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Fondly, Pennsylvania

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!

HSP Blog

Re-housing History

In the fall of 2011, through a generous grant by Ancestry.com I was given the task of re-housing the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s largest funeral home collection, the Oliver H. Bair Company collection. The collection consists of over 1050 boxes of burial records that the company had amassed over six decades of operation, from 1920-1980 to be exact. My duties included organiziOld, dated boxesng the collection, conducting minor upkeep on the records, and moving the collection from old, out of date boxes into newer, acid free boxes that will help preserve the records for decades to come. I have also been tasked with creating a finding aid for the collection, allowing researchers to locate information about the collection in our online catalog or to give them a better understanding of the collection when they visit HSP.

The Oliver H. Bair Company is a staple in the community in Philadelphia, and has been serving the area since 1878 when Oliver H. Bair founded the funeral company after he deemed that funeral services needed to be more personable and comforting to families during such an emotional time. The company began on 41 North Eighteenth St. in Philadelphia; however their most famous location is at 1820 Chestnut St in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. In 2007 John J. Monaghan purchased the Oliver H. Bair Company, and the funeral home is now located at 8500 West Chester Pike in Upper Darby. Mr. Monaghan also owns the Monaghan Funeral Home, located at 612 Main St. in Red Hill.

The physical records that make up the Oliver H. Bair collection consist of a simple template, but include a wide variety of materials. Simply put the Oliver H. Bair collection is a compilation of burial records over the span of sixty years. There is a manila envelope that contains any and all information needed by Oliver H. Bair to conduct business with the deceased person’s family or designated agent. Within the envelope is an informational sheet that displays the deceased’s date of death, date of burial, biographical information, specifications for their burial, doctor’s notes, former residence, among other basic but pertinent information. Often there will also be some correspondence between the funeral home and family of the deceased discussing payment methods and dates. Some envelopes also contain newspaper clippings pertaining to the deceased, and most have short obituaries within the envelope as well. In rare cases the correspondence within an envelope can become quite lengthy, as occasionally law firms are contacted to aid in the bill collection process or to mediate family squabbles over what is to be done with the deceased person’s estate. Smaller objects have also appeared in the collection, including a coin purse (ironically with no coins inside, only paper) and a small book consisting of the deceased’s placement history while he served in the Navy. In the future a blog post (or two) will highlight some of the more remarkable records found in this collection, demonstrating that history and enlightenment can appear at any time. This collection is proving its value in multiple ways: it is not only helpful to genealogists tracing their family’s lineage, but also users interested in history and welcoming surprises as the records residing in this collection are full of stories, information, and of course, history!

Treatment of the Abraham H. Cassel Collection

The Cassel Collection (Collection 1610) is one of twenty-one collections documenting immigrant and ethnic history receiving processing, digitization, and conservation treatment as part of the Digital Center for Americana Project Phase II. Abraham H. Cassel (1820-1908) was a collector of books and materials related to Pennsylvania German religious history. Highlights of the collection include illuminated hymnals from Ephrata Cloister and the Schwenkfelder Church, as well as a hymnal belonging to German Pietist and mystic Johannes Kelpius.

Many of the 47 volumes in the collection had cover boards that were partially or completely detached, and the conservation staff looked for new solutions to re-attaching the covers each time, as a solution that works for one volume might not work well on the next volume. One such volume was the Death register of the Ephrata Cloister 1728-1821. The front cover was completely separated, and a significant amount of spine leather was missing.

We decided to re-line the head and tail of the spine and secure the covers using airplane linen, covered by a layer of dyed Japanese tissue, adhered to the spine using wheat starch paste.

Pictured below is a close-up of the inside of the cover at the top of the book. To re-attach the cover board, the airplane linen and tissue we pasted to the spine was pulled to the inside of the book. Then we applied paste and inserted the cloth between the paper layers of the cover.



