Tag: Baltimore Avenue

Location, Location, Location

Have you ever wondered how our story—and our neighbourhood — might have been different if our church had been built in a different place?

So many spots were considered in the early days of our parish that it’s hard to keep track of what was real! The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in July 1890 that a site had been “secured” for first pastor Rev. Joseph O’Neill’s new church at “Forty-Seventh street near Chestnut.” Then, on October 31, it reported that “last week” Rev. Joseph O’Neill “purchased” a large lot “at Forty-seventh street and Chester avenue.” Were these two different plots or was the paper confused? A 1928 parish history affirms that Rev. O’Neill “secured a site at Forty-seventh Street and Chester Avenue, 250 feet by 150 feet, for the price of $15,000. But then, just to complicate things, a memo has surfaced referencing a “deed from Anthony A. Hirst to Most Reverend Patrick John Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia, recorded…July 1st, 1890, for the property at the intersection of 47th Street and Warrington Avenue and running through to Baltimore Avenue.” (the corner now occupied by the 801 S. 47th St. Cedar Park Place apartment building. The southern property line was actually closer to Windsor).

The 1894 First Annual Report of the Parish Debt Association – the closest document to the time – described the challenge of consolidating enough land to build since “the holders of certain lots would not sell, offering as an objection that they were opposed to the school which Catholics made the accompaniment of the church and parochial house. Other ground was reported swampy, and would not be accepted.” It confirmed the Forty-seventh and Warrington Avenuepurchase and observedIt was not the place most desired, but it was hoped that the Baptists, who had bought the property at the North-east corner of Forty-Seventh and Springfield Avenue, might eventually sell to them.”

Father O’Neill went to Europe July 1 and returned October 8, but negotiations continued while he was away, with Rev. P.J. Garvey (pastor of St. James at 38th and Chestnut — the “Mother Parish” of St. Francis de Sales) and lawyer Anthony A. Hirst working on his behalf.  At some point, Rev. O’Neill was notified that the “property at the North-east corner of Forty-seventh and Springfield Avenue was secured through his attorney, Anthony A. Hirst, Esquire.” A September 29 memo from Rev.  P.J. Garvey to Archbishop Patrick John Ryan noted that “this property referred to by Mr. Hirst and located at the South east (oopsie) corner of 47th St. and Springfield Avenue is in my judgement a much better and more suitable site for a church than that secured by Father O’Neill before his departure. I feel sure Father O’Neill will be well pleased at the change because this SE Cor. of 47th & Springfield Avenue was the place he wished to purchase in the first instance…While favoring this new site in preference to the old one, I must say that I think the new church should be nearer to Woodland Avenue and somewhat further West; but if 47th & Springfield suits Father O’Neill and the new congregation I shall be satisfied. Your obedient child in Christ, P.J. Garvey.” The Springfield Ave. deed was signed over on October 15, 1890.

According to the 1894 report, once the Springfield Ave. lot was purchased, “the former lot was then offered for sale. A small portion of it was retained to make ample room for the new buildings.” This has to refer to the Warrington/Baltimore Ave. site, which bordered the Springfield lot: the report continues “The lot held by Father O’Neill had a frontage of one hundred and forty feet and a depth of two hundred and sixty-five feet,” which matches the dimensions on the Springfield Ave. deed plus an extra fifteen-foot strip.

Oddly, the 1928 history, 34 years later, forgot Warrington and mentioned only the Chester Ave. plot, noting that “Father O’Neill returned in October (1890), and finding the site he had earlier purchased unsuitable, he disposed of it.” Assuming we are not dealing with multiple realities in alternate universes, this suggests that Father O’Neill could have purchased two properties to sell once he decided on 47th and Springfield Ave. Now, 132 years later, here we are, in a neighbourhood landmark under a Guastavino dome. Good choices?!

A Room With A View

DSCN6647Constance O’Hara’s 1955 biography Heaven was Not Enough, chronicled a personal crisis of faith in an eerily relatable setting.

Born near Rittenhouse Square in 1905, Constance came from a well-connected, well-to-do Philadelphia Irish Catholic family in an “age of immense security and serenity.” Her father was the physician for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and local convents; her great uncle was the first Bishop of Scranton. Her family were also linked, in some way, with Eleanor Donnelly – the “poet laureate of the American Catholic Church” who contributed our Blessed Mother altar.

