We Americans are a fairly history-minded people. No, we don’t always know our history as well as we should—but the history we do know often tends to act as a trump card in our current political debates. Think about it: There are few conversation stoppers quite so effective as: “You’re on the wrong side of history!”
This is unfortunate, because that attitude treats history as an inexorable force for good, rather than the product of millions of human choices about how to act, and millions more human choices about how to interpret all of those choices. History isn’t a train that we’re riding to some inevitable destination; it’s something we make together, every day.
Sometimes, we we even make choices that end up looking, well, wrong.
On the face of it, the Harrisburg Patriot & Union made the wrong choice back in 1863. The paper covered President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—now judged one of the most famous orations in the English language, and memorized by generations of schoolchildren—and gave it a thumbs-down.
I was 13 years old in 1976—not exactly a budding patriot, but a good enough student of American history by that point to understand that the bicentennial of the country was a big deal. And so it was that on the bright and beautiful morning of July 4th, I bounded in from church (it was Sunday) and tore up the stairs to my bedroom in Northeast Philly, changing into my own version of the Stars and Stripes (red shirt, blue shorts, white sneakers) for not just any day, but the day: the nation’s 200th birthday. Read more »
The university, hospital and library are all still around, but just about everything else is gone, long gone. (Save maybe for that broadcasting stuff, thanks to Comcast.) Yet somehow, it seems that whenever there’s a discussion about Philadelphia today, that past weighs heavily on our collective consciousness.
According to a new book from Eric Schlosser — the investigative journalist behind the books Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness — Philadelphia almost fell prey to a nuclear bomb accident more than forty years ago.
Two hydrogen bombs fell from the plane, each carrying a four megaton warhead, hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb that hit Hiroshima. The only reason that this nuclear bomb accident didn’t lead to an explosion was because we got very, very lucky.
While parts of North Carolina would have been completely obliterated, reports say that lethal fallout would have been deposited over northern cities, including Philadelphia and even New York.
In total, Schlosser finds that approximately 700 “significant” nuclear bomb accidents or incidents occurred between 1950 and 1968.
The new web comedy series “hosted by the plucky Lizzie Mae, housemaid to George and Martha Washington,” according to its website, is based on the experiences of Azie Dungey (the show’s writer and title character) as a living history character at George Washington’s Mount Vernon historical site.
It is a concept with good intentions, although it’s not a pill I swallow easily. Each episode opens with a title screen that reads, “The following is based on real interactions I had while portraying a slave character a popular historic site. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.” The crime she refers to, of course, is ignorance. “Didn’t I read somewhere that George Washington actually freed all of his slaves after he died?” inquires one visitor with a face full of smug. Read more »
Last week, I heard that Philadelphia was getting the Philadelphia Public History Truck. I wasn’t sure what a Philadelphia Public History Truck was, or why a Philadelphia Public History Truck was something that Philadelphia needed, so I reached out to its co-founder, 28-year-old South Jersey native and Temple graduate student Erin Bernard, to find out.
So what the heck is the Philadelphia Public History Truck?
It’s a mobile museum going from neighborhood to neighborhood in Philadelphia, and the idea behind it is that instead of having a public history exhibit where academics have constructed it, the exhibit is community curated. So all of the community members are invited to come together and contribute and share their stories and objects to put into an exhibit. Read more »
With three days to go, onetime mayoral candidate Sam Katz has met his Kickstarter goal of raising $53,000 to continue making his documentary series, Philadelphia: The Great Experiment. During this round of fund-raising, previous chapters of the documentary have been nominated for a passel of Mid-Atlantic Emmy awards, including two for Katz as producer. There’s still time to donate, though, if you want to be part of something both history-making and award-winning.
What if 3,000 Italian or Irish or Jewish or Polish men, women and children from one of the most pivotal periods of American history were buried in a cemetery in Philadelphia? Do you think there would be a city landmark or a state monument or a national treasure to honor it?
But what if, instead, there were 3,000 African descendants buried in it? There would be no landmark, no monument and no treasure. Quite the contrary, it would be a forgotten trash dump morphed into a city playground. That’s exactly what happened — and is still happening — in South Philly to a former church cemetery.
Happy birthday, America! Tomorrow — or, really, yesterday — you will turn 237 years old. Honestly, you don’t look a day over 192.
Independence Day, of course, holds a special place in the city of Philadelphia, since 237 years ago it was the most populous (and most important) city in these United States, and each year we have our pick of multiple Independence Day celebrations. This year, the weeklong Wawa Welcome America! once again graces our fine city. It peaks with tomorrow’s lineup: A parade, a tapping of the Liberty Bell and a concert featuring The Roots, John Mayer, Ne-Yo, Jill Scott, J. Cole and others. The Stars and Stripes forever!
Fortunately, not every Independence Day has featured a concert by John Mayer. Unfortunately, though, not every Independence Day has gone quite as smoothly as we hope the concert of Mayer and friends will. Here are five great disasters in and around Independence Day in Philadelphia history.