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Displaying items by tag: Norristown

Since I can't get into our headquarters to write any new blogs, I thought I would share some highlights from the past 6.5 years.  This is a very early one from November, 2013.

 

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In 1875, Blasius Pistorius, a German priest on a visit to his brother in Norristown, was arrested for the murder of Isaac Jaquette.  The trial caused great excitement in the county and was prominently featured in local newspapers.  The Historical Society of Montgomery County holds the complete transcripts of Pistorius’s two trials.  His trial was the first in the county to use a court stenographer.

The dispute between the two men involved Jaquette allowing his cattle to graze on Pistorius’s brother’s land (John Pistorius was also tried for murder, but he was not present at the time of the shooting and so was acquitted).  On July 24, 1875, when a boy working for Jaquette, Henry Muloch, allowed the cattle to cross over to the Pistorius farm, Blasius Pistorius came out with a pistol and threatened to shoot the cattle if they were not removed.  Muloch ran for Jaquette, who picked up two stones and threatened Pistorius with them.  The two men exchanged some more threats before Jaquette lunged for the pistol.  The pistol fired, killing Jacquette.

Pistorius’s lawyers argued that their client acted in self-defense and that Jaquette chose to undertake the risk of the gun firing when he attempted to take it from Pistorius.  Nevertheless, the priest was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.  Since he was a subject of the German Empire, the German consulate stepped in, and his sentenced was change to life imprisonment.  Pistorius died in Eastern State Penitentiary in 1888.  

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 12 March 2020 19:44

Fourth Liberty Loan

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This morning I came across two photographs of a rally for the Fourth Liberty Loan in Norristown. Described in the Times-Herald as a “monster demonstration,” the parade was to encourage people to buy bonds to help pay for World War I.

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The Fourth Liberty Loan officially got underway on September 28, 1918. The parade took place on the 27th. The large parade included local companies, like Alan Wood Steel, scouts, the Red Cross, veterans, fire companies, marching bands, and even some cowboys from Betzwood Studios.

The man speaking in this picture is Judge William F. Solly, who spoke as a last minute replacement for Henry I. Fox, a local attorney who was ill.

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The United States entered World War I in April of 1917, but it was a year before American troops began traveling to Europe. Propaganda showed the dire possibilities of the war. This small poster is from our collection:

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Liberty Bonds could be purchased in multiple denominations. The government was authorized to issue them through the Second Liberty Load Act of 1917. That act is still the basis for the issue of treasury bonds today. Initially, Americans were slow to buy the bonds, perhaps because it was not a common thing in American life to loan the government money. By the time of the Fourth Liberty Loan, however sales were good. This small notebook from a women’s committee in Lower Gwynedd records the sales.

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The Fourth Liberty Loan would mature in 1938. They were to pay 4.25%, but the government defaulted on the Fourth Liberty Loan, making it the only federal bonds to default. When issued, the bond stated that it would be paid according to the “present value of gold” but in 1933, the US abandoned the gold standard. So the government refused to pay the full value of the bonds.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 06 February 2020 21:02

Summer class of 1917

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Last week, as I continued working through the oversize shelves at the back of the archives, I came across this interesting photo of Norristown High School’s summer class of 1917. As you can see, many of the students are holding items.

Several are holding straw hats, such as this fellow.

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This young lady, Rachel Bean, is making a statement.

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Only a few of the people in the photo have been identified. This student, holding a Union Jack, is Mabel Blew, whose nickname was “Greenie” according to the June, 1917 issue of Spice. The flag could be a show of support for United States’ new allies in World War I.

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Some of the items I don’t understand. For example, I can’t tell what this student is holding.

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Two women have signs that say “Free Lunch.” There might be a joke that I’m not getting.  Does anyone know what it means?

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While we have other graduation photos in our collection, none feature the objects and signs that this one does. Does anyone remember this as a tradition?

The photo also reminded me of a curious thing about Norristown High School. Each year in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were two classes per year at the school, a summer class and a winter class. This situation lasted until 1932. The winter class began school in January and graduated at the end of January 4 years later. The winter class of 1932 seems to have been the last of its kind, but there’s no mention of it in their yearbook or in the 1933 yearbook. The change seems to coincide with the move to the new A. D. Eisenhower building.

