10 Things You Might Not Know Are at the Franklin Institute

Philadelphia, USA - April 26, 2014. Facade of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the largest city in the State of Pennsylvania. The city attracts tourists with historic landmarks like Independence Hall and Fairmount Water Works.

The Franklin Institute | Photo by iStock.com/aimintang

All this week, the city has been celebrating its long love affair with science via the Philadelphia Science Festival, organized by the Franklin Institute. The event, now in its sixth year, has gotten so big — in 2015, 95,000 of us attended — that its signature Science Carnival has moved from the Institute to the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing. It’s this Saturday, April 30th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it’s FREE!!! You’ll find more than 175 exhibitors presenting hands-on, family-friendly experiments and activities concerning everything scientific, from robotics to live animals to slime-making to helicopter tours. (They’re promising an “explosive grand finale moment” that we happen to know involves trash cans.) As a windup to the carnival, here’s a collection of oddities (not all are on public display) you might not have realized are housed at the Institute — testaments, all, to the enormous breadth of human curiosity and invention.

1. The Wright Brothers’ 1911 Model B Flyer. This model, the most-intact Wright Brothers airplane remaining in the world, was one of the first mass-produced aircraft. It was also the first to fly nonstop(!) from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. The Institute has an entire Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection of artifacts that includes the detailed and exhaustive notebooks Orville and Wilbur used to record their wind-tunnel tests. Read more »

Why This Princeton Football Team Won’t Be Suiting Up Next Season

Princeton vs. Chestnut Hill College. Photo | Chestnut Hill College

Two Princeton sprint football players tackle a member of the Chestnut Hill College team. Photo | Chestnut Hill College

Back in 2010, Stephen Bednar, a former Princeton sprint football player (class of 1960), ignited a firestorm by penning a letter to the editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly after Penn’s sprint team beat the Tigers by a score of 91 to 13. “Ninety-one is a basketball score,” Bednar noted. “Because of its dismal performance over the years, it appears that Princeton cannot compete effectively in the sprint-football league against the likes of Army, Navy, etc.” He went on to suggest that the sprint program be discontinued — a mercy killing, if you will.

Among those who sprang to defend the sport was Joe Salerno, also a former player (class of ’84), who countered with a stirring paean to the program: “Sprint is for those who were told their whole lives that they were too small to play football but still strapped on the pads for the love of the game. … Instead of glory, sprint footballers get a few moments of on-field exhilaration and lessons about discipline, dedication, and teamwork that last a lifetime. … ” Last week, Princeton finally, belatedly acquiesced to the now-deceased Bednar’s proposal and announced the end of its sprint football team.

Joe Salerno is still worked up about that. He’s worked up even though in all the years since Bednar wrote his letter, Princeton’s sprint football team hasn’t won a game. It hasn’t won a game, in fact, since long before that, in an amazing losing streak that dates back to 1999. (Or thereabouts; nobody’s really sure.) A 2005 article in the Daily Princetonian cited 35 straight losses over the prior five years — “A men’s Division 1 record — for any sport — of dubious distinction.” Sports Illustrated and SB Nation have written about the streak. The annual joke edition of the Daily Princetonian regularly skewers the team.

But where some see relentless humiliation, Joe Salerno sees only the promise of vindication. “I look at this as the biggest opportunity in the world!” he says, just about hyperventilating in his outrage. “No one’s ever lost that much! I can’t believe this is the university’s decision!”  Read more »

11 Things You Might Not Know About the Parker Sister Kidnappings


The Hosanna Meeting House, which guest speakers Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass used to shelter slaves. | Photo by Lucy Maddox

On Wednesday, when it was announced that Harriet Tubman will be featured on the new $20 bill, “Who is Harriet Tubman?” led all search-engine traffic. We’re proud to say she played a role in local abolitionist activities, especially along the Underground Railroad as it crossed the Mason-Dixon line between free state Pennsylvania and slave state Maryland. It was in Tubman’s day, in 1851, that a young, free black girl from Chester County, Elizabeth Parker, was kidnapped from the farm where she lived and worked, taken across the state line into Maryland, and sold into slavery. Not long after, Elizabeth’s older, teenaged sister, Rachel, was kidnapped as well. For more than a year, their white and black Chester County neighbors fought to free them and bring them home; Rachel’s employer, farmer Joseph Miller, died in the effort. Marylanders claimed he’d committed suicide; the Parkers’ neighbors said he was murdered. It took four exhumations to resolve the question.

