Food and Drink in Philadelphia
Pennsylvania was founded as a religious colony, but it should not be assumed that the early Quakers were all tea totalers. The drinking water was suspect in all parts of the world, especially in the swampy Delaware Bay area . A great many colonial houses had brew-houses nearby and made no bones about it. Prohibition traces its more recent origin to a counter-reaction to the craze for gin which swept the country in the early 19th Century, leading successively to the Salvation Army, which was a Methodist movement, and to the Volstead Act. When all that settled down, Pennsylvania was left with a system of State Stores, a monopoly of packaged liquor by civil servants. As usually happens with such government adventures, the State Store system led to higher prices and less choice, famously poor service, and usually rude salespeople. If you wanted to develop a private wine cellar, you were pretty much out of luck, and it usually was not successful to come home from a foreign trip and ask for something new you had encountered abroad.
It thus happens that Philadelphia has only three traditional alcoholic drinks, and all three are sort of fading out. Madeira used to be the big party drink. Probably because of the trade routes, but possibly because of preference for the taste as compared with port and sherry, many parties were held for the sole purpose of opening a new keg of Madeira, and many annual celebrations had Madeira toasts as the official tradition. S. Weir Mitchell enshrined that tradition in a story, "The Madeira Party", and F. William Sunderman, who died at the age of 104 in 2003, wrote a similar ode to the Madeira tradition. Occasionally a hostess will go to the trouble of assembling a modern Madeira party, but it takes some effort to do so. Being quaint is not the same as being traditional.
The ingredients of Fish House Punch, on the other hand, are not difficult to obtain. A bowl of punch will do away with the need for a bartender, and tends to assemble a jolly crowd around a table. The point was recently reaffirmed when the manager of the Union League converted one dining room to a luncheon buffet for regulars at the club tables. The idea was to allow businessmen in a hurry to get started with lunch without the delay of waitress service, but what quickly developed was that the buffet table became a greeting and gathering place, valuable in itself for enhancing the comraderie of a club.
The Fish House referred to is now next to Andalusia along the Delaware, although originally on the Schuylkill, and is one of those really traditional clubs where the members do the cooking and serving. The origins of many things are symbolized by the Tally Ho bowl of the Fish House, derived from the pre-Revolutionary Gloucester (NJ) Hunt and given by the First City Troop in honor of the joint membership of Captain Morris in both organizations. If you don't happen to have a Tally Ho bowl, any bowl will do.
The Union League has a similar drink, called the Union League Special*, which tastes much like a Whiskey Sour Punch, and is usually stored back of the bar in gallon jugs. Instead of a punch bowl, the Special is usually served in a tall glass. There is a general impression that the Special is stronger than the Fish House, but it is only a matter of personal opinion as to which tastes better.
* UNION LEAGUE APPETIZER ( Individual 6oz. Cocktail)
1 oz. RYE 1/2 oz. MYERS JAMAICAN RUM 1/2 oz. TRIPLE SEC 1 oz. LEMON JUICE 1 oz. ORANGE JUICE 1/2 oz. SUGAR
(Shake Well With Cracked Ice and Strain)
1 BOT RYE 16 oz. MEYERS JAMAICAN RUM 16 oz. TRIPLE SEC 36 oz. HALF LEMON & HALF WATER 26 oz. ORANGE JUICE 8 oz. SUGAR
(Stir with Block Ice or Cubes Until Cold )
There used to be several fine breweries in Philadelphia but they went away because of globalization, unions, or local taxes, or something, and it is probably true that there is no distinctively Philadelphia beer or wine. At parties, a large number of people are often seen walking around with a glass of clear liquid with some ice cubes in it. An onlooker can't tell, and it is intended that onlookers can't tell, whether the glass contains plain water, or gin, or vodka. None of your business, right?
To return to the point that Quakers have never all felt it is necessary to conform to a sour prohibitionist stance, there is a famous story of the Vaux family, whose country place used to be about where the Chestnut Hill Hospital now stands. Young Richard Vaux was attached to the American legation in London about the time of the inaugural of Queen Victoria, and cut a rather fine figure. At the inaugural ball, he gaily danced with the new Queen, and word of it soon reached his mother in America. After summoning the young man to see her, she put down her sewing and came right to the point. "Richard," she said, "I do hope thee will not marry out of meeting."
|Henry Wadsworth Longfellow|
Since American relations with France are a little strained at the moment, it may not be completely welcome to hear it said that Philadelphia food is Creole. The reference is not to the several downtown French restaurants of outstanding quality, but to the two episodes when Philadelphia experienced waves of French immigration. The first of these was during the French and Indian War, when the Acadian French ("Cajun") were driven out of Nova Scotia, largely went to Louisiana and then were allowed to return. A lot of them stopped off in Philadelphia both going and coming. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow depicted, in his poem Evangeline, the tearful reunion of Evangeline and Gabriel in the hospital. And since, for sixty years the Pennsylvania Hospital was the only hospital in the country, Longfellow had to put them here.
The second wave of French immigration was provoked by the guillotine in Paris, and the black revolution in French Haiti. Most people today are unaware that Talleyrand lived here, and LaRochefoucauld. The Duke of Orleans, future king of France, lived at 4th and Locust Streets, proposed to a (rich) Philadelphia lady, and was rejected by her father ("Sir, if you do not become king of France, you will be no match for her, and if you do become king, she will be no match for you.") Napoleon's brother Joseph lived at 9th and Spruce, and one of his marshals lived at 6th and Spruce. Really. Tallyrand had a deformed foot, and this somehow made him pals with Governor Morris who had a wooden leg. This friendship was part of the reason the Louisiana Purchase was possible, because they shared the favors of the same French lady, and had frequent occasion to meet. Both Franklin and Jefferson were ambassadors to France, it may be remembered, and for a while Jefferson was quite a fan of the French Revolution, although the treatment of LaFayette by the French Revolutionaries did not exactly encourage that. The French treated Franklin like a God, but then so did Mozart and the King of England, and Franklin harbored many bitter memories of the French and Indian War all the while he was romancing the French into bankruptcy to pay for our revolution. The French refugees from Haiti brought Yellow Fever with them, and Dengue too, thus definitively terminating Philadelphia's hope of remaining the permanent capitol of the nation.
It was during this Francophone period that Philadelphia cuisine acquired some characteristics which allow some food historians to call it Creole. Philadelphia Pepper Pot soup, for example, substituted tripe for terrapin. Those who know about these things say that many dishes now thought to be distinctly Philadelphian in fact had a French origin.
|Map of Barnegat Bay|
Centuries came and centuries went, while a Quaker shipyard went on about its business along the shore of Barnegat Bay. Next door there was a notable roadhouse after the second World War, rumored to have formerly been a secret speakeasy during the days of Prohibition. In time, the only occupant of the roadhouse was a wealthy widow, who mostly minded her own business and grew to be an affable neighbor to the Quakers next door. As rowdy days of Prohibition faded into the background of decades past, the old lady felt free to recall some of the less tawdry features of her past, to the Quakers who in turn felt free to chuckle about them. Ancient history, perhaps a little varnished and polished up. It was, however, a little disquieting to hear her say that the liquor for the speakeasy was often supplied by sailors from the Coast Guard, who routinely diverted 20% of the cargo of rum Runners they had captured, into commercial channels. Exciting times, those were.
| The Coast Guard |
out looking for Rum Runners
One day when the widow was ninety-six years old, the lights of her house stayed on, without other signs of activity. The neighbor eventually walked over to the back door and looked through the window, where it could be seen that the old lady was lying on the floor, rather motionless. He might have called the police, or broken into the house, but there was another option.
He went down to the basement, entering a rather dusty but quite elaborate barroom. Following old directions, he walked to a closet and climbed up a stepladder leading into another closet on the floor above. Stepping out, he found the lady was still breathing, called her relatives, and watched her be taken off to a nursing home to end her days. No one seemed to ask very many questions.
Most Americans would like to lose weight, particularly if they could eat, and eat some more, at the same time. Dick Watson recently told the Right Angle Club about an adventure cruise on a sailing ship in the South Pacific, where he and everyone else ate huge mounds of delicious food, but still lost 12 pounds in a month. About twenty of these voyagers spent eight thousand dollars for the privilege of working as sailors for a month on an authentic pre-steam brigantine, sailing from Aukland to Easter Island. Dick took fourteen hundred beautiful photos of the experience, but most of his audience sat transfixed at the description of the horrors of sailor life. Not your average luxury cruise.
A brigantine is about an eighth the size of the Moshulu parked in Penn's Landing, and definitely does not plow the waves. Bobbing like a cork with every ripple, the ship "rode" waves throughout this "Pacific" cruise that averaged six meters or about twenty feet high. It thus follows that every single voyager was deathly sea-sick for the first two or three days; welcome to the bounding main. In spite of excruciating incapacity, sailors are not excused from standing watch; that's just about the first law of the sea. However, after a few days this problem seems to go away for almost everyone, and becomes only an initiation rite in retrospect. What doesn't go away is the wind, the cold, and the rain. Climbing the rigging gets you up to the fighting top, a wooden platform forty feet above the deck. Bigger ships sometimes have a hole in that platform to crawl through, but brigantines don't have lubberholes. You climb the mast and work your way out to the edge of the platform hanging upside down, then drag yourself up and over the edge. Once you are there, you can attach your safety belt, but the transition depends entirely on having enough strength in your hands to hold on while the ship rocks from side to side, forty feet below. Above the fighting top is another fifty feet of climbing, as the shrouds (ropes) which are attached to the top narrow down to the point where there is no longer room for your foot unless you turn it sideways. Ballet dancers learn to walk on their toes, but walking and climbing on the side of your foot is a step beyond excruciating.
