Dear Friends,

Perhaps you, like me, felt a mixture of disappointment and relief at Governor Wolf’s announcement this past Thursday that Philadelphia and the counties surrounding it will remain under stay-at-home orders until June 4. Relief because we are all feeling fear about what will happen when our city reopens and people begin to mingle as we did only a few months ago. Disappointment, because we miss each other and the ability to access the many treasures at the Athenaeum and other organizations in our area.

While it will be a while longer before we see you, we continue to provide you learning and growth opportunities. Check out our expanding ebooks collection , our periodical and newspaper reader , our new book club (see below), and our upcoming online events (see below). 

Thank you to each of you who supported The Athenaeum of Philadelphia this past week on #GivingTuesdayNow through donations, dues payments, or purchases at our online store (a portion of each sale goes to us). Like non-profits and small businesses throughout our country, the Athenaeum is seeking creative ways to remain sustainable through this crisis. Partnerships, economizing, and faithful members and friends like you are crucial. All of the staff and I are so grateful to you.

Enjoy this week! Good reading and engagement ahead . . .
Monday, May 11

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is pleased to announce the resumption of our Speaker Series on Wednesday, May 20. Many of the wonderful speakers we had lined up to speak between March and June have agreed to join us virtually via Zoom. Join us each Wednesday at 5:30 via Zoom for special talks and conversations with smart and creative academics and writers. Upcoming first on May 20 will be Kathy Peiss talking about four amazing women who helped to save books and libraries in World War II. Richard Bell will share the fascinating story of five young African American boys kidnapped from freedom in early 19th century Philadelphia to be sold in slavery in the deep South, a crime that galvanized the abolitionist movement.

We will publish links for later programs soon. But look forward to:
June 3: Catherine Kerrison, Jefferson’s Daughters
June 10: Lydia Denworth, Friendship
June 17: Diana Schaub, Booker T. Washington & the Lessons of Lincoln
June 24: Thom Nickels, Philadelphia Mansions
July 8: Andrea Barnet, Change-makers: Four Visionary Women who Made a Difference
Tuesday, May 12

Curator’s Pick- by Bruce Laverty
Look Up…Always Look Up!
With more than 330,000 photographic images in the Athenaeum’s collections, you might think that it would be difficult for me to choose only one as my personal favorite.  Not at all!  
My hands-down favorite is the image shown here, taken by the late Lawrence S. Williams, who produced more than 240,000 of the photos in the Athenaeum’s care. Larry was an extremely prolific, meticulously organized, and clearly talented architectural photographer. He began his Philadelphia career in 1947, just across Washington Square at the Curtis Publishing Company, where he was a staff photographer for Holiday Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post . He soon came to the attention of Philadelphia City Planning Commission Executive Director, Edmund Bacon, who with architect Vincent Kling, employed Williams for three decades to record the changing face of Post War Philadelphia. 
Market Street, from East Portal of City Hall, 1950, Lawrence S. Williams, Photographer, Williams Collection
So, what do I find so special about this particular photograph? First is its documentation value. Taken in 1950 from the east portal of City Hall it shows Market Street, the city’s primary shopping district. We see Wanamaker’s Department Store on the right and a marvelous jumble of retail shops on the left. Automobiles, busses and trolleys all share Market Street, and the sidewalks are crowded with well-dressed pedestrians. Second, is its unique perspective. There are millions of photos of City Hall, thousands in the Athenaeum’s own collections. But almost all of these show the iconic building from its exterior, and generally at a distance. Williams shot from inside of this mammoth structure, his tripod. perched on a balcony in the portal. Third, is the evocative quality of the Williams image. His view makes the gray, drizzly Market Street shine in juxtaposition with the dark, shadowy tunnel-like east portal. It evokes a city that has clearly not yet shaken the sadness of 20 years of depression and war. Indeed a new war, this time in Korea, was heating up when this photo was made. Not a hint of the transformation that Center City would see in the next 20 year is evident is this picture. 
And yet, and yet…this image also offers inspiration . All the humans illustrated here are ignoring their surroundings, some under umbrellas, in hats and scarves, heads down, hunched against the rain and cold. All but two, that is. In the wonderful closer look detail, (m ade possible by the Athenaeum’s Regional Digital Imaging Center, ) we can step in closely enough to form a story. In the lower center of image are two young men that stand out from the crowds around them. What makes them different? They appear to be under-dressed for the weather; perhaps they ignored their mothers’ admonition that morning to take umbrellas? They are the only folks facing the camera. And what are these fellows doing? They’re looking up at City Hall; indeed one of them is pointing something out to his friend. Some might say they were checking the time on the clock tower, but the tower would have been invisible from where they were standing. Clearly, something above the portal caught their attention long enough to stop, put their heads back, faces to the rain, and look long and hard at what they had just discovered. I like to think that these two were looking at the Alexander Milne Calder’s keystone sculpture of the face of William Penn, immediately above their heads. I like to think that these teenagers represent the best of Philadelphia at mid-century, unafraid to crane their necks and get their faces wet to appreciate the surprising architectural and artist marvels of their depressing and gritty city. Seventy years later they remind us to look up... to always look up .  

