Philly Flashbacks

The odd, the interesting and the downright ridiculous.

Philadelphia’s Once & Almost Washington Monument

Washington Monument 1833

In 1824, Philadelphians were all astir over the visit by the Marquis de Lafayette, one of the last surviving heroes of the Revolution. That same year, in a wave of patriotic fervor, the five public squares in of William Penn’s “Greene Countrie Towne” were renamed in honor of luminaries of Philadelphia’s colonial past. The scruffy southeast park near the Old State House was renamed Washington Square. On October 5th, a group of citizens meeting at the Merchant’s Coffee House resolved to raise a monument to George Washington in the newly re-named park, “in profound veneration of his character and in admiration of his exemplary virtues.”  They further resolved that none other than General Lafayette himself would do to lay the cornerstone. Seven months later, fundraising was going very slowly and no design had yet been chosen. Lafayette would visit Chestnut Hill and Germantown in 1825, but skipped over Philadelphia, never to return.

After Lafayette’s departure, the city’s patriotic urges cooled and the project languished for years. In 1832, the planning committee was resurrected, including some of the original members – Charles Ingersoll, William Strickland, Nicholas Biddle, and Charles Penrose as well as the Society of the Cincinnati.  In 1833, architect William Strickland submitted the widely admired design, above, for a grand Washington Monument to grace the center of Washington Square. A ceremonial cornerstone cornerstone was even laid on February 22, 1833.

In 1840, with nothing more than that cornerstone having materialized, the concept for the monument morphed into an equestrian statue of Mr. Washington, to be executed by the British-American sculptor Ball Hughes. A model of his proposed design was even displayed in Independence Hall along with several other designs. However, the project dragged on, hampered by the effects of the Panic of 1837 and the collapse of Biddle’s Second Bank of the United States in 1841. In 1842, Hughes moved his family to Boston, where he found work. Eventually, the Washington Square project was eclipsed by the proposal for a national monument in the nation’s capital.  The great obelisk in Washington D.C. was begun in 1848 and Philadelphia’s own plan for an imposing Washington Monument was never realized.

* * *

In 1957, the Washington Square Planning Committee built the present “Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier” in the west end of the park and erected the modest bronze cast of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s life-sized statue of Washington. The Carrara marble original is in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond; ours is only one of more than twenty other copies that exist around the world, from Oshkosh, Wisconsin to Lima, Peru.


When the City of Philadelphia consolidated the entire crazy-quilt of townships, boroughs and districts within Philadelphia County under its municipal authority in 1854, it increased its area from about 2 square miles to over 140 square miles. By the late 19th century, many parts of this expanded city were still farmland. Even though these areas were providing the city with produce and livestock, in the 1880s, lines were drawn over one issue in particular: pigs.


The belching smokestacks that were sprouting up throughout the “Workshop of the World” didn’t seem to bother anyone, but the stench from piggeries within the city limits did. As early as 1884, city health officials began raiding illegal pig farms both north and south of the built up central city, tearing down pigsties and sending the pigs to feed the Almshouse poor. The Philadelphia Inquirer led the crusade to clean up what they called “a real menace to public health.”


Moses VealeBy 1886, some of South Philadelphia’s pig owners began fighting back, inviting reporters from Philadelphia newspapers to see that their pens had been “newly whitewashed . . . and put in a beautiful state.” Their public relations work was undone, though, when the Inquirer reported that the piggeries west of them were still filled with garbage “left to fester, with a stench that could not but be highly prejudicial to public health.”  Conscientious Health Officer Colonel Moses Veale, right,  began a crusade to have all the “vile piggeries” removed from the city. Laws and resolutions were passed . . . and ignored. It was the beginning of a long, comic war that would drag on through the 1920s and beyond.

1893 Pigs in Clover


Officials would make surprise raids on illegal piggeries, only to discover that the owners,  having been tipped off by police they had bribed, had already moved the pigs. In 1892, the Board of Health passed a resolution that all pigs be removed from city limits by January 1st, 1893. The city also tried an added tactic, specifying that all garbage be either burned or carted out of the county, but NOT fed to hogs. This meant that both the raising and feeding of pigs were illegal. All that made no difference when Republican William H. Ford, President of the Board of Health, immediately began hearing appeals from pig owners and making exceptions, infuriating Democrat City Health Officer Veale.

City garbage contractors added their own alleged grievances, arguing that it was much too expensive for them to have to transport all garbage outside of city limits. (This was despite the fact that they had already raised their contract bids to take the extra cost into account. They were now not only being paid extra to haul the garbage far away, but then being paid again when they sold it to the piggeries; Philadelphia profiteering at its finest.)


Things got worse before they got better. Because of the law, over 1,000 head of hogs had been relocated to the upper part of Petty’s Island in the Delaware River, which, being a owned by New Jersey, was accessible but outside the city limits.  However, to feed the hogs, scowloads of garbage were hauled to the Island, much of it ending up in the river and polluting the water works that served Camden. The smell still wafted to Philadelphia, but now some of the problem was New Jersey’s as well.

1917 Point Breeze Piggeries

1917 pigs in crisisThroughout the offending Northeast and especially around the area in South Philadelphia called “the Neck,” near Stonehouse Lane, much publicized extensions, appeals, raids and evasions continued. In 1913 the slapstick element to the battle became evident when Dumont’s Minstrels at Ninth and Arch presented a comedy called “Moving the Philadelphia Piggeries,” below. In 1917, South Philadelphia pig owners banded together to form an ad hoc “Livestock Association of Philadelphia.” They circulated a petition amd took out newspaper ads claiming that garbage fed pigs were economical during wartime, that grain was needed for human consumptions and bluntly asked, “Don’t we need all the pork we can get?”