Perhaps it is good thing our ancestors came over to settle America that way. Except for a few people like Benjamin Franklin they gladly gave up all thought of returning to the home country. However difficult it may have seemed to cope with the Indians and all, they were going to be Americans forever. Other people could fight wars about events that took place in 1384. We weren't going to worry about that sort of thing, because we were not going back, ever.
|Trenton's Tomato Pie|
The ingredients of a pizza pie are so simple it comes as a shock to learn the Italian community of Trenton, New Jersey, is fanatic about putting the cheese on the dough first, and then tomatoes on top. That's the way an authentic Trenton pizza is supposed to be made, rather than the conventional method of tomatoes first, cheese on top. To emphasize the point, these pizzas are determinedly referred to as tomato pies. And to tell the truth, there is a minor difference in the taste of the product made that way. As this more or less trivial issue is dissected and debated in great detail, an important fact about ethnic food emerges.
Be patient while each ingredient is examined. The crust will rise more in the warm summer than the winter, so it's thicker after it's baked. There is a faint fermentation taste which is more pronounced with a thick crust, but everyone in Trenton agrees this is a minor point. Everyone is also in agreement that most brands of Mozzarella cheese taste about the same. Tomatoes with seeds or without, or homogenized or chunky, make a minor difference. What is ultimately the essence of a Trenton tomato pie is that the cheese is put on top of the dough first, the tomatoes next spread on top, and the pie is then baked in the oven. Not everyone would notice the difference in taste, but it's definite, and in Trenton it's important. However, the locally acknowledged historian states his opinion that the thing that makes Trenton pies distinctive is not the ingredients, but the customers.
The employees of the shop know and respect the regulars, who tend to come to the same shop at least once a week, and call out the bakers by name as they enter. When they order a tomato pie, they give the name meaningfully, almost threateningly. According to the local historian, when the sons and grandsons of the shop owners move out to the suburbs and start a pizza shop in the strip mall, it isn't long before the tomatoes go on first, cheese on top. That's the way teenagers in the burbs are used to pizzas, and that's the way they expect to get them. As John Wanamaker used to say, the customer is always right, so the social rule which emerges is that ethnic food is not shaped by ethnic cooks, but by ethnic customers. To carry the idea a step farther, ethnic food isn't food, it's the old school tie.
Snapper soup, the old Philadelphia stand-by, probably got its name from snapping turtles. But for a century or two the ingredient turtles came from the Caribbean or even further south. The huge tortoises of the Galapagos were once picked up by whalers, stored alive in the hold of the ship, to be used as needed by the sailors. Only the paws were edible. In time, the more usual imported turtle had a diameter of two feet and was picked up on South American voyages. By the end of the nineteenth century, the steamship trade was dominated by Moore-McCormack, United Fruit, and the Grace lines, who all sailed much the same kind of steamship, carrying a few passengers and a lot of cargo. Generally speaking, the cargoes going out of American East Coast ports consisted of machinery, while the cargoes coming back were bananas. If a ship carried more than twenty-five passengers it was required to have a physician on board, so passengers were either just a handful or about a hundred in number; it made for two general classes of vessel.
As a throwback to the Galapagos business of the sailing-vessel era, United Fruit would always bring home about fifty live turtles in the hold for the Waldorff in New York. It's now unclear who supplied Bookbinders and the Union League in Philadelphia, but it was apparently the same sort of arrangement: turtles came back with the bananas. It's getting hard to find snapper soup anymore; the explanation is probably mixed up with disturbances to this historical source.
It's a source of some regret never to have attended the Georgetown Oyster Eat. It occurs in the middle of February when the days are dark and short, and the weather is uncertain for driving.
Local citizens of Sussex County, Delaware, report no one alive remembers when or how the custom began. In the nature of such things, a certain amount of historical inaccuracy is thus to be expected. It certainly did start out as an all-male event, taking place in the fire house. One inflexible requirement is that a participant must bring his own oyster knife, which is a very heavy chunk of iron with a short blade attached, sort of like a screwdriver. The ones I have seen are all one piece of iron, suggesting they have been hammered out in a blacksmith shop. The flattened-out blade serves as an eating utensil, as well as a wedge to pry open the oyster shell. The oysters are eaten raw and whole, often with some sort of condiment, like horse radish sauce. Some eaters favor a whole lot of ground pepper, and various other ancient remedies are said to make an appearance. The main beverage is beer, lots of beer.
Beyond that, not much is known or divulged to the public, although a party attended by nearly a thousand tipsy people can't keep very many secrets. Before the party, the windows of the firehouse are covered with brown wrapping paper, sealed with tape. Kegs of oysters and kegs of beer are rolled into the firehouse before other things get rolling, and a lot of loud noises and laughter emerge almost all night. The sponsors claim to bring a thousand bushels of oysters to each party, although it is hard to imagine very many people eating their quota of a bushel apiece. The per-person beer consumption is a statistic kept confidential. The ladies of the neighborhood report numerous husbands eventually returning home, with their glasses broken, and suspicious red bruises on their faces. Aside from that, nobody knows nothin'.
About ten or fifteen years ago, feminism reached the Delmarva Peninsula, and the ladies started their own brawl. Renting the Grange Hall and brown-papering the windows, they make a lot of noise come out all night. Because of some sort of oyster virus, oysters are not nearly so plentiful any more. There's a more elaborate accusation that excessive fertilizer on the farm fields runs off and stimulates a bloom of algae, which depletes the oxygen of the river and kills a lot more than oysters. Anyway, the oysters are in short supply. If the local firehouse custom dies out, it won't be from lack of enthusiasm, however.
Trish Brown visited the Right Angle Club recently, and told us about our club's feminine neighbor at 1519 Locust Street. She's the charming, witty new club manager of the Acorn Club, who often left this audience of men a little nonplussed about whether she was twitting us. For example, she told us that her club's policy about publicity. The policy states in one place that publicity is welcome, but in another place mentions it must not mention the club's name.
The Acorn is the oldest club for women in America, having been founded by Mrs. Thomas Biddle in 1889. The ladies of the neighborhood had taken to having walks together, and out of this association came the club, which soon found it needed a place to come in out of the rain. It started at 1642 Pine Street and was in five different locations until the present building was built in 1956. At one time it had 900 members, now has 700, of which 200 live more than 50 miles away. Unlike men's clubs, which are seeing a migration from lunch to dinner, the Acorn heavily favors lunch, usually on the days of local art, musical and literary events. It's one of two Platinum Clubs in Philadelphia, a quality designation for the top 200 (of 6000) national clubs. If you are interested in their cuisine, it may be sufficient to know that the top favorite dessert is creme brulee.
The club dining room seats 110, with 80 seats in other rooms, and has a staff of 11. There's definitely a dress code, but for women that's a little hard to define. Trish observes that it seems to lean toward pearls.
There's a cross-over alliance with the Philadelphia Club, where the husbands of many Acorn members belong. Both clubs are doing their best to adjust to changing times and customs, but Alfie Putnam once noticed a seemingly enduring feature. The flag, he said, is mostly at half-mast.
|American Philsophical Society Seal|
In the age of the Enlightenment, science was called natural philosophy; that accounts for the present custom of awarding PhD. degrees in chemistry and botany. The sort of thing which interested Ralph Waldo Emerson was called moral philosophy, and you will have to visit some other place than the A.P.S. if that is what interests you. Roy E. Goodman is presently the Curator of Printed Material (some would say he was chief librarian) at the American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin who was clearly the most eminent scientist of his day, having discovered and explained the nature of electricity.
|Roy E. Goodman|
Roy Goodman is descended from cowboys and rodeo stars, but in spite of that he gave an entertaining talk recently at the Right Angle Club about this society devoted to useful knowledge, this oldest publishing house and scholarly society in America, once the home of the U.S. Patent Office, and scientific library and museum. They have many rare items in their collection, but the unifying theme is not rarity, but curiosity. You might say some of the items reflect the whimsy of Franklin, but it would be more fair to say it is an enduring monument to Franklin's universal curiosity about all things.
|Nobel Prize Medal|
There are about 900 members of APS, about 800 of them Americans, about 100 of them winners of a Nobel Prize. Let's just make a little list of a very few notables in the past and present membership. Start with the first four Presidents of the United States, add Alexander Hamilton and Lafayette, David Rittenhouse and Francis Hopkinson and you get the idea that Founding Fathers got in early. Robert Fulton, Lewis and Clark, Alexander Humboldt, John Marshall were early members, and more recent ones were Madame Curie,
|Professor May Berenbaum|
At the Wagner Free Institute, Professor May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois described a mystery disaster which suddenly cut the honey bee population in half during 2008. The nation's bee experts convened at emergency meetings and shared available information to try to figure out what happened. While the matter is not entirely clear, it appears that whole colonies of bees declined because the forager type of worker bee selectively disappeared. No bodies were found in the hives, and the other components of bee colonies were apparently unaffected. Foraging is a stage in the life history of worker bees which precedes their becoming honey and honeycomb workers within the hive, so a disaster for younger worker bees rapidly diminishes the older population of hive workers. Worker bees are sterile females; the fertile queens and drones are apparently unaffected. Speculation as to what has happened to American worker bees has centered on some new pesticides (neo-nicotinoids) and an Israeli parasite, both of which were new to the scene in the past couple of years.
