Share This: Old Images of Philadelphia on Facebook

The charm of Carl Manley’s curation of old Philly photos.

There is a place on Facebook—beyond the endless photos of newborn babies and your annoying friend from high school who updates her status exclusively in ALL CAPS—where something quite interesting is happening.

It’s a Facebook page called Old Images of Philadelphia, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: about 21,000 images of Philadelphia from the 1990s and earlier, each presented with a snippet of historical context. Photos of wasp-waisted ladies from the 1890s in Edwardian dresses. Shots of a luncheonette in West Philadelphia before it was destroyed by Penn’s expansion. A head shot of Grace Kelly. An aerial view of Veterans Stadium from 1971.

While the images are often mesmerizing, it’s the hundreds of comments and the conversations they stir that are the real draw. Commenters exclaim in wonder, mourn the past, make confessions and share family history, all with perfect strangers.

“It’s sort of like therapy,” says Carl Manley, the 48-year-old local-history buff, born-and-bred West Philadelphian and self-described “History Channel freak” who started the page. “It was never my intent to make something that would touch people emotionally and spiritually, but the feedback is remarkable and overwhelms me. My page is tying into their memory banks.”

Manley is something of a mystery to Old Images fans. They know him as a tireless poster of photos from contributors, phillyhistory.org and the Temple archives, and as a deep font of Philly knowledge, but as he says, “Many people are surprised to find out I’m African-American. They’re like, ‘Wow, a black guy did this?’” Most are also unaware of his financial situation. A sheet-metal worker for 19 years, Manley was forced into early retirement in 2008 after a diagnosis of heart failure that left him unable to continue working at a job he loved. In 2009, he launched the Old Images page due to the catalysts of, as he puts it, “depression, boredom and free time.”

While Manley is surprised Old Images has struck such a chord, it’s his careful curating, affable voice, and occasional cheerleading status updates—“37000+ likes and climbing!!!”—that make the page so endearing. The request he gets most often from fans is to put the photos on an actual website in addition to Facebook. But as he says, “It costs money to have a web domain. Facebook is free.”

The seeming randomness with which the photos are posted is another hot topic among the readership. But for Manley, it’s an editorial decision that makes sense. “People want me to group the photos by neighborhood,” he says—a move he’s resisted because he believes not doing so encourages people to look at other areas. “Otherwise, Northeast people would only look at the Northeast, South Philly people would only go to South Philly. Sometimes I get emails accusing me of not putting up photos of housing projects or high-crime areas. I don’t have any problem posting them, but they’re difficult to get; you can’t just go to ‘housingprojects.com’ and find them. Then, when I do post them, people start asking me why I’m putting up photos of high-crime areas. My answer is: I show all parts of the city. I post pictures of all of Philadelphia.”

[PHOTO: Broad Street in 1955, courtesy PhillyHistory.org]

This article originally appeared in the January issue of Philadelphia magazine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cindeloowhoo Cindy Sherman Mooney

    Love the FB page, I moved from Philly in the late ’80′s and this just brings back memories from long ago.

  • matt

    anybody can put old photos online wow big deal

  • http://twitter.com/MReiser4670 Mike Reiser

    @disqus_0CrMnClcAc:disqus – Go ahead and make your own page, nobody is stopping you. Meanwhile, Old Images of Philadelphia has almost 47,000 likes. Carl must be doing something right.

  • Greg

    @twitter-15153414:disqus 37,000*

    • http://twitter.com/MReiser4670 Mike Reiser

      Look at the page today, 46,820 as of right now.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AshburnStadium Bill Stephens

        55,712 as of February 9, 2013. Carl’s a great guy, and won’t kick you off his page unless you really cross the line.

        • Carl Manley

          Bill I was told that having haters only means that my page is more popular than I thought and it also tells me that my haters are actually enjoying the page, because their comments show me that they are :-)

          • derek martin

            carl i’ve actually seen alot of these photos before they were put on the fb page on phillyhistory.org i am a nostalgia nut at heart i love old music, pics,movies,cars etc. i just want to commend you on the time and effort you did on the fb pg when i look at some the old photos i sometimes zone out and imagine what would i be doing if i lived in that particular era just keep up the good work and thank you.