Most of the manuscripts in the Cassel collection were written with iron gall ink, the standard ink used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Ink recipes varied widely, and over time some inks corrode, depending on preparation, environmental conditions, and the condition of the paper. These holes created by the ink, familiar to many researchers, are known as lacing.

Pages from Arithmetiche Instructiones (1717), a book containing instructions for carrying out basic math functions along with completed practice exercises, displays extensive lacing in its heavily inked subtitles. Fragile areas were backed with Japanese tissue, toned to match the paper.

On surprises in scrapbooks

I’m sure many of you have seen the “What I Do” meme that did the rounds a while back. The meme itself is old news, but I recently stumbled across a “What I Do” image for archivists this week on the Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center blog. The author of the Syracuse University post is absolutely right -- archivists do actually combine all of these perceptions in their daily work. (Although we also do much, much more. All of the tasks depicted above are in the short job explanation I give to relatives at Christmas.) We get to go on hunts for researchers, dig through storage systems that have seen better days, handle an awful lot of things that necessitate lab coats and gloves -- or at least old clothes and frequent hand washing – and discover hidden treasure.

Treasure is subjective, of course, and the historical and physical context of an item usually determines its value. Most of the time archivists aren’t stumbling over relics of the Founding Fathers or the Ark of the Covenant, but finding small surprises like beautiful art or items that tell us something intimate or surprising about a person or collection. Here’s an example of something I found recently that is, I think, legitimately exciting, especially given the scope of the collection.

At first glance, the Batcheler, Hartshorne, and Sahlin families papers have nothing to with 19th century Japan. This is a Swedish-American family which boasts many influential members on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and in many different fields. The family tree contains a distinguished federal judge, a riksantikvarie (national archivist) of Sweden, a man who helped to build the first iron and steel mill in India, a museum director and vocal advocate of Swedish folk culture, a founder and director of the Swedish Institute in Rome, and a restoration architect who helped to preserve Philadelphia’s own Independence Hall. But what they don’t have is a famous 19th century ukiyo-e printmaker. Or anyone who studied Japanese art. Or, as far as I can tell, anyone who even had a passing interest in Japanese art.

Which is why I was surprised when I found 44 of these:

Ukiyo-e Japanese print by Hiroshige II depicting an ocean scenedigit

 

These are prints are part of a series that can be translated as "Rough Sketches of Japanese Geography" and were made by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist known as Hiroshige II. The first Hiroshige (Utagawa Hiroshige) lived from 1797 until 1858. After his death, two of his successors also used the name Hiroshige, but distinguished themselves by using different kanji in their signatures: Hiroshige II and Hiroshige III. These prints are signed with one of Hiroshige II’s signatures (signature "b" as seen here), so they date from between 1858 and 1865. They were tucked inside the back cover of a guestbook that Ellen Sahlin Hartshorne kept from 1914 until 1924. I didn’t scan an image of the guestbook, but just imagine an unassuming leather bound book with some red rot issues. It’s filled with signatures and well-wishes from friends who visited the farmhouse where she lived with her mother and later at her first home as a new bride.

Hiroshige II print depicting a gate or torii

The existence of the Japanese prints in this otherwise very Swedish and very American collection does have an explanation, of course. In October of 1913, Ellen and her mother, Gertrude Chandler Sahlin, took a long trip to visit Ellen’s brother, Bob, in Jamshedpur, India. Bob was working for the Tata Iron and Steel Company at the country’s first iron and steel mill (a job secured for him by his father, Axel Sahlin, who was part of the firm that managed the construction of the mill). After visiting Bob in India, Ellen and Gertrude made their way back to the United States by way of South Asia, China, and Japan, returning to the U.S. in March, 1914. This collection contains letters that they wrote back to Bob as they traveled, postcards, and a few photographs, but no artifacts from the trip. So the presence of these images was a very pleasant surprise.