But why the two classes? I haven’t been able to find out. I could speculate that it had to do with students, usually boys, who missed much of the year for agricultural work. As farming retreated from the Norristown area, it would make sense that the two classes would no longer be necessary.

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Finally, in looking around for information on the summer class of 1917, I looked at the commencement issue of Spice. At this time, Spice wasn’t a yearbook, but a monthly magazine produced by students. A reflection by a student notes that the summer class of 1917 started out with 111 students. By graduation, that had reduced to 66. That’s a pretty high attrition rate. No doubt many students had to start working or were unable to keep up their grades.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 12 December 2019 19:28

The World's Largest Borough

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Lately, I’ve been working on the oversize items in our collection. The lonely oversize shelves at the back of the closed stacks contain a variety of unwieldy items – framed deeds, panoramic photographs, diplomas, and posters. There are also some oversize publications, like the one I found a couple of weeks ago.

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“Norristown, Pennsylvania – Largest Borough in the World” is a curious document. On the one hand, it seems to be a reflection of “boosterism,” a phenomenon of late 19th and early 20th century America. In towns and cities across the country chambers of commerce and other civic groups promoted their community with the sort of “rah-rah” enthusiasm usually restricted to the high school football field.

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We have several such publications, each touting Norristown’s location, people, and institutions. This one seems particularly aimed at business leaders. It has lots of pictures of Norristown’s businesses, as well as the mansions their owners lived in. There are special sections on Ursinus College and Bridgeport, as well as a detour to Jersey Shore (I suppose to show off possible summer homes).

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There are lots of great pictures that show what Norristown looked like just over a century ago.

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The real mystery behind this item is who produced it? On an inside page we see what looks like a periodical title, “Buyers and traveler's report” along with a date, 1910. But I can’t find any record of a magazine by that name. The Norristown Chamber of Commerce is prominently featured, so my guess is that they are the creators and publishers of the item.

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As for the title, is Norristown the world’s largest borough? I’ve seen this claim in several places, sometimes modified to “the world’s largest independent borough.” A listing of boroughs by population isn’t readily available, and the term means different things in different countries and even within the US (an Alaskan borough is analogous to a county).  We can say that Norristown is a grand borough indeed.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 07 November 2019 20:18

1931 Flood

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On July 14, 1931, a storm hit central Montgomery County, dropping so much rain that several local creeks flooded, causing $1,000,000 in damage according the Times-Herald (that’s not adjusted for inflation).

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One of the hardest hit sections of the borough was Elmwood Park, where the miniature golf course was destroyed. At the zoo, two volunteers watched as the flood waters rose toward the cages. They called the assistant borough engineer, Samuel Hart, around 10pm. He ordered them to open the cages. The Times Herald reported that the white tail deer ran off, but that many of the animals could not escape the rushing water. The monkeys, bears, and opossum survived. Even more troubling perhaps, was the reported alligator sightings in flooded areas of the park (they were later recovered).

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The Times-Herald's building flooded, but it still managed to put out an edition for July 15th. Several families were left homeless by the storm and sheltered at city hall.

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Two days after the flood, Norristown had as much trouble with gawkers as it did with debris. Thousands came to view the flood damage, especially in Elmwood Park, as you can see in the photographs. Police had to be sent out to the direct traffic.

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Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 17 October 2019 19:01

“There’s nothing like liberty…

Liberty Cover April 1932

…except Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post.” Groucho Marx says that line in the Marx Brothers’ first talking picture, The Coconuts. He was referring to Liberty Magazine – a Weekly for Everybody was a general interest magazine that existed from 1924 to 1950.

Like its main competitors mentioned by Groucho, Liberty featured colorful illustrated covers, articles on national issues, opinion pieces, and fiction by well-known authors.

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We don’t have any issues of Liberty in our collection, but it was popular in Norristown. Liberty produced a book about Norristown, with pictures and quotes from prominent local citizens expressing their admiration for the magazine.  It's called Stop off at...Norristown.

