desiring a person of one’s own gender. By 1867, he was writing under his own name, advancing his theory that people were born with their sexuality already set and that it was completely natural. As such, he argued that queer sexuality should not be legislated against or treated as a disease or mental disorder. 

1867 found him on the stage of the Grand Hall of Munich’s Odeon Theater. He had come to the Congress of German Jurists (Ulrichs had worked as a lawyer until being dismissed when his sexuality became known) to publicly protest anti-sodomy laws and continue his push for recognition and acceptance of queer identities.

Ulrichs was part of an early group of men who were fighting for the recognition of (primarily cis-male) homosexuality; as now, a variety of tactics were explored and tested. His contemporary Karl-Maria Kertbeny argued for the extension of rights as a matter of privacy. (In an interesting note, this basis would again appear many years later in the ruling Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated anti-sodomy laws in the United States in 2003.)

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ language and ideas were largely forgotten until recently, overshadowed by other theorists and activists who followed in his footsteps. His tactics and his belief in the validity of queer identity and the scientific basis of sexuality and gender expression was not forgotten, however. In a more recent parallel, Dr. John Fryer, in the guise of Dr. Henry Anonymous, also argued before his profession in 1972 for the recognition of homosexuality as a natural aspect of sexuality. Throughout the centuries, there is evidence of a reoccurring concept: marginalized sexualities are not anomalies or diseases; rather, they have a scientific basis.

In more recent years, Ulrichs’ memory has been resurrected, and he is honored with streets named after him in a number of countries. The International Lesbian and Gay Law Association presents an award bearing his name to individuals who have contributed to the advancement of sexual equality.

 

Indigenous Voices in the HSP Collection

In 1994, the UN declared that International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples would be observed on August 9th every year. Bearing that declaration in mind, I decided to examine HSP’s collection and see what, if any, primary documentation of the voices of indigenous peoples to the area survives.

The area around Philadelphia was home to the Lenni Lenape, also called the Lenape or Delaware, when Europeans arrived. As was the case with other settlements, the indigenous peoples were forced into displacement relatively soon after the arrival of white settlers.

One of the primary documents in HSP’s collection specifically written by indigenous peoples is the Chiefs of the Delaware Indians at Allegaeening [Allegheny] letter to Patrick Gordon. Dated 1732, the letter is faint with spidery handwriting, but has clear pictographic signatures. Though difficult to discern, the text is a direct recording of Lenape voices and communications.

The majority of the documents and books in HSP’s collections are written by Europeans, however. One of the most well-known is William Penn’s peace treaty with the Lenape, made in what is now Penn Treaty Park. In addition to that, HSP holds the Indian Rights Association’s papers; the Association was founded by Europeans in the 19th century to “bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship.” The Association maintained close ties to indigenous populations as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but at its core the organization viewed indigenous culture through a colonizing European lens.

These ethnographies and anthropological works in HSP’s collection all rely on primary informants to varying degrees; it’s really only those documents from the twentieth century that focus on indigenous voices while regularly naming informants. One of the most interesting is Frank Speck’s A study of the Delaware Indian big house ceremony : in native text dictated by WitapanoÌxwe. The majority of the book is the transcribed oral account by a Delaware man describing a ceremony intended to fulfill obligations owed to a ‘pantheon of spiritual forces’, in Speck’s words. A student of Franz Boas - the father of American anthropology - Speck makes it clear that his informant was raised in the culture he is describing, and includes his original account in the Delaware language with the translation on the facing page. He also rather tactfully drops in that WitapanoÌxwe was compensated for his work and time.

Speck has strong opinions regarding those who do not work with indigenous informants:

“[Prior research and speculative writing not directly based on interviews] has been sufficient to cause hesitation on the part of ethnologists in using the record for the purpose of drawing culture conclusions since the accounts have all been fragmentary and recorded in the words of European observers instead of being based upon the expressions of the natives.”

A case study of this can be found in the analysis of the Walam Olum in anthropological and Native studies. The Walam Olum was presented by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (also styled as Rafinesque-Schmaltz) as a historical narrative of Lenape stories, including a creation myth, a record of the migration from west to east, and a brief historical account of the coming of Europeans.

