Dear Friends,

Welcome to your second installment of Brain Treats from The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. My sincerest hope is that this email finds you and your dear ones healthy and safe, even if fighting cabin fever. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any concerns, or let me know if you or a family or friend is fighting off coronavirus, and I will keep you even more in my heart ( ).

As I have talked over phone, email, and video conference this week with Athenaeum staff, board, members and friends, and the staff of other cultural institutions, libraries, and special collections in Philadelphia and across the country, one question has resonated: How will historians in the future unearth the story of this time? In other words, what are we all doing to document our experiences with the coronavirus pandemic?

I think that the Athenaeum can have a specific role to play in collecting and stewarding records of these days. As an architectural archive, we can record the effect of this time on our built environment. Makeshift drive-through testing sites, shuttered blocks of businesses, weeds growing where they normally are pulled, new ways that socially-distanced neighbors are using front stoops and windows...the list could go on.

I invite you to help us collect these images. As you peek outside your front door or take your daily walk (social distancing while exercising, please!), snap some pictures of our built environment that catch your eye. You can share them with me – following our collections policy, our staff and collections committee can identify what images to add to our permanent collection. Let us see what you see. 
29th Street Rainbows by Tess Galen

And now, for your week of Brain Treats! With architecture in mind, our staff is sharing with you some of the hidden and popular items in our collection.
Monday, March 30, 2020

Two weeks ago, Athenaeum Shareholder and the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College, Michael J. Lewis , published an article about classical architecture in the Wall Street Journal . We put a link to that article on our new ‘ Online Activities ’ page on our website. For those without a subscription to the WSJ , here is a teaser, including a link to a series of videos narrated by upcoming Athenaeum speaker Calder Loth. As Lewis suggests, now is a great time for all of us to become armchair experts on our built environment!

“Those wanting to familiarize themselves with the long history of classicism might start with  “The Foundations of Classical Architecture,” a series of four one-hour videos put out by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) and available on YouTube. Narrated by the scholar of architecture Calder Loth, they proceed in turn through Greek Classicism and Roman Classicism to Classical Motifs and Details.”
Tuesday, March 31, 2020

How many of us have had to cancel trips and vacations? I was looking forward to visiting my parents and sister in California next week to celebrate some milestone birthdays and enjoy lovely hours at the Huntington Library, where spring has already sprung. If you, like me, dream of escaping to different climes right now, Denise Fox , our Collections Care Manager, offers you this architectural treat from our collections, which span the globe:

“On this day (March 31 st ) in 1889, the Eiffel Tower officially opened in Paris, becoming one of the most recognized and beloved monuments in the world. I was fortunate to have visited the Eiffel Tower in 2004; it is as magnificent as you can imagine. And therefore, I’m especially fond of this collection of scale model souvenir Eiffel Towers, ranging in size from 1” to 15" high, donated to the Athenaeum by members Hyman Myers, FAIA and Sandra K. Myers. Souvenir buildings are an engaging way to appreciate great architecture, reminding us of memorable past destinations, and inspiring us to a future when we can all leave our homes and travel again, whether up the street or around the world.”
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Today, instead of an April Fool’s Day message, we take a look back at March as Women’s History Month with librarian Jill LeMin Lee . Jill reports her work on an important project that the Athenaeum has participated in. Read her description of the project and click on the links to learn more about women’s history in Philadelphia and the ongoing work of special collections libraries in Philadelphia to collect and digitize hidden histories.

“On March 27th I was able to participate in a "virtual enhancement" event with over 50 librarians, archivists, graduate students, and others from the tri-state area. We spent the afternoon online adding subject headings, transcriptions, and more, to online documents as part of the  In Her Own Right: Women Asserting Their Civil Rights, 1820-1920   project.  In Her Own Right  is a pilot project executed by members of the  Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) , with funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities that highlights materials in Philadelphia-area collections related to women's struggles in the one hundred years prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment. I was pleased to be able to contribute to enriching access to online collections at a time when most physical collections are closed to the public, and was even able to work virtually with one of my former graduate school classmates from Drexel. The Athenaeum is proud to be one of the forty member libraries and archives of PACSCL.
Thursday, April 2, 2020

Bruce Laverty , our curator, and Mike Seneca , the director of the Athenaeum’s Regional Digital Imaging Center, share with us today about our online research opportunities. Have you ever logged into the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, a fascinating trove of maps that detail Philadelphia’s development; or the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings site, with stories, drawings, and images of architects and buildings in Philadelphia and around the world? I invite to you take Bruce and Mike up on their offer of registering for a free subscription and noodle on these sites. Maybe while eating an iconic Philly snack like cheesesteak, soft pretzel, or water ice?