That solid world began to turn hollow in May 1914, when Constance made her First Holy Communion — two months before the start of World War I. Her father, rejected by every branch of the military due to his fragile health, then exhausted himself tending patients through the Influenza epidemic of 1918. Inspired by Blessed Thérèse, the “Little Flower,” who would be canonized in 1925, he quietly carried her relic and “offered up” his sufferings as his health slowly deteriorated.

Our neighborhood enters the story at this point: Constance writes that “my mother, with the realities of life swamping her, returned to the precepts of her ancestors – a belief in bricks and mortar. We bought a vast house on Baltimore Avenue (number 4331 per parish records), its front windows flooded with sunshine, its back rooms dark and damp. It faced Clark Park which seemed like the wilds of the country. The oak paneling was solid and magnificent, as my mother pointed out; the furnaces consumed tons of coal and we were never warm. Over this uneasy home was suspended a mortgage bearing a staggering interest rate...”

DSCN3138 (2)I still went to Sunday Mass with my father, often to the ornate Church of St. Francis de Sales where Bishop Michael Crane met us at the door, saying in a booming cheerful voice that maddened me: “It’s time you got a nice Irish Catholic boy to marry that one. I’ve just the lad in mind. I’ll send him over tonight...”

Constance was not receptive. She notes that the years after WWI and during Prohibition were “an ugly period in which to be young.…” Cynical youth like herself  “were going to be honest about everything, and as the old moral values were based on hypocrisy we would dispense with them” and “just get as much pleasure from money and our senses as possible before it all ended in the final defeat of death…” while an off-kilter world careened towards the Great Depression of the 1930s and WWII.

After an unfortunate visit to an unnamed confessor at SFDS when her father died in 1926 – she wanted comfort, but was scolded, instead, for “indulging in self-pity” — Constance rejected the Church for many years. Nonetheless, one day in 1933, when “the sun poured in the windows of my room, and the tall trees in Clark Park had never seemed so beautiful...” she wrote  a “profoundly Catholic play” called The Years of the Locusts, about an enclosed convent of Irish Benedictine nuns surviving in occupied Belgium during the First World War, based on real diaries. The play was performed locally at Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Tree and was picked up for a run in London, but the beginning of World War II derailed those expansive plans.

1943 photo fr. flatley in uniformA long period of small achievement followed, punctuated with illness and depression, before Constance reconciled with the Church in the early 1950s. This was due, in part, to Reverend William Flatley, recently returned to SFDS from service in WWII, who gently encouraged her to offer up her personal suffering for American soldiers then fighting in Korea – and she wrote her healing memoir. She died in 1985, but her story remains like a leaded-glass window to another age, offering odd glimpses of a familiar,  unfamiliar landscape though its diamond panes.

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Henry Amlung and the Motor Bandits

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Today, neighbors routinely fret about parking spaces and inattentive drivers, but in the early 1900s,  parishioners like Henry Amlung (who owned a fur store in a time when furs and cars were both desirable luxuries) – and city government – had to adjust to some “new normal”  challenges at the dawn of the automotive age.

On February 11, 1919, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s front page reported an innovative crime wave: “Motor Bandits Get Furs Worth $5000; Terrorize W. Phila.” The news story continued:  “Motor bandits — believed by the police to have been the same who were frustrated in an evident plot to hold up storekeepers in the vicinity of Sixty-second and Race Streets…made a $5000 haul just twenty-four hours later from the fur store of Henry T. Amlung at 4810 Baltimore avenue.” (today, an empty lot behind a wooden fence).

“Discovery of the thieves in the very act of transferring furs from the store to a waiting automobile led to an alarm which saved the balance of the stock, valued at close to $50,000…”

“Mrs. Letitia Hanganer, who occupies an apartment on the third floor of 4808 Baltimore Avenue, directly adjoining the Amlung establishment, first heard the robbers at work, but thought it was Amlung trying to enter his store and for a few moments returned to bed. She had been attracted to her window by the noise of someone in the adjoining sideyard below. She thought Amlung had locked the store up leaving his key inside, and was trying to re-enter by the window.”

“A few minutes later she was again attracted by the same noise, this time accompanied by the subdued voices of men. She returned to the window and for a moment was struck speechless by witnessing one man tossing furs out of the window, and into the arms of an accomplice who was putting them into a limousine automobile…Mrs. Hanganer …awakened William Brooke, who conducts a tailoring establishment on the first floor of 4808 Baltimore avenue, and he ran to a second-floor window, shouting at the thieves.”