It became more of a surprise when I had trouble finding information about this series of prints.  Yale has a copy (although it's attributed to Hiroshige I), and there's a copy available via Google Books, but no one has written much this specific series. This is likely because Hiroshiges II and III are not as famous or collectable as the original Hiroshige, so they don't receive as much attention in print or online.

The guestbook is charming and valuable in and of itself (Ellen’s friends are terribly sincere), but the ukiyo-e prints are the real treasure here. After some conservation work, the 44 prints in this collection will be made available to researchers, but for now you can see all of the images in this blog post plus a few more in our Digital Library. Click on the main image itself or click on “zoom/more media.”


Learning More About the People Behind the Documents

I'm excited to report that we've moved on to the next phase of the Greenfield Digital Project: researching and annotating our 324 selected primary-source documents.

After all, to really understand the impact of the 1930 failure of Bankers Trust Company, you need to know more about what it was like to live in Philadelphia during the 1920s and 1930s. People like Gifford Pinchot, William D. Gordon, and Moses Annenberg haven't made headlines in decades, and their roles in Philadelphia business and politics have faded from memory.

Photograph of Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot, twice governor of Pennsylvania, circa 1932
(Philadelphia Record Photograph Morgue collection, V07)

That's where our annotation comes in.

As we were transcribing each document into its own XML file (following the guidelines set out by the Text Encoding Initiative), we encoded personal names with the element <persName>. Each <persName> then references our master "personography" file, which provides more biographical information about that person and how he or she was involved in the Bankers Trust story.

Once the project goes online later this year, users will be able to roll over or click on the names encoded in the document transcriptions to learn more about that person.

We could have created mini-biographies in each document's XML file, but by compiling all the people into one master list instead, we can be more efficient and allow the documents themselves to help fill in the gaps on who these people were. For instance, I know by looking at the personography list that William Alsberg was a stock-owner in Bankers Trust in August 1929, just weeks before the stock market crash. R. M. was a typist who worked for Albert Greenfield in August 1931, and Mrs. Connery was a cleaner at Bankers Trust in 1927. Arthur Crossan, of Crossan Construction Company, served on the board of Bankers Trust Company in 1930.

When we first encountered "Mr. Netter" in a 1927 letter, we knew that he was somehow connected to the National Bank of Commerce, another Philadelphia bank. By the time we finished transcribing, we had learned that his full name is Jacob Netter, and he was the president of the National Bank of Commerce from 1915 to 1927, when it merged into Bankers Trust. He served as chairman of the Bankers Trust board from 1927 to the bank’s closure in 1930, and was also president of the Netter & Oppenheimer Clothing Company.

Photograph of Jacob Netter

Jacob Netter, 1927 (Philadelphia Record
Photograph Morgue collection, V07)

Our personography list now has about 860 names, and we're just in the early stages of expanding its biographical details. We're doing similar research and annotation on another 600 or so businesses and organizations compiled in our "organization-ography" list. Due to time constraints, we won't have a chance to expand every name on those lists, but I look forward to shedding light on some of the key players involved in the Bankers Trust story in the months ahead.

You can learn more about our text encoding here. You can read past blog posts on the Greenfield project, part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation, here.

Nearing 100% Collection Discoverability

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is proud to announce that more than 6,100 collection level records are now available online through discover.hsp.org.  Many of these records were previously unavailable online making this a valuable addition for researchers.  Information on nearly every collection at HSP is now available on discover.hsp.org. These records provide a summary of each collection that will aid you in your research.  Examples of materials never before described online include:

Kirk & Nice, Inc. business records: collection 3414 – An important archive of fairly detailed funeral records

Violet Oakley sketchbooks and engraving plates: collection 3336 and collection 3334 – Oakley was a predominant local woman artist of the 20th century

Emergency Aid of Pennsylvania Foundation records: Collection 3263 – interesting records of a WWI aid group, mostly ran by women

Balch institute mixed ethnicities sound recordings  – A substantial group of audio collections.
All Library Company of Philadelphia manuscript collections housed at HSP

