Tag: Clark Park

Fireworks

baptiste2

Here’s a long-ago neighbourhood tale for the holiday weekend.

Did you know that our church had an important connection with the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel before our annual  De Sales Night event existed?

Jean Baptiste Revelli, from France, was an early “pew holder” (parishioner who rented a specific seat) in our parish. Known simply as “Baptiste,” he was also the Assistant Manager and Maitre d’Hotel at the Bellevue from its earliest days.

When the Bellevue Hotel became the Bellevue-Stratford in 1904, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a fulsome article, reassuring everyone that: “Baptiste Revelli will still be manager of all the large dinners and look after the menu. ‘Baptiste’ is a personal friend of every society man, woman, and child in the city…In addition to knowing the men and women of prominence here, Baptiste is a walking social register of New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, and other cities and he is familiar with most of the titled persons of Europe who visit America or have social connections here. He has the reputation of knowing more of what is needed to make a private dinner or public banquet pass off successfully than any man in America, and his ideas as regards table decorations have won him worldwide fame.

Baptiste was married in our parish in August, 1910 – around the time that he donated one of the tall stained glass windows to the ongoing church construction. His bride, Miss Catherine Hayes, was his second wife; his first wife had died thirteen years previously. They lived at 4609 Cedar Avenue.

Sadly, being a star did not protect against flying stars. On July 8, 1926, the Reading Times reported that “Jean Baptiste Revelli came to Philadelphia in the Centennial year of American Independence and met death at an event commemorating the Sesquicentennial Anniversary…when an aerial bomb (rocket) struck him in the chest at the close of a fireworks display in Clark Park.”

Aged 75, the “genial white-haired” Baptiste  had retired from the Bellevue just a year before. In his time, he had “waited on kings and presidents… from President Arthur to President Wilson, General Pershing, King Albert and Queen Elizabeth, of Belgium, Cardinal Mercier, Lloyd George and Clemenceau.” He was buried from our church.

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A Flying Nun

balloon          How did an IHM Sister wind up in a hot air balloon drifting over Clark Park in Philadelphia back in 1986?

When the United Nations declared an International Year of Peace that year, a plan was concocted to send a teacher from SFDS or St. Lucy School for the Blind (which shared a close relationship with the parish school), to drop leaflets, asking people to sign pledges for peace and return them to the school. Mary Brewster researched and tells the story:

          The crowd on the hillside was growing restless. The hot air balloon was ready to ascend but was short one passenger. “Run, run, if you want to go up.” This was not the Wizard of Oz speaking to Dorothy in the Emerald City: this was Sister Constance speaking to Sister Josette Marie in Clark Park during Catholic Schools Week in March, 1986.

           Sister Josette, now Sister Mary McKinley, taught fourth grade at Saint Francis de Sales School when she heard about the hot air balloon in Clark Park.  Sister Mary came to watch with several other Sisters after school, and shortly after they arrived, Sister Constance asked for volunteers to join the pilot and another teacher, Alice D’Gamma, on the ride.  This was not something Sister Mary planned to do, but her love of adventure took over, and without giving it a second thought she said “I’ll do it” and she ran down the hill. “They were trying to take off, and they literally threw me in,” she said.  As the other Sisters watched from the hillside, Sister Mary soon was airborne.

          Sister remembers floating from Clark Park over to West Chester Pike and seeing people below waving when they saw the balloon passing over them. She saw several trucks following the balloon ready to go in any direction to assist with the landing. Sister remembers being up in the air from about 4:00 to about 8:00, long enough to see the sunset as they floated along. Sister remembers how exciting it was to soar high above the rest of the world.  It was a smooth ride, the temperature was comfortable and Sister enjoyed the view.  

          When the balloon hit the ground on a field near Route 1, Sister saw 25-30 men struggling to hold the ropes as the wind dragged the balloon along the ground. They were trying to secure the balloon to allow the passengers to disembark safely.

Sister’s Peace adventure resonates in today’s unsettled world: is it time for a new excursion.