“Without abandoning the bundle of furs they then had in their arms the men dashed for their car, clambered in and fled.”

Police, on foot, stopped a trolley driver, who “saw the car drive east on Baltimore avenue as far as Forty-fifth street, at which point it might either have turned or continued on toward the central part of the city.” The police couldn’t chase them without vehicles! The paper reported that “an interesting development of the day was the loan to the police of the station at Fifty-fifth and Pine Streets of two fast automobiles for the purpose of waging war upon the motor bandits…” by local garage owners, but it wasn’t enough, and “motor bandits” just became bolder.

It wasn’t until the end of the following year, on December 23, 1920, that the Inquirer reported “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready..: One hundred and fifty armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars. Six fast automobiles for bandit-chasing owned by the city and a fleet of privately owned automobiles at the call of the police. A stack of short-range sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession…” The sawed-off shotguns were thought to be a kinder and gentler approach to crimefighting than the submachine guns proposed in New York City to deal with its similar automotive crime wave.

Sadly, it came too late for Henry Amlung, a member of the Holy Name Society and Knight of Columbus – he died a month after the incident, of “cardiac decompensation,” possibly weakened by influenza, and, perhaps, by worry. He was buried from our parish in an “auto funeral” (with an automotive, rather than horse-drawn, hearse and procession of cars driving from SFDS to Holy Cross cemetery) on March 29, 1919.

Christmas Past

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924

Features and ads in St. Francis de Sales Parish Christmas Bulletins from the 1920s offer windows into a different age – when gifts might be hung on the Christmas tree and the Christmas stocking was a novelty!

THE CHRISTMAS STOCKING AND HOW TO FILL IT (1927)

“For some reason, the beloved Christmas stocking of our childhood is not as common as it once was.

Kiddies who do not enjoy the thrill of opening mysterious packages, rooted from the recesses of a stocking in the dawn’s early light, are missing something that is their inalienable right.

The sheerness, or delicate fabric of Mother’s stocking, may keep them from using hers, but a Christmas stocking of some kind should be the possession of every child.

The larger presents may be downstairs beneath the spruce or fir, but a little gift or two should be added to the fruit, nuts and candy that are carefully wrapped in crinky packages and placed in the stocking. The time-honored orange should be placed in the toe; the horn, the jumping jack or the whistle should stick from the top. Do not use rich candies or soft-shelled nuts as fillers, or the child’s breakfast appetite will be destroyed. Better wrap a few hard candies of some kind in tissue paper and use the various nuts that cannot be broken by little fingers.

A nickel, a dime and perhaps a quarter, wrapped in several wrappings, and possibly securely tied inside a box will furnish several minutes of intense excitement. An apple will be appreciated. A potato from the bin, carefully wrapped in colored paper and tied, will bring a squeal of delight.

By all means give the children their Christmas stockings.”

Our second Pastor, Bishop Crane, was from the Ashland, PA, coal mining area, and many parishioners had family connections in that region, so they probably appreciated the joke:

THE BEST IN THE CLASS  (1926)

Interested Neighbor: ‘You seem to be a bright little boy. I suppose you have a very good place in your class?’

Little Boy: ‘Oh, yes, I sit right by the stove.’

Teacher in Pennsylvania mining district: ‘Can any one of you tell me where the Savior was born?’

‘Allentown,’ shouted Gottlieb.

Teacher: ‘What, Allentown! I just told you yesterday the Savior was born in Bethlehem.’

Gottlieb: ‘That’s right! I knew it was somewhere along the Lehigh Valley railroad.’”

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925

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SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1925

1924 bulletin ad
SFDS Monthly Parish Bulletin December 1924

Bowling at de Sales

What are the things that bring parishioners – and Catholics — together? From the 1940s to the 1970s, a big answer was “bowling”!

D005 De Sales Photos Binder 09 012In September 1939, the Catholic Standard and Times announced that “Philadelphia’s Catholic Bowling League, a circuit of parish teams that has been dreamed of for several years, comes into existence Wednesday…Forty parish teams, in five divisions of the city…will compete for the Cardinal Dougherty trophy.”

Our parish Bowling League began in 1941, when the Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “This sport is being sponsored by the Holy Name Society. For the first time, two teams have been entered in the Philadelphia Catholic Bowling League which is the largest in the country…At the same time a parish bowling league has been formed. It will play every Wednesday evening at nine o’clock at the Centennial Bowling Alleys at Fifty-second Street and Baltimore Avenue. The intramural SFDS league opened with six teams in the men’s division, and six teams in the women’s division. Mixed teams of men and women evolved a few years later during World War II.

