PHILADELPHIA REFLECTIONS
Musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for six decades

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Outlaws: Crime in Philadelphia
Even the criminals, the courts and the prisons of this town have a Philadelphia distinctiveness. The underworld has its own version of history.

Railroad Town
It's generally agreed, railroads failed to adjust their fixed capacity to changing demands. It's less certain Philadelphia was pulled down by that collapsing rail system.

Customs, Culture and Traditions (2)
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Ethnic Subcultures
Diverse ethnicities make up this city.

Central Pennsylvania
"Alabama in-between," snickered James Carville, "Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Alabama in-between."

Molly Maguires of Pennsylvania (1)

It seems likely the Molly Maguires of Donegal, a county along the border between Northern and Southern Ireland, were the source of those Molly Maguires who first made an Irish presence in Cass Township of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, around 1850. When Pinkerton agents were later hired to deal with labor violence in the hard coal region, their first step was to send an agent to Donegal to study Molly Maguire methods -- and surnames. A handful of families, perhaps only one extended family, were likely transatlantic transmitters. The secret society of men sometimes disguised in women's clothing, spread a tale of grievances to Irish neighbors and even further; eventually the whole industrial labor movement over-reacted, either adopting violence or vehemently opposing it. Most Mollies were proudly illiterate, making their appeals in local taverns through folk songs about ancient martyrs. Even today, a tourist who wanders into Irish taverns there senses hostility to strangers; the bartender may advise you to leave. Although rough behavior by new immigrants always was something to guard against, by 1850 the country was reasonably accustomed to experiencing it. Assimilation was the American way of life.

However, resistance to conscription during the Civil War gave newcomer clannishness more serious consequences. This was particularly true when it inserted a surprising pro-slavery (or at least anti-emancipation) protest into the very center of the Northern Union, around Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Whatever the South was fighting for, the North was primarily fighting to preserve the economic benefits of greater trade in larger markets -- a concept loosely described as "preserving the union". A second twist to anti-Mollie repression was later added after the war was over, when the 19th Century Industrial Revolution created another untamable tribe, the Robber Barons, for whom uncooperative behavior was a tendency not to be trifled with.

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Pottsville Hanging
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Historical Marker

Basic behavior of the Molly Maguires in action followed a simple pattern. Males dressed as females in blackface made extortion threats against members of dominant society, protesting that their own subsequent violence was merely justice for heartlessness toward widows and orphans. Since the Mollies out of costume mingled cheerfully with those they secretly called oppressors, for actual assassinations they either called in the help of distant outsiders or drew lots to choose the assassin locally. The community would then unite to provide a vocal alibi, and profess to be offended by the accusation. To increase intimidation, death threats were pinned to the door.

(1709)

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