Current and Coming features detailed information about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania. Originated as “Currents.” Retitled “Current and Coming,” Winter 2003, and then retitled “Out and About,” Fall 2005. Revived as “Current and Coming,” Winter 2013. Ran regularly, Spring 1984 to Spring 2008, and then occasionally, Winter 2013 to Spring 2015.

Over the Line

Beginning in the early nineteenth cen­tury, a clandestine movement known as the Underground Railroad helped African American slaves escape bondage in the South to freedom in the North. Adopting the vocabulary of the railroad, this secret passage to freedom consisted of a loosely organized network of abolitionists who lived in the southern border states and in the North and assisted fugitive slaves. “Stationmasters” sheltered and fed runaways in their “stations,” or homes, while “conductors” guided In Pennsylvania, Chester County, home to a number of Quaker abolitionists, was an important junction of the Underground Railroad’s Eastern Line. Together with the free black community, these Friends formed a strong network of communication, transcending religious and racial barriers that allowed them to guide fugitive slaves to freedom (see “Two Stationmasters on the Underground Railroad: A Tale of Black and White” by William C. Kashatus, Fall 2001). On the other hand, not all Chester Countians agreed to participate in the endeavor. Some did not want to violate federal law. Others, proponents of slav­ery – among them farmers who tilled the county’s rich soil – were more than willing to capture run­aways and even free blacks and sell back into bondage for a bounty. With southern slave catchers who traveled into the county, across the Mason-Dixon Line, which divided the free and the slave states, this pro­slavery element turned the region into a fierce battleground between pro- and anti­slavery forces. This local history possessed a national impact.

Just over the Line: Chester County and the Underground Railroad, on view through De­cember 31, 2002, at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, explores the origins, operation, folklore, and legacy of the county’s Underground Railroad. Through rare photographs, documents, objects, artifacts, and interactive displays, the exhibition introduces museum visitors to the cast of intriguing individuals who played a role in this fascinating moment in history. These individuals – depicted for Just Over the Line by Chester County artist Dane Tilghman – include Thomas Garrett, Harriet Tubman, and William Still, conductors; Henry “Box” Brown, fugitive slave; Passmore Williamson, abolitionist; Ann Pre­ston and Graceanna Lewis, stationmasters; and Edward Gor­such, slaveholder.

Exhibit visitors will find themselves not only traveling along an interactive “Under­ground Railroad,” but they will also find themselves traveling through time as well. Just Over the Line does not simply conclude with the Underground Railroad. The installation traces the history of race relations from slavery through the Civil War and to the present day. Meant to prompt reflection, inspiration, and motivation to examine and discuss race relations today, the exhibition brings this chapter of history to life by making it meaningful and relevant for contemporary museumgoers.

To enhance the visitor’s experience, the Chester County Historical Society is offering numerous programs and events in conjunction with Just Over the Line: Chester County and the Underground Rail­road.

To obtain additional in­formation about this exhibit and related pro­gramming, write; Chester County Historical Society, 225 North High St., West Chester, PA 19380-2691; telephone (610) 692-4800; or visit the Chester County Historical Society website. There is an admission charge.


The American Century

Floating rhythmically to the ebb and swell of the Delaware River, the country’s oldest steel warship, the Olympia has a story to tell, a story comprised of battles fought hard, of men who became heroes and of heroes whose valor remain untold. The ship’s story is dramatically recounted in a long-term exhibition recently unveiled by the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Olympia: Launching the American Century.

The flagship of the Asiatic Squadron, the Olympia is the only naval vessel from the Spanish-American War in existence. She is considered one of the most significant ships in United States history because she served as the flagship of Commodore George Dewey (1837-1917) as he triumphed, in 1898, over the forces led by Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasaron (1839-1917) at Manila Bay. The victory gave the United States a great boost in becoming a world power.