Rafinesque claimed that his source was pictographs recorded on wooden tablets or sticks, and he reproduces these pictographs along with the accompanying ‘verse’ in the Delaware language, and provides his own translation. His source was given only as a Dr. Ward of Indiana.

From the start, historians were skeptical. Was the Walam Olum even real? Daniel Brinton, in The Lenape and their Legends goes into some depth on this question, citing linguistic analysis by native speakers which declares the language to be accurate. Brinton regularly notes that he consults on this or that point with a ‘well-educated’ native, but only rarely names his sources. And, although his respect and affection is clear, it is not Lenape voices that are centered in his writing. He redraws the pictographs of the Walam Olum (introducing errors) and provides his own translation from Delaware to English.

Jumping forward a century gives us a handsome volume released by the Indiana Historical Society that reproduces the pages of Rafinesque’s notebook, offering translations and glossaries provided by bilingual native speakers. The voices of the actual Lenape people are much more present, and reliance on their knowledge (both linguistic and historical) takes precedence.

The Walam Olum is now generally regarded as a fake. In his 1994 essay “Unmasking the Walum Olum: A 19th-Century Hoax,” David M. Oestreicher presented evidence to show that Rafinesque fabricated the stories, which he actually translated from English to the Delaware language using a series of dictionaries available at the time. As a result, the Delaware tribe of Indians (now in Oklahoma after forced relocation) withdrew their endorsement of the document in 1997.

While I found the story of the Walam Olum fascinating, taking a step back and looking at texts available in HSP’s collection shows the gradual movement towards recognizing the validity of indigenous voices. These voices have always been present, but it has been, and continues to be, a long journey still to bring them to the forefront within a wider culture.

 

 

Join James Monroe on his Procession through Philadelphia

Not unlike today, after an election, there is a need to try to reunite the country. After taking the oath of office on March 4, 1817, President James Monroe was hungry to repair the political disorder between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. Though the War of 1812 had ended two years before Monroe’s inauguration, the Capitol in Washington D.C. still showed scars of the traumatic British invasion. The White House, having been severely damaged by fire due to British assault, was still under construction, and Monroe was nervous about America’s ability defend herself against foreign invasion.  With the country feeling divided and vulnerable, Monroe was determined to show strength and unity and usher in a new era - an era that would become known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” To do this, however, he would have to see the country and more importantly, let the country see him.        

On June 1, 1817, James Monroe ventured on his first procession of the northern states with the mission of both unifying the Republic and inspecting her defenses. Unlike today, with contemporary transportation, twenty-four-hour news coverage, and social media, rarely, if ever, did people in the 1800s get to see the President of the United States. Stopping in places like Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, Monroe was greeted with parades and encountered great fanfare. During this procession, Monroe traveled by horse, carriage, and steamboat while inspecting military forts, reviewing troops, and making speeches to veteran groups.

On June 4, James Monroe visited Fort Mifflin, on Philadelphia’s outskirts, to inspect the structure and ensure it was ready should there be another British incursion. The next day, June 5h, Monroe entered the City and was welcomed by a large and fervent crowd of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the fifth president. Starting at the Market Street Bridge, the first permanent bridge over the Schuylkill River, the President paraded east down Market Street to cheers and jubilation. He ended the parade at the Washington Hall and Renshaw's Hotel where he would stay for the duration of his visit in Philadelphia. Arriving at the hotel, Monroe gave a speech to the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati that was full of gratitude and hope for the future. Over the next two days, he would also visit the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (the first building), the Pennsylvania Hospital, the State House, Peale’s Museum, Carpenter’ Hall, Bank of the United States, The Navy Yard, and the Walnut Street Jail. During his tour, Monroe visited a variety of municipal buildings where he met with the city’s leadership and elected officials.

Leaving Philadelphia on June 7, Monroe traveled north through the neighborhood of Germantown to visit a revolutionary war battlefield that was the scene of fierce fighting between Washington’s Continental Army and British regulars in an attempt to prevent the city from British occupation in 1777. After Monroe’s solemn visit to the battlefield and feeling satisfied with the readiness of the City to defend itself on the chance of another British invasion, Monroe left for New Jersey. He would continue to tour the northern states until finally coming back to Washington D.C. on September 17, 1817.