The road to near 100% online access to collection level description for HSP materials was not a simple path.  The posting of information online itself is fairly simple, but I wanted to insure that the process was handled in a way that would utilize data HSP staff create in their day to day positions, and make certain that data was managed in a way that would make reuse and portability to future systems a more straightforward process than what we went through for this legacy data migration.   In order to meet these goals I ended up massaging and then importing data from HSP’s aging access database, MANX, and importing its records into Archivists’ Toolkit.  A series of scripts now run daily to take new data entered by staff from AT and import it into VuFind, which serves as the workhorse for our discover.hsp.org metasearch system that combines our separate information repositories in one accessible place. 

This process insures that all of our data made accessible online stays as up to date as possible.  Discover.hsp.org currently holds collection level records from AT, published material records from our Voyager OPAC, and information from our website www.hsp.org.  Soon we will be adding information to Discover from our CollectiveAccess instance, digitallibrary.hsp.org. This will allow users to also find our digitized and born digital materials along with the rest of HSP holdings.  All of this will make HSP materials easier to locate online allowing everyone to expand their research possibilities.

Processing Adopt-a-Collections Continues: The Papers of Frank Gordon Bradley and the Brake and Wineman families

My work at HSP revolves around our manuscript collections, whether I'm processing, accessioning, researching, or paging.  And I've dealt with many collections over the past several years of all shapes, sizes, and conditions.  Because this work has become somewhat rote for me, and because so many collections regularly cross my desk, it's easy for me to overlook the unique facets of each.  Our collections, known or unknown, each have human histories and carry along with them aspects of their creators.  Two adopt-a-collections that I recently processed re-ignited the sense of specialness that our collections hold, even when they are not from the famous or known.

The Frank Gordon Bradley World War II correspondence (Collection 3548) came to us in 2010 and was adopted in 2011.  In one small box were several hundred letters and v-mail from Bradley to his family, most still in their original envelopes, that had been carefully bundled according to Bradley's station.  Bradley was born in Connecticut, enlisted in the army at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1942, and moved to Philadelphia after the war where he worked as a librarian.  These letters offer a fairly complete view of Bradley's service from its beginning in 1942 to its end in late 1945.  During that time he was stationed at a variety of U. S. bases and was eventually sent to Europe in late 1944. 

Even though Bradley could not discuss the details of his work, his letters are far from boring.  After reading through many of them, I got the sense that Bradley was happy with this choice to join the army but that he missed his family.  He rarely mentioned major war events (in one letter he remarked that folks at home probably got news faster than he did) but some letters are markedly more anxious than others.  Once he started writing from Europe, though he couldn’t mention his exact location, he painted vivid pictures of his surroundings, friends, and foes.

The Bradley letters are immensely human and are a remarkably rich archive of one man's experience during World War II that no doubt shed light on the incidents encounters by some but not all soldiers during that time. 

A far cry from the simplicity of a chronological set of letters, the Brake and Wineman families papers (Collection 3606), which was adopted just this year, represents well the personalities that are sometimes found in collections of family papers.  This small but vivid collection documents the industrious and agricultural lives of the Brake family and the Wineman family, both from central Pennsylvania.  Covering most of the nineteenth century, this collection contains a nice assortment of various kinds of materials from the families, such as deeds, correspondence, volumes, photographs, and clippings.  Neither the Brakes nor the Winemans were particularly "famous," but one family member, Solomon Brake, was an early adoptedrof electricity and owned a mid-nineteenth century farm that was fully lit with the help of an onsite power plant.  The Civil War touched the lives of at least the Winemans – Private George Wineman (1840-1863) served in the Union Army and died at the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Brake and Wineman papers is full of the things that would document any family and its contributions to its community; but it is the more private items, such as the collection's copy cooks, that highlight specific family member's personalities.  There are four in the collection, and the one from the same George Wineman who fought and died during the Civil War, contains fantastic hand-drawn people, animals, and scenes. 