Authorized in late August 1895, the Olympia was launched on November 5, 1892, and commissioned in early February 1895. When war was declared three years later, the Olympia and the rest of the Asiatic Squadron sailed out of Hong Kong harbor, as required by neutrality laws, and sailed twenty-six miles to Mirs Bay. Under the command of Captain Charles V. Gridley (1844-1898), the Olympia led the Squadron for the Philip­pine Islands in search of the Spanish fleet. Dewey, aboard the Olympia, opened the battle with the immortal words, “You may fire when ready, Gridley.” The Spanish lost a number of men and ships, but Dewey’s forces suffered relatively few casualties. After the battle, the Olympia took part in the blockade and capture of Manila.

Olympia: Launching the American Cen­tury examines several aspects of the ship’s history through the use of newspaper headlines of the times, period pho­tographs, and objects and artifacts. The exhibition probes the complex commentary on social and political affairs of the Spanish American War era and presents a reflection of naval life at the turn of the century. In fact, the story of the Olympia continues posing questions that intrigue Americans to this day: What is America’s role as a world power? What is the power of the press to mold public policies and opinion 7 How can people of different social classes and backgrounds work together? What are the effects of technology on modern life? By bringing together artifacts discovered aboard the ship, objects loaned especially for the exhibition, selections from the museum’s holdings, and nearly fifty photographs, many of them by one of the first American women to achieve prominence as a photographer, Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), Olympia: Launching the American Century provides a glimpse of how the United States emerged as a superpower. The exhibition is augmented by telegrams, letters, and journals written by crewmembers.

A major focus of the installation is the uniqueness of the Olympia as a ship. Dur­ing the late nineteenth century, she was considered a technological marvel, with many “firsts” to her credit. She was among the first of the United States Navy’s warships outfitted with electricity and refrigeration. In addition, her engines are representative of the earliest practical use of the triple-expansion steam engine in the nation’s warships. The exhibit showcases the many technological advancements that make Olympia an important piece of naval history that transcends the well-deserved glory she earned during the victory at Manila Bay (see “Lost & Found,” Summer 1997).

In addition to visiting the exhibit, mu­seumgoers are able to tour Olympia daily.

For more information, write: Indepen­dence Seaport Museum, Penn’s Landing, 211 South Columbus Blvd. and Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106-3199; tele­phone (215) 925-5439; or visit the Indepen­dence Seaport Museum website. Admission is charged.


Suburban Dream

To observe the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of Levittown in lower Bucks County, hailed by its developers as “the most perfectly planned community in the United States,” The State Museum of Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg, will unveil an exhibition entitled Levittown, Pa.­ – Building the Suburban Dream on Saturday, May 4 [2002].

Located in lower Bucks County, the community was the second of three Levittowns built in the 1950s by the New York development company, Levitt and Sons (see “Picture Window Paradise: Welcome to Levittown!” by Curtis Miner in the spring 2002 issue). Developed between 1952 and 1958, Pennsylvania’s Levittown, like its New York predecessor, built between 1947 and 1951, became synonymous with the term suburbia. Levittown, Pennsylva­nia, at the time was the largest pre-planned community in the country, and its building methods and designs were widely emulated by builders throughout the country, although not on the same scale. Levittown also embodied trends associated with post-World War II life, including consumerism, the baby boom generation, even the struggle for civil rights. (The third edition of Levit­town opened in 1958 in New Jersey; its name has since been changed to Willing­boro.)

Levittown, Pa. – Building the Suburban Dream will explore the community through the fifties with vintage photographs, objects and artifacts, ephemera, and documents. The exhibition is divided into three sections, the first of which focuses on the designing, building, and selling of Levittown. This segment includes original architectural drawings, story of Daisy Myers, whose family in 1957 became the first African Americans to arrive in Levittown, and the racial strife that erupted. A period television will play excerpts from one of four documentaries devoted to the community.

The exhibition’s third section – and its highlight – is a full-scale reconstruction of a pink General Electric kitchen originally installed in a 1957 “Jubilee” model house offered by Levitt and Sons. The company’s kitchens, described as all electric, built-in, modern, and efficient, were a major selling point.

Levittown, Pa. – Building the Suburban Dream will remain on view through Janu­ary 5, 2003. The exhibit, in part, will travel to the Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown, Bucks County, where it will be on view from January through March 2003.

For more information, write: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, 300 North St., Harrisburg, PA 17120-0024; telephone (717) 787-4979; or visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania website. Admission is free.