Most people have little appreciation of the seriousness of this sudden problem. The price of honey can of course be expected to soar, but honey production is now only a small part of the modern bee industry. Three quarters of the revenue of beekeepers is derived from artificial pollination of flowering food plants, usually by trucking hundreds of hives from one region to another, as various food plants come into blossom. In turn, many crops are highly dependent on these bees to supplement wind pollination. The almond crop, the avacado crop, and sesame seeds are all highly dependent on honey bee pollination. The economic effects of a permanent decline in honey bees could have a serious economic effect.
Professor Berenbaum is a Philadelphia girl, having been born in Levittown and educated in the region. She's a charming lady, starting off the lecture by commenting on the old birds and bees tradition. In her view, American children already know more about human sexual behavior than they know about bees.
|Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth|
As a side note, the "Father of Modern Beekeeping" was theReverend Lorenzo Langstroth, also born in Philadelphia. While continuing his active ministry, Langstroth learned that bees would react with comb formation to crevices in the hive according to the width of the crevice. From this, he developed the now-standard rectangular hive with movable partitions, confining the queen bee to the bottom section by laying a screen above it with openings large enough to permit the worker bees to move through, but too small for the queen. Since the moveable partitions could be removed without shaking the whole hive and agitating the bees, beekeeping without hive destruction became practical. An additional feature was that the upper sections contained honey without bee larvae, and could be removed as filled, without reducing the population of bees in the hive. Langstroth's introduction of smoke blown into the hive had the effect of quieting the insects still further. Langstroth in 1848 published an instruction manual for beekeeping which is still in wide use, because there was thereafter very little room for further beekeeping innovation. For many decades, honey became the main sweetener in American households. Unfortunately, the present mysterious loss of worker bees has pushed the price of a small jar to more than $40, steadily rising. One hopes the cause and cure of this malady will soon be found.
In the spirit of helpfulness, the following suggestions are offered: disappearance of bees without dead bodies could be explained by insecticide toxicity somewhat better than by disease, because many diseased bees could be expected to find their way back to the hive, while poisoned ones could be killed quickly at some distance from the hive and never make it back. And one further thought is that failure of the bees to be born would explain vanished bees without corpses just as well as distant insecticides would. And decline of feral bee populations starting in 1945 brings up a possible association with atom bomb tests, just as was seen in the sudden change in the world-wide pattern of human thyroid cancers. Just a suggestion.
|Victor's Singing Waiters|
There was a time when the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden had not been absorbed by RCA, and so there was a Victor Records Store in South Philadelphia, run by the Di Stefano family. In 1933 after Prohibition was repealed, the record store obtained a liquor license and became Victor's Cafe. Nobody named Victor has ever worked there, and ownership has remained in the hands of the diStefano's. The record store used to be filled with the sound of operatic arias, and now the Cafe continues with opera-singing waiters. They are susceptible to requests for favorite arias, but they also spontaneously break into song when pauses in the demands of customers give them moments of rest. The walls of Victor's Cafe are covered with autographed photos of operatic visitors; the bartender is particularly proud that Pavarotti visited there, twice. The Italian food served there is quite good, and moderately priced; the Chianti wine comes in minimum-size two quart bottles.
This isn't an advertisement, it's a review. But there is really lots of fun in trying out what is essentially a South Philadelphia hangout at 13th and Dickinson. It's Italian, all right, but it is also a Philadelphia tradition.
|Madeira Wine class=|
The hundred years war, the thirty years war, the seven years war, and other European disagreements made it difficult to import wine to England, turning the wine import trade to Portugal. Port wine was of course prominent, but the best wine of all came from the Portugese colony of Madeira. The island of Madeira is closer to Africa than to Portugal, so the triangular slave trade made it easy to import Madeira wine to the British colonies in America. The eastern seaboard of America had no grape culture of any note, so the beverage trade centered on rum, whiskey, beer and Madeira. George Washington is widely reported to have had half a bottle of Madeira every day for lunch, for example.
|S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell|
The other evening at the Franklin Inn Club, a traditional Philadelphia Madeira party filled the hall, and the membership were brought up to date on some of the traditions and finer points of the occasion. In the first place, the Franklin Inn was founded by S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell, in his spare time as Father of Neurology, had written a short story called The Madeira Party which worked in a large number of details about what was what about Madeira, ending with ribald tipsiness. Nathan Siven, a well-known wine authority, instructed the group in the various types of grape and vintage, and other members who have summered in Madeira related current conditions. Because the volcanic island is a favorite place for visitors, particularly Englishmen, real estate is at such a premium that most vineyards have only one or two acres of grapes. The wineries whose names are on the bottles pick up the crop from these local growers and take it on from there. This seems as good as any other explanation for current high prices of the wine. However, a century ago a disease wiped out the French and Portugese vinyards, who were forced to beg back some exported grapevines from California to get back in business. So, one wonders about the scarcity claim.
|Madeira in a barrels|
It is related that a number of cargoes of Madeira, particularly those of John Hancock of Boston were caught being smuggled to the colonies, and got returned. It was discovered that the taste of the wine was greatly improved by the tumult, so that each vintner experimented with various methods of agitating and heating the wine to produce a particular brand. Madeira, like sherry, is a fortified wine, with various proportions of grain alcohol and brandy added in secret formulas. On one point there is general agreement, that if fortified wines are aged for long enough periods, eventually they all taste alike. There thus has emerged a tricky business of aging the wine long enough for the vintage of the wine to match the age or anniversary of the person being honored by the gift. Fifty years is the tricky goal; it's the most popular gift, but perilously close to the point where you can't tell if it is sherry or Madeira. There are four main varieties of Madeira (brand names are something else), getting progressively sweeter, darker colored and more expensive as they age. Malmsey, in a barrel of which Shakspere portrayed the royal princes being drowned, is claimed to be the very best. Some people regard it as too sweet, however. At proper Madeira party, each variety is served with a different course of terrapin or whatever. The President of the Franklin Inn read off the instructions for cooking the traditional first course of jellied boiled boar's head, and the guests agreed that modern tastes called for a substitute. After the reading of Mitchell's short story, the group added a new tradition of singing Flanders and Swann's ribald song, "Have Some Madeira, m'dear".
Chuck Barber, the current President of the Green Tree Insurance Company, added an entirely new historical slant. The Insurance Company is well known for having the best dinner in town at its meetings, since directors of insurance companies don't do much. At the dinner in 1799, news was brought in that George Washington had just died. A member rose to propose what has become an annual toast in Madeira, "To President Washington!" In time, S. Weir Mitchell became a member of the board, and the famous short story was the outcome which firmly fixed the rules of the Philadelphia Madeira Party. Bill Madeira was called on to verify this history, but he protested that his family name was derived from the wine, not the other way around.
It seems appropriate to add another historical note. Benjamin Franklin, after whom the club is named, suffered severely from gout. Although some sort of association with liquor had been mentioned as far back as Hippocrates, Franklin's powers of observation and his fame as a scientist placed him in a position to make it irrefutable doctrine that gout was a medical penalty for drinking liquor. It was of course Madeira that old Ben was drinking, and it was the rule that Madeira was transported in lead-lined kegs. The Green Tree has some of the old kegs if you doubt it. Franklin's observation was acute, but what he was reporting was the effect of the lead poisoning, not of the wine.
In one of those intervals when several casual acquaintances are detained together, awaiting the beginning of some ceremony, there was desultory conversation, jumping from topic to topic. The recently retired President of the University probably had a delayed lunch on his mind. "The older I get, he said with a smile, the more important food seems, and the less important sex does." The considerably younger group knew how to respond to this sally, which was with broad but inaudible smiles, and no comment. This was, after all, the President of the University making a faux pas.