This book dates from 1856 when George would have been around 16 years old.  Encompassing the drawings are writings, problems, and exercises; but the number of drawings compared to the rest of the material in the book suggests that George may have been more interested in art than his studies.  The fact that his life was cut short by the war compels one to consider just what he might have become if he had lived.  An artist?  A biologist?  A designer?  A farmer?  While we can only speculate on an alternate reality for George, his book offers a clear window to his personality.

(A link to the Brake and Wineman families papers will be provided once the finding aid is ready.)

HSP's collections carry names big and small.  While it's true that we have plenty of collections from elite families, mayors and governors, and famous organizations, we also have many more collections from folks who were only known in their backyards but served their purposes nonetheless.  Whether farmer or artist, grocer or writer, these people from the background of history compelled it forward and serve as constant reminders of the humanity that is contained within manuscript collections.

Volumes from the Cassel Collection on the Digital Horizon

For the last several weeks and for the next several weeks I'll be working with the Cassel Collection # 1610. So far, cataloguing and digitizing them for online use has been challenging.

Handling these often fragile volumes is something that requires delicate attention. They have fragile pages and tight binding which doesn't lend to being photographed easily. I often have to use a book cradle which, is two wedge shaped pieces of foam, to support the book. The cradles go underneath the book and when photographed from above the book usually looks slightly angled.

Due to the book cradles and the fact that the writing on these old volumes usually goes far into the gutter it is really important to try to get the pages to lay as flat as possible. This often means holding them in place gently, with clear mylar strips. You may have noticed on our Digital Library that some volumes have thin, strips running vertically in the image? That is what the images look like when they have to be secured in this way. While not ideal, this is the least intrusive way I have to gently secure pages for digitization while not covering up any of the information in a volume.

Photographing in this way requires a great deal of attention to: the angle and tension of the mylar. Pulling it too tight can cause unwanted reflections and/or damage to the book binding. As well, to photograph every page the mylar often has to be released and then re-positioned. This is because pages of old volumes are fragile and can be brittle. Any unnecessary friction between the mylar and the pages can cause damage and so extra care must be taken to avoid this.

Another interesting challenge to photographing Cassel volumes is the language barrier. The collection of volumes we have are in German, a language which I unfortunately cannot read or speak. This is particularly frustrating for me because I love to work with the collections at HSP. Understanding the content of the collection is part of this experience and when there are barriers, like this, it can make photographing a rather boring task.

This is unfortunate because the Abraham H Cassel collection has an intriguing set of volumes ranging in topics from the religious/mystical to practical advice about cooking, medicine and bee keeping. The collection demonstrates the taste of Abraham H Cassel who lived in Montgomery County, PA and whose life spanned the years 1820-1908. His passion for reading and collecting volumes existed during a time when acquiring something of interest meant traveling sometimes west of the Mississippi River! What is most surprising however, is that Mr.Cassel was literate at all. His only formal schooling was for six weeks when he was eleven years old. Raised on his family's farm, chores took up most his time. Until, he broke away completely to become a teacher at the age of 20. This unlikely career for his background was a cherished break and it was during this time that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Rhoads and was able to fill his academic passions.

After a seven year interlude from farming he returned to take over his family business and remained there until his death. The story of Mr. Cassel is in many ways as interesting as the content of his many volumes. Lucky for us, even if you can't read German script, you can enjoy HSP's finding aids which include biographical information about collections. To this end, I am grateful to know what I do about this collection and know that my work may give someone who can fully enjoy Cassel's volumes the opportunity to do so from anywhere in the world!