The Centennial Bowling Alley was technically at 5210 Broomall. After games, John and Ted Deady recall that their Dad, who didn’t drink, would, nonetheless, join the other members of the league for fellowship at Davis’s, a pub at 52nd and Litchfield, as part of the weekly ritual. Was it hard to schedule bowling? In some years, the League convened at Jimmy Dykes Colonial alley at 51st and Sansom instead of the Centennial (Jimmy Dykes owned several Philadelphia bowling alleys, but was better known for baseball, playing for the Philadelphia Athletics 1918-1932 and the Chicago White Sox 1933-1939. He is buried at our sister parish of St. Denis, Havertown). In later years, the league met at Bowlero and Gehris Lanes in Upper Darby.

Why did bowling end? Professor Robert Putnam at Harvard uses the fall of bowling as a metaphor for a general decline of the social bonds that tie people together. Others observe that those connections have simply changed: modern parents tend to bond while seated on the sidelines of their children’s sporting events and practices. In our parish, there was yet another reason for bowling’s demise, having to do with a changing neighborhood: Paul Harvey notes that “bowling had started out as a group of parishioners; it ended as ex-parishioners coming in from the suburbs.” In 1963, there were 4,233 families in the parish; by 1973, only 1,232 were left – the rest had moved out of the city. That changed everything.

Why was bowling important? The 1955 Parish Monthly Bulletin observed that sharing and working together in parish activities helped “grace to grow.” In 1965, the 25th Anniversary Banquet program noted “a whole generation of friendship has grown up around the de Sales League.” Jerry Mc Hugh, whose Dad was one of the charter members of the de Sales league, offers a bowling romance:

My Dad bowled with one Kitty Duffy.  She and her husband later moved to Medford Lakes.  Sadly, Joe Duffy died young.  Kitty supported her kids as a secretary for the FBI.  When my mom died in 1998, friends urged my Dad to talk With Kitty, who participated in the bereavement ministry in her Jersey parish. He did and found it helpful.  Then they had lunch.  Then they had dinner.  Then ultimately they eloped, my Dad being 80 at the time.  That’s when my dad finally left de Sales to join her in Jersey. And my Dad’s old bowling ball was literally the last thing I took out of the house from the very back of the first floor closet. (The Bostons bought his house.) Dad and Kitty had ten great years together – with the de Sales bowling league bringing them together several decades later.”

 

1942 centennial bowling
Ad in 1942 de Sales Night Program

SFDS Parish Lending Library

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The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

Our literary-minded St. Francis de Sales Parish has always kept up with local reading trends. Today, we have several book clubs; in the early 2000s, we had a library in the back of the church; long ago, we had a bookstore and lending library on Baltimore Ave.

The Journal of Library History reports that “Rental libraries were all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s coming seemingly out of nowhere and threatening to transform totally the reading and book buying habits of the American public.” On Baltimore Avenue number 4726 (Vientiane Cafe today) was the Terry Shop in 1939, run by W.A. Fares, and offering “unusual gifts” and a “lending library.” When that business left, SFDS took over and in May 1944, opened its own Parish Lending Library on the spot.

What did the lending library do? The Parish Monthly Bulletin noted that “The purpose of the Parish lending library is to make good literature easily available for everyone…” The library was open day and evening hours Patron membership of $5.00 allowed two books to be borrowed per week; an Annual $2 membership entitled patrons to rent one book a week at a fee of one cent per day; and nonmembers could rent single books for three cents a day.

The venture seemed to be successful: by its first anniversary, it had “a membership of 1,107 persons and over 200 of these are non-Catholics. It has on its shelves 1,576 volumes, all of the latest in Catholic books and the approved best-sellers. To date is has circulated 7,192 books among a variety of readers. The average patronage is 42 persons a day.” What were people reading?  Lists published in the Parish Monthly Bulletin included a variety of books such as  Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen; Powder Puff: the Adventures of the Easter Bunny in the City; The Remembered Face of Ireland by Josephine Hunt Raymond; Of Flight and Life by Charles Lindbergh; and More Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd among many others.

