Our Philadelphia/Chapter 19

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IT was not only the change that oppressed me those first days of my return. As bewildering, as discouraging, were the signs everywhere of the horrible haste with which it has been brought about: a haste foreign to the Philadelphia habit. But the aliens pouring into Philadelphia have increased its population at such a prodigious rate that it has been obliged to grow too prodigiously fast to meet or to adapt itself to the new conditions without the speed that does not belong to it.

I had left it a big, prosperous, industrial town—Baldwin's, Cramp's, Kensington and Germantown mills all in full swing—but it carried off its bigness, prosperity, and industry with its old demure and restful airs of a country town. The old-fashioned, hard-working, Philadelphia business man could still dine at four o'clock and spend the rest of the afternoon looking out of the window for the people who rarely passed and the things that never happened—nobody would be free to dine at four now-a-days, nobody would have the leisure to sit at any hour looking out of the window, except perhaps the Philadelphia clubman who clings to that amiable pastime, as he does, so far successfully, to his Club house, threatened on every side as it is by the advance of the sky-scraper. The old-fashioned busy Philadelphia crowds, as I remember them, could still take their time in the streets, so that I remember, too, my friend, George Steevens' astonishment because a passer-by he thanked for information could linger to say "You are very welcome." The old-fashioned Philadelphia business, going on at a pace that only New York and Chicago could beat, was still accomplished with so little fuss that the rest of America laughed at Philadelphia for its slowness and sleepiness, and told those old time-worn stories that have passed into folk-lore. It was just this that gave Philadelphia such a distinct character of its own—that it could be laughed at for slowness and sleepiness by the other towns, and all the while be sleepy and slow to such good purpose as to make itself into one of the most prosperous and influential in the country: to be able to work at the American pace and yet preserve its dignity and sedateness.

But the old stories have lost what little point they had. Philadelphia does not look slow and sleepy any longer. Things have changed, indeed, when a modern traveller like Mr. Arnold Bennett can speak of "spacious gaiety" in connection with Philadelphia—with its spacious dulness the earlier traveller was more apt to be impressed. At last, however, it has given up its country-town airs for the airs of the big town it is—given up the calmness that was its chief characteristic for the hurry-flurry of the ordinary American town. And there is scarcely a Philadelphian


who regrets it, that is the saddest part of it—scarcely a Philadelphian who does not rejoice that Philadelphia is getting to be like New York.

I think, of all the innovations, this was the one that distressed me most, though I could understand the difficulty of calm in the face of the multitude of new housing and traffic problems it has had to tackle, at a rate and with a speed that the Philadelphian, left to himself, would never have imposed upon it. Somehow, it has had to keep on putting up those rows of little two-story houses in sufficient numbers to shelter the too rapidly increasing population if it is to maintain its reputation as the City of Homes; somehow, it has had to provide subways, and elevateds, and new suburban lines with no level crossings, and new central Stations and Terminals, and big trolley cars out of all proportion to Philadelphia's narrow streets, and taxis too dear for any but the millionaire to drive in, if the too-rapidly increasing crowds are to be got to work and back again; somehow, new bridges have had to cross the Schuylkill, new streets have had to be laid out, so many new things have had to be begun and done in the too-rapidly growing town, that there is small chance and less time for it to take them calmly or, alas! to keep itself clean and tidy.


In my memory Philadelphia was a model of cleanliness under a clean sky, free of the smoke that the use of soft coal has brought with it. Every Saturday every servant girl—"maid," Philadelphia calls her now—turned out with mops and buckets and hose, for such a washing up of the front for a week that, until the next Saturday, Philadelphia could not look dirty if it tried. But I do not believe that a legion of servant girls, with all the mops, buckets, and hose in the world, could ever wash Philadelphia clean again, to such depths of dirt has it fallen. It could not have been more of a disgrace to its citizens when Franklin deplored the shocking condition of its streets, especially in wet weather, or when Washington had to wade through mud to get to the theatre where he found his recreation. It has become actually the Filthydelphia somebody once called it in jest. Not even in the little Spanish and Italian towns whose dirt the American deplores, have I seen such streets—all rivers and pools and lakes when it rains, ankle-deep in dust when it is dry, papers flying loose, corners choked with dirt, tins of ashes and garbage standing at the gutter side all day long—even London, that I used to think the dirtiest of dirty towns, knows how to order its garbage better than that. We Americans are supposed to be long-suffering, to endure almost anything until the crisis comes. But I thought that crisis had long since come in the Philadelphia streets. Everybody agreed with me, and I was assured that a corrupt government having been got out and a reform government got in, already there was tremendous talk of schemes for garbage—bags to be hauled off full of