The Challenges of Georeferencing

While I sit at my wooden, kitchen table in Michigan processing metadata for a collection of drawings and paintings of mansions, buildings, and landscapes, most of which have been swept away by the passage of time, I am over 700 miles away from the unfamiliar streets of Philadelphia. As I approach the midway point in my internship with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I find that the most challenging and yet, most enjoyable aspect of processing the metadata for David J. Kennedy’s artwork is the georeferencing.  Georeferencing requires me to pinpoint on a modern-day Google map the location of the object that Kennedy drew or painted.  Accomplishing this presents many challenges, most of which revolve around the physical distance that separates me from the geographical locations that I am referencing. 

In truth, I have never even been to Philadelphia, which, of course, makes it even more challenging to georeference.   On a few pieces of work, Kennedy noted the crossroads of where the object once stood.  An example of this is the Vauxhall Garden at northeast corner of Broad and Walnut Streets.  Specifying the Vauxhall Garden at Broad and Walnut Streets is a simple, clear-cut georeference. 



    Vauxhall Garden at northeast corner of Broad and Walnut Streets
    Object 6470


However, it is the objects where little information or no information is provided that are the most difficult to map.  Yet, despite its difficulty, these objects can be also be the most interesting, because they require me to do more research. Kennedy’s “Belmont, The Residence of Judge Peters,” stands out in my mind as an art piece that I had to delve deeper into.  I could not simply pinpoint Belmont, Pennsylvania as the exact location for the residence, as multiple Belmonts could exist.  So, when I created a related entity for Judge Peters, I needed to find out his first name as Peters is a common surname.  When I began my research, I discovered that Judge Peters was Judge Richard Peters, Judge of U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania.  Researching a brief biography of Judge Peters led me to the official website for Belmont.  Belmont was not a town at all; it was an estate located at 2000 Belmont Mansion Drive in Philadelphia.  If I had not conducted further research into Judge Peters, I may not have discovered what Belmont truly was.


Belmont, The Residence of Judge Peters
Object 4592

Other objects can prove even more challenging when the georeference is outside of the United States.  Occasionally, Kennedy painted in locations within the United Kingdom.   His painting, “General Front and Floor Plan of Rosehall House, The Seat of Sir James Hamilton, November 1831,” was a little challenging to work with, as I discovered that it was located in Lanarkshire, Scotland.  Again, this required me to investigate who the person noted in the title was first for me to attempt properly locating the georeference.  My research led me to N. Lanarkshire, United Kingdom.  Researching individuals does not always led immediately to a geographical location, so digging up this information can be time consuming.  But, as I enjoy most historical research, it is a rewarding experience to gain more knowledge on something I knew nothing of before. 

General Front and Floor Plan of Rosehall House, The Seat of Sir James Hamilton, November 1831
Object 4680
 

Tour of HSP: Guts, Ghosts and Glory - A wrap up!

Wednesday March 7th, Sarah and I hosted an experimental tour for a small group of high school students. This tour, funded by HPP/Pew Charitable Trusts gave us the opportunity to explore a rather routine area of our work (student tours) with a new creative eye. Our task was to improve this tour in ways that ordinarily didn't seem possible due to constraints like time, money, people, etc.

Through a couple sessions with creative staff from other institutions and HPP we shaped and fleshed out our ideas till we had a clear sense of what this tour would accomplish. It was going to be an information finding mission. To gather the widest purview of feedback we would try to expose more of the building and include more staff stories and collections than before. This meant visiting the basement and other areas normally not shown on the tour. It also included a 'surprise' visit by our popular ghost Albert J Edmunds. After this hour long tour culminated we would meet in a conference room and discuss the tour and lastly, ask the students to do an interpretive project about their impression of HSP.

Seeing this project to completion this week we were amazed with how good it felt to give the tour and hear immediate feedback. The tour was given to a small group of students from Abington Junior High School who showed persistent interest in the various departments, collections and building features. Upon reviewing the tour with them it was interesting to note how no two students had the same impression. When asked a question like: given what you saw tonight what job at HSP would interest you most; no student picked the same one. In fact, one student wanted to be a janitor even-though that wasn't directly included on the tour.

