Still Decoding the Philly References in ESPO’s Monstrous Old City Mural — Part 4

Googling, brainstorming, crowdsourcing and begging to unlock the secrets of Steve Powers' great wall of icons

The story so far: Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3

My dreams are haunted and my search history is dominated by Steve “ESPO” Powers’ increasingly fascinating and obfuscating Old City Mural. Produced under the auspices of the Mural Arts Program, the piece features something like 200 individual items, a sea of icons on the desktop of Philly’s oldest neighborhood. I don’t even know the right way to count them. This series is quickly becoming my life’s work.

So let’s go:

    • Turban Dude: Sun Ra? Nah. Zoltar, the fortune teller machine from Big? Nope. Alexandra Richmond, a Philadelphia writer now living in Austin, set me straight: It’s Howard Saunders, aka Cosmo, aka The Cosmic Commander Of Wrestling. Once the lead singer of loud Philly ’80s/’90s punk bands Rancid Vat and Fat Howard’s Army, Saunders later made his name as a flashy manager of indie wrestlers. He passed too soon after a motorcycle accident in the summer of 2013.
    • Fish/RISD: After hours of trying to decipher the importance of those two little fish (search terms included “Rhode Island School of Design” and “fish wearing a hat”), I finally caved and asked ESPO: “Oh this guy in that hat walked up to us while we were painting and said ‘I’m Fish, my kid goes to RISD and I’ll bring him by tomorrow” we never saw him again.” So you see how life is never easy, and my task bristles with difficulty.
    • 76: It’s like G. Love’s buddy Katman says “Cuz if you gotta get downtown real quick, then the only way to go is I-76.”
    • Bridge: Ben Franklin Bridge, official turnstile to the city. It has legs because ESPO likes to put legs on things. Note the drawstrings and the swagger in its step. This is the Ben in sweatpants, sauntering around like it’s all that.
    • Five Dollar Bill: That’s the bridge toll. Gotta pay the bridge toll to get inside this town’s soul.
    • Scratch Off/Money/Capitol: The Pennsylvania Lottery benefits older Pennsylvanians, especially those in Harrisburg via taxation. I assume that’s what this is about.
    • Temperance, Silence, Order…: These are Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues — aspirational tips on self-betterment. The rest are below, they’re just cut off in this photo. Ben wrote the list when he was 20, the pompous so-and-so. P.S.: Take it with a boulder of salt when he preaches chastity.

  • Beer Bottle/Sam: Sam Adams Brewhouse was located above Oyster House on Sansom (Sam-son) Street. Both places were run by the Mink family: Sam, David, and Sam. Jr. After the Brewpub closed, Nodding Head moved in. Right now the place is empty.
  • Exit 3 Sign: Philly is Exit 3 on the New Jersey Turnpike, but you have to keep driving awhile.
  • Molly Pitcher: Mary Ludwig Hays was a Philly-born Revolutionary War hero who brought water to the troops (in pitchers) and took over at the cannon when her husband collapsed on the battlefield. Most believe Hays aka Saergeant Molly was Molly Pitcher, though there are other contenders. Whoever she was, her life has become the stuff of legend and tall tales. She’s honored by having an exit on the NJ Turnpike named after her.
  • Pizza: At first glance, that looks like a slice from Lorenzo’s, known for selling oversized pizza on paper plates to grateful and inebriated visitors to South Street. But wait — Lorenzo’s doesn’t offer toppings! So, it’s probably more like name-your-own favorite pizza place. Philly’s got tons of them.
  • Ink: It’s just ink. For the printing press, for the artist, for the writer.
  • You Get What You Get And You Don’t Get Upset: Something moms and babysitters used to say in the ’70s and ’80s, if not earlier. It means shut up and deal. (It’s been featured in the Pinkalicious series of children’s books, this song, and other places.)
  • Porter Tabb Mason: Never heard the name. Google didn’t help. So I emailed ESPO. Again. Third time today. “Porter Tabb Mason sounds like she’s off the Mayflower, but she is a current day teacher at an area Friends school.” Aw, that’s sweet.
  • Bottle with an iPhone in it: I think this is just a funny image, not a specific reference. (Though there is this.) I hope that someone gets my, I hope that someone gets my text message in bottle. I’m sending out an SMS…