Pulitzer/Oprah-Approved Writer Colson Whitehead Speaks for Free at UPenn

After years as toiling away as a “beloved but kinda underappreciated” Genius-granted author, Colson Whitehead reached superstar status last year with the best-selling The Underground Railroad. The novel uses elements of the fantastical (as in, a literal train running underground) to tell a harrowing story of escape through the American South in the early 1800s. It was spellbinding and terrifying, and my favorite book of 2016. Oprah liked it, too. So did the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award people. It’ll be adapted for TV at some point.

This Wednesday, Whitehead — who spoke to a packed Free Library crowd soon after The Underground Railroad was released — returns to Philly for a discussion entitled “Ghosts, Zombies, and the Afterlives of Slavery,” a conversation with Salamishah Tillet, associate professor of English and Africana Studies at UPenn. Tillet is the author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, published in 2012.

Wednesday, September 27, 5-6:30 p.m. @ Harrison Auditorium, Penn Museum

Villanova Professor Sues CIA Over … Bay of Pigs?!

Villanova professor David Barrett on CNN.

Villanova professor David Barrett on CNN.

Villanova political science professor David Barrett knows more than most about the Central Intelligence Agency. The university boasts that Barrett is actually “one of the country’s leading experts on the critical relationship between the United States Congress and the … CIA,” and Barrett has authored two books about the agency. And now, he’s taking the CIA to court. Read more »

Philly Firm Picked to Renovate the Alamo

Daniel Schwen | Wikimedia Commons

Daniel Schwen | Wikimedia Commons

Remember the Alamo?

The old Texas mission is historic, but the area surrounding it feels less so — overgrown with hotels and office buildings. Now a Philadelphia firm has been hired to oversee a renovation of the site, with the aim of restoring a sense of reverence and history to the popular landmark.

Preservation Design Partnership will lead that effort, San Antonio officials announced Thursday. Read more »

11 Things You Might Not Know About Leap Year

Left: By Camillo Rusconi (1658–1728); photograph de:User:Rsuessbr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=526632. Right: By Bob Satterfield - Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1903-12-23/ed-1/seq-3/), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32324725

Left: Detail of the tomb of Pope Gregory XIII celebrating the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, by Camillo Rusconi (1658–1728); photograph Rsuessbr, CC BY-SA 3.0; Right: Cartoon by Bob SatterfieldTacoma Times, Public Domain.

Happy February 29th, also known as “leap day” — a lunar event created by humans to compensate for the fact that the earth doesn’t orbit the sun in precisely 365 days. Herewith, trivia attending this grand occasion. Read more »

Ardmore Collector Has Previously Unseen Letter From Amelia Earhart


A previously unseen letter written in 1933 by groundbreaking aviator Amelia Earhart has been acquired by Ardmore-based Raab Collection, which recently purchased the document from a private collector. In it, Earhart, who was 36 at the time, responds to June Pierson, a 13-year-old aspiring pilot from Detroit, with realistic but inspiring advice on how to jumpstart a career in aviation.

While pieces of history from Earhart do exist, the letter (below) is in the “top .0001 percent” of documents from the famous pilot, according to Nathan Raab, one of the principals at Raab Collection. Read more »

10 Things You Never Knew About the Fairmount Park Mansions

Photos by Mark Garvin, James McClelland and Lynn Miller.

Photos by Mark Garvin, James McClelland and Lynn Miller.

A new book by James McClelland, executive director emeritus of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and Lynn Miller, professor emeritus of political science at Temple University, landed on our desk recently with a resounding thud. City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System is a thick and terrific compendium of everything that’s in our city’s biggest green space and how it came to be. It includes fodder for a ton of future “Things You Never Knew” posts, but we’ll start with this one, chock-full of obscure facts about the lovely, historic Fairmount Park mansions, whose names are familiar but whose stories may not be. Special holiday note: The mansions “dress up” for Christmas and are open for tours; this year’s version, which begins on Thursday, has “The Twelve Days of Christmas” for its theme. You can visit six historic houses — Mount Pleasant, Lemon Hill, Strawberry Mansion, Cedar Grove, Woodford and Laurel Hill — for just $20 with a holiday pass. Read more »

Thirty Years Later, MOVE Still Hurts


Peter Morgan | AP

On May 13, 1985 — 30 years ago today — a city decided to selectively bomb its citizens. On Mother’s Day 1985, residents on a block at the edge of the city of Philadelphia were ushered out of their homes, assured that they would soon return to the quiet lives they’d previously known. Days earlier, 6200 Osage Avenue residents had demanded City Hall take action about the radical anarchist group — MOVE — that had relocated to the block. City officials were perplexed — the earlier 1978 bloody takeover of MOVE headquarters in West Philadelphia had left one policeman dead and nine jailed — and decided to evict the group from its house. The next day, then-police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor approached the barricaded neighborhood and bellowed through a bullhorn: “Attention, MOVE. This is America.” Read more »

No, Ira Einhorn Is Not the Founder of Earth Day

Ira Einhorn at the April 1970 celebration of EarthDay in Philadelphia.

Ira Einhorn at the April 1970 celebration of EarthDay in Philadelphia.

Today is Earth Day, which means it’s time once again for an old story to make the rounds. Multiple news sources today have reported that Ira Einhorn founded Earth Day. Einhorn, convicted twice (once in absentia) for the 1977 murder of Holly Maddux, is serving a life sentence for his horrific crime. But he was not the founder of Earth Day.

Time, in 1970, cited Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson as the founder of the event1. He “casually suggested that all Americans set aside April 22nd as a day for serious discussion of environmental problems” in 1969, and the idea went viral. (Or however ideas spread in the late ’60s and early ’70s.) Large observations were held around the country — 1,500 college campuses and 10,000 schools planned events, per Time — 45 years ago, with notable rallies in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park and in New York City.  Read more »

Was the Term “African American” Coined in Philadelphia?

Screen Shot 2015-0ll4-22 at 1.09.00 PMTo be honest, we thought the term “African American” was a relatively recent coinage, one of a million hyphenates to spring up in the post-Civil Rights era as a means of displacing older terms that had come to sound like slurs on minority groups. We were wrong: “African American” is actually a pretty old term.

In fact, it’s older than anybody knew. The New York Times says new research has discovered that the first known use of the term “African American” happened in Philadelphia — a half-century earlier than anyone thought.

The Times says the discovery was made by Yale Law School librarian Fred Shapiro: Read more »

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