Letters to the Editor

Letters presents readers' comments and reactions to specific articles in Pennsylvania Heritage, the initiatives of PHMC, and other developments in the historical, cultural and museum communities of Pennsylvania.

Fight for Free­dom

The Friends Fight for Free­dom” by William C. Kashatus III in the summer 1988 issue was fascinating. Of particular interest was the photograph of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia on May 17, 1838. My grandfather was sixteen years old and he went to the Hall that night and described the fire in his diary as “the grandest thing” he had ever seen. I don’t know how many people lived in Philadel­phia that year, but I think fifteen hundred spectators watched the burning of Penn­sylvania Hall, not fifteen thou­sand. The most interesting thing about the fire and the slavery and anti-slavery groups has been lost from public consideration. In Phila­delphia in 1838, there were two political parties rather evenly matched. The ability for each to win seemed to rest on a group of free Blacks which held the balance of power. Whoever received their votes won the election. These were hard times and these Blacks held the key. This, I believe, was the cause of the riot and the fire. Later the state legisla­ture passed a law disenfran­chising the Blacks from voting. I am not a historian nor a Quaker, as was my grandfa­ther, but sometimes the truth about a subject tends to be­come distorted through the years. In any case, yours is a great magazine!

H.C. Randolph
Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

According to several contemporary accounts and eyewitness reports of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, fifteen thousand spectators did throng to the scene of the raging inferno. Many of these first hand accounts were published shortly after the incident. For detailed discussions of this controversial period of the abolitionist move­ment in Pennsylvania, readers are encouraged to refer to the bibliog­raphy accompanying this article.


Original and Genu­ine

I have just read the winter 1989 edition of Pennsylvania Heri­tage; it certainly is a terrific magazine. I read with much interest the article by Linda Kowall, “Original and Genu­ine, Unadulterated and Guar­anteed!” I have one question concerning the photograph of John Wanamaker seated at his desk. The man leaning over him bears a striking resem­blance to William Jennings Bryan, the democratic presi­dential candidate of 1896, 1900 and 1908. Is there any way of finding out if it is Bryan? I am seventeen years old and collect political memorabilia. I pride myself on the accurate identifi­cation of all the candidates in what Harry S. Truman called the nation’s “every four year spasm.” Thank you for your time, cooperation and your great magazine.

Gregory A. Wynn
Carlisle, Pa.

In Linda Kowall’s article, “Original and Genuine, Un­adulterated and Guaranteed!,” there appears a photograph of John Wanamaker receiving a visitor in his store office. Is not Wanamaker’s unidentified guest William Jennings Bryan, the “Cross of Gold” orator, three-time unsuccessful presi­dential candidate, former Secretary of State and, later, prosecutor in the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial”? It would be interesting to know more about the relationship of Pennsylvania’s “Merchant Prince” and Nebraska’s “Great Commoner.”

John T. Bradley
Lancaster, Pa.

Despite his duties as department store titan, John Wanamaker befriended heads of state, presi­dents and prominent individuals during his lifetime. He served as United States Postmaster General for several years and advocated Rural Free Delivery. As an influ­ential individual, he carried on correspondence and conducted meetings with leading personali­ties of the day. Yes, the unidenti­fied visitor in the photograph is none other than William Jennings Bryan!