In retrospect, it seems remarkable the rest of us could be so obtuse. During the working years of life, meals are fitted around the workday; the employer defines the day's structure, and meals fit around it. That pattern persists on non-workdays, imposing its schedule even on those who do not go to work. In Haddonfield, the town whistle blows at noon, in Philadelphia the clock opposite City Hall booms twelve. However, in a hospital, nursing home or retirement community the eight-hour day for the cooks sets mealtime. Breakfast comes at 9 AM, dinner comes at 5 PM. The wait staff starts clearing tables ninety minutes later, because they want to go home. To working class families, this sort of schedule is not objectionable. A man who does heavy manual labor wants his dinner ten minutes after he gets home at night. The remarkable docility of his wife contains a faint hint that he can get grouchy or worse if he has to wait a jot for dinner. There are others who respond well to institutional mealtimes; you can see them crowded around the locked entrance of the dining hall, waiting for doors to open. Diabetics, too, have learned the wisdom of regular meal hours. All of these people can be expected to rally around the administration if someone starts to urge more flexible and leisurely meals; they would have trouble understanding the issue. What's lacking, of course, is the deference one comes to expect when dining out. At a restaurant, the diner sets the time he wants the meal to start, and makes the decision when to call for the check and declare the meal is over. If the waiter hustles you, cut his tip. In a restaurant, the meal is a special occasion, caters to your wishes. In an institution, the purpose is to get people fed. In general, people go along with this because they are on a budget, and understand quite well the dining organization wishes to minimize complaints, but only within the constraint of minimizing labor costs.
If that's the system we live by, it really would seem reasonable to contemplate a return to having the big meal of the day at noon, in the style of the Victorian era or the hotter siesta countries like Spain, Greece and southern Italy. Commuting twice a day is probably the problem that switched American custom to having a big meal in the evening. But in retirement, all this is no longer an issue. It takes time for customs to change, but it almost takes a century to change breakfast habits. For half a century, we have denounced high-fat breakfasts, and breakfast still responds slowly. There was a time of my childhood when breakfast consisted of fruit, cereal with heavy cream, fried or scrambled eggs with bacon, two glasses of rich milk, two pieces of toast and butter. Right now, it has settled on quick foods before train time, orange juice with one slice of toast and coffee; a so-called continental breakfast. But a Frenchman wants a croissant, a German wants a sausage, a Spaniard wants eggs with tomato sauce. An Englishman wants kippered herring with his breakfast tea. And an Australian insists on tomatoes for breakfast, so help me. Now that many women are working late hours, there is more eating supper in restaurants, and lunch is mainly a quick lunch. But most people prepare breakfast for themselves, at home. They buy the ingredients for old favorites at the same place, usually once a week, and once a pattern is established, it seldom changes. So if you retire to a CCRC, it would be wise to leave your habitual breakfast without tampering. Switching the main meal of the day to noontime, however, could create the opportunity for leisurely dining, even recreational dining. And the staff could get home for their TV program without hustling people to finish their supper. That is, unless golf is a big feature of the place.
One of the major reasons couples enter retirement communities, is that the woman of the pair has become tired of cooking. It's a little hard to know what they mean when they breeze past that comment, because it may really mean that some serious illness has come along, which they would prefer not to discuss with strangers. Or it may reflect early Alzheimer's Disease, usually manifested by repeatedly walking away from a heated frying pan with smoke or even fires above it. Substituting an electric stove lessens this home hazard for a while, but eventually it leads to a demand that something drastic must be done. There are even a few upper crust families who have always had their own cook. That has its limits, however, and in one case I know a former college football hero went to cooking school and learned some special dishes to entertain his guests. Somehow, that always seemed just a little strange, until the subject of kitchen restoration came up with his wife. Not interested in that nonsense, harrumped this lady who could obviously afford to restore a dozen kitchens if she chose. And then she uttered the phrase which unlocked the whole situation. "My mother," she said with finality, "Never set foot in the kitchen."
The sort of food that bachelors and widowers eat is apt to bring tears to your eyes. The only for-sure case of scurvy I ever saw in a long practice of medicine afflicted the Treasurer of my own hospital. It proved easier to give him vitamin pills than to reform his pizza-for-breakfast habits, regardless of how grateful he was to have his teeth stop falling out. Nevertheless, when I became a widower after sixty years of marriage, I was still puzzled by the question, asked twice by two old friends, "Have you been getting any casseroles, lately?" As time goes along, the meaning of this question gets clearer, but the problem got solved in a strange way. I share a cleaning lady with the family next door, where the lady of that house is a truly outstanding French cook. The cleaning lady started bringing me some outstanding dishes, the source of which was soon clarified. She had begged the famous chef lady to teach her how to cook these fancy things, and was quite proud of her new accomplishments. However, the grim fact emerged that her working-class husband absolutely wouldn't touch that stuff, and so she brought it to me rather than stop the cooking lessons. By this route, we get to a dinner conversation held at a table for eight in a nearby retirement village. Three women and five men, far from an average assortment in a predominantly female environment. One extroverted lady, the center of all activities, made an excited proposal. Why don't we set up a table for eight men and go into the kitchen and cook special things for the poor dears? The idea, however, was immediately squelched by another lady at the table. "Why in the world would you want to concentrate what few men we have, all in one place?"
|Benjamin Henry Latrobe|
Philadelphia didn't really want the national capital to move to Washington DC, but the yellow fever epidemics, brought from Haiti by refugees, made it politically impossible to reverse the decision to move. We now know that Yellow Fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, but there was enough trash and pollution lying about the that it was plausible that polluted water was the cause. With no time to waste, water was piped in, through wooden pipes, from the comparatively pristine Schuylkill to a pumping station in Center Square, where City Hall now stands. Even today, no one wants a water tower in the neighborhood, so Benjamin Henry Latrobe made it look like a Roman Temple, thereby introducing classical architecture to Philadelphia, and starting quite a trend. The new system worked well enough from 1801 to 1815, when the new city outgrew it. Therefore, a new pumping system was built at the base of Faire Mount, where William Penn once planned to have a mansion, and was attached to Latrobe's wooden pipe system. In a unique and ingenious way,
|Latrob'e Water Works|
Frederic Graff pumped Schulykill water up to a series of reservoirs on top of Faire Mount, utilizing a water stack to maintain constant pressure. The classical architecture was continued, parks and decorative gardens were placed around it, and admirers came from around the world to marvel. Meanwhile, Latrobe's original building could now be torn down, providing room for City Hall, which was planned to be the tallest building in the world, although the French sort of cheated and put up Eiffel Tower, which in a sense really isn't a building. Meanwhile, Philadelphia and the rest of America kept growing and growing, leading to industrial plants along the Schuylkill all the way up to Pottsville, where the anthracite came from. The pure sparklling municipal water of which Philadelphia was so proud soon became a stinking sewer, and the Civil War encampments accelerated the process.
Following the lead of the Philadelphia College of Physicians, the concept of Fairmount Park emerged from clearing the banks of the river, and the Wissahickon Creek, of industry. The Philadelphia Water Works thus became the southern anchor of the largest city park in the world, including the building of Laurel Hill Cemetery, which had sanitary overtones which were embarrassing to discuss. Philadelphia led the world in adapting to this particular feature of the Industrial Revolution, and the insights of Louis Pasteur. By 1890, however, the system was again outmoded, and Philadelphia water became the butt of every joke. Between 1815 and 1840 the wooden pipes were replaced by iron ones. Robert Morris's old estate of Lemon Hill was acquired by Fairmount Park and used to construct a second reservoir on the neighboring hill. More about that second reservoir, in another blog.
|Fairmount Water Works|
Eventually, there would be more reservoirs at Belmont and Green Lane. But the city's new reputation for foul water was deserved. Deaths from typhoid fever rose to 80 per 100,000 residents before a water filtration system was installed; deaths from typhoid promptly fell to 2 per 100,000. Statistics on hepatitis were not available, but virus diseases must have been a serious hazard under primitive conditions of filtration, aeration and chlorination -- as they still are in many third-world countries, and in most southern European nations before 1950. As late as 1950 in Philadelphia, it was considered witty for a dowager to accept a drink from her hostess, saying "I'll drink absolutely anything, except Philadelphia water -- and 'Coke' ". The implication was that alcohol sterilizes water, which of course it doesn't, and also that absolutely everybody knows that Philadelphia has terrible water, whatever that means.
A reputation like that is bad for the city, making it harder to persuade workers and business to locate here, but the traditions underlying this response are quite ancient. Back in the days when water came from your own well, whole neighborhoods would move to new unspoiled areas to seek cleaner water and regions where the local privies were not yet mature. It takes quite a lot to persuade people to abandon the investment in a home, or mansion as in Society Hill, and build a new one in a nearby undeveloped region. Particularly when the germ theory was not yet available to explain the issues with precision, pulling up stakes for a new neighborhood was an accepted reaction to almost any threat.
|Water Works Today|
However, strenuous exertions for half a century have made Philadelphia water safer, tastier, and far cheaper than bottled water. The recent trend of young people to walk about sucking a three dollar bottle of water drives the Philadelphia Water Department up a wall. For example, 25% of bottled water comes straight from the tap. The inspection standards for public water are much stricter than for commercial bottled water, whose safety is in large part secondary to the safety of the tap water from which it is derived. True, public water is chlorinated, but then it is also fluoridinated, putting legions of dentists out of business. In Philadelphia, that's the main difference justifying the rather appalling price difference, and the accumulation of plastic bottles in various trash heaps.
The recent advances in Philadelphia's water can in part be traced to Ruth Patrick, now over a hundred years old but the world's foremost expert on streams and water, and to the persistent professionalism of the Philadelphia Water Department. Perhaps, though, it may take a century of slander about water to persuade the politicians to keep their hands off the Water Department. It does take a lot of tax money to implement the third step in the process of cleaning up the water supply, which is the purification of waste water. For centuries, the guiding principle was to obtain and maintain pure water at the source; waste water was flushed down the sewer to go back out to the ocean. However, seven times as much water is removed from the Delaware, as it flows past the city. That is, the water now recirculates through the sewage system seven times before it is turned over to residents of lower Delaware Bay. The expensive and elaborate -- but scarcely visible -- system of treating sewage in various sewage treatment centers has now resulted in returning water to the Delaware in better condition of purity than it had when it came down past Bucks County.
But it costs lots of bucks, and nobody seems to notice the water. People only notice the bucks.
About half of the labeled food products in a typical supermarket are designated Kosher, displaying a "K". That seems remarkable, when only about 1 million American Jews are observant or Orthodox, thus eating only Kosher food for religious reasons. So, the Chemical Heritage Foundation recently decided it would be interesting to examine the definition and details of the Kosher designation, which presumably has some chemical basis. The CHF was right about the interest in the topic; attendance at the auditorium was packed. The following is entirely derived from what was discussed there.
One might have carelessly supposed that a religious designation of food products would have an exclusively religious basis, probably related to preparing the product according to a religiously defined method or ceremony. That's essentially true, but what is unexpected is that the choice of food to be included or excluded must obey a strict and extensive set of rules. The basis for the rules is found in the Old Testament, but specifics have been evolved by designated Rabbis, rather like the way the interpretation of the U. S. Constitution is left to the U.S. Supreme Court, and has considerably evolved in the process. An examination of these evolved rules is what leads other denominations of Jews to avoid the issue, or even to decline to endorse it. That makes it rather awkward for chemists to understand the Kosher process in strictly chemical terms. For a perhaps extreme example, hard cheese but not soft cheese, is strictly forbidden within Kosher rules. That's because the rules state that eating meat is fine, eating cheese is fine, but six hours must elapse between eating either one. What's forbidden, then, is mixture of meat and dairy. Hard cheese is produced by exposing soft cheese to rennin, or rennit. Rennin is produced from the stomach of cows, so the interaction is deemed to be simultaneous rather than separated by more than six hours. It certainly is true that a chemical reaction between two ingredients is difficult to imagine if it is anything but a simultaneous contact between the two. So, chemists would have to agree that hard cheese involves less than a six-hour separation between meat and dairy. But most chemists would regard this interpretation to be somewhat strained; to punish people for disregarding it seems excessive. Whatever disagreement there may be is not based on the facts, but on the importance to be attached to them.
Similarly, most chemists would resist the idea that a chemical product derived from two different sources differs in any way at all. The most important example of this issue is glycerine, a common food additive. A fat consists of three fatty acids attached to glycerin; pure glycerin is produced by separating the fatty acids from it, and in any event the fatty acids of pigs and cows are also chemically identical, at least in the view of chemists. Glycerin derived from pig fat thus seems to chemists to differ in no meaningful way at all from glycerine derived from cow fat. To those in charge of Kosher rule making, however, the difference in source is vital, needing to be searched out in minute detail. Since Coca-Cola contains traces of glycerin, and the Coca-Cola manufacturer wished to have a Kosher label, the company somehow had to satisfy the Rabbinical demand that the sources and processing steps of the glycerin be identified in minute detail. Coca-Cola contains a secret ingredient which some believe is essential for the true Coke taste; the company was not going to reveal its processes. Somehow, this quarrel was resolved privately, although it is not easy for outsiders to imagine how it could be.
And so on. There may of course exist many Kosher rules which make perfect sense; the speakers did not go into that. What remains of general interest is the question why so many non-Orthodox Jews, in fact so many people who are not Jewish in any sense, insist on eating only food with a Kosher label. At the conference, it was explained that many people who have been told they are lactose-intolerant, or allergic to some protein, become fanatic in their fear of contact with such chemicals. That is, as a matter of fact, a common observation in many doctors' offices. These people seem to have developed the idea that they can trust the Orthodox rabbis to be even more fanatic than they are, if anything more rigid and unyielding in their pursuit of particular exclusions. While that has driven many Jews away from Orthodoxy into other religious directions, it has served to reassure the health fanatics. The food manufacturers don't particularly care about the social features; if that "K" sells product, they want to have it.
On hearing of these issues, one of my Jewish friends suggested an extension to Jewish kitchens. It was his view that if a real estate agent shows you a house with two or more ovens, two or more stoves, or even two or more kitchens, it probably had a Jewish owner at some time in the past. Multiple kitchen arrangements are much less likely to reflect an owner who likes to entertain a lot, than an owner who has been told of the six-hour mandatory wait between eating both meat and dairy, and has persuaded himself this rule extends to separation of stoves. There's no great harm in any of these beliefs, of course, unless it is somehow represented that they improve the health of the believer, which would drag a highly reluctant Food and Drug Commissioner into a dispute he can't win, no matter how he rules.
Whatever the complete truth of all these suppositions, they lead the casual reader to let his thoughts meander. There's a similarity here to a great many other prohibitions and adherences, tenaciously adhered to, resulting in elections won and lost, provoking scorn heaped on non believers. And even to totally unrelated legislation getting derailed, because legislative representatives were unwise enough to take a stand on this one. Pro or con.
|Grover Cleveland Bergdoll|
Grover Cleveland Bergdoll was one of the great playboys during the era between the Spanish American War and World War I. Although the money came from his beer-baron father, he was in the newspapers as one of the early owners of an airplane, one of the dare-devils racing about in open cars, and of course successful with girls.
His father Louis (1825-94) had emigrated from Germany, bringing with him the new technique of making lager beer by brewing it in the cold, and quickly exploiting its popularity into thousands of barrels of beer a day. Although it is always hard to say just who invented a technique like that, there seems little doubt that Bergdoll & Schemm was responsible for transforming the area north of Spring Garden Street into a booming area of breweries, consuming huge amounts of ice and ice water, wood staves for beer barrels, horses to drag beer to the beer gardens, and energizing railroads to import raw materials and carry away the barrels of beer. The refrigeration industry flourished, and spread out into air conditioning. Bergdoll was a mighty force in Philadelphia industry.
The Bergdoll house was located on 21st Street, not far from the Eastern State Penitentiary, in the very upscale neighborhood called Fairmount. The neighborhood was isolated by the "Chinese Wall" of the Pennslvania Railroad, and more importantly by the slashing through of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Eventually, the advent of Prohibition destroyed Philadelphia's brewery industry and its associated beer gardens. The Fairmount region declined into a slum, particularly after the 1929 Stock Market Crash, and upper crust Philadelphia fled blocks and blocks of huge mansions, too big to heat and clean, and also too big and substantial to tear down. So the Bergdoll mansion has been there all along, but there was just no one around to look at it. With the gentrification of the Fairmount region at the turn of the 21st Century, there it sits. a brownstone Pyramid, or Parthenon. A lot of wild stories circulate in the neighborhood, but very few of the new neighbors know very much about it.
It's just possible that the brownstone Widener mansion on north Broad Street is bigger, and certainly the Elkins, Stotesbury and Montgomery mansions in the far suburbs are a lot bigger. But this brownstone edifice in the center of town is impressively large enough to count for something, filling roughly half a square block if you include what look like stables of the same architectural style, and the double houses which suggest some members of the family lived next door. Even these smaller outbuildings are a great deal larger than the average city mansion.
The size of the place makes it easier to understand how Grover Cleveland Bergdoll could be hidden there as a draft dodger for years. In fact, local rumor often has it that he stayed there for thirty years, but it was really only about three. A book by Roberta E. Dell, called The United States Against Bergdoll supplies considerably more detail. One has to suppose that this strongly German family was opposed to American participation in World War I, and the government's violent reaction to his draft objection reflected concern that the very large German-American population might rise up and interfere with Woodrow Wilson's decision to enter the War on the Allied side. In any event, Grover's mother hid him away in the extensive mansion complex until that war seemed safely over, but he was immediately apprehended and put on trial when he emerged. Somehow or other, he managed to convince the authorities that he should be released under guard in order to go dig up an enormous fortune in gold that he had buried. The agents guarding him were put up as guests in the big mansion, apparently unable to resist the big treat. But it was a ruse, a getaway was waiting and off he sped, ending up in exile in a little town a few miles from Heidelberg, Germany. It was there that he married a local German girl and spent an apparently comfortable exile until after the second World War. There were rumors and stories, however. A couple of kidnappers broke in on him in an apparent effort to take him over the French border, but Bergdoll killed one of them. Even after World War II, all was not forgiven; he came home, was immediately apprehended and tried, and spent a brief time in jail. He died in 1966.
Those who are sufficiently fascinated by his story, can even live in his house. It's been renovated, and rents out as Bergdoll Mansion Apartments.
The ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have enjoyed a sort of chewing gum. The ingredients are uncertain but unlikely to have been chicle, the sap of a variant rubber tree, which was taken up by the Mayans in the First century. The vision thus ensues that Mexican soldiers might well have been chomping when they set out to conquer Texas and devastate the Alamo. Conceivably Santa Ana himself was popping bubbles when Sam Houston found him crawling through the tall grass when he should have been dying like a man.
|General Santa Anna|
What is not so fanciful is that Santa Ana did go into exile in the United States, seeking refuge on Staten Island. Taking along a large supply of chicle, he was hoping to find a way to change it into rubber and thus restore his fortunes. His New York landlord, a photographer named Adams, struggled unsuccessfully for months to change the gum into rubber, but eventually switched over to chewing gum of chicle. This Mexican rubber variant is chewy only within a narrow temperature range, getting brittle when cold, and sticky when hot. The outcome of this bizarre episode was the Adams brand of chewing gum, a dominant feature of our culture until 1922 when William Wrigley, Jr. of Chicago added a mint flavor and made a great fortune selling the hope that minty taste would clean your teeth, sweeten your breath, and improve attractiveness to the opposite sex. Wrigley must have been a great businessman, since the Wrigley Building still dominates central Chicago, while everyone knows about Wrigley baseball field, and his descendants even run a private railroad through the Copper Canyon south of Tucson into Mexico. Wrigley's winter mansion sits on top of a small mountain outside of Phoenix, once affording a grand view of the surrounding desert for many miles. But subprime mortgages helped build up the desert; so at night there is now a sparkling view of the lights of Phoenix suburbs, longingly gazing up at Wrigley's mountain fastness filled with pictures of relatives who got themselves great notoriety, mostly related to unfortunate escapades with love.
Well, whatever. By 1960 a cheaper synthetic chemical came to replace chicle in Chiclets without distressing the customers, and seemingly making it commercially practical to spread this central feature of American culture to Asia, Europe and beyond, with the notable exception of France which makes their cultural superiority a point of national pride. On further reflection, if they prefer vintage chicle to the present chemically improved synthetic, the French may have an important insight. Just look at our filthy sidewalks.
|Gum on the sidewalk|
Other cities may be more diligent in scrubbing their sidewalks, but at least in Philadelphia, the new synthetic chewing gum is leaving its mark. The realization gradually creeps up on you that sidewalks near popular corners of center city are spotted with round black spots, slightly larger than a silver dollar, but uniformly black. Just what the sidewalks around high schools look like, I tremble to consider. But those city corners where a sidewalk vendor parks his cart are particularly peppered, representing the disgusting habit of spitting the chew-gum on the sidewalk before eating the hot dog. The detritus is flattened out by someone's shoe, and the result is quite distinctive. As I was contemplating a particularly loathsome street corner, a passing Philadelphia Grand Dame shared her insight with me that the gum attracts dirt and gets black. I somehow doubt that because it is such a uniform blackness. It seems more likely that the trade secret chemical deteriorates in the sunlight, and being less sticky than the traditional goo, sticks to the sidewalk instead of the shoe which squashes it.
So think this over. Someone was recently chewing that stuff; would you kiss that person? If it's fresh enough, it might transmit the flu virus to your shoe; ye Gods, maybe the HIV virus, perish the thought. There's a great absence of evidence about the disease transmissibility of this unknown material. Maybe our congressmen should take a recess from blaming Wall Street for the decline of Greece and Portugal. And make chew-gum scoopers just as mandatory as pooper scoopers.
Footnote: A fellow member of the Right Angle Club recently revealed he had once worked for the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Company in Havertown, which was closed by new owners in 2003. While he didn't know anything about the ingredients of gum, he could report that this company used trainloads of old rubber tires for some purpose. On further checking, it is stated in the literature that at the present time, no chewing gum doesn't use rubber, so apparently Santa Ana's dream has finally come true in a round-about way.
If George Washington were still alive he would no doubt be a Republican, but the term Republican Court actually has nothing to do with R's and D's. It was a scheme deliberately cooked up by Washington and Madison to enlist support by the new government's important ladies for a modified version of a European royal court, to make thirteen colonies into a cohesive nation. A most remarkable thing about it was its frank imitation of the royal courts, something only the Father of His Country could pull off in former colonies which had just fought an eight-year war to be rid of monarchy. It is one more great testimony to the faith of Americans in George Washington; but it also testifies to the power of enthusiastic women, once they agree on a project. Chief among the leaders in this court was Elizabeth Powel, along with her niece living around the corner on Spruce Street, Anne Willing Bingham. Recently, the Peale Society of the Academy of Fine Arts held a candlelight dinner in Mrs. Powel's magnificent second-floor dining room, while scholars of the history of the Republican Court told assembled notables of Philadelphia what had once been what, during the first ten years of the Republic.
Members of the early Congress were largely the same men as the founding fathers of the Constitutional Convention, hand-picked by Washington and Madison to persuade the legislatures of their colonial states to give up state sovereignty, for a unified nation. There was the difference that now they brought their wives to live in Philadelphia during sessions of Congress. Those women wanted to know each other, and wanted to have something exiting to do together in the largest city in the nation. Their husbands knew well how politically useful it was to be socially acquainted in this way, so everybody liked the idea of suddenly becoming nationally connected. The initial idea proved unworkable. Martha Washington was supposed to become Lady Washington, reigning over weekly receptions.
|In Our Cups|
But Martha unfortunately wasn't up to the task, and Anne Bingham whose rich husband had taken her on lengthy tours of European royal courts, moved right in and took charge of this project. Besides her cousin Elizabeth Powel, notable members of this social whirl were the two daughters of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew, Alexander Hamilton's wife, and various members of the Shippen and Willing families. Members of the family of Lord Sterling of New Jersey, Charles Carroll of Carrolton, Maryland, Cadwaladers of various sorts, and a number of other names famous from then until even today joined their affiliations with ladies from other states through parties and even some weddings. John Adams was particularly awestruck by the poise and beauty of Anne Bingham, although Abigail Adams may not have been quite so infatuated. It was a dizzy whirl, with dinner parties the central activity just as they are in Philadelphia even today. Country bumpkins had to learn how to dress, to talk and to eat with the right spoon and keep their elbows off the table; those who could tactfully show them what was what, were friends for life. Centuries later, Emily Post made a fortune writing books about these rules.
In those days, they even had their war cry, which was to raise a glass and shout back "Huzzah" in response to the proposer of a toast, who had raised his glass starting the warcry. It wasn't "Skol" or "Cheers" or "Here, here" if you knew what was what; it was "Huzzah". Most fashionable dinners had at least twenty courses, but the ladies didn't eat them. It was a whispered instruction among the ladies that they should eat before the dinner, so they could gracefully decline to gobble up goodies, and spend their time in gay conversation or waiting to be asked to dance. Drinking and eating, especially drinking, was for the men at the party, although naturally the many courses of the banquet were put in front of the ladies to be airily ignored. When George Washington was present as he often was, or even La Rochfoucault himself, it was important to remember every spoken word.
|Washington's Thank-You Letter|
And, you know, it worked. When these important people went back home, they took the customs of the Republican Court with them. The American diplomatic corps found the equivalent of minor-league training for their efforts on behalf of the country abroad. Politics was easier if you personally knew your adversaries as well as your allies. The persistance of the same family names in the Social Register, the lists of The Four Hundred and other compilations of high society show that Anne Bingham and Elizabeth Powel did indeed know what they were doing, and for that matter, so did George Washington. If anyone else had been at the top of this heap, Thomas Jefferson stood ready to attack with all his might.
But he, and even Patrick Henry, didn't dare attack Washington. The aristocrats of Old Europe probably did sneer at this amateur effort, and in some circles still do. But the inability of absolutely any other group of nations, whether European, Asian or South American, to unite peacefully is a thumb in the eye of anyone who mocks George Washington's little Philadelphia creation. And to think it all began right here, right here in the Powel House, right here in the dining room on the second floor. For that, folks, one thunderous "Huzzah!"
|A Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powell: 1743-1830 David W. Maxey ISBN-13: 978-0871699640||Amazon|
Richard Romm, a rising historical scholar with special interest in early Philadelphia, recently educated the Right Angle Club in the history of the Schuylkill Fishing Club in the State in Schuylkill, and was immediately accepted into membership. Of the Right Angle, that is, which is an old club by some standards, but scarcely a hundred years old in the eyes of the really old, old clubs.
The State in Schuylkill is an eating club, originally a fishing and eating club, apparently organized around the annual shad run up the river. The clubhouse, or Castle, was moved several times, in response to damming of the river, and is now located on the grounds of, or adjoining the edge of, Nicholas Biddle's estate on the Delaware River called Andalusia. One by one, the Atlantic Ocean rivers of America have been dammed and their annual shad migrations brought to an end, except through the city of Richmond, Va, so there was little point in moving The Castle to follow the fish. It remains, overlooking the Delaware in spite of its name.
There seem to have been several name changes, the most important of which was to change the Colony of Schuylkill to State of Schuylkill for obvious reasons. Originally, the Castle was roughly opposite the falls of Fairmount on the West Bank of the Schuylkill at about Girard Avenue; thus, from 1732 to 1822 located on Baron Warner's property called Eaglesfield. In 1822 it moved to Rambo's Rock (the Rambo family is said to be the oldest European settler family in Pennsylvania) opposite Bartram's Gardens, then finally in 1887 to Andalusia, Nicholas Biddle's country estate. The club was founded in 1732, and dates of movings are possibly hazy, possibly somewhat because of the reluctance of club officers to return the calls of inquiring historians. The State in Schuylkill claims to be the oldest organized men's club in the world, an honor contested by White's in London. The roots of this argument are found tangled in the vital issue of whether their age should be based on the formal organization of the clubs, or on the establishment of the coffee houses which housed the original clubs. Four books are said to have been written about club history, but we depend here on Mr. Romm.
There is also an unclear relationship with Chief Tammenend, possibly traceable to the shad run, but in any event to the Indian chief depicted with William Penn in the paintings by Benjamin West and Edward Hicks. May 1 is St. Tammany's day, growing into the fancy that he was the "Patron Saint of America", before a branch of the nation-wide Tammany association opened in New York and sort of tarnished up the name. Other traditions of the Fishing club have to do with wearing Mandarin hats, possibly having to do with the export of gensing which was once abundant in our colonial suburbs, with a return cargo of Chinese dishware. All of the cooking is done by official citizens of the club. The quantities of food are remarkable; one 19th Century menu listed eleven pounds of meat per member. The club drink is a punch, the famous Fishhouse Punch, widely recognized to be rather strong. Its inventor is reputed to be Edward Shippen Willing, on the occasion of the first visit to the clubhouse by women guests. The quantity of alcoholic beverage at these events is especially remarkable in view of the Quaker origins of many original members of the club, but not necessarily of the guests. Among the various guests were Generals Grant, Meade and McClellan. Dinner begins with two traditional toasts: to George Washington, and to Captain Sam Morris. Washington was appropriate enough, having a history of drinking a bottle of Madeira every day at lunch. But Sam? Captain Sam the Quaker?
|Free Quaker Meetinghouse, Fifth and Arch Streets|
Somewhere in this tradition are allusions to the Free Quakers, Quakers who abandoned the peace testimony to fight the British. There is also the tradition of hostility to British rule which antedates the Revolution, and may have some connection to the fanciful contention that their little state was not really part of Penn's colony. Captain (of the City Troop) Sam was a stalwart, possibly the sole founder, of the Gloucester (N.J.) Fox-hunting club. The history is passed down that 22 of the original 26 members of the First City Troop were members of the fox-hunting club, and many if not most were Quakers. The first "Governor" of the State in Schuylkill was Thomas Stretch, but the second Governor, from 1766 until his death, was Captain Sam. He was repeatedly referred to as the life of the club, and held in the highest esteem by all. He was "read out" of the main Quaker Meeting, not so much for his drinking as for his flouting of Quaker belief in pacifism. He reputedly led a sabre charge at the Battle of Trenton, and was a leader of the City Troop in that revolution within a revolution at James Wilson's house, which rescued at least four future signers of the Constitution from a mob of militia which momentarily turned Jacobin.
Naturally, descendants of Quakers on both side of this uproar have been reluctant to say much about it. But somewhere within the history of Samuel Morris must be some important clues about the 18th Century splits within the Quaker Church, to say nothing of the revolt of the three Quaker colonies against British rule.
RICH Wagner, the author of Philadelphia Beer, recently visited the Right Angle Club. It's hard to imagine that Philadelphia was once the American center of beer production, with hundreds of breweries and their associated bottlers, beer gardens, brewing equipment, and horse-drawn beer delivery systems, dominating the city scene. Equally hard to imagine that the last Philadelphia brewery closed in 1987, and the biggest American brewer, Budweiser, was sold to the Belgians in the past year. What's this all about?
In the early wilderness days, water supplies were tainted and unsafe, so most prosperous Quakers had their own little brewery just to avoid typhoid fever. The first American brewery was started by Anthony Morris (the second Philadelphia Mayor) in 1687, in a little brewery on Dock Creek, which became the early Brewerytown of the city, with several dozen brew pubs for sailors and the like. In 1797 there were over a hundred breweries in Philadelphia, and in 1840 there were over three hundred of them. Perot's brewery was prominent for a long time, since an early Perot married a daughter of Anthony Morris. Since Philadelphia developed the first and famous city water supply in 1800, beer drinking lost its position as a safe beverage in an unsafe city, and gradually water-drinking became the dominant beverage for the strict and upright. At one time in the early Eighteenth century, gin was cheaper than beer, so even the intemperate multitudes deserted beer for a while, although the effect of the higher alcohol content of gin was apparently fairly dramatic.
|John Wagner Marker|
In 1840 John Wagner imported the yeast for lager beer from Bavaria, at considerable personal risk if he had been caught at it. Prior to 1840, Philadelphia beer was either stout or Porter, a very dark and bitter dose, or else ale, which had the advantage of storing fairly well and thus was popular for sailing vessels and among sailors. The yeast for ale floats to the top and ferments, whereas lager yeast sinks to the bottom of the barrel and requires some refrigeration to slow it down. In all forms of beer, the suds are created by later adding some unfermented beer to the barrel for the purpose of generating carbon dioxide. That's what is going on when you see the bartender in a British pub pulling on a lever to pump it up from the basement. Lager tastes much less beery than other beer, and is by far the dominant form of beer in consumption -- a considerable improvement, in the view of most people. But it has to be cooled, and Philadelphia had a system. Brewerytown moved to Kensington, dominating the local scene. It was produced in barrels which were trucked to the east bank of the Schuylkill where ice formed on the surface of the river, stilled by impoundment above the Fairmount dam. Caves were dug in the banks of the Schuylkill where the barrels full of fermenting beer were hauled to be cooled by the ice for the rest of the process. From there, it was trucked again to bottlers in a general ratio of one brewer for thirty bottlers. More directly, it was trucked to the beer gardens of Spring Garden to Girard Avenue, which gave that area a different sort of reputation as a brewerytown. By this time, most of breweries had moved to the region between 30th and 33rd Streets, near Girard, and most of them still survive, made into condominiums by rehabilitation money. One by one, many sections of downtown Philadelphia acquired a beer environment. A dramatic moment in this process was the advent of the 1876 exposition, which caused many of the Schuylkill fermenting vaults to be acquired by eminent domain. A second momentous change was introduced by the invention of refrigeration, apparently invented in Germany near Berlin, but imported and refined by York and Carrier. Philadelphia was particularly suitable for the importation of coal to fuel the heating of the brew, and the chilling of the fermentation. All of this required large numbers of brewers, bottlers, makers of bottles and inventors of brewing equipment. It took many horses to haul all this material around town, and many teamsters to drive the horses. This was a beer town, until Prohibition.
|Francis Perot's Sons Malting Company|
During the long period of beer ascendency, the advantages of big breweries over small ones was gradually making this a major industry, rather than a local craft. Prohibition completed the destruction of the small craft brewers and brew-pubs. Only 17 of the major brewers survived Prohibition, and then even the big ones went out of business, ending with Schmidt's in 1987, almost exactly three hundred years after the first little one started by that famously convivial Anthony Morris on Dock Street. Evidently the same competitive disadvantages continue as even Budweiser moves to Brussels, where you would ordinarily expect wine to be the popular drink. Changing tastes have been cited as the reason for this shift, but differential taxes seem more probable as an explanation. In most industries, you are apt to find that most of the competition takes place in Washington and Harrisburg, rather than the saloons of Main Street or the salons of Madison Avenue. But perhaps not. We hear that little Belgium is about to have a civil war because the Flemish can't get along with the Walloons. And somebody in Portland, Oregon got the idea that beer was trendy, and started up the growing phenomenon of craft brewers, usually flourishing in brew pubs. We are apparently going back where we started in 1687.
|Philadelphia Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty: Rich A. Wagner: ISBN: 978-1609494544||Amazon|
Philadelphia is having a theatrical revival, very likely leading the cities of America in that regard. One of the central movers and shakers of that movement visited the Right Angle Club recently. Touting his own company, without a doubt, but nevertheless illuminating a movement which seems pretty central to Philadelphia's future. Michael O'Brien is the Producer and Artistic Director of the 11th Hour Theatre Company, which had its origin eight years ago in the Studio of the Walnut Street Theatre, and has since spread out to many venues within Philadelphia. Since Mike O'Brien got his start in theater at the Walnut, it is only fair to say the Walnut Street Theatre was a parent of the 11th Hour. The 11th Hour is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation, so it sort of sounds as though the William Penn Foundation was somewhere in the background, at least at one time.