garbage, dust-tight on the way, and hauled back empty, old paper to be bought up by the city so that no thrifty citizen would throw a scrap of paper into the street—and as tremendous talk of experiments in garbage, ten patriotic citizens promising to contribute one thousand dollars each to make them. I was assured also that the reform Mayor has done his best and struggled valiantly against the evil, but unfortunately it is not he alone who can vote the money for a wholesale spring-cleaning. It occurred to me that, in the meanwhile, we might be better off if we returned with much less expense, to the hogs that were "the best of scavengers" when William Cobbett visited Philadelphia. Or, at no more than the cost of a ticket to New York, the reformers might at least learn how to keep garbage tins off the front steps of inoffensive, tax-paying citizens at five o'clock in the afternoon when they ask their friends to drink tea in that English fashion which is as novel in my Philadelphia as the difficulty with the garbage.

My own opinion was that Philadelphia had lost its head over the magnitude of the task before it. In no other way could I account for the recklessness with which old streets were torn up for blocks and repaired by inches; new streets built and horrible stagnant pools left on their outskirts—the suburbs quite as bad in this respect, so bad that I understand associations of citizens are formed to do what the authorities don't seem able to; boulevards planned and held up when half finished, a monumental entrance designed to the most beautiful Park in the world and, on its either side, silly little wooden pergolas set up to try the effect, by the dethroned government I believe, and, though nobody, from one end of the town to the other, approves, neither the time nor the money is found to pull them down again—neither the time nor the money found for anything but dirt and untidiness.


The people, their manners, their life,—everything seemed to me to have been caught in this mad whirlwind of change and haste. The crowds in the street were not the same, had forgotten the meaning of repose and leisureliness; had at last given in to the American habit of leaving everything until the last moment and then rushing when there was no occasion for rush, and pretending to hustle so that not one man or woman I met could have spared a second to say "Your are welcome" for anybody's "Thank you," or, for that matter, to provide the information for anybody's thanks;—indeed, these crowds seemed to me to have mastered their new role with such thoroughness that to-day the visitor from abroad will carry away the same idea of Philadelphia as Arnold Bennett, who, during his sojourn there, never ceased to marvel at its liveliness.

And the crowds have migrated from the old haunts—every sign of life now gone from Third Street and round about the Stock Exchange, where nobody now is ever in


a hurry—carts and cars going at snail's pace, the whole place looking as if time did not count—the old town business quarter deserted for Market Street and Broad Street round the City Hall.

And the crowds do not get about in the same way—no slow, leisurely ride in the horse-car to a Depot in the wilds of Frankford, or at Ninth and Green, on the way to the suburbs, but a leap on a trolley, or a rush through thronged streets to the Terminal at Twelfth and Market, to the Station at Broad and Market. And it was another sign of how Philadelphia had "moved" since the old days when, in place of the old horse-car, which I could rely upon to go in a straight line from one end of the long street to the other, I took the new trolley and it twisted and turned with me until the exception was to arrive just where I expected to, or, if I only stayed in it long enough, not to be landed in some remote country town where I had no intention of going. I have been told the story of the stay-at-home Philadelphian as puzzled as I, who was promised by a motorman, as uncertain as she where he was going, that at least he could give her a "nice ride through a handsome part of the town." Worse still, the trolley did not stop at the corners where the car used to stop so that I, a native Philadelphian, had to be told where to wait for it by an interloper with a foreign accent. Nor was it crowded at the same hours as the car used to be, so that going out to dinner in a Walnut Street trolley I could sit comfortably and not be obliged to hang on to a strap, with everybody who got in or out helping to rub the freshness from my best evening gown, which would have been my fate in the old days.