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I’m not sure what the purpose of the book was. I talked to our own magazine expert (and Board of Trustees president), Ed Zeigler, who suggested it was a bonus given out to subscribers. It could have been an attempt to increase circulation.

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The book itself is undated but it references a 1936 estimate for population and makes no mention of  World War II, so I would guess it was produced between 1936 and 1941. In 1941, it was discovered that the magazine’s publisher, Bernarr McFadden, had been inflating the circulation numbers so he could charge advertisers more. Kimberly-Clark, (the paper company) took over and put John Cuneo in charge of the magazine. A year later, the cover price of Liberty went from five cents to ten cents (following the lead of The Saturday Evening Post), and circulation dropped.

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Perhaps the book was a reaction to one of those events. No information with the book indicates how it came to be in our collection. I think that, for now at least, the purpose of the book will remain a mystery.

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Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 29 August 2019 19:35

Early days of Norristown

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Our hardworking trustee and volunteer, Ed Ziegler found a great map of the early days of Norristown this morning.

The map was made in 1926 by Simon Cameron Corson, a man who knew Norristown inside and out. He was born in 1863 and attended Treemount Seminary (along with nearly every other male Norristonian of note). He trained as a civil engineer, and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad for several years. He was one of the many engineers sent to rebuild the railroad after the Johnstown Flood. Ten years later, he was elected Borough Engineer in Norristown. In that position he improved the borough’s streets, storm drains, and designed Elmwood Park. After 33 years, he left that position to be the administrator of the park, a position he held until a few months before his death at the age of 85 in 1948.

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According to his obituary, “it was an undisputed fact that he was the best informed of historical facts in Norristown.”

We have many of Corson’s drawings in our collection, and a few of them are of early Norristown. This one is interesting for several reasons. First, he added color, which just makes the map beautiful. Then there are the little details he added.

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Here is William Smith’s house. Smith was the first provost of the College of Philadelphia (it would later merge with the University of the State of Pennsylvania forming the University of Pennsylvania). His house, as you can see, was located on Barbadoes Island. Although he was appointed by Benjamin Franklin, they were polar opposites politically. The map declares Smith a Tory. His biography on the University of Pennsylvania’s website suggests a more complicated story. Smith argued for the rights of the colonists but spoke out against revolution.

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The map also shows a small Lenni Lenape village labeled “Turtle Munsey Delaware Tribes.” Munsee was one of the languages spoken by the Lenni Lenapi (or Delaware), and Turtle was one of the three clans of the tribe.

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Finally, there’s a little bit of downtown. The only labeled intersection in this part of the map is Egypt (Main) and Cherry Alley (presumably Cherry St.), so we have a good idea of where this is today.  The Norrington Inn is identified and dated to 1690.  It's interesting to see what in in Norristown a few decades before the borough incorporated in 1812.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 22 August 2019 20:22

The trial of Blasius Pistorius

Since it's the dog days of summer, I thought we could revisit one of our earliest blogs.  Ok, I'm super busy and our curator in on vacation, so we're running a repeat.

 

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In 1875, Blasius Pistorius, a German priest on a visit to his brother in Norristown, was arrested for the murder of Isaac Jaquette.  The trial caused great excitement in the county and was prominently featured in local newspapers.  The Historical Society of Montgomery County holds the complete transcripts of Pistorius’s two trials.  His trial was the first in the county to use a court stenographer.

The dispute between the two men involved Jaquette allowing his cattle to graze on Pistorius’s brother’s land (John Pistorius was also tried for murder, but he was not present at the time of the shooting and so was acquitted).  On July 24, 1875, when a boy working for Jaquette, Henry Muloch, allowed the cattle to cross over to the Pistorius farm, Blasius Pistorius came out with a pistol and threatened to shoot the cattle if they were not removed.  Muloch ran for Jaquette, who picked up two stones and threatened Pistorius with them.  The two men exchanged some more threats before Jaquette lunged for the pistol.  The pistol fired, killing Jacquette.

