Dear Friends,

Today marks one month since the Athenaeum of Philadelphia closed its doors in response to the COVID19 pandemic. It has been a long month in which all of our lives have turned upside down. 
Long lines at grocery stores and empty shelves...
social distancing and face masks...
celebrating Passover and Easter with our families and close friends via Zoom...
long walks as our only sanctioned form of outing...
 And the inability to check out physical books or attend concerts and lectures and movies at favorite venues like the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. 

In my household, we have two adults with heavy workloads we are trying to manage from makeshift home offices while tending to four children who are adjusting to remote learning, limits to their usual snacking (so we can also limit our now-three-hour grocery trips to once per week!), and relying on each other as their sole playmates. For high culture, our kids wrote and performed (in our ragtag basement) a play about a cranky Easter bunny for an audience of parents, and extended family on Zoom. What does your day look like now? 

The hopes and prayers of all of the Athenaeum staff are that these efforts at sheltering in place and social distancing are tamping down the virus as scientists seek effective vaccines and cures. We hope that each of you are staying safe and healthy and hopeful.

If you have not yet seen this aerial video taken of Philadelphia last month, it is a stunning 3 minutes view of our city under quarantine. Enjoy it for the breathtaking views even as it provides a stark contrast to our normally vibrant and bustling city life.

The staff continues to think of ways to stay connected with you during the extended quarantine. We would appreciate hearing from you through this brief survey which should take no more than 3 minutes to complete:  Survey Monkey

As always, we invite you to check our website for ideas and activities , to contact Bruce Laverty if you have questions about Philadelphia architecture , and to browse our e-book selection and get Lois Reibach ’s help with e-books or let Jill LeMin Lee know of any books you’d like to see us add to the collection. And please let me know if there are ways that we can help you. 
MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2020

National Poetry Month continues with a focus on two poets who have Athenaeum links. Sarah Josepha Hale , the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book , spent much of her career in Philadelphia, where she died on April 30, 1879. In 1830, Hale published a book of children’s poems that included the now-famous, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” We think a poem about a spring lamb following her mistress to school is a wistful tribute to our current time.

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia has the collection of Hale’s letters. In a letter dated February 4, 1831, Hale writes to her son David, who was a student at West Point, inquiring about another renowned poet, Edgar Allan Poe . It appears that Poe left West Point not long after it was written. ( ).

Jill LeMin Lee has been transcribing Hale’s letter. She provides the link to the digitized copy is here:

And her transcription of p. 3:

If Mr. Poe is at West Point will you
say to him that I rec'd a poem from 
him and shall publish it when it is
in season - which will be next summer,
to [accord?] with the scene described. I like
the article and have only delayed it
to make it more appropriate.

(Jill notes that Hale’s handwriting was atrocious.) Jill wonders if the poem was published, and if Poe received payment. She found information online about Poe and Godey's, but it does not list anything in 1831.

Bruce shares more of his transcriptions of material in our collections with the story of Alverthorpe . While the beautiful mansion is gone, my family and I enjoy running, biking, walking, and playing at Alverthorpe Park, which is a mile from our home, so Bruce’s story has special value for us. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Curator’s Pick- by Bruce Laverty
Architecture, Class and Plague:                                      
19 th Century Observations by an Athenaeum Member 

Alverthorpe , Country Residence of Joshua Francis Fisher, 1851, Detail of watercolor rendering by John Notman, Architect, Gift of the Philadelphia Chapter, AIA

In the fall of 1847, just as architect John Notman was winding up his supervision of our brand new Italianate palazzo on Washington Square, Joshua Francis Fisher, an Athenaeum shareholder, was planning a country place on Meetinghouse Road in Abington Township, just north of the city. By 1852, Notman completed Alverthorpe, a picturesque Italianate villa. The drawing shown above was part of a 1986 gift to the Athenaeum by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects that included more than 90 John Notman drawings for several dozen buildings in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

The graphic evidence of the Alverthorpe drawing is substantially amplified by the description of another Athenaeum shareholder, the owner’s first cousin, Sidney George Fisher. Sidney’s voluminous diary contains the following entry:

November 1, 1847 “The taste for country life is increasing here very rapidly. New and tasteful houses are built every year. The neighborhood of Germantown is the most desirable. It is perfectly healthy & the scenery very handsome. Was at [ Joshua Francis ] Fisher’s two or three weeks ago. He has determined on a site for his new house and on a plan for the house [ Alverthorpe ], which will be very large and elegant. He will have a beautiful place. He has had [ Andrew Jackson ] Downing, the author of books on landscape gardening and cottage architecture to look at the place and advise him about the house and grounds. He liked Downing very much. It certainly is an indication of some advance in refinement that a “landscape gardener” can find employment, and constant profitable employment in this country .”
[Fisher, who never attempted to conceal his snobbery, went on to favorably compare suburban country life to that of the traditional gentleman farmer]
“… A man of any education cannot live among farmers in this country. The moment you leave the neighborhood of a city you are in the midst of barbarism, except in a very few spots in America”

While the lure of the picturesque was a strong draw to suburban “country life” in the mid-19 th century, so too, was the fear of epidemics. Two years later, Sidney’s diary entries reveal a disturbing combination of dread and bigotry. 

July 7, 1849 - The cholera continues among us. The highest number of cases has been 65. Yesterday there were 34 and 12 deaths, today 44 and 9 deaths. It is confined almost entirely so far to the lowest classes. Those who live cleanly & comfortably & avoid improper diet & excesses are in very little danger. If the first symptoms are treated in time, the disease is usually cured. 

