“A Walker’s Paradise”
Edited by Ann de Forest
Published May 2022
Is Walking a subversive act?
Ways of Walking brings together 26 writers who reflect on walks they have taken and what they have discovered along the way. Some walk across forbidden lines, violating laws to seek freedom. Some walk to bear witness to social injustice. Still others engage in a subtler subversion—violating the social norm of rapid, powered transportation to notice what fast travelers miss.
Spring 2023, Extant
I stand on Broad Street watching as extras in period ballgowns are shepherded inside the Academy of Music. Not a surprising event given the rumor that production for Season 2 of HBO Max’s “The Gilded Age” has hit town. Where else in Philadelphia can such glamour be found? I think of Frances Anne Wister, Philadelphia’s pioneering preservationist, who went toe-to-toe with the venerable conductor Leopold Stokowski when he attempted to lead the orchestra to a new home on the Parkway. Frances Anne understood the aura of the Academy. She galvanized her sizeable Old Philadelphia network. The orchestra stayed put. Stokowski moved on. I can’t fathom the building’s fate had it ever been left empty, surely it would have been demolished. I imagine Frances Anne standing next to me, tickled by a T.V. series reveling in her era and musing how life always seems to circle around in unexpected ways.
New Exhibition Reveals a Quiet Revolution in American Public History
April 4, 2023, Hidden City Philadelphia
In early February I was invited to join a friend as a guest for the opening celebration of a new exhibit at Museum of the American Revolution (MoAR). The exhibit, Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia, begins with James Forten, who as a nine-year-old free African American was believed to have stood in the crowd at the Pennsylvania Statehouse during the first reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776.
Keeping House: Philly’s Historic Preservation Legacy Belongs to Women
March 24, 2021 Hidden City Philadelphia
When you are a woman who works in public history, a woman focused on the histories of other women, March tends to be a busy month. It’s Women’s History Month, a time when a female’s perspective supposedly matters most. Articles, presentations, panel discussions–they must all happen before the 31st because by April Fools’ Day we are on to the next topic.
On Love, Loss, and City Life During COVID-19
November 2, 2020 Hidden City Philadelphia
Back in mid-May 2020—about 10 weeks into our original Philadelphia pandemic lockdown—I submitted a version of this article to Hidden City for publication. I had spent the previous Spring 2019 researching the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as part of a team developing neighborhood tours to accompany the Mütter Museum’s stellar Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 in Philadelphia exhibition. Weeks of scouring death certificates and tracking down the personal stories of love and loss of the last pandemic put me in a unique headspace.
Until Death Do Us Part: an Ode to Philadelphia Book Collecting
September 6, 2019 Hidden City Philadelphia
I’ve been pondering the fate of book collecting lately. In recent years we’ve been told to downsize, simplify, and digitize. Shouldn’t we all be reading all our books on our digital devices by now? The popular professional organizer Marie Kondo recommends keeping less than 30 books in your household. Impossible. Because nothing sparks joy like a book. Like me, many of my friends suffer from this passion. We know we will never have enough shelf space. We are perfectly okay with the teetering stacks of books on our bedside table that somehow trail around the baseboards and up over the radiators, down the halls, and into every empty space.
Archaic Expectations: Freeing Female Roles From A Dollhouse In Society Hill
February 1, 2019 Hidden City Philadelphia
If “play is the beginnings of knowledge” as the 19th century anthropologist George A. Dorsey espoused, what can we learn from the toys of our childhood? What can we learn from the toys of our ancestors? The #MeToo movement has found many women (and hopefully a few good men) looking back on lessons learned, both implicit and overt, and pondering: What ideas have we received about how life should be lived and where did these messages originate?
Bearing Witness To Destruction On Christian Street
September 28, 2018 Hidden City Philadelphia
Documenting the demolition of Christian Street Baptist Church began with the notion of “one last day.” It’s a concept developed by Philadelphia artist Maria Möller whereby an item that has been discarded is given one last day of happy use before it is returned to the scrap heap. In an ideal world the surrounding community could have held one final service in the sanctuary of the old Italian church and filled the place with music, but we were well past that. On June 17, the barricades were already up, and demolition was imminent. So, I did the next best thing. I walked over to the church, just as a beautiful Philly sun began to set, and started taking photos.
Queen of The Rats: How One Female Scientist Colonized The Modern Lab
July 16, 2018 Hidden City Philadelphia
Close your eyes and imagine Philadelphia in 1910. The soothing strains of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D-major, Op. 35 emanate through the halls of a grand Victorian building, as chocolate rice pudding is being served for dessert. Have you started to imagine a tony dinner served by a tuxedoed staff? What if I said your dinner companions were a colony of rats?
Lost In The Shuffle: Finding Philly’s Displaced Soldiers
May 25, 2018 Hidden City Philadelphia
For a city full of historic buildings, countless memorials, and massive cemeteries, Philadelphia has a muddled history with honoring the dead. The roots of Memorial Day–a time to honor those killed in active military service–stem from just after the American Civil War when folks were encouraged to visit and decorate the graves of fallen soldiers.