Pistorius’s lawyers argued that their client acted in self-defense and that Jaquette chose to undertake the risk of the gun firing when he attempted to take it from Pistorius.  Nevertheless, the priest was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death.  Since he was a subject of the German Empire, the German consulate stepped in, and his sentenced was change to life imprisonment.  Pistorius died in Eastern State Penitentiary in 1888.

 

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 25 July 2019 19:01

Holy Saviour Parish

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Norristown didn’t have a Catholic Church until St. Patrick’s opened in 1834, mainly to serve Norristown’s Irish population. In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe began coming to America, and Norristown became home to hundreds of newly arrived Italians. Although the word “catholic” means universal and Catholic services were conducted in Latin at the time, it was typical for immigrant groups to start their own parishes, staffed by priests from the home country.

Norristown was no different. For many years, Italians celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s. Eventually, an Italian mission church opened in the basement, led by two Italian priests who preached, heard confessions, and gave spiritual support in Italian. In 1902, a new priest came to Norristown, Father Michael Maggio, who formed a committee, raised funds, and in 1903 built a small church on land acquired from the Good Shepherd Sisters of St. Joseph’s Protectory.

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The first Holy Saviour Church, or Sanctissima Salvatore, was barely a full story high. In 1908 it was replaced by a larger, more typical looking church that would accommodate the growing parish. This was largely the work of Father Lambert Travi, Holy Saviour’s second pastor. Father Travi went on a decade later to build the parish’s first school. It in September of 1928 with 500 students. The parish continued to grow, with the school getting up to 800 students. The school was staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, one to each grade, making for a student-teacher ratio of 100:1!

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In 1948, the parish purchased a closed public elementary school, the James A. Welsh School, and moved in for the 1948-1949 school year. In the 1950’s, Holy Saviour’s pastor, the Italian born Father George Delia, expanded the church, doubling its size to hold up 1000 people.

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Monsignor Peter J. Cavallucci with the Norristown Exchange Club at Holy Saviour School

The school has been closed, and students from the parish now attend Holy Rosary  Regional School in Plymouth.  However, Holy Saviour parish is still a vital part of Norristown’s culture, celebrating several feast days a year. The parish also has a mission church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Black Horse section of Plymouth. 

 

Source: Basile, Joseph M. Holy Saviour Parish - Norristown, Pennsylvania: 1903-2003, 2001

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 27 June 2019 15:17

Unraveling a Mystery

In preparation for our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals, we attempted to unravel a mystery regarding General Winfield Scott Hancock. On July 3, 1863, during the third day of the battle of Gettysburg, General Hancock was shot while on his horse. The bullet went through the saddle and lodged in the General’s upper thigh near the groin. Although wood and a nail (from the saddle) were removed from the wound, none of the field doctors could locate the bullet.

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General Hancock

General Hancock was eventually sent home to Norristown to recover from his wound. Several doctors tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the bullet. The wound continued to fester, causing many people to fear it would eventually kill the General. In a final attempt to remove the bullet, Dr. Louis W. Read was sent to General Hancock’s home in Norristown in late August 1863.

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Bullet removed from Hancock

After examining the wound, Dr. Read realized previous attempts to remove the bullet had failed because General Hancock’s leg was not positioned in the same way he was sitting in the saddle at the time of his injury. Dr. Read instructed General Hancock to position himself similarly to how he was sitting in the saddle when he was injured. This allowed Dr. Read to quickly remove the bullet.

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Dr. Louis Read

Here is where historians have been unable to come to a consensus: how exactly did Dr. Read get General Hancock into the proper position to remove the bullet? The most popular theory among historians is General Hancock was instructed to straddle a chair on the dining room table. However, other theories such as being put into a saddle on a saw horse or a barrel also circulate among Civil War buffs. So far, we have been unable to locate a primary source to prove any of these theories.

 

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Dr. Read’s portrait and the bullet he removed from General Hancock will be on display in our upcoming exhibit, Montgomery County Hospitals. There will be an opening celebration tonight, June 27, 2019 from 6PM to 9PM. Tickets are $40 per person. The exhibit will be free and open to the public from July 1, 2019 through March 2020. 

Published in Found in Collection
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