July 19, 1849 The cholera continues. Yesterday 75 new cases and 20 deaths, today53 cases and 22 deaths. In New York it increases, & is attacking the better classes. Mr. David B. Ogden, the leading member for the New York bar and several other persons, highly respectable & well known have died of it within a few days…Many die from want of attention. All business is suspended. The whole people are occupied by one thought and influenced by universal fear. Meanwhile the mysterious disease does not diminish & eludes all skill to discover its cause or cure. As yet, however, there as elsewhere, the large majority of cases have been among the poor…The reign of such a disease keeps constantly before the mind the idea of death, of the uncertainty of life, of the weak tenure by which we hold everything most valuable and dear to us in this world. The air we breathe is poisoned, it is killing multitudes around us every day and none of us can tell whose turn may come next. 

The Historic American Buildings Survey documented the Alverthorpe mansion in 1937, shortly before its demolition.
Check out the PAB entry here:
Or the Alverthorpe Park website:
The manuscript of Sidney George Fisher is in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which published an edited version in 1967 

Today marks a 50 th anniversary of sorts for two of our close neighbors. On April 15, 1970, Carpenters' Hall and Christ Church were added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated National Historic Landmarks. Our staff particularly like the Larry Williams photograph of Carpenters' Hall in our collection, and there is quite a lot on PAB on  Carpenters' Hall   and  Christ Church .

Again, we are pleased to provide you with a curated list of movies from our beloved Carrie Rickey . We agreed that this week is one in which we all need some laughs. Thus, she has compiled some comedic gems and includes links to stream. 

GREEN CARD: In this 1990 film, Frenchman Gerard Depardieu enters a green-card marriage with Andie Macdowell. (Available on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu)

IMPROMPTU:  A 1991 film starring Judy Davis as the vital George Sand who falls passionately in love with Hugh Grant's frail Frederic Chopin.

A NEW LEAF: In this 1971 film, the iconic Walter Matthau is Henry, who has lost his money and Elaine May Henrietta, a botanist whom he would like to relieve of her millions.

RIDICULE: A multiple-award winning 1996 French comedy about a man from the provinces who comes to the court of Louis XVI and learns that wit is the coin of the realm.
FRIDAY, APRIL 17, 2020

This past week, our staff descended into our own stream of hilarious creativity in response to a trending post about the Getty Museum challenge:
Museum Asks People To Recreate Paintings With Stuff They Can Find at Home, Here Are The Results:

Denise Fox and Jill LeMin Lee quickly used their talents to recreate items on view at the Athenaeum. 
Troika  by Alexei Petrovitch Gratcheff. 11.5” H. Gift of Dr. Clifford B. Farr. Acc. 1961.09.

If you’ve ever ascended the Athenaeum’s Grand Stair to the second floor, you may recognize this familiar site. It is the  Troika  sculpture, which resides on the 2 nd  floor landing, greeting all who visit the Members’ Reading and Busch rooms.
This cast bronze sculpture by Alexei Petrovitch Gratcheff (c. 1780- 1850) dates from 1877 and represents a troika, a Russian sleigh on wooden runners drawn by three horses abreast. It is an example of the Realism movement of mid-19th century Russian art primarily based in St. Petersburg, the cultural center of Russia's art development at that time. The portrayal of Russian folk life was a particularly popular subject of small-scale statues in Russian Realism.
You have probably admired this 1814 painting by Charles Robert Leslie as you climb the stairs to the Reading Room at the Athenaeum. Perhaps you have seen the original by Benjamin West at the Scottish National Gallery, or noted the stag on bottles of Dalmore whisky, in honor of West’s painting. Now you can see the rendering by Jill, replete with gnomes and Rudolph standing in for the stag.

The painting is titled, King Alexander and the Stag  (Also known as  Alexander III, King of Scotland, rescued from the Fury of a Stag by the Intrepidity of Colin Fitzgerald The Stag Hunt ).  
According to our online description of our version, “Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859), who lived in Philadelphia and studied under Benjamin West (1738-1820) in England, copied West's painting Alexander III, King of Scotland, rescued from the Fury of a Stag by the Intrepidity of Colin Fitzgerald. [The West original hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland.] Leslie presented this painting to his benefactor, Charles Nicoll Bancker (1776-1869), an early Athenaeum member, and it later came to the society from Mr. John Cadwalader who had inherited the painting.”

If you enjoy these pieces of frivolity, we invite you to take on the challenge yourselves and send us photos of your creations!

Today is the annual  International Day for Monuments and Sites and was set to be Philadelphia’s first annual National Historic Landmarks Open House day. It is pretty amazing that 67 of the United States’ 2,618 National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are here in Philadelphia and our surrounding region. According to the Global Philadelphia Association ’s (GPA) website, our NHLs “represent Philadelphia’s most important historical places, events, and people and can be found in neighborhoods throughout the city. The NHLs program is managed by the National Park Service and recognizes select sites on the National Register of Historic Places that showcase America's vibrant heritage and represent an outstanding aspect of American history and culture. For more information, visit:

GPA had been organizing the NHL open house and the Athenaeum was set to participate. We are grateful for all of the work that GPA has done bringing us together for conversation about ways to increase the visibility and relevance of our marvelous NHLs among Philadelphia’s residents and visitors. Perhaps you can check out the Philadelphia Heritage Map and see how many of our National Historic Landmarks you recognize. How many have you visited already, and which will you put on your “post-quarantine bucket list”? You can order a copy of the Philadelphia Heritage Map, which features our region's NHL sites, here:

We invite you to raise awareness of Philadelphia’s heritage today by using the Day’s hashtags in your social media posts: #18April and #IcomosIDMS2020.
As we close out this third week of April, all of the Athenaeum staff sends their warm thoughts your way. 

With hope and healing,

Beth Hessel
Executive Director