Of All Things
James Smart's Philadelphia
August 5, 2020
by James Smart
The hottest day in Philadelphia history
Wednesday, August 7, 1918, was the hottest day ever in Philadelphia. The official thermometer reached 106 degrees at 3.50 P. M., then the highest temperature since the city began keeping records in 1829.
It wasn’t unexpected. The high temperature the day before was 103. An ongoing heat wave stretched from Georgia to New York, as far west as Kansas and Nebraska.
The World War was in progress in Europe, and shipyards were busy on the Delaware River front from the Navy Yard to Port Richmond.
Pusey & Jones shipyards anticipated the heat problem, and yesterday told their men to report at 5 A. M., to be sent home at noon.
Several hundred workmen were overcome by the heat at the huge new Hog Island shipyards, then the largest in the world, and the rest of the 26,000 men were sent home early. There were dubious claims that one Hog Island thermometer read 122.
The phrase “air conditioning” was unknown. The big factories began dismissing workers as the temperature climbed: the Navy Yard aircraft plant, Midvale Steel, Disston’s tool works. Cramp shipyard, even the Stetson Hat factory. Baldwin Locomotives remained open.
There was much swimming in the Delaware and Schuylkill in attempts to cool off, but reports were that the river water was warm. There were unsubstantiated reports of drownings.
The baths of the Public Baths Association were busy, as were the free city swimming pools. Many fire hydrants were turned on and children were playing in the streams of water in the streets.
The police department had officers on motorcycles patrolling all over the city to arrest anyone turning on fire hydrants, which could lower water pressure when needed to battle a fire.
The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co. gave permission to the trolley car motormen and conductors to remove their uniform jackets and work in their shirtsleeves, for the first time in years.
The Gray’s Ferry Bridge was closed to traffic because the heat had expanded part of the iron structure
The Women’s S.P.C.A was trying to keep up with reports of collapsed horses overcome by the heat. Their own horses began succumbing to the high temperature, and the women contrived to hitch a motor truck to pull one of its horse ambulances.
Nine heat-related deaths were reported in Philadelphia. Doctors thought it could have been worse if the humidity had not stayed at a low 38 percent.
Ferry houses and railroad stations were crowded with persons going to the country or the seashore. That night, people were sleeping in parks and playgrounds, where the heat was less oppressive than indoors. Low nighttime
temperature was 82.
The excessive heat hit other cities. There were six deaths reported in New York, and 11 in Chicago. New York set a temperature record of 102, as did Atlantic City with 104. Temperatures of 114 were reported in
But the crushing heat didn’t stop a big crowd from turning out at Shibe Park for an evening of boxing matches. And to the surprise of the men attending the event, officers of the local draft board were stationed at every entrance and checked the draft registration card of each man who entered.
Those who didn’t have army draft cards were taken to the left field bull pen. The government agents allowed the 22 draft dodgers to watch the fights, and then took them to a cooler place -- Moyamensi
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July 29, 2020
by James Smart
Mummers in the time of COVID-19
Our leaders at City Hall or thereabouts have announced that there will be no 2021 Mummers Parade. This is the Philadelphia equivalent of the trees not getting leaves in the Spring.
Under the anti-epidemic rules founded mostly on informed guessing, our city leadership has decreed that there will be no large public gatherings until February 28.
That includes the extravagant gathering, more than just a parade, on which dozens of Mummers are already working. The vicissitudes (I love that word) of newspaper production cause me to write this diatribe well before it’s published. But as of this writing, the Feb. 28 ban applies.
Assuming that the nasty little viruses will go out of business promptly on that date, will we celebrate with a Mummers Parade on the first of March?
It was kind of Mayor Kenney, I suppose, to announce the cancelation now. Mummers are already hard at work designing and creating costumes in such prize categories as King Jockey and Trio Pantomime Clown and other things the average parade spectator never heard of.
The string band leaders are deciding their themes, choosing their music, designing their costumes, and building props, and many are already practicing their music and their dance steps.
A lot of them are fathers and sons. Many are Mummers because their fathers were. Or their grandfathers. Or further back. It can be a deep family tradition.
When I was a boy, a young string band captain lived around the corner from us. His wife had a baby.
On New Year’s Day, he carried his new baby son in a rig on his chest as he led his band, dancing up Broad St. There was much gossipy neighborhood criticism of his exposing his new little son to the weather on that long parade on a cold winter’s day.