The abduction of the Parker girls in the wake of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which inflamed abolitionist and slaveholder tensions along the Mason-Dixon Line, is the subject of The Parker Sisters: A Border Kidnapping, a new recounting of their story by Georgetown professor Lucy Maddox, published by Temple University Press. Here are 11 of the historical notes in the book: Read more »

Bridging a Generation Gap on Abortion Rights

Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

If you want to get Joan Heider going, bring up H.B. 1948, the oh-so-appropriately numbered anti-abortion bill that’s gliding through the state legislature like a hot knife through butter. “Oh my God, that bill,” Heider says darkly as she sips tea in a coffee shop on Arch Street. “They can’t pass a budget, but this bill gets pushed through in three days?”

Heider, 27, pushes her red hair back over her shoulder. “It’s an insidious attack,” she declares. “They insist they’re passing it to help women. That’s what Kathy Rapp” — the state representative who sponsored H.B. 1948 — “called her last bill in 2012, the one that pushed ultrasounds on women seeking abortion: ‘Women’s Right to Know.’” She’s getting even more worked up. “People pushing pro-life have a very simplistic understanding of women’s reproductive rights. Their activism doesn’t spring from a desire to protect the unborn; it’s to control women’s lives. They’re pro-no-sex-for-women. You can tell they’re hypocritical because they’re not in favor of birth control!” She pauses for breath, and her friend Caitlin Dalik takes over:

“I’m tired of constantly getting emails that say ‘Call your senator! Act now to save women’s right to choose!’ Abortion is legal. We have to counteract the pro-lifers who’ll get on buses to D.C. at 5 a.m.” Read more »

How Did We Become So Obsessed With Food — and So Lazy at the Grocery Store?

iStockphoto.com, juliedeshaies

iStockphoto.com, juliedeshaies

I was shopping the other night with my kid at Fresh Grocer in West Philly, which is the closest grocery store to where she lives. I like taking Marcy grocery shopping. I like Fresh Grocer — not because it’s a nice store, because it’s not, really. The layout is chaotic as hell; nothing is where you expect it to be. Wherever you park your cart even for just for a moment, just to check how much they’re asking for ground beef this week, you’re instantly in someone’s way. It’s a cultural wonderland, which means it’s chock-full of people with completely oppositional ideas of what constitutes personal space. But I like the foreign students chattering away in different languages while they block your access to the yogurt, and the laconic fish guy with the beard, and the checkout clerks who run the gamut from incredibly cheerful and excited to have a job to openly yawning at you. Plus, free parking! So long as you remember to get your ticket punched.

And I like the way the produce section tries to be all things to all those people, with 10 different varieties of apples, sure, but also lots of different greens and an array of mushrooms and dragon fruit and mangoes and bagged salad mixes and three varieties of bananas. Marcy’s more or less a vegetarian at this point in her life, but her husband is from Kenya, where any veggie that hasn’t been stewed for three hours with canned tomatoes is written off as a loss. It’s interesting to watch Marcy struggle to bridge this gap.

Which is why our progress through the Fresh Grocer aisles sometimes comes to a halt while she eyes a glistening array of, say, Japanese eggplant and tries to imagine some way, any way, of preparing it that Basil might eat. Which is what she was doing that caused me (once I had found an unobtrusive spot in which to park our cart) to have the leisure to reach up onto the top shelf in the produce section for a small square package of what turned out to be beets.  Read more »

« Older Posts  |  Newer Posts »