Dear Friends,

What a glorious weekend we had! Here in my little neighborhood, it seemed as if everyone suddenly emerged from their homes and onto the streets to walk their dogs, play with their kids, work in their gardens, or join the long line at our local ice cream shop. I hope that you were safely able to get outside to enjoy the beauty and fresh air as well. This morning, I made my bi-weekly trip to the 30th Street USPS to pick up Athenaeum mail. It is cheering to see dues envelopes with the names of dear Athenaeum friends on the return address labels (thank you for faithfully helping to keep us running!) . . . and (Shhh!!!), since I am now in charge of getting the mail, I get first read of the periodicals to which the Athenaeum subscribes. Since you can’t pick them up from our library in person, I hope you are checking them out with our new press reader .

This week in our Brain Treats, we focus on some of our friends and partners in the Philadelphia region who are doing important work in the arts and culture sector. I’d like to start off with a shout out to the Reading Terminal Market , which recently announced the hire of Athenaeum friend Conor Murphy as its new General Manager. Murphy starts at the market on Wednesday this week. Since assuming my own role at the Athenaeum 10 months ago this Friday, I have heard many raves about our program a few years back starring the Reading Terminal Market. I hope that we can bring Conor Murphy and his team to the Athenaeum again soon.

We were delighted to read an article titled,"Where Writers Write When They Can't Write Where They'd Like to Write," that Athenaeum member and journalist  Bradford Pearson  named our library reading room as the place where he wrote much of his upcoming book about baseball in the WWII Japanese American incarceration camp at Heart Mountain. You can catch that article  here .   

Speaking of Philadelphia friends and partners, you responded enthusiastically to last week’s post about  Athenaeum face masks , many of which feature iconic Philadelphia buildings. Not only were we featured in a blog by  Philebrity  naming our face masks the "finest" in Philadelphia, but we have sold more than 300 face masks in our  online store  this week.   

May is National Historic Preservation Month . Look to the Athenaeum all month for items about historic and important buildings in our city and the people who helped to build and preserve them. Check out our new Book Club (see below), and keep your eyes peeled for an announcement later this week about a new Wednesday evening online speaker series. We will be bringing to you a line up of excellent scholars, writers, and practitioners to energize our minds and spirits with stories, history, and hope.
Monday, May 4

With the Athenaeum closed, we have been encouraging our members to download books from our eBook app to tide you over until we can see you again in person. We have had a record number of members get their eBook accounts set up, and a record number of downloads! 

Would you like to write reviews of books you’ve read and share them with Athenaeum members? That function is now available though our ebooks site, You don’t have to have read a title as an ebook, but you do need to have an account to post a review. Reviews are limited to 1000 characters and will be signed by the name on your ebooks account. To post your review, you must be logged in. Click on the book title of your choice and scroll down on the resulting page. You may also rate the book from 1 to 5 stars, but must enter text in the review box before the rating will be accepted by the system.

If you still haven’t signed up, members can email Lois Reibach to get set up! 
Tuesday, May 5

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is part of an amazing web of artistic, cultural, and research institutions in our great city. These institutions and creative individuals elevate our civic conversations while bringing beauty, learning, and community into our personal lives. At the Athenaeum, we are grateful for each of you who become and remain members of the Athenaeum and for those of you who give above and beyond your annual dues to ensure that a historic institution that has fed the souls and minds of Philadelphians for more than 200 years will continue to serve our city and the world for at least another two centuries . We appreciate your support during these challenging days.

Today is #GivingTuesdayNow, and many of our staff are supporting our city-wide arts and culture by joining with  The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance , of which we are members, and the  Philadelphia Cultural Fund , which  generously  supports The Athenaeum with generous grant support each year, in their campaign. 

“We invite you to consider adding your support to this global day of giving in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cultural Alliance , the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy and the P hiladelphia Cultural Fund will be raising funds for the COVID-19 Arts Aid PHL Fund , which has been created to support individual artists as well as arts and culture organizations whose operations, work and livelihood have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 2,000 artists and organizations have applied for aid. Help us raise $10,000 this #GivingTuesdayNow to support up to 20 artists or 10 small arts and culture organizations.”
Wednesday, May 6

It has been wonderful seeing all of the amazing digital content our sister institutions have been able to create as we all navigate our new world. As we at the Athenaeum work on creating online programming (stay tuned!) we encourage you to check out what else is being produced across the city - especially programs like this one, hosted by two sister organizations whose directors are also Athenaeum members! This Wednesday night, The Carpenter’s Company, in partnership with the Preservation Alliance, will host a panel discussion led by Inga Saffron called “ Yesterday's Aftermath: Philadelphia's Epidemics and the Built Environment .” We hope to ‘see’ you there!