To see more Lawrence S. Williams photos, check out our on-line exhibition:
Wednesday, May 13

Primary Day in Pennsylvania has been moved to June 2 , and voters are encouraged to register to Vote-By-Mail to keep residents safe. The deadline to register for a mail in ballot is May 26. You can easily register for a mail-in ballot online here: . If you need help registering, please reach out to us. We are always happy to help!
Thursday, May 14

The first meeting of the Athenaeum Open Book Club met last week, and here are some of the recommendations from our attendees. 

Participants who are enjoying fiction mentioned these books as recent reads:
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Plague by Albert Camus 
Remains of the Dead by Ian McKinnon
Some participants noted that they are turning to non-fiction during the pandemic. Here are a few recommended reads. Several mentioned that they now have time to read the larger tomes they have had on their list for a while. What about you? What are you reading?

Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse
Harry S. Truman by David McCullough
Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City by Witold Rybczynski

The next meeting of the Athenaeum’s Zoom book group will be on Thursday, June 4 at 3 pm . The book discussed will be Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy . The Athenaeum has two ebook copies. It is also available from Project Gutenberg at Headhouse Books has it available as both a hardback and paperback. Please also be prepared to suggest a fiction and a history title for discussion at future meetings. Register here! We invite you all to join for great discussion and community.
Friday, May 15

We continue to celebrate National Preservation Month (also referred to as Historic Preservation Month). At a recent meeting of preservation group heads, Kathleen Abplanalp of the Lower Merion Conservancy shared a story map she created about the " transformation of the valley from a "hive of industry" to a recreation destination. She noted that “the area borders Philadelphia (by way of the Schuylkill) so the city looked on it with pretty hungry eyes.” Her story map is interesting and well done. It uncovers ruins of once industrious mills while demonstrating how our needs and interests shape how we use our environment. Apblanalp makes use of t he Hexamer General Surveys , which can be found on the Athenaeum’s GeoHistory website , and are in the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia. ( )
Saturday, May 16

After the weekend’s cold snap, the warmer weather this week is more welcome than usual. While you are out on your weekend walk, whether it be along a city street or a large park, we have a new task for you. There is a pest that can be easily eradicated as you take your daily walk around your property and neighborhood. The SPOTTED LANTERNFLY is devastating our forests and everyone can assist in Identifying, Reporting and Managing this pest via the Penn State Extension website . The insect has deposited their eggs on trees that are easily spotted and destroyed, if you drill down on the web site there is an instructive video showing how to destroy the eggs. We can all participate in this mission to the benefit of our forests.
Thank you for joining us for this week’s edition of Brain Treats. In gratitude for all the women and men who have “mothered” me on my life’s journey and in appreciation for each of our strong and magnificent women Shareholders, Subscribers, Young Friends, and friends who share their care, compassion, wisdom, and strength with so many, I leave you with this poem from poet extraordinaire, Nikki Giovanni:

Wishing you all health, hope, and happiness,
Beth Hessel
Executive Director
Upcoming Online Events:
Wed, May 20, 2020 5:30 PM EST
Kathy Peiss; Women as Information Hunters in World War II Europe