Let’s Have Some Fun

This summer I spent over three hundred hours reading guidebooks about Philadelphia from the Centennial to the Bicentennial and it was a blast. It did not matter if I was reading in some alcove in the Paley Stacks, at my usual table in Temple Special Collections, grouped with other researchers at the Library Company of Philadelphia, in a sunny spot around campus, or even in my room; I was having a great time. It took about a week for me to get my bearings and to get into a daily rhythm, but once I did I was off to the races. Despite how much fun I was having, my blog posts were usually rooted in criticism regarding the source material I was reading and the the way we continue to handle our history in the present day. My first two blog posts focused on the failures and successes of some of the guidebooks I read, particularly when it came to how they represented history. My first blog post can be found here and the my second blog post can be found here. My other two posts focused on walking tours that I went on and the thoughts that they provoked. My third post examined how physical representations of history change when progress and modernity are the goals of city development, while my fourth post examined how Philadelphia and the United States hides from historical legacy and the consequences that this decision causes.

This is my final blog post so this time I am going to try a different format compared to my past posts.  This post is dedicated to sharing my favorite findings, my least favorite moments, my biggest regrets, and anything else that comes to mind. Hopefully, this way I can share some of the fun I had this summer so let’s get down to business and have a good time.

Fast Facts: I annotated fifty-three different guidebooks from Temple Paley Stacks, Ambler Stacks, Temple’s Library Repository, Temple Special Collections, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the New York Public Library. Of those fifty-three guidebooks 28.3% contained maps, 13.2% contained walking tours, and only 5.7% featured driving tours. I looked through three different archival collections at Temple Special Collections each with new surprises and discoveries. After I digitized the last of my annotations they filled 340 pages in Google Docs. I also logged just under 313 hours work for the research.

Biggest Regrets: One of my biggest regrets is that I only read six editions of the The Negro Motorist Green Book and I failed to incorporate any of them into my blog posts. This series of guidebooks was a reminder of Jim Crow segregation, but more importantly they show that the black community of the United States was just as interested as any other community in traveling and exploring the country, despite them being ignored as a valuable audience. One poignant quote made its way into each edition I read and demonstrates why this series of guidebooks was so essential, “It is a book badly needed among our Race since the advance of the motor age. Realizing the only way we knew where and and how to reach our pleasure resorts was in a way of speaking, by word of mouth, until the publication of ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book…’ We earnestly believe ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’ will mean as much if not more to us as the A. A. A. means to the white race.” For anyone interested in exploring the Green Books the New York Public Library has a number of them digitized and they are well worth looking through. 

My other big regret is that I did not wrote a blog post regarding accessibility issues in Philadelphia. Out of the fifty-three guidebooks I read and annotated this summer only one, Julie P. Curson’s A Guide’s Guide, treated disabled people as a valuable audience. She elaborated on the accessibility of historical locations by letting readers know if there were ramps to entrances, if exhibits or restrooms were only reachable by stairs, and the width of doorways.  She also included the number of steps and the location and accessibility of elevators for a number of historical locations. By looking at reports from the Census Bureau the refusal to acknowledge issues of accessibility all the more shocking. A report released in the early 1990s that estimated roughly 20% of Americans were living with some sort of disability and a report published in 2012, again, found that roughly 20% of Americans were living with a disability. Granted, these two reports are both well after the time frame of the research, but the consistency of the numbers makes it more than plausible that a similar number of Americans were living with a disability in the 1970s. Disability is an umbrella term that encompasses a myriad of lived experiences; however, the decision to ignore nearly a fifth of the population is indicative of the how often we think of accessibility issues, particularity in cities. Because we often push issues of accessibility to the back burner, if we consider them at all, we rarely incorporate accessibility into our city planning further alienating a wide swath of the population. Even A Guide’s Guide relegated the accessibility information to a separate chapter near the end instead of including it as a header under every location, similar to how the hours and price of each location was included. We need to do better at all stages of city planning to allow disabled people to enjoy the same level of comfort that abled people experience while living in or visiting Philadelphia, or anywhere for that matter. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Civic Access is a useful starting point for anyone looking to see how we can make cities more accessible, but they are only the first steps and we still have plenty of work ahead of us to make even them a reality. I only wish I had done more to bring attention to this issue.