The Parish Monthly Bulletin also published a list of the 21 librarians. Census data from 1940 brings them to life: among them, Loretta Mulloy, who lived at 4811 Chester, was 18 in 1940, and the middle child of seven living at home with parents. Frances Cunniff, at 431 South 50th, was 31 in 1940, working as a clerk in a printing firm, living at home with parents and two siblings. Rita Duffy, at 4634 Chester, was a secretary/stenographer for a coffee importer. Her brother, age 32 and unmarried in 1940, was listed as “head of household,” with mother and ten siblings (youngest age 16) all living at home. Adele Smith, 1110 South 52nd Street, had attended three years of college and was a teacher, living at home with Mom and four siblings. Less than half were married, which makes sense: the library could have been considered a safe place to meet and socialize!

What happened to the Parish Lending Library in the end? Short answer: it moved to the basement (Choir Room) of the SFDS Little School in 1954. Long answer: The Journal of Library History concludes that “The rise of paperbacks and television, coupled with the increased cost of books after World War II, contributed to the demise of the rental business.

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SFDS Bookstore at 4726 Baltimore Avenue in 1948

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SFDS Parish Bookstore in 1948

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SFDS Bookstore in the basement of the Little School circa 1954

Baltimore Avenue Amble

A short three-block stroll along Baltimore Avenue hints at how St. Francis de Sales Parish  is woven into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

cherry tree inn

Beginning at 46th Street, the Aksum Cafe at 4630 Baltimore stands on the site of the original yellow clapboard Cherry Tree Inn – a historic rest stop on the Baltimore Pike, named for an ancient cherry tree that once stood out front (a bar at 4540 — today’s Gojo — adopted the name as an homage in 1933, causing lasting confusion). Our first parish chapel/school building – now a wing of SFDS School — was built on the back section of the old inn’s property towards 47th Street in 1891.  Some records suggest that piece was once a lake – more likely, it was the water-accumulating “dip in the waffle” created by surrounding raised road construction. (Incidentally, the firm of James “Sunny Jim” McNichol, who donated our St. Joseph Altar, built and paved some of the larger roads in the city including Baltimore Ave., the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and Roosevelt Boulevard).

In the early 1900s, most of the 4700 block of Baltimore Ave over to Warrington was occupied by the Wilson farm which included a house, a barn, an orchard, and several cows. Our parish purchased the property in 1920, intending to build an annex to the school. Third grade and commercial classes were held at the farmhouse (approximately where the Warrington garden is today) for a couple of years, and several parish fairs were held on the grounds. In 1926, plans changed, and a wing was added to the school along Farragut Terrace, instead. The Wilson property was then sold to Brown & Sons Developers, who built the present block. This ad appeared in the Parish Monthly Bulletin:

47th & balt

 

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Byrd Theatre 4720 Baltimore Ave.

Dream of popcorn in today’s municipal parking lot at 4720. Or huskies pulling sleds? The Byrd Theatre, named after famous polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, opened in 1928 and was torn down in the 1960s. It was, reportedly,  never profitable as a movie venue, but in 1933, during the Great Depression, it had a moment of glory when SFDS held its de Sales Night gala there one year, instead of the usual big showy “do” at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel downtown:

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SFDS De Sales Night at the Byrd Theatre 1933

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While you are there, take a little time to admire the beautiful murals in the parking lot painted by David Guinn in 2008. He’s included a number of local landmarks – can you find our church?

 

sfds bookstore 1948
The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

 

Now continue on to 4726 Baltimore Ave. Today, it’s part of Vientiane Cafe. Some folks might remember that Mariposa Food Co-Op used to be here (before it moved to 4824). Long before that, from 1944 to 1954, it was home to the SFDS Parish Bookstore and Lending Library – offering blockbusters such as Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen and Of Flight and Life, by Charles Lindbergh. Imagine the walls lined with bookshelves, and earnest customers choosing uplifting reading material through the general haze of cigarette and pipe smoke characteristic of the era.

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McHugh Realty was at 4800 Baltimore (where the Gold Standard now is) for over forty years. Gerald McHugh, Sr. represented the parish in many real estate matters, and went on to become the broker for the Archdiocese. The McHugh family has been in DeSales for four generations.

1955 mchugh realty

An old parish record notes that the IHM Sisters moved to a house at 4804 Baltimore Avenue for two months in 1915 while their original convent – a house at 47th and Windsor — was renovated (The present convent was built in 1926).