Not long after, word went around that the baby boy had passed away. It had been known from birth that the child had a fatal condition and would not live long. But his father made sure the boy became a Mummer.
The organized and city-sponsored parade is officially 120 years old. There have been occasional variations, caused by such reasons as a period when frivolities of that sort were banned on Sundays. But the parade has been entirely cancelled only twice, in 1919 and 1934.
In 1919, the First World War was in progress, and most young men were wearing army boots, not golden slippers. The Depression was fully depressed in 1934, and in weeks when my father wasn’t working we had fried eggs for dinner from our two back yard chickens. Who could afford to parade?
The city-sponsored New Years parade was just the latest manifestation of a custom that went back to the beginnings of Philadelphia. Swedes were here before the British took over, and they celebrated the arrival of a new 17th century year with costumes and visits to neighbors and all sorts of fol-de-rol.
The British had similar New Year traditions, with costumed folk going door to door, reciting poetry and expecting to be rewarded with something from the punch bowl.
The evolution of the celebrating, and the origin of that later major component, string bands, is a long story.
It’s the 21st century now, and the era of coronavirus. Wouldn’t the Mummers and the city leaders be able to have the parade perform in the convention center or an empty stadium, and televise it? Just think of the fancy masks Mummers would wear.
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July 22, 2020
by James Smart
What’s in a sport team’s name?
There’s a lot of fussing and discussing these days about renaming sports teams. In baseball, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians are now seen as insulting to Native Americans.
In football, you’ve got the Kansas City Chiefs and, perhaps the worst example, the Washington Redskins. In ice hockey, there is the Blackhawks team, with an American Indian logo.
Philadelphia has been blessed with acceptable names through the years in professional sports. In football, the Frankford Yelllowjackets were early members of the National Football League, and when new owners took over in 1933, they changed the name to the Eagles.
College teams had usually picked names mostly from birds and animals. And still do. The most-used name for four-year college teams is Eagles.
In colleges, there are 76 Eagles teams, 45 Tigers and 40 Bulldogs. Of the next nine most popular names,
six are animals.
In the earliest days of school football, the names often were not birds or animals. A notable local example is when students of Philly’s two high schools, Central High and the Northeast Manual Training School, played the first high school football game in history on Thanksgiving, 1892.
The idea of a nickname for football teams was new then, and animal names were not yet in vogue. Northeast called itself the Archives, and Central was the Mirrors; the names were the titles of the two schools’ literary magazines.
As college football grew in popularity, team names came along. The University of Pennsylvania became the Quakers, which seemed appropriate because Penn started out in the Quaker City in the 1740s and claims Ben Franklin as a founder.
LaSalle University’s team name is the Explorers, named for René-Robert seiur de La Salle, a French explorer who led an expedition down the Mississippi river in 1682. He claimed all the region watered by the Mississippi for King Louis XIV of France, naming the area “Louisiana.” President Thomas Jefferson bought it all from
France in 1803.
Temple University adopted the owl as a mascot because the institution was founded as a night school in 1884. Penn State’s symbol, the Nittany Lion, is the name of a critter that roamed the Nittany mountains around the school’s location a century ago or so.
Professional sports companies take their names a bit more seriously than most colleges. For professional teams, and colleges, too, there’s money to be made in souvenirs and such.
I confess that I wonder about some colleges’ mascot names. Holy Family University, a small school in Torresdale, doesn’t have a football team, but there are both men’s and women’s basketball and other varsity sports.
Their teams’ nickname is the Tigers. Somehow, the Holy Family Tigers doesn’t sound quite right.
But while giant universities have big stadiums and television coverage and all that, it is pleasant to see schools that don’t take it all that seriously.
Stanford University’s mascot is a tree; it’s a guy dressed up in a rather dopey tree costume. Delta State University in Mississippi has the Fighting Okra, a fellow dressed as that somewhat exotic vegetable.
The University of California in Santa Cruz calls its teams the Banana Slugs. The North Carolina School of the Arts is the Fighting Pickles (they have no sports teams.)
The Long Beach, California, State University baseball team is named the Dirt Bags.
And the varsity intercollegiate baseball team of Centenary College of Louisiana at Shreveport turns up its nose at the whole thing. They call themselves the Centenary Gentlemen.