Curious for more? Want to know what else happened during this historic presidential tour? In 1820, Samual Waldo documented this journey by writing a book called The tour of James Monroe: president of the United States, through the northern and eastern states, in 1817. A copy of this book is in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and was used as a source of information for this blog. Also, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the James Monroe Museum and The Papers of James Monroe, is the exhibit called “In the Sprit of the People: James Monroe’s 1817 Presidental Tour.” This traveling exhibit details Monroe’s procession through the northern and western states using primary source material and engaging visuals. It is free and open to the public at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in downtown Philadephia during regular operating hours through July 14.   


Pennsylvanian to Pennsylvania,
Brenden Floyd
HSP Education Intern

9/20/17
Author: Marie Jordan

This guest blog post is written by Sam Bocetta. Sam is currently working on his first book, and more information can be found at his homepage, www.Sam.Bocetta.com.

Comments: 0

9/14/17
Author: Marie Jordan

Image is a photograph of a brown box of cards, with more cards fanned out around them. From HSP's collection, record number 14187HSP’s collection includes an unusual deck of cards. A small leather box holds 381 cards printed by Christoph Sauer, Sr. in 1744. Each card has a short bible verse written in German, with four lines of poetry written under it.

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9/6/17
Author: Marie Jordan

Recently, the BBC reported that an 800-year old coffin at the Prittlewell Priory Museum in England was damaged when parents placed their small child into the coffin for a photograph.  Although repairable, the damage to the coffin is serious, and highlights the importance in paying attention to obeying barriers and other protective measures.

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8/30/17
Author: Marie Jordan

(The following entry was written by Marie Jordan and Patrick Glennon.)

HSP’s collections include documents of many types. Personal letters in particular provide insight into the private lives of their authors and recipients.

For this entry, I want to look at five letters in HSP’s collection. Written between 1908 and 1912, these letters record the friendship and intellectual collaboration between Philadelphia’s Joseph Fels and the Russian Prince and political writer Peter Kropotkin.

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8/23/17
Author: Marie Jordan

This is the first in an occasional series that will examine specific collections drawn from HSP’s extensive archives. This week, I’m exploring the Thelma McDaniel collection. (Link goes to finding aid.)

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8/17/17
Author: Marie Jordan

When America entered WWI on April 6, 2017, a number of government agencies were created to oversee various aspects of the war effort. Some of these focused on the homefront. Agricultural production was a chief concern, essential for sustaining the country during wartime.

And so the Women’s Land Army was created.

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8/16/17
Author: Marie Jordan

Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century, the Spiritualist movement saw a leap in popularity in the United States, including a large number of followers in Philadelphia. Spiritualism is the belief that spirits of the dead have the ability to communicate with the living, and that they willingly do so. During this period, Spiritualists regularly held séances, camp meetings, and other gatherings to reach out to the dead. They were primarily interested in what their spirit contacts could reveal about ethical issues, the afterlife, and the existence of God.

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8/10/17
Author: Marie Jordan

This August marks the 150th anniversary of the first public gay rights protest. It consisted of a single man taking the stage at a theater in Munich, Germany. Despite the small size of the protest, it would influence a movement, encouraging the use of science as a tool to explain the validity of queer identities.

Comments: 1

8/9/17
Author: Marie Jordan

In 1994, the UN declared that International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples would be observed on August 9th every year. Bearing that declaration in mind, I decided to examine HSP’s collection and see what, if any, primary documentation of the voices of indigenous peoples to the area survives.

The area around Philadelphia was home to the Lenni Lenape, also called the Lenape or Delaware, when Europeans arrived. As was the case with other settlements, the indigenous peoples were forced into displacement relatively soon after the arrival of white settlers.

Comments: 0

6/22/17
Author: Brendon Floyd

Not unlike today, after an election, there is a need to try to reunite the country. After taking the oath of office on March 4, 1817, President James Monroe was hungry to repair the political disorder between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. Though the War of 1812 had ended two years before Monroe’s inauguration, the Capitol in Washington D.C.

Topics : 19th century
Comments: 0