It’s an empty lot, today, behind a fence, but parishioner Henry Amlung’s fur store once stood at 4810 Baltimore Ave. His store made the news in 1919, when it was robbed by the “Motor Bandits” who were “terrorizing West Philadelphia” in a newfangled automobile. Under-equipped police eventually had to borrow a car to chase them! Here’s Amlung’s Parish Monthly Bulletin ad:

amlung furs

Last, but not least, number 4830 was the home of Ruane Electrical – started by current parishioner Joe Ruane’s Grandfather. Joe recalls delivering flyers and arranging the windows in the late 1940s, and he spotted a fire in the shared basement that once saved the block.1943 ruane baltimore ave

‘Nuff said for now: Parish stories are many, but time is short!

Find more stories of Baltimore Avenue on our sister website, https://streetofhistoryphiladelphia.wordpress.com/

The Murder of Doctor Bull

bull lorraine
Lorraine Bull (Mix)

When Dr. George W. Bull, a wealthy New York widower, wanted to remarry in 1885, his adult children feared that he would “deed or try to give away his property,” so they attempted to have him committed to an insane asylum. He and his new wife decided that they’d rather live in Philadelphia.

They apparently were content enough for the next thirteen years, spending most of that time at 825 South 48th Street, within the boundaries of St. Francis de Sales Parish. Bull, retired, was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (an Irish Catholic fraternal organization), and may have been an amateur painter with a penchant for religious themes. Sadly, he was also said to be an alcoholic, which is supposed to have killed him at age 64, though the death certificate read “aortic stenosis” (heart disease).

bulletin 1908During his final moments, around 1:00 AM on June 14, 1898,  his wife, Lorraine sent messengers to fetch the family doctor and “Father O’Neill, the pastor of St. Francis Catholic Church…of which Dr. Bull and his wife were members...” SFDS first Pastor, Reverend Joseph O’Neill, arrived just “in time to minister the last rites of extreme unction,” but the doctor, returning  from a Knights of Columbus meeting, was minutes late. Bull was buried from our parish (the building that today contains the school auditorium, which was then the chapel; the church was not yet built).

Soon afterwards, Bull’s son-in-law started a rumor that Lorraine poisoned her husband. He provided juicy speculative details to Thomas Wanamaker’s North American newspaper, which relentlessly pursued Lorraine in a series of sensational stories.

When the case came to trial, Lorraine was defended by Anthony A. Hirst, Esq. (the same lawyer who arranged the archdiocesan purchase of land to build St.Francis de Sales church).

The prosecution produced a pharmacist’s assistant from Osterland’s Drug Store, 46th and Baltimore (a used-furniture store today), who identified Lorraine as the customer who purchased mercury insecticide and “nervously” signed the name “Lillie Stokes” in the poison register. Lorraine swore that she had never been to Osterland’s. The neighbor next door at 823 South 48th — the other half of the twin — counter-testified that “Lillie Stokes” was the name of the black servant girl she had sent to that drug store to purchase insecticide on the 14th, and the register showed that the purchase was made at 5:00 PM – long after Bull had died. Under cross examination, the pharmacist’s assistant admitted that Bull’s son-in-law had come to the store and pointed out the entry in the register as “suspicious.” The servant girl could not be located.

The judge ordered Dr. Bull’s body to be exhumed from Holy Cross Cemetery, and when no poison was found, Lorraine Mix (she had, by this time, remarried) was declared innocent.

Lorraine sued Thomas Wanamaker and the North American Newspaper for libel and slander in 1904, and was awarded a fortune in damages, but this was not reported by local press. The powerful Wanamaker (son of the retail giant) then had the judgment against him quietly overturned as a mistrial – in a bold filing, modestly tucked into an obscure court record.

Meanwhile, Lorraine’s stepson-in-law worked on trying to have Bull’s will declared invalid.

Careful hints left by reporters that everyone acting in Lorraine’s defense was Catholic, intriguingly suggest a possible undercurrent of anticatholicism in the saga – which would have been consistent to the period.

A Tale of Two Margarets

winthrop smith (2)On July 3, 1913, the Philadelphia Inquirer breathlessly reported: “Winthrop Smith Weds His Typist: Financier, 67, Makes Miss McMenamin His Second Wife. Information Concerning the Marriage is Refused by Sister of the Bride.” The New York Times also covered the story.

Why was it scandalous and what did it have to do with St. Francis de Sales Church?

