You win the prize if you said, “They will all have historical markers in PA!”. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recently approved 16 new historical markers! This year’s selections deliver another eclectic mix of pop culture, military, African American, film, and medical subjects.
Let’s start with Philadelphia…
McAllister Family of Opticians
Beginning in 1799, John McAllister began selling spectacles at his shop in Philadelphia. He became a skilled optician and clients included presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson, as well as other prominent individuals locally and throughout the country. John, Jr. was instrumental in advances in photography. John, Jr. and William McAllister worked and taught at the pioneering Wills Eye Institute. Five generations maintained this distinguished legacy through the mid-20th century.
Philadelphia Flower Show
The largest and longest running horticultural event in the nation, the Philadelphia Flower Show features displays by the world’s premier floral and landscape designers. Throughout its history this event has introduced many little-known species. At the inaugural show in 1829, the poinsettia was first seen by the American public. It has been honored multiple times as best in the world by the International Festivals and Events Association.
Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of 19 Wizard of Oz books, following the death of creator L. Frank Baum. Having earned a reputation as a talented author of children’s literature, she was solicited by Baum’s publisher to continue the official Oz series. She wrote one Oz book per year from 1921 through 1939, maintaining the series’ popularity through the release of the classic film.
In the rest of southeast PA…
Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall (Chadds Ford, Chester Co.)
Quaker abolitionists who were active with the Underground Railroad, collaborating with Thomas Garrett and Harriet Tubman. The Mendenhalls were charter members of the Longwood Progressive Meeting, which broke from the more traditional Old Kennett Meeting in 1853 due to their anti-slavery activism. The meeting hosted national abolitionist speakers such as Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison. Dinah was part of a delegation that met with President Lincoln to advocate for the abolition of slavery just 6 months before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
Sunset Park (Penn Twp., Chester County)
Country and Bluegrass music venue that operated for over 50 years. Some of the biggest names in the business played here and it became one of the premier venues outside of Nashville. This venue helped to spread the popularity of this type of music nationwide. By the 1980s the mailing list included individuals in 48 states. Bluegrass icon Ola Belle Reed played here for over 20 years with the Sunset Park house band.
Eddystone Rifle Plant (Eddystone, Delaware Co.)
This 34-acre facility supplied nearly half of all infantry weapons issued to US forces during WWI, as well as over 600,000 rifles for the British army. It was the largest munitions plant in the US during WWI, employing 15,000 workers, 20% of them women.
Slinky Toy (Clifton Heights, Delaware Co.)
Ubiquitous American toy invented by mechanical engineer Richard James in 1943. Following Mr. James religious conversion and nearly bankrupting the company in the early 1960s, his wife divorced him. He relocated to Bolivia and Betty James took over the business and turned it into a multi-million dollar company with international distribution. She was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Slinky was listed on the Toy Industry Association’s “Century of Toys” for the 20th century.
Benjamin Lay (Abington, Montgomery Co.) – An early Quaker abolitionist, Lay wrote anti-slavery literature, boycotted products that used slave labor, demonstrated in the streets, and was vocal at Quaker meetings encouraging the immediate abolition of slavery. Due to his activism, the Quakers became the first religious group to outlaw slaveholding by their members. He also influenced the broader abolitionist movement in the US and Great Britain.
John Philip Boehm (Blue Bell, Montgomery Co.) – Founder of the German Reformed Church in America, which developed into the modern day United Church of Christ. One of the most important aspects of his work was establishing governance for churches. He developed a church constitution 60 years prior to the US Constitution. He founded twelve churches and served at another eight as pastor.
Richard Moore (Quakertown, Bucks Co.)
A Quaker abolitionist, active with the Underground Railroad. Moore’s home was a major station on the network. Moore claimed to have assisted more than 600 fugitive slaves in their escape, including William Parker who was involved in the Christiana Riot. Moore also helped a number of fugitives to find jobs and set up residence in Quakertown.
In central PA…
Ham Fisher (Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne Co.)
Creator of the Joe Palooka comic strip that was syndicated nationwide for more than 50 years. Palooka was a prize fighting, clean living hero. The comic strip gained popularity during WWII, as the Palooka character enlisted in the Army. The strip served to encourage recruitment and to boost morale among American troops. It also served as a tool to sell war bonds and encouraged support of the war effort.
Barney Ewell (Lancaster, Lancaster Co.)
African American sprinter who won a gold and two silver medals at the 1948 Olympics. Although the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled because of WWII while Ewell was in his prime, he was able to maintain the highest level of performance at an international level to qualify for and medal at the 1948 Olympics. Member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Oliver Pollock (Silver Spring Twp., Cumberland Co.)
A successful merchant and major financier of the American Revolution, Pollock endured bankruptcy and imprisonment. He became agent of the Continental Congress in the Spanish territory of New Orleans and became a friend of Governor Bernardo Galvez, who sent supplies to the continental Army. Pollock accompanied Galvez in raids against the British on the eastern border. He is credited with financing the 1778 Illinois expedition of George Rogers Clark as well as that of James Willing against Loyalists on the lower Mississippi.
In the west…
D. T. Watson Home for Crippled Children (Leet Township, Allegheny Co.)
Facility at which patients were first to receive the Salk polio vaccine. By the 1950s it was among the nation’s preeminent facilities that treated children with polio and provided physical rehabilitation. Medical Director Dr. Jessie Wright worked closely with Jonas Salk to develop a safe and effective polio vaccine.
Lois Weber (Pittsburgh, Allegheny Co.)
The first American woman film director and a pioneer in early film making. In the era of silent films, she mastered superimposition, double exposures, and split screens to convey thoughts and ideas rather than words on title cards. She also used the nude female figure in the 1915 film Hypocrites and took on progressive and provocative topics, inciting both censorship and artistic praise.
William J. McKnight, M.D. (Brookville, Jefferson Co.)
Doctor, legislator and historian, McKnight introduced an Act in 1883 while senator that legalized human dissection, provided for unclaimed bodies to be distributed to medical schools for anatomical study, and made grave robbery illegal. The act served to advance the field of medicine and, by extension, physical anthropology and forensic science. McKnight also authored several county histories and the History of Northwestern PA.
Think you know of a good candidate for a marker? Let us know!
Visit the PHMC website to learn how to nominate a marker and the approval process. Approval Criteria require that marker subjects must have statewide and/or national rather than local or regional historical significance as well as having substantial association with Pennsylvania.
The Marker Program encourages broad distribution, so individuals and organizations from all 67 counties are encouraged to research their history and develop nominations for people, places, events, and innovations in their own area.