The 11th Hour Theatre Company is one of 1200 theater companies now active in Philadelphia, but is the only company dedicated exclusively to musicals. More finely tuned than that, it specializes in small productions with five or six members of the orchestra, and about the same number of actor/singers on stage. It happens there aren't very many such productions to chose among, so someone must stimulate more composers to pay attention, or the 11th Hour could run out of musicals to produce. Some of this is economic. The kind of big-time musical comedy which makes a gazillion dollars with a huge cast, huge orchestra, huge scenery is very expensive to produce, and probably soon runs out of audience members who are willing to pay huge ticket prices for anything except a huge production success, produced at huge financial risk. For the most part, the national market will only profitably support one or two of those a year, with the consequence that lots of people lose a lot of money on the ones which fail, and most of the successes are rescued by movie and television revenue, which involve further financial risk-taking. Apparently, the successful composers either try to claw their way to the big brass ring, or else look for other lines of work. Someone may eventually figure out a way to start with a small musical and then scale it up to the big-time, but what has happened seems to be that actors and musicians who shrug off the big time, cluster together and try to produce a career which prefers a normal sort of home life, to the neurotic struggling which seems inherent in those who consider themselves big-time theatrical material. Somehow, the dictionary definition of the 11th Hour -- the time when most creativity appears -- has instant appeal to the sort of person who prefers to live a normal life within a close circle of like-minded friends, and finds that to be a possibility in Philadelphia. We'd like to remind him you can't fill the seats of a theater without an enthusiastic audience; but it's nice to hear our town is a congenial place to live and be an actor.
|11th Hour Theater|
Michael O'Brien regards the theatrical revival of Philadelphia to be part of the restaurant revival of the 1980s. Just as the night life of Philadelphia was once centered around coming to town to go to the movies, Mr. O'Brien regards the theater as the centerpiece of an evening in town for a couple who want to come for exotic food, plus some entertainment. We have night clubs and celebrity concerts for the dating set, but a quiet dinner followed by the theater appeals to a different, somewhat older set. Once this movement gets started, performers arrive from out of town and discover they like the sort of life entertainers enjoy here, so they stay. And many graduates of local colleges and universities grow up close enough to the scene that they decide they never want to leave. Naturally, a producer and artistic director has the perspective of the performing community, and tends to emphasize the attractiveness of Philadelphia to performers. In addition to that, of course, enough dumb old plain citizens have to be attracted to the theatrical product, in order to provide audiences for 1200 theatrical companies; and novelty alone is not enough to sustain that. Some such mutual need was once provided by the sudden Elizabethan flowering of the theater of London, and five hundred years later no one has completely explained it. But for comparison, in Shakspere's day there were fifty-nine London theaters at the height of the Elizabethan boom, but only two in Paris.
CONVENE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION TO REPAIR PSYCHIATRIC INPATIENT CARE. The 1983 BRA switched hospital inpatient reimbursement to payment by diagnosis (DRG). Abuse of the psychiatric exclusion then led to "corrective" legislation which has essentially reduced American's psychiatric inpatient care to an underfunded national disappointment. The problem is not an easy one, so a commission should devise a workable methodology for psychiatric hospitals, relying neither on present approaches, nor on DRG. But overpayment is a better outcome than no care at all. Homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes on downtown steam grates are the consequence any visitor to the area can observe at night after the commuters go home. Psychiatric social workers readily recognize their daytime patients in the boxes.
* * * * *
|Daniel Blain, M.D.|
Daniel Blain, M.D. (1898-1981) was just about the most important psychiatrist in America. He was the Physician in Chief of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital at 49th and Market, the first and in many ways the most prestigious psychiatric hospital before it was closed. Before that, he was the first Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association, itself the first (1844) medical society in America. His fame rested on organizing the disorganized psychiatry of the Veteran's Administration into a chain of advanced "Dean's Hospitals", a huge and very important achievement. Before that, he had achieved considerable fame as the man who took the dilapidated State Psychiatric Hospitals with a reputation as "snake pits" and made them a respectable part of the medical community. And before that, he had been born in China as the son of missionaries. As a matter of fact, even before that he was a descendant of General Mercer of Revolutionary War fame.
Dan was an outstanding example of the peculiar fact that Psychiatry was dominated by social upper crust psychiatrists in Philadelphia for a very long time. In fact, Benjamin Rush of the 8th Street branch of the Pennsylvania Hospital is known in some circles as the "Father of Psychiatry", while in other circles he is known for signing the Declaration of Independence. That isn't true in other cities, and it definitely isn't true in New York City, where the psychoanalytic school of Sigmund Freud took that city by storm, and essentially drove every other school of psychiatric thought out of town, out of medical schools, out of psychiatric hospitals. The famous sixteen year psychoanalysis of Woody Allen is an example of the extremes of that fad. Every profession has petty civil wars of that sort, best left undiscussed in public. But in the case of psychiatry, it was indirectly a material contributor to the present disappearance of inpatient psychiatry, and the related appearance of lots of homeless people on steam grates. Let me give a biased view of what is a massive human tragedy, which someone else can "rectify" if he chooses.
It starts with a Budget Reconciliation Act of the 1980s, which brought us the DRG (Diagnosis-related) system of paying for hospitalized patients. The idea was that appendicitis resulted in essentially 7 days in the hospital, give or take a couple of days, and the bills for an admission for appendectomy were for more or less the same amount. If you had fifty or a hundred cases a year in your hospital, the high bills balanced the low bills, and the overall hospital reimbursement was essentially the same without itemizing the bandages and whatnot. Congress bought this package, and after it got going, just about all hospital bills were reimbursed at one of three hundred prices, the cost to the government was the same, and there was a whole lot less bookkeeping and accounting cost. It was a success, except for a few cases where the costs did not closely line up with the diagnosis, and psychiatric hospitals were where they concentrated. So, psychiatric hospitals were excluded, and psychiatric bills skyrocketed. This experience has been carelessly cited as an example of the evils of payment by service ("fee for service"), when in fact the duration of psychiatric hospitalization is related to features of the condition, like a danger of suicide, rather than the diagnosis itself. Psychiatric leadership at the time contained many in a subset of physicians who did not think much of inpatient psychiatry in the first place, and even less of lobbying, and they underestimated the severity of the assault on the specialty. Apparently, no workable formula for pricing inpatient psychiatry has since been brought forward to be approved by a Congress which is more accustomed to getting its lobbying in the form of one-liners. And would you believe it, psychiatric inpatient care soon disappeared.
That's right, if someone in your family needs psychiatric hospitalization, I wouldn't know where to tell them to get it -- at any price. From considerably overpaying for psychiatry inpatients, to paying scarcely anything for them, this little change of the regulations caused every psychiatric hospital I know of by name, to close. It helped balance some state budgets, but it also was a considerable factor in filling the steam grates of American cities with people who sleep on cardboard boxes. And what it illustrates is that this is what political society always seemed to do, before Dan Blain and a small group of upper-crust psychiatrists were temporarily able to shame them into something better. In fact, if there is any tattered remnant of good inpatient psychiatric care left in America today, it is in the Veterans Hospitals that Dan was able to straighten out.
Dan Blain will probably eventually be bypassed as a curiosity, like his wife. She was a Wister Logan Blain, descended from families who ruled Philadelphia a hundred years before even General Mercer came along. So the Blain couple lived on an enormous farm plot, centered at 20th and Olney right next to LaSalle University, which is built on their property. It also contains the Peale House, where Charles Willson Peale lived as the elected president of the rebel faction of the American Revolution. Peale didn't know what he was supposed to do, so he resigned and painted portraits of people. The Blains enjoyed keeping a cow on their land, the last cow in Philadelphia, and the LaSalle students enjoyed stealing the cow and leaving it on the top floor of a dormitory, for laughs. Meanwhile, the Blain couple had cocktail parties on their front porch for visiting dignitaries. They usually wore blue jeans, and Mrs. Blain, the absolute Queen of Philadelphia society, was occasionally observed to pour vodka into her glass of beer. That sort of background may well have been useful when psychiatry needed to be built up and humanized, but it became a liability when the rest of inpatient psychiatry failed to appreciate what was knocking on its door.
|Grace Episcopal Church in Haddonfield|
Dick Hammond, a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Haddonfield, recently talked to the 65 Club of Haddonfield about his favorite hobby, which is St. Paul's Food Basket. That's a branch of the Camden County Foodbank, which operates in the basement of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Camden, handing out bags of food every Friday morning. Asked why they picked Friday morning, he replied that it got started that way in 1982, and the clients get pretty confused when you change things, almost any thing. The Camden County Foodbank, by the way, is one of six districts in New Jersey, with headquarters in the Community Food Bank, located up near New York in Hillsdale, N.J. And just to be complete, national headquarters of the whole organization are in Feeding America, located in Chicago. the organization was formed in 1982, claims to be the largest hunger relief agency in America, feeding about 37,000 people.
|St. Paul's Food Basket.|
Rather characteristically, the local "retail" agency doesn't know a great deal about the rest of Feeding America. It's just a group of mostly retired volunteers who show up and do the work. About two thirds of the clients are the same age, and no one seemed to know whether that was characteristic of the national groups, or just a local quirk. What they all know and immediately tell you is that all clients are expected to produce photo ID, and they do. Getting such identification is absolutely no problem that they can see, and so you can see how they feel about the controversy over whether to require it for voting in elections. No problem.
Most of the food is donated by commercial sources, like one-day old bread from national bakeries, canned goods and cereal boxes. Each bag is worth about $25 retail, and has a couple dollars of costs like paper bags and refrigeration. It seems like a good diet, but it is a little short on fruits and vegetables. Many of the clients volunteer for one or another of the tasks in assembling the bags. Christmas turkeys and chickens are a separate issue, but make up a special deal. A fair number of the clients of this particular branch are Hispanic. Its local approval record is outstanding.