Smith was a well-connected Philadelphia financier and member of the Union League, who, since his wife’s deathkellar_levitation_poster in 1911, had been living locally at the Covington Apartments. Miss Margaret McMenamin, of 4303 Baltimore Avenue, was reportedly 33 years old.  Their marriage was described as “culminating a friendship which originated in his office” – the banking firm of Winthrop Smith & Co.from which he had retired  in 1912, and where he was fondly remembered for once asking famous magician Harry Kellar, a bank customer, to entertain the staff.

They were married quietly, on a weekday,  at St. Francis de Sales. The Latin in the parish registry (coram me inierunt in matr.) translates “in my presence have entered into matrimony” – an unusual passive phrasing probably signifying a marriage in which one partner was not  Catholic — and no witnesses are listed, which is also odd. Reverend Maurice Cowl, a former Episcopalian priest, recently converted to Catholicism and assisting at de Sales, officiated. The Inquirer reported that after the ceremony, the couple left directly for New York, and a ship to Europe. The bride’s sister tersely commented that “they are married and that settles it.” His relatives remained silent.

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Margaret Smith (Monk) in 1935

When the couple returned from Europe, they settled at Smith’s estate in Glenside and St. Francis de Sales passes out of the story. Their daughter, Margaret, born around 1916, was introduced to society as a debutante in 1935. In 1942, she married Lt. Cmmdr. Charles T. Monk USNR (whose family lived, for a time, at 4402 Locust Street); he became an insurance executive after the war.

Winthrop Smith died at age 92 and is buried in their family plot at The Woodlands (40th and Woodland). A tall, proud obelisk, near the old stable, memorializes his father, another Winthrop Smith, publisher of the celebrated McGuffey Readers, on the front. Our Winthrop Smith is listed on the back, with his first wife, Florence Chapman Smith. The large square plot is full of Smiths. Lieutenant Cmmdr Monk is also buried there. But where are the two Margarets?

A mossy gravestone labeled “Winthrop Smith” in the family plot has no dates, and a space for a second name is left uncarved. Was that our Winthrop, forever waiting for his second wife? A fire at the Glenside home in 1946 is the final mention of Margaret Smith in the newspapers. The estate of her childless daughter, Margaret Monk, was auctioned in 1984. Today, the name Winthrop Smith continues only in a separate Connecticut branch of the family, associated with the firm of Merrill Lynch.

 

 

A Day in the Countryside

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Before the automobile age, how did people in the neighbourhood take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life?

In 1891, de Sales parishioners who wanted to enjoy a quiet Sunday afternoon in the countryside just stepped out the door of our first combination chapel/school building (today’s auditorium) and crossed forty-seventh street!

At that time, most of the 4700 block of Windsor/Warrington was an open field; while the 4700 block of Warrington/Baltimore, belonging to Mary R. Wilson, was occupied by a stone farmhouse, a barn, and fruit trees. More fields stretched out beyond, to 50th street. On the other side of Baltimore Ave., the grounds of the Twaddell Estate, with 1640s mansion, spring house, antique rose bushes, and fruit trees, sat in the middle of a swathe of property stretching from from 44th to 48th Street; Baltimore Avenue to Lombard (today Larchwood), with other farms beyond it.

The area grew quickly. By 1911, when our church was completed, only part of the Wilson farm remained on this side of Baltimore Ave. Its former 48th Street edge was accessorized with an eyebrow-like row of new houses – including two at the end that were moved around the corner onto Baltimore Avenue in 1905 to make room for a the new Calvary M.E. Church! Neat lines of tract housing quickly filled in  the rest of the neighbourhood. Even the 275-year-old Twaddell mansion – which had survived both the Revolution and the Civil War – would be demolished in 1921, for new construction.

Our parish bought the remains of the Wilson farm in 1920, and third grade and commercial classes (business skills for those not attending high school) were held in the 3-storey stone farmhouse for a few years as the school continued to expand. The parish also held several Lawn Fetes and Carnivals on the grounds. A 1925 event featured the Philadelphia Firemen’s Band and the SFDS Boys Battalion Band. The prize for a lottery drawing was “a Chest of Linen Service.”

The parish had planned to build a new school building on the Wilson land, but in 1926, Bishop Crane changed his mind, and bought and demolished several houses on Farragut Terrace  to make room for  a new wing added to the original school building. The Wilson farm property was sold to  Brown & Sons developers, who, by 1927, advertised a newly-built Automobile Showroom at 4730 Baltimore Ave.; with a theatre (the Byrd), apartment building, and 17 stores in the planning.