  • Roman Zark

    It is a shame that it takes a printed article to point out where Old
    Images copies and pastes the photos and info from, (there are many other
    sites too that Carl copies from.,that are much better than face book).
    as Carl is very reluctant to credit his sources. Oh and heaven help if
    anyone would comment with some helpful criticism, your comment will be
    removed and you will be blocked from further comments. I could go on,
    but I will leave it at that…

    • Carl Manley

      Roman Zark you sound like a jealous fool because I’m getting all that press. My page has over 55,000 likes and making negative comments about the good work that I have done, only makes you look like a idiot. It’s the like that old saying “If you’re not stepping on some toes, then you’re not doing something right and it’s quite obviously you’re toes have been stepped on !

      get a life and stop hating on me because my Facebook page is more popular than the weak Blog you post photos on !

      • Roman Zark

        And there you go….Need I say more..?

        • Carl Manley

          Dude you’re seriously hating on the fact that the Old Images of Philadelphia page is popular. But I have no problem with you hating because I notice you visit my page frequently. Hmmmmmm I wonder why ?

    • Virginia Tadrzynski

      Have you also noticed that Carl posts pictures submitted to him by the public…….such as ‘here’s my mom, she drove a trolley during WWI’ or ‘here’s my aunt and grandmother hanging out laundry in the back yard in Kensington circa 1930′ THOSE pictures you CAN’T get from an archive of historical buildings…..also the stories that go with those pictures are wonderful. I grew up somewhere other than Philly only hearing stories from my mother and grandmother….thanks to this site, I can put pictures to stories. Thanks, Carl, for keeping the memories alive!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joey.foster.9404 Joey Foster

    haters

  • The Dog

    I had to get off of that page. The “shotgun” approach of posting picts from all over the city with no order is annoying. You can’t find anything! “Northeast people would only look at the Northeast, South Philly people would only go to South Philly.” Well, yeah, why else would I be looking at an old picture of a building or corner unless I had a connection to it. …btw, my wife was diagnosed with heart failure (20% ejection fraction)…and she still works…and she’s a nurse.

    • Carl Manley

      “The Dog” maybe you’re not man enough to address me like Roman Zark has, I actually have more respect for him than you and until you know the full extent of my medicial condition I wish you wouldn’t elaborate on it My ejection fraction was lower than you’re wifes and I was also had cardiac arrest that’s why I had a P[acemaker/I.C.D. installed into my chest. Maybe your wife still works because you can’t afford to take care of her !

  • http://www.facebook.com/bettybaranyoswilfong Betty Baranyos Wilfong

    There’s something of interest & value in every picture. Sure, I get a bigger kick out of photos of Germantown, but I love the whole city, warts & all. Keep ‘em coming, Carl. Each picture is a smile.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carolyn.hopkins.37 Carolyn Hopkins

    I can’t begin to express the gratitude that I have for Carl Manley and what he has accomplished with Old Images of Philadelphia. I am lucky to have been following his page for awhile. I am a Philly girl at heart even though I live elsewhere now. The images he posts are not only historically educational, but they evoke memories for all of us who were born and raised in the City of Brotherly Love – memories of not only city buildings and places throughout the city, but of family and friends and a way of life that has long since passed. The FACEBOOK format gives us as viewers a chance to comment and interact. Old Images is not just about photos, but a host for written viewer commentary that is extraordinary, if not unprecedented. It has become a storytelling diary, and this aspect is a bonus that I don’t think Carl imagined when he started posting photos. Obviously, Carl’s supporters far outweigh the naysayers by 10′s of thousands. Images is a true phenomenon suited for the history books in and of itself. Bless you Carl Manley and may you keep doing this good work for many more years to come!

  • moonman1959

    I’m a huge fan of Carl and his page. Although I’m a Jersey boy, the pics bring back memories of visiting the city and family when I was a kid and getting to see what the city looked like when my parents were born and how they grew up. Nice job, Carl!

  • Pat Wacipi

    I lived in Philly and the surrounding area all my life. It is my home. I now live in Florida, this page is my link to my history, my home. I hope it never goes away.