Lincoln at 52

Lincoln stands on a platform with an enormous flag draped on the rail and before a crowd of spectators and an armed guard.
In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States.  By the time he turned 52, on February 12, 1861, the Union was crumbling.  The day of his inauguration, March 4, had yet to arrive. Continue reading

Philadelphia on ice

Colorful lithograph showing skaters crowding the ice near the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1856.
The winter of 1856 was one of the coldest in the nineteenth century.  It was so cold that the Ohio River froze solid from bank to bank, creating a path for southern slaves to escape, just as Harriet Beecher Stove had envisioned in Uncle Tom’s Cabin two years before.  Elsewhere, the long stretches of cold weather created favorable conditions for Americans’ new favorite pastime, ice-skating, then enjoying great burst of popularity.

This scene, of city-dwellers crowding the ice on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, furnishes a gauge of the strength of the trend.  For though ice skating had been practiced for centuries, until 1850, skate blades were crafted only of wood or bone.  A Philadelphia businessman, Edward W Bushnell, is credited with revolutionizing the sport of skating, by being the first to manufacture a blade of steel.  Strapped and clamped to the bottoms of shoes, the sharp metal blades gave skaters unprecedented speed and control.

The excitement was considerable as the innovation took hold.  The Quakers of Philadelphia had always carried on their hereditary skating traditions, but steel skates led to many novelties.  By the time lithographer James Fuller Queen captured this scene, many men and boys had paid up for the new skates, which were very expensive at $30 a pair.  Most of the ladies and townspeople pictured are spectators only, standing still as bold skaters thread their way through the crowd.

According to John Frederick Lewis, author of Skating and the Philadelphia Skating Club (1895), a Miss Van Dyke, daughter of James C Van Dyke, US attorney for Philadelphia, was the first woman in Philadelphia to appear on skates; she “rapidly became skillful and expert” in 1854.  Other ladies followed her lead, making skating fashionable, once concerns about safety and possible harassment from ruffians had been cleared away.

Image: from this source.
Click on the image for a much larger view.

This is the third in an occasional series on ice-skating.  Click here to go to the first post.

A war with an end

Massive crowds gathered around a replica of the Statue of Liberty near Philadelphia's city hall to celebrate news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918.
On this day, many nations pause to remember their war dead, the soldiers who have served and fallen, especially those who served in World War One.

What the US celebrates as Veterans Day began as a peace celebration on November 11, 1918, with the end of the pitiless conflict known as World War One.  The announcement that the war had ended with the signing of a multinational peace agreement, or Armistice, triggered massive spontaneous jubilees in many places worldwide.  In Europe, the States, Canada, even New Zealand and Australia, vast crowds gathered in the ceremonial centers of cities to cheer the end of a struggle that had cost the warring nations many millions of lives.

This marvelous photograph shows Philadelphians celebrating the word of peace that day.  Horrible as the war was, the photograph conveys a feeling of pride, even as it commemorates a sort of war unfamiliar to us today.  For World War One had a definite beginning and end.  When the United States entered the war on 4 April 1917, it was with a formal declaration of war from Congress.  President Woodrow Wilson had struggled to maintain a stance of neutrality toward the war for the previous two-and-a-half years, during which time public sentiment in favor of the war had gradually built.

Once the US had entered the war, there was a draft.  Over a million men were mobilized.  By the end of the war, 18 months later, American forces had suffered some 320,000 casualties, the majority being wounded, with tens of thousands being lost to death and disease.  Being at war demanded something from all society, taxing the economy to its limits and requiring sacrifice on the part of civilians, as the signs around the Philadelphia square suggest.

Hence the massive outpouring of joy when the war reached a definite end, and the blessed condition known as peace was attained for a time.

Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Click on the image to go to the source.