First, these numbers from Bruce, still looking dapper even when telecommuting, as you can see:
“The COVID-19 crisis may have closed the Athenaeum’s National Historic Landmark building, but our digital resources remain available for use. And according to Google Analytics, they are being used mightily .  During the first 12 days of our shutdown, 10,832 unique individuals viewed 45,369 digital content pages on Athenaeum websites. 76% of these visitors used the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project (PAB), and 17% used the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network . For two decades, the Athenaeum has led Philadelphia’s special collections libraries in promoting digitization to make unique historical collections available to anyone in the world with a web-connection. Without doubt, the current shutdown is frustrating for staff, members and researchers alike, making in-person use of the collections impossible. But a silver lining of these darks times is the realization that the Athenaeum’s community and the impact of the Athenaeum’s service is much greater than we had assumed.

Feel free to take this enforced stay-at-home time to explore the Athenaeum’s digital resources. If you have any questions, please contact me at .
And from Mike, an invitation to check out the Horace Trumbauer material:
“The Athenaeum’s Regional Digital Imaging Center recently digitized the Drawing Registers and Account Books (1890-1938) of architect Horace Trumbauer whose materials are among the most frequently accessed in the Athenaeum’s architectural archive. Among Trumbauer’s most well-known commissions are Whitemarsh Hall, The Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The account books reveal the fees charged for Trumbauer’s commissions, while the drawing registers serve as an inventory of the drawings prepared for the job. They are very helpful in investigating the firm’s roll in any particular project.  

These ten volumes are now available on Philadelphia Architects & Buildings (PAB).”

Athenaeum Shareholders:  A subscription to PAB is free with your Athenaeum membership. First, register on the site by creating a username and password. Second, contact Bruce Laverty to activate your subscription.
Friday, April 3, 2020

Now that you are a pro with the PAB website, our bibliographer Lois Reibach shares with us the story of what she found in the collection that excited her. 

“One of my favorite things in the architecture collection is the drawings of the University of Texas campus in the Cret Collection .

I earned my undergraduate degree at UT and many family members attended and/or graduated from there. The tower, which is referred to as the Main Building in the drawings, was always the sign that we were reaching Austin when it came into view. As important as the tower was, I never knew about the architect until I started work at the Athenaeum. Perhaps we have drawings of a college building that is important to you. A quick keyword search for university under Projects/Buildings on PAB brought up 959 records.”

If you can find your school (at any level from elementary through post-graduate) on PAB, send us a line to share what you found!
Saturday, April 4, 2020

The weekend is always a great time to unwind with some good podcasts. What are your favorite podcasts to listen to? I always enjoy “ This American Life ” and “ RadioLab .” I’ve been subscribing to Alan Alda ’s podcast on communication and mean to listen to it soon – he has an intriguing guest list. 

Also fun to listen to are recordings of lectures at the Athenaeum. You can re-listen to a talk you really enjoyed or catch up on one you missed. Here are a few good ones by architectural experts you might enjoy.

If you want more books; podcasts; streaming videos, movies, or music; online courses; virtual tours or other opportunities from the Athenaeum or any of our sister cultural institutions in the Philadelphia area, check our Home page on our website for updates and our new “ Online Activities ” page, where we are aggregating activities as we receive them.

If you’d rather grab a book, Jill and Lois continue to add to our ebook collection . Before we dive into your daily candy, here is the newest list:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
All the Way Down by Eric Beetner
Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron
Running from the Devil by Jamie Freveletti
The Kill Clause by Gregg Andrew Hurwitz
Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer
Best Kept Secrets by Tracey S. Phillips
Silent City by Alex Segura
Favorite Poems by William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth by William Wordsworth, edited by Seamus Heaney

Email cataloguer Lois Reibach for help on getting set up with eBooks!

The staff and I continue to serve you. Don’t hesitate to contact us. We all miss each one of you and look forward to the day when we can see you again.

With appreciation and hope,

Beth Hessel
Executive Director
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia