‘Real Philadelphia’ at the Athenaeum

Article by Eric Toll, GPA Ambassador.

September 20, 2017, a hot and muggy day. I find myself walking just behind Philadelphia’s historic Independence Hall in the quiet Washington Square Park gardens where old and young seek refuge in the shade. Through the park and across 6th street, I approach the brownstone façade of the Athenaeum. Built in the 1840s modelled in a Victorian style, the building is a National Historic Landmark and worth a visit in itself. However, today the building’s open doors and cool air welcome me to a truly unique exhibit known as ‘Real Philadelphia.’

This freeexhibition includes more than 250 examples of “real photo postcards” taken from the Robert M. Skaler postcard collection. This includes a popular and wide-spread type that were produced by professional and amateur photographers alike between 1904 and 1918. These extraordinary images depict Philadelphia at the zenith of its industrial prosperity. Organized by neighbourhood, the photographs depict some of Philly’s most prominent landmarks, and the residents who once occupied the city.Of particular note are the scores of pictures of children who played on the streets of the ever-growing row-house neighborhoods of the “Workshop of the World”.

The exhibit seeps of nostalgia; the photographs revive forgotten memories and tell a story of what once was. ‘Real Philadelphia’ is a small and free exhibit running until January 26, 2018. This exhibit is, without a doubt, worth the visit.