And the crowds were not managed in the old way—the ordinary policeman used to do his best to keep out of sight, and here was the mounted policeman prancing about everywhere, and, at congested corners, adding to the confusion by filling up what little space the overgrown trolleys left in the narrow streets. I am not sure that it was not this mounted policeman—unless it was the coloured policemen and the coloured postmen—I had most difficulty in getting accustomed to. I came upon him every day, or almost every hour, with something of a new shock. Can this be really I, I would say to myself when I saw him in his splendour, can this be really Philadelphia?


The difference I deplored was not confined to the crowds I did not know; it was no less marked in the people I did know, in their standards and outlook, in the way they lived. It is hard to say what struck me most, though nothing more obviously the first few days than that flight to the suburbs which had left such visible proofs as those signs "For Rent" and "For Sale" everywhere in the streets where I was most at home—a flight necessitated perhaps by the inroads of the alien, but only made possible by the annihilation of space due to the motor-car.

Once, when a Philadelphian set up a carriage, it was


the announcement to Philadelphia that he had earned the fifty thousand dollars which fulfilled his ideal of a fortune. In my day Fairman Rogers' four-in-hand was the limit, and but few Philadelphians had the money and the recklessness to rival him. Now the Philadelphian does not have to earn anything at all before he sets up his motorcar, and it is the announcement of nothing except that he is bound to keep in the swim. Our children begin where we leave off, as one of my contemporaries said to me. Everybody has a motor-car. Everybody who can has one in London, I know, and there also the signs "To Let" and "For Sale" in such regions as Kensington and Bayswater have for some time back explained to me the way it has turned London life upside down. But in Philadelphia not merely everybody who can, but everybody who can't has one, and the Philadelphian would not do without it, if he had to mortgage his house as its price. I remember how incredulous I was, one of my first Sunday evenings at home, when I was dining with friends in the crowded-to-suffocation dining-room at the Bala Country Club and was given as an excuse for being rushed from my untasted coffee to catch an inconsiderately early last train, that ours was probably the only dinner party in the room without a car to take us back to town. But from that evening on I had no chance for incredulity, my own movements beginning to revolve round the motor-car. If I was asked to dinner and lunch at a distance to which nobody would have thought of dragging me by train in the old days, a motor was sent to whirl me out in no time at all. If I went into a far suburb for an afternoon visit, instead of coming soberly back to town on my return ticket, I would take a short cut by flying over half the near country, often in the car of people I had never seen before, as the most convenient route to the hotel. All Philadelphia life is regulated by the motor-car. It makes a ball or a tea or a dinner ten miles away as near as one just round the corner was in my time, and so half the gaiety is transferred to the suburbs and the suburban country, and, to my surprise, I found girls still going to dances at midsummer.

And the motor has made club life for women indispensable. The woman who comes up to town in her car must have a Club, and there is the Acorn Club in Walnut Street, The New Century, and the College and Civic Clubs, jointly housed at Thirteenth and Spruce, and more clubs in other streets, probably, which it was not my privilege to be invited to; all, to judge by the Acorn, with luxurious drawing- and dining- and smoking- and dressing- and bed-rooms, and women coming and going as if they had lived in clubs all their lives, when a short quarter of a century before there had not been one for them to see the inside of. And for men and women both, the car has brought within their reach those amazing Country Clubs that have sprung up in my absence. I had read of Country Clubs in American novels and short stories, I had seen them on the stage in American plays, but I had never paused to think of them as realities in Philadelphia until I was actually taken to the Bala and Huntington Valley Clubs, and until I ate their admirable dinners—at Bala, with the crowds and in the light and to the music that would have made me feel I was in a London restaurant, had it not been for the inevitable cocktail—and until I saw with my own eyes the luxurious houses so comfortably and correctly appointed—even to brass bedroom candlesticks on a table in the second-story hall, just as in an old-fashioned English inn, though as far as I could make out there was excellent electric light everywhere—until I also saw with my own eyes the trim lawns, and gardens, and the wide view over the delicate American landscape, and women in the tennis courts, and the men bringing out their ponies for polo, and the players dotted over the golf course.

And whether the Country Clubs have created the sport or the sport has created the Country Clubs, I cannot say, but in the increased attention to sport I was confronted with another difference as startling. Philadelphia, I know, has always been given to sport. It hunted and raced and fished before time and conscience allowed most of the other Colonists in the North the chance to amuse themselves out-of-doors, or indoors either, poor things! And the old sports, barring the least civilized like bull-baiting and cock-fighting, were kept up, and are kept up, and had their Clubhouses, which, in some cases, have survived. But, in my time, these sports had been limited to the few who had country houses in the right districts or the leisure for the gentlemanly pursuit of foxes and fishes, and their clubs were primitive compared to the palatial Country Clubs, whose luxury women now share with men. If you were in the hunting or fishing set, you heard all about it; but if you were not, you heard little enough. But you did not have to be in any set to keep up with the great Philadelphia game of cricket, which was popular, exclusive as the players in their team might be—all Philadelphia that did not play scrupulously going on the proper occasions to the Germantown Cricket Ground to watch all Philadelphia that did. The one alternative as popular was the pastime of rowing, the exclusiveness here in the rowing men's choice among the Clubs with the little boating clubhouses on the Schuylkill where boats could be stowed. And now? The cricket goes on, as gentlemanly and correct a pastime as ever. And the boating goes on, but with a delightful exclusive old Colonial house, for one Club at least, hidden in thickets of the Park where the stranger might pass within a stone's throw and never discover it, but where the boating party can dine with a privacy and a sumptuousness undreamed of at Belmont, where boating parties dined in my young days. And, in addition, time has been prodigal with golf and tennis and polo: women, who had begun tennis in my time, now beginning golf, games which, I might as well admit, I have no use for and can therefore say little about. And I am told that the University foot-ball matches are among the most


important and lavishly patronized social functions of the year. And in town is the big Racquets Club, in a fine new building, big enough to shelter any number of sports besides. And the Natatorium, in moving from the unpretentious premises in South Broad Street, where it has left its old building and name, to the marble palace that was once George W. Childs's—Oh, the sacrilege! the house where his emperors and princes and lords and authors were entertained,—has converted the swimming lesson into the luxury of sport. And all told, so many, and so exhaustive, and so universal are the provisions for sport that I might have believed the Philadelphian had nothing in the world to do, save to invent amusements to help him through his empty hours.

And, apparently, it is to provide for the same empty hours that those elaborate lunch places have multiplied on Chestnut Street, some delightful where you feast as only Philadelphia can, some horrible where you sit on high stools at counters and fight for your food; that little quiet discreet tea-places have sprung up in side streets; that gilded restaurants, boasting they reproduce the last London fads and fashions, have succeeded the old no restaurant at all; that hotels as big and strident as if they had strayed off Fifth Avenue increase in number year by year, culminating in the Adelphia, the latest giant, which I have not seen; that the old poky hotels of my day have branched out in roof gardens where on hot summer evenings you can sit up among the sky-scrapers, a near neighbour to William Penn on his tower, and get whatever air stirs over the red-hot furnace of Philadelphia; that a huge new hotel has appeared up Broad Street where it seems the Philadelphian sometimes goes with the feeling of adventure with which he once descended upon Logan Square. Even business hours are broken into; the lunch of a dozen oysters or a sandwich snatched up anywhere has gone out of fashion; the chop, in the Philadelphia imitation of a London chop-house that seemed luxurious in my Father's day, has become far too simple; and disaster was predicted to me for the Stock Exchange by a pessimistic member who knew that, from the new building that has followed the Courts to the centre of the town, brokers will be running over to lunch at the Bellevue and to incapacitate themselves more or less for the rest of the day, and business will go on drifting, as it has begun to, to New York and will all be done by telephone. And as if the feasting were not enough of a pastime, everywhere lunches, teas and dinners are served to the sound of music, so that distraction and diversion may be counted upon without the effort to talk for them. When I was young, the best Philadelphia could do in the way of combining music and eating—or principally drinking—was at the Mäennerchor Garden at Ninth and Green, where a pretzel might be had with a glass of beer, or a sherry cobbler, or a mint julep—"high-balls" had not been heard of—and the Philadelphia girl who went, though it was under the irreproachable charge of her brother, could feel that she was doing


something very shocking and compromising. But in the new Philadelphia, it is music whenever the Philadelphian eats or drinks in public, which seems to be next to always.

It may be said that these are harmless innovations, part of the change in town life as lived in any other town as big. But the marvel to me was their conquest of Philadelphia, the town that used to pride itself on not being like other towns, and there they exaggerated themselves in my eyes into nothing short of revolution. The craving for novelty—that was at the root of it all: of the restlessness, the willingness to do what the old-fashioned Philadelphian would rather have been seen dead than caught doing, of the deliberate break with tradition. Nothing now can be left peacefully as it was. I felt the foundations of the world crumble when I heard that the Dancing Class has taken new quarters over in Horticultural Hall and the Assembly in the Bellevue, that Philadelphia consents to go up Broad Street for its opera, quieting its conscience by the compromise of going in carriages and motors and never on foot. There surely was the end of the old Philadelphia, the real Philadelphia. And it made matters no better to be assured that so rapidly does Philadelphia move with the times that the Philadelphian who stays away from home, or who is in mourning, for a year or so, finds on coming back, or out of retirement, that Philadelphia society has been as completely transformed in the meanwhile as Philadelphia streets. Nor did it make matters better to discover the different prices that different standards have brought in their train. I could see the new pace at which life in public is set, I heard much of the new pace set for it in private—servants' wages prohibitive according to old ways of thinking, provisions risen to a scale beyond belief, every-day existence as dear as in London—in Philadelphia, as elsewhere, people threatened with ruin from, not the high cost of living, but the cost of high living.


And the change is not simply in the outward panoply, in the parade of life, it is in the point of view, in the new attitude toward life—a change that impressed itself upon me in a thousand and one ways. I have already referred to my astonishment at finding Philadelphia occupying itself with art and literature. But really there is nothing with which it does not occupy itself. Universal knowledge has come into fashion and it makes me tired just to think of the struggle to keep up to it. Once the Philadelphian thought he knew everything that was necessary to know if he could tell you who every other Philadelphian's grandfather was. But now he, or I should say she—for it is the women who rule when it comes to fashion—is not content unless she knows everything, or thinks she does, from the first chapter in Genesis to the latest novelty on the Boulevards, the latest club gossip in Pall Mall. And how she can talk about it! I have made so many confessions in these pages that it will do no harm to add one more to their number, and to own my discomfiture when, on finding myself one of a group of Philadelphia women, I have been stunned into silence, in my ignorance reduced to shame and confusion by their encyclopedic, Baedeker-Murray information and their volubility in imparting it. It is wonderful to know so much, but, as the philosopher says, what a comfort, to be sure, a dull person may be at times.

On the whole, it was the new interest in politics that most astonished me. That just when Philadelphia has plunged into incredible frivolity, it should develop an interest in problems it calmly shirked in its days of sobriety—that is astounding if you will. When I left home, politics were still beneath the active interest of the Philadelphian—still something to steer clear from, to keep one's hands clean of. A man who would rather live on the public than do an honest day's work, was my Father's definition of the politician. I remember what a crank we all thought one of my Brother's friends who amused himself by being elected to the Common Council. It was not at all good form—who of self-respect could so far forget himself as to become part, however humble, of the machine, a hail-fellow-well-met among the Bosses and liable to be greeted as Bill or Tom or Jim by the postman on his rounds or the policeman at the corner. Better far let the city be abominably governed and the tax-payers outrageously robbed, than to submit to such indignities. The Philadelphian who realized what he owed to himself and his position was superior to politics. But he is not any longer. I found him up to his eyes in politics—taking the responsibility of municipal reform, waging war against state corruption, running meetings for Roosevelt and Progress at the last Presidential election. And not only this. The women are sharing his labours—the women who of old hardly knew the meaning of politics, might have been puzzled even to know how to spell the unfamiliar word—they too are busy with civic reform, and turn a watchful but unavailing eye on the garbage, and run settlements in the slums, and qualify as policemen, and demand the vote—parade for it, hold public meetings for it, hob-nob with coloured women for it, run after the discredited English militant for it,—and talk politics on any and every occasion. There were days when I heard nothing but politics—politics at lunch, politics at tea, politics at dinner—think of it! politics at a Philadelphia dinner party, politics over the Soft Shell Crabs and the Shad and the Broiled Chicken and the Ice-cream from Sautter's and the Madeira! It is better and wiser and more improving, no doubt, than the old vapid talk—but then the old vapid talk was part of my Philadelphia, and my Philadelphia was what I wanted to come back to.