As well, we went out of our way to create a reenactment of the ghost Albert J Edmunds. Our thinking was it would at least provide a dynamic moment half way through the tour incase anyone was falling asleep. One minor preoccupation was that this would be an overwhelmingly popular moment and the rest of the tour wouldn't be as exciting. This notion, however, was dismissed. No one fawned over the amazing ghost but they all warmly agreed it was interesting along with other things like: seeing the documents up close, learning that photographs could be printed on tin and that sometimes translators are employed to help us interpret collections.

While we wait for the students' projects to come we are excited to see what new insights their projects may reveal to us about what appeals to them (or doesn't) about HSP. This will help us serve this elusive and complicated age bracket so fondly referred to as "youths." More info to come!

Grover Bergdoll: America’s Most Wanted “Slacker”

In an era when millions “keep up” with the Kardashians, it’s easy to see tabloid culture as a modern phenomenon, an ill effect of our 24-hour news cycle and social media that puts every tweet and Facebook update at our fingertips. But one need only look to the Lindbergh baby, Bonnie and Clyde, and countless others to see the nation’s fascination with celebrity and scandal is nothing new. I was recently reminded of this truism while digitizing some materials from the Bergdoll family papers [MSS021], a collection that perfectly captures how the salacious story of one individual can take hold in the popular imagination and dominate the national psyche.

When I first started corresponding with a Bergdoll descendant about digitizing her family’s papers, the name “Bergdoll” wasn’t familiar to me. But as I soon realized, had I lived in Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century, the Bergdolls were inescapable. In the heady days before World War I, the sons and daughter of the prominent Philadelphia German family who operated Bergdoll and Sons Brewing Company dominated headlines in and around Philadelphia. From racing cars around Fairmount Park to building a roller coaster at their Brewerytown estate, the five children of Louis Bergdoll, Jr. and Emma Barth Bergdoll were constant fodder for the press and provided a rapt public with snapshots of the alluring lives of Philadelphia’s privileged class.Grover Cleveland Bergdoll

Of all the Bergdoll family’s adventures and exploits, none attracted public fascination quite like those of the youngest son, Grover Cleveland Bergdoll. Known as “the playboy of the Eastern Seaboard,” Grover was both an aviation and racing enthusiast whose numerous traffic violations raised a public outcry against issuing him a driver’s license in 1912. But it wasn’t until World War I that Grover’s exploits attracted national attention and infamy when, after registering for military service, Grover and his brother Erwin failed to show up for physical examinations when they were drafted in 1917. Grover fled across the United States and, for the next two years, taunted authorities with postcards sent from each new hideout.

One of the national headlines about Grover's exploits in GermanyThe case of the errant Grover Clevand Bergdoll captured the public imagination and inspired rumors about his German sympathies and offers to serve as an aviator for the Fatherland. The so-called “Philadelphia slacker” was finally apprehended in 1920 and sentenced to five years at Governors Island, but escaped imprisonment a short time later and fled to Germany. For the next two decades, Grover’s exploits continued to provoke national ire and captivate the public consciousness to the extent that even President Warren Harding commented on the case and personally ordered the seizure of the Bergdoll family's assets. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, details of Grover's life in Germany dominated the headlines, as did the ongoing efforts of kidnapping vigilantes determined to return him to the U.S.  In 1939, on the eve of World War II, Grover finally came home to face trial and was eventually imprisoned at Leavenworth federal penitentiary until 1944.

Grover Cleveland Bergdoll returns to the U.S.As interesting as Grover’s tale is in its own right, the public fascination and anger with his draft evasion adds another intriguing layer to the story.  Whether due to his wealth, ancestry, showman’s flair (or some combination of all three), Grover Cleveland Bergdoll struck a chord in such way that made him a national celebrity.  Looking through the Bergdoll family papers, this phenomenon is most evident in the family scrapbooks and clippings that make up the bulk of the collection and dutifully chronicle a sense of public rapture and outrage with many modern-day parallels.  Now available for view in our digital library, these scrapbooks and the mania to which they attest evoke Alger Hiss, O.J. Simpson, and countless others who became notorious by virtue of a love of gossip and scandal that endures, even if the medium has changed. 