Frances Anne Wister: Philadelphia’s Patron Saint of Historic Preservation
March 25, 2018 Hidden City Philadelphia
Unless you are an extreme Philadelphia history geek or historic preservationist, chances are you have never heard of Frances Anne Wister. Yet she is a woman every Philadelphian should know. Many of our iconic historic buildings still stand because of her. Before Edmund Bacon, Charles Peterson, and the many men credited with transforming Philadelphia’s built environment in the 1950s, there was Frances Anne Wister, a veritable one-woman restoration crusader.
On The Hunt For Brains, Discovering The Wistar Institute
February 21, 2018 Hidden City Philadelphia
Several years ago when I was doing a bit of genealogical research I came across a Philadelphia Inquirer headline from April 10, 1912 that read, “Musser Brain in Institute: Added to Wistar Collection Soon After Physician’s Death.” The Musser in question, Dr. John Herr Musser, is related to my husband’s family. Dr. Musser made a pact with several other distinguished medical scientists 16 years before his death to donate his brain to The Wistar Institute in West Philadelphia. His brain was discovered to weigh only 33 ounces, just one ounce over the minimum weight of what was then believed to be required for normal intelligence. Everything these scientists thought they knew was upended by the discovery.
New Philly Podcast Turns up the Volume on Local History
December 9, 2019 Hidden City Philadelphia
I am not a huge podcast listener. I have tried a few, but, much like my ever-growing Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu video lists and the never-ending stack of must-read books, adding a series of podcast downloads feels like even more pressure to keep up. I don’t commute or take long runs, and when I’m in writing mode it’s either classical music for me or nothing at all. No distracting words, please. But my curiosity was piqued when I heard about Lori Aument’s audio project, Found in Philadelphia.
New Book Recounts Five Free Philadelphia Boys Kidnapped into Slavery
November 18, 2019 Hidden City Philadelphia
10 years ago, as part of the 2009 Hidden City Festival, Mother Bethel A.M.E Church welcomed artist Sanford Biggers’ installation of quilts, Constellation. The fiber artwork was created to honor the church as the North Star among a group of satellite Philadelphia locations that all served as part of the Underground Railroad. Earlier this month, Hidden City hosted a special tour at Mother Bethel to commemorate the anniversary of the 2009 festival, which is how I found myself standing in the church’s basement museum on a recent Saturday morning. During the visit our tour guide explained that Richard Allen–minister, educator, and widely influential black leader–was once seized by slave catchers. I don’t think that statement would have registered if I hadn’t just spent the previous day reading Richard Bell’s captivating new book, Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery And Their Astonishing Odyssey Home, published by Simon and Schuster in October 2019.
New Book Gives Insight Into Uncovering Philly History
September 6, 2018 Hidden City Philadelphia
Editor’s note: Writer, historian, and Temple University professor Kenneth Finkel first honed his voice as a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s op-ed page in the 1980s. He has penned the popular column, “Discoveries from the City Archives,” for PhillyHistory.org since 2011. Finkel is the author of nine books, including “Nineteenth-Century Photography in Philadelphia” (1980) and “The Philadelphia Almanac and Citizens’ Manual” (1993 and 1994). The writer’s newest collection, “Insight Philadelphia,” published this year by Rutgers University Press, is a compilation of almost 100 essays featuring many colorful characters who once called Philadelphia home.
Mickey Herr caught up with Kenneth Finkel to discuss time travel, the impact of social media on sharing history, and what it takes to call yourself a Philadelphian, especially when you were born someplace else.
Italian Market Project Puts Fresh Eyes On A Philly Staple
June 8, 2018 Hidden City Philadelphia
Cheeseteaks. Whether you’re walking down Passyunk, 9th, South, or Market, we’ve all felt that bit of ire when confronted with a swarm of tourists wrapped around the block waiting for cheesesteaks. It’s not the lines that bother us locals, but the fact that the place in which we live has so much more to offer.
William Lewis Esquire: Enlightened Statesman, Profound Lawyer, and Useful Citizen
*100% of the purchase proceeds benefits Historic Strawberry Mansion
5.0 out of 5 stars We need more men like him
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 6, 2013
“…Although unknown to most people today, Lewis’ story is that of millions of Americans over the last 200 odd years. He was a man of integrity who earned the respect and admiration of those around him. While not of the almost mythical status of the luminaries of the day, he was of like mind and one of the long line of men who worked in their own way to improve the civil society of America. Those interested in the early days of the Republic will enjoy this book and its depiction of Philadelphia society and the political machinations of the day. I found the synopsis of Lewis’ more important cases to be well written and understandable for the layman. A good and enjoyable read.”
I co-wrote this book with an amazing lady, Esther Ann McFarland. I blogged about my experience working as a ghost writer turned co-writer and shared photos from the book launch.