Like all old, rich colleges, the University of Pennsylvania has a ton of stupid traditions. Many of them are steeped in history — the day where Penn juniors carry canes and wear fake straw hats dates to 1937 — and others are more recent.
Here’s one that’s less than 30 years old: It’s tradition to pee on the statue of Benjamin Franklin that sits at 36th Street and Locust Walk. The statue of Franklin sitting on a bench went up in 1987.
It’s quite popular, though: Six people have been caught doing it already this year. Other urinators, and they no doubt exist, have escaped detection by Penn Police. Pee for Pennsylvania! Public urination on public art!
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Billy Edwards with Historic Philadelphia
Professional actor Billy Edwards has spent the past 15 years entertaining Philadelphia as some of the city’s most beloved figures. He has worked as a costumed History Maker and Storyteller at Historic Philadelphia Inc., a Duck Boat guide at Ride the Ducks, a Santa at Macy’s Dickens’ Village, a Phanstormer for the Philadelphia Phillies, at Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary and much more.
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On Saturday, a Philadelphian decided to buff the Kurt Vile mural, causing shrieks of horror from hip Philadelphians and a Philadelphia public art meme.
People have said the reaction is overblown, but (1) it’s good when people discuss and debate public art and (2) of course it is. Literally everything on the Internet, even the most serious issues, can get overblown — there’s no sense complaining about it. But, sure, this isn’t the nose of the Old Man in the Mountain collapsing — the defacer has already apologized and even the artist says you should calm down. ESPO, aka Steve Powers, was similarly undisturbed about psychylustro covering up. “Nobody writing [graffiti] cares and any attempt to make it appear otherwise is click bait,” he told Hidden City (the Buzzfeed of Philadelphia Buildings, I guess) in May.
That is a point to take: Graffiti by its very nature is a transient art form, and murals come and go, too. David Guinn — who has more good murals in the city than anyone — once had four seasons in South Philadelphia. Now there are only three. The enormous Frank Sinatra mural is gone. Both were covered up by new residential construction, which is a better use of space than a mural. This one just disappeared in a more fantastic fashion. (And, obviously, the uproar was so great that it will be fixed up.)
But the mural got me thinking. I have passed the Kurt Vile mural several times where someone comments about how — while it’s cool — the mural is also an ad for his latest album. That’s weird, no? Did we paint a Boyz II Men album in the mid-’90s? (Not that they needed the increased sales.) A mural that’s also an ad is not exactly the end of the world: We have a mural for Jane Seymour’s jewelry line, after all, and a Vile album ad is certainly a better choice than that. But it got me thinking about other Philadelphians who deserve a mural, perhaps ones who aren’t selling anything. Time for some jokes mixed in with real suggestions!
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