4/20/12
Author: Matt McNelis

In the fall of 2011, through a generous grant by Ancestry.com I was given the task of re-housing the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s largest funeral home collection, the Oliver H. Bair Company collection. The collection consists of over 1050 boxes of burial records that the company had amassed over six decades of operation, from 1920-1980 to be exact.

Topics : 20th century
Comments: 0

4/18/12
Author: Mary Tasillo

The Cassel Collection (Collection 1610) is one of twenty-one collections documenting immigrant and ethnic history receiving processing, digitization, and conservation treatment as part of the Digital Center for Americana Project Phase II. Abraham H. Cassel (1820-1908) was a collector of books and materials related to Pennsylvania German religious history.

Comments: 0

4/13/12
Author: Sarah Newhouse

I’m sure many of you have seen the “What I Do” meme that did the rounds a while back. The meme itself is old news, but I recently stumbled across a “What I Do” image for archivists this week on the Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center blog.

Comments: 1

4/11/12
Author: Dana Dorman

I'm excited to report that we've moved on to the next phase of the Greenfield Digital Project: researching and annotating our 324 selected primary-source documents.

Comments: 0

4/4/12
Author: Matt Shoemaker

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is proud to announce that more than 6,100 collection level records are now available online through discover.hsp.org.  Many of these records were previously unavailable online making this a valuable addition for researchers.  Information on nearly every collection at HSP is now available on discover.hsp.org. These records provide a summary of each collection that will aid you in your research.  Examples of materials never before described online include:

Comments: 0

3/29/12
Author: Cary Hutto

My work at HSP revolves around our manuscript collections, whether I'm processing, accessioning, researching, or paging.  And I've dealt with many collections over the past several years of all shapes, sizes, and conditions.  Because this work has become somewhat rote for me, and because so many collections regularly cross my desk, it's easy for me to overlook the unique facets of each.  Our collections, known or unknown, each have human histories and carry along with them aspects of their creators.  Two adopt-a-collections that

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3/27/12
Author: Ashley Harper

For the last several weeks and for the next several weeks I'll be working with the Cassel Collection # 1610. So far, cataloguing and digitizing them for online use has been challenging.

Handling these often fragile volumes is something that requires delicate attention. They have fragile pages and tight binding which doesn't lend to being photographed easily. I often have to use a book cradle which, is two wedge shaped pieces of foam, to support the book. The cradles go underneath the book and when photographed from above the book usually looks slightly angled.

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3/25/12
Author: Jill Straub

While I sit at my wooden, kitchen table in Michigan processing metadata for a collection of drawings and paintings of mansions, buildings, and landscapes, most of which have been swept away by the passage of time, I am over 700 miles away from the unfamiliar streets of Philadelphia. As I approach the midway point in my internship with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I find that the most challenging and yet, most enjoyable aspect of processing the metadata for David J.

Topics : Philadelphia
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3/23/12
Author: Ashley Harper

Wednesday March 7th, Sarah and I hosted an experimental tour for a small group of high school students. This tour, funded by HPP/Pew Charitable Trusts gave us the opportunity to explore a rather routine area of our work (student tours) with a new creative eye. Our task was to improve this tour in ways that ordinarily didn't seem possible due to constraints like time, money, people, etc.

Comments: 3

3/21/12
Author: Hillary Kativa

In an era when millions “keep up” with the Kardashians, it’s easy to see tabloid culture as a modern phenomenon, an ill effect of our 24-hour news cycle and social media that puts every tweet and Facebook update at our fingertips. But one need only look to the Lindbergh baby, Bonnie and Clyde, and countless others to see the nation’s fascination with celebrity and scandal is nothing new.

Comments: 5