Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Many Landings of William Penn

Philadelphia, 1854

William Penn atop Philadelphia City Hall
This November makes it 329 years since the entrepreneurial Quaker William Penn stepped ashore, founding the city of Philadelphia. In the early nineteenth century, Americans knew more about the landing of William Penn than they did about the Pilgrims who supposedly disembarked at Plymouth Rock, something that only later became ingrained in the national consciousness.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Newsies

Chicago, 1900

…The works of religion and charity have everywhere been manifest. Our country through all its extent has been blessed with abundant harvests. Labor and the great industries of the people have prospered beyond all precedent…”
— President William McKinley,
Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1900 

Woolf’s clothing store, situated on State Street across from the luxurious Palmer House, closed early on the day before Thanksgiving in 1900, as it had done for years, in order to get ready to serve a holiday dinner for the poor of Chicago. It was unseasonably cold that afternoon; the temperature had already dropped into the teens when the store clerks sprang into action. In what had become a well-orchestrated ritual, they stored away the goods and removed the counters from the main floor. Next, the table were brought in, covered with marbled oilcloth, and decorated with flowers, fruit, and pyramids of small cakes.1 After carefully arranging a thousand place settings, reportedly with as much precision as you would find at a fine hotel, the clerks donned white aprons and jackets just before opening the doors at 6 PM, ready to serve old-fashioned turkey dinners to the multitudes who would begin filing in from the frigid weather.