I do not know how I would have worked it in, but I also wish I had found some way to talk about A Guide to the Stranger, or Pocket Companion for the Fancy. I can not take credit for finding this particular guidebook as Dr. Lowe turned me on to it, but the pleasure of sharing it now is all mine. This guidebook is definitely worth looking through as it offers “A rare glimpse into underworld flesh peddling” (Library Company of Philadelphia), and luckily for us the Library Company of Philadelphia kindly digitized it for future generations. So I will just leave it at that and anyone interested should click here to be blown away.

Favorite Quotations: I fell in love with a number of quotes and phrases from the guidebooks I read this summer. For instance, a handful of times I saw Fairmount Park referred to as a “pleasure park” (Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce), or, even better, a “people’s pleasure ground” (Jackson 35), which always brought a smile to my face. I think calling Fairmount Park a pleasure park or ground is more than apt and, personally, I would not mind a resurgence of either phrase. One line in Magee’s Centennial Guide of Philadelphia instigated a trip to the location in question as the allure was too much to stay away, “Nothing can be more romantic than a trip to Laurel Hill [Cemetery]… Here rest the remains of distinguished soldiers, statesmen, divine, and civilians” (169). After visiting Laurel Hill Cemetery, twice, this summer I can confirm it is a lovely place to spend an afternoon, although probably not first date material. A guidebook from 1871 expressly about Fairmount Park concluded with a bit of snark in an attempt to motivate the reader to explore Fairmount and Philadelphia, “Walking is our best English inheritance; with more walking, men and women will have longer and lead better lives” (122). See, snark truly is timeless.

Favorite Photos: I came across a number of incredible photos in the digital collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia, two of which can be found below. I also took countless pictures of the guidebooks I read and of the locations and scenery during the walking tours I went on.

I’m jealous, kind of. This photo is courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
The text reads: “The battle is over, Bunker Hill no more will call the soldier from the maid he adore, while to his side he would his gentle Nelly press She tells him of the Enterprise Fruit and Jelly Press.” Maybe I’m the only one who finds linking war to selling a Fruit and Jelly Press funny, but I still chuckle every time I see this ad in my camera roll. This photo is courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
This is a map from Man-Made Philadelphia: A Guide to Its Physical and Cultural Environment. It featured maps like this on every page, along with photos taken from the pedestrian view of landmarks. It was a great take on the classic guidebook format.
Here’s a reminder for anyone who needs it. I found this while on a walking tour of Fairmount Park. (Another thing I wish I had written about as I love our city’s pleasure park.)

Anyways, that is enough from me. If you have read this blog post or any of them I am grateful that you let me share this summer of research with you and I hope that you learned a thing or two. A big heartfelt thank you goes out to Dr. Lowe for having me as her research assistant this summer and letting me spend the days reading about and walking around our beautiful city. When I first met with Dr. Lowe her passion for the project was infectious and any doubts I had about spending the summer immersed in the world of Philadelphia guidebooks were quickly cast aside. She got me headed in the right direction and then let me run wild and free in the archives around the city. I also have to thank all of my friends that let me lead them around Philadelphia on a walking tour as they kept me company through every wrong turn and helped me digest the history all around us. And if we ever hung out right after I left an archive there is a good chance you heard me ramble for at least five minutes about whatever small detail stuck with me that day so thank you for helping me work through my thoughts and for not telling me to calm down and let it go. So on that note, grab a friend and go out and explore Philadelphia. I am sure you will find places you never knew existed and gain a deeper appreciation for the city, whether it is as a visitor or as a resident. I promise you will have more fun than you would ever expect.

Leave a Reply