The Carpenters' Company and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia present Inga Saffron in discussion with David Barnes , J ane E. Boyd and George Wohlreich on the history of Philadelphia's epidemics.
Inga Saffron writes architectural criticism for The Philadelphia Inquirer. This panel is inspired by her March column "Philadelphia Has Endured Plagues Before. It Adapted and Became a Better Place." Saffron has maintained her column in the Inquirer's "Home and Design" section since 1999 and has written for the Inquirer since 1984.

  • David Barnes, PhD, is Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Jane E. Boyd, PhD, is an independent exhibit developer and was the historical curator for the Mütter Museum's recent exhibit "Spit Spreads Death: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Philadelphia."
  • George Wohlreich, MD, MA, is President and CEO of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Thursday, May 7

There is still room in today’s Open Book Club at 3:00pm! If you are unable to attend but still looking for some book recommendations or would be interested in attending one of these events in the future, email Tess Galen and she can get you on the list!

The Athenaeum will be hosting an Open Book Club through Zoom on Thursday, May 7 at 3 pm. We will be discussing what books we’re reading to get through this difficult time. Please register so we can send you the link and follow up with a list of books discussed.
Friday, May 8

The Athenaeum collection is a treasure chest. The items our staff have been writing about for our Brain Treats emails showcase some of our lesser known items, and each one has been a true treat. This week, Collections Care Manager Denise Fox writes about a small postcard donated by Eileen Magee , whom many of you will remember as the Assistant Director of the Athenaeum for over 40 years. You can check out this entire collection here .

John Bardsley House aka Sparrow Jack House

In this modest house in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood lived a man who made a big impact on our city’s urban ecology. In 1869, Philadelphia trees were infested with caterpillars which our native bird species refused to eat. Attorney John Bardsley offered a solution: he would bring sparrows from his native village in England to devour the insidious pests. (The common house sparrow did not exist in this country before 1851, when a small number of the birds were introduced in Brooklyn, New York.) City Council gratefully accepted Bardsley’s offer, and by March of that year, he delivered over 1,000 sparrows to Germantown. 

The sparrows quickly brought the caterpillar crisis under control, and Bardsley became known as “Sparrow Jack.” (Not to be confused with Jack Sparrow, the fictional captain portrayed by Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.) However, the sparrows soon began causing problems: They multiplied rapidly, menaced other species, and devastated agricultural crops. The moniker “Sparrow Jack” gradually became less of an honor and more of a rebuke. The sparrows, meanwhile, thrive to this day. When you sit in Washington Square eating your sandwich, know that those little brown birds eyeing your breadcrumbs likely descended from the birds imported by Sparrow Jack.
Saturday, May 9

Curator’s Pick- by Bruce Laverty

Philadelphia, Ten Miles Around 
Figure 1 A Plan of the City of Philadelphia and Environs Surveyed by John Hills, 1808, Gift of Eli P. Zebooker

John Hills was a renaissance man. His resume included military engineer, Philadelphia County Sheriff, and coroner. But he is rightfully remembered most for his cartographic skills. This week’s curator’s pick is his most beautiful, detailed, and fascinating map. Measuring 44 X 44 inches, this hand-colored map was printed in nine plates. According to Hills’ own inscription, this item is the result of surveys taken in the summers of 1801-1807. It was time well-spent, since this map, one of only 17 known copies, is considered to be Hills’ best work. By placing the map on a circle within a square, Hills allows area for title, description and embellishment in each of the corners, without sacrificing any of the map itself. It also reinforces William Penn’s placement of Center Square at the geographical center of Philadelphia and shows ten concentric lines that mark the miles from Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s Palladian-style waterworks engine-house. Classical female allegorical figures adorn the lower corners. On the left by the waterworks, cherubic figures are instructed in the arts of surveying, with transit and chains clearly shown. On the right by docks laden with the goods bound for foreign shores, Athena instructs similar cherubs in the art of nautical measurement as indicated by the sextant.
Figure 2 Detail of Lower Left Panel of Hills Map showing Center Square Waterworks

Take a closer look at the Hills map here (Warning! This can be addictive!)

The Hills map has been one of the most popular images in the Athenaeum’s online store, particularly for face masks. You can order one here.
Sending each of you a May-Day posy and wishes to see you safely and soon.

Wishing you all health, hope, and happiness,

Beth Hessel
Executive Director