1913 10 10 Piggeries Dumont

Ironically, it would be World War I  that really pushed the city to wage its own private war on pigs. Ever since the 1870s, Philadelphia had been lobbying Congress to have the United States Navy acquire League Island and make it the home of a federally funded naval shipyard. Grand plans were drawn up to turn South Broad Street to the Naval Yard into an elegant wide boulevard. City fathers knew that that none of that would ever happen with acres of malodorous piggeries nearby. Throughout the 1910s the fight was on and the number of raids accelerated. In one one day in 1917 alone, over 300 pigs were rounded up, confiscated and sold. Not long after, the Co-operative Committee for Fly Extermination announced that in the last 20 years “thirty thousand pigs have been banished from Philadelphia for good.”

Even so, in the 1920s, there were still estimated to be over 3,400 pigs within city limits, most of them in the Northeast with a few in South Philadelphia. As the new Director of the Department of Public Health resolutely said, “Pigs have no business in the city . . . we have been more than patient”

1953 WW Bridge proposal


1953 Mar Stonehuse LaneIt was the relentless advance of rowhome construction through the Northeast and industrial development and the construction of the Walt Whitman Bridge in South Philly that eventually put an end to the “Piggery Evil.”  The photo, right, shows the “Neck” in 1953, just as construction was about to begin on the bridge, see plan, above, showing the black tentacles of the planned Walt Whitman enveloping Stonehouse Lane in red.

By 1960, the last pig would be gone and there would be few left alive that would remember the “Swine Wars” that raged in Philadelphia for over 70 years.

How Two Sewer Rats Made History in City Hall Tower

Phila City Hall1889

From the moment the elevator in the still unfinished City Hall tower, above, was opened to the sight-seeing public in April of 1889, it was a huge hit. The top of the tower, even unfinished, provided a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. During the following summer, the elevator operators were astonished at the number of young couples who decided that ascending the tower of the new Public Buildings on Penn Square was just about the most romantic thing they could do. There were so many “bashful swains and blushing sweethearts” that one elevator engineer commented:

You never saw the like! They’re all spooneys, too. They’ve been kissing and hugging all day, and I’m sick of it. Another day’s work like this would break me all up.

Toward Logan Sq

City Hall 1908

Throughout the next decade, the popularity of the elevator continued to grow. By 1899, 5,000 people a month were ascending to the top of the now completed tower, to gaze down at the city from right under the feet of its beloved founder, William Penn. Take a look at the spectacular late 19th century view from the tower toward Logan Square, above. The completion of the the clock room and aluminum cap had increased the tower’s height by another 200 feet, to a total of over 500 feet.

In 1900, a new, hydraulic elevator was installed to accomodate the new height. Not long after, a few accidents began occurring. Most were minor, but when the locking device failed, one of these was fatal, giving rise to a new concern about the safety of the new hydraulic elevator. After all, it was now operating in what was one of the longest elevator runs in the world, second only to the Washington Monument. Newspapers began calling the City Hall tower elevator ride “a Constant Menace to the Lives of Passengers.”

 Tower 1902In 1901, the Public Building Commissioners shut the tower ride down for a few months and petitioned City Councils for $8,000 in funding to install an automatic safety air cushion under the tower elevator. Installed in 1902, this “air cushion” was a compartment 70 feet deep at the base of the shaft that the manufacturer claimed would slowly and safely bring the elevator car to a gradual stop. On the afternoon of September 25th, 1902, the new safety system was tested before the public in a somewhat bizarre and dramatic demonstration.

At 1:30 pm, the 2,500 pound car was raised 372 feet up in the shaft, left, the steel cables were detached and the car was held suspended only by a single rope. Inside the car was a cage containing two sewer rats, along with dozens of eggs and delicate light bulbs placed on the floor as well as several glasses of water filled to the brim. A crowd of of over 500, including the entire Bureau of Elevator Inspectors and the chief mechanical engineer of the Federal Treasury Department, assembled to witness the official event.

When the rope was cut, the car plummeted down the shaft past the spectators at a rate of about 120 miles an hour. Clouds of dust were thrown up, and a giant boom reverberated through the building as the car hit the air well. The whole thing took only about seven seconds. From the noise, many of the spectators were sure the car had been smashed to pieces. However, the crowd in the hall directly below the elevator shaft reported that the giant electric chandelier suspended there had remained absolutely steady and never flickered. When the onlookers rushed to the elevator car, they found that none of the water had been spilled, only three eggs were cracked and our heroes, the rats, looked shaken up by the fall but were unharmed. The unbroken eggs were distributed as souvenirs.

The next day, the Inquirer headline dutifully reported:

Rats 1902

The paper also said that the builders and spectators were highly elated over the test, which it called “the greatest elevator drop that has ever been made in the world.”

If it walks like William Penn, talks like William Penn and looks like William Penn . . .

Quaker Oats

So just who is that guy in the plain black hat smiling back enigmatically from your box of oats?  Today, the Quaker Oats Company, a PepsiCo subsidiary, emphatically denies that he’s Philadelphia’s honest founder, the man whose 37 foot tall statue graces the top of our city hall, William Penn.

This is what they say on the 2013 Quaker Oats website FAQ:

Q: Who is the man on the Quaker Oats box? Is it William Penn?

A: The “Quaker man” is not an actual person. His image is that of a man dressed in the Quaker garb, chosen because the Quaker faith projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity and strength.


1718 German portrait of Wm Penn

Despite what they say now,  the Quaker Oats Company, “Founder of Packaged Oats,” was not always shy about identifying their product with our hero Penn, “Founder of a Great city and a great Commonwealth.”

Here’s a Quaker Oats magazine ad from 1909, click on it for a larger image:

1909 Quaker Oats

“Sold by all Honest Grocers,” indeed.

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