| when the cadaverous mob saves its doors for the dead men you cannot leave
||[Aug. 13th, 2010|09:25 pm]
Of course my train home is 2 hours late, because Amtrak hates me. So here I am, sat in 30th Street Station unable to really form a rational thought because all weekend all I’ve been doing is thinking. Which would be great if it didn’t mean thinking as if I had sprung fully formed from the early 19th century—as in I feel compelled to use words like “daresay” and a lot of useless adverbs.
Anyhow this seems a good opportunity for me to record my thoughts on this rather impressive half a week here in Philadelphia, since I’m not otherwise usefully employed. For the first time in quite some time. I meant to do it last night, and the night before, but well we see how that turned out. Again, all that thinking. I'm not made for it, you know.
So the general idea on Wednesday was just to get here and get to it. Of course my train was late, but not so very, so I got here around 11, checked in, got sorted out, and still had some extra time. I took a cab to Society Hill, thinking I could see Dr. Philip Syng Physick’s house. (He was the professor of anatomy at the time at UPENN—also had a big fucking house in the necessary neighborhood, had just gone through a messy divorce of note, and invented soda. As a medicine, but Aldo was still fairly impressed.) Alas the house was not open, so I just roamed Society Hill and picked out a few likely houses, gauged the nearness of Physick house and Powel house, etc.
And so a little later than initially planned I made it to the Pennsylvania Historical Society. I’m glad I went here first, because they were the toughest—very intense about what you could and could not take in and out, made you pay for a locker to store the contraband, all that sort of thing. But I met their requirements somehow and got a nice librarian to explain to me how to get them to bring me the goods. I had already printed out call numbers and that sort of thing, so I sent them off in search of the personal effects of various persons of whom I had never heard before. Mostly Julia Rush Williams (daughter of Dr. Benjamin Rush, who would’ve been not long dead, being of half a generation before Dr. Appleby himself, and the most famous doctor in America at the time. So she would've been raised in a similar, but far more limelight-ish household) and Gertrude Gouverner Ogden Meredith. The former would be maybe 5 years older than Becca, but married and turning out babies already. The latter was older, but only by 10-15 years; also married and well into the babymaking process. I liked her letters the best because she was a writer and completely hilarious. I liked her sons’ letters too—there were more from William Morris Meredith, who was a state Rep for PA, but I liked Samuel’s better. He was younger, at school in New York, and insisted that he couldn’t possibly have written his mother as much as she liked last week because he had a cold that was so bad he was about “to go and hang myself!”
Anyhow I played historical voyeur from about 1pm to 7.30pm, which got me plenty of interesting phrases to use ala Heyer-research, and then toddled off for some overpriced wine and an excellent dinner. (What I saved on the inexpensive hotel, I generally spent on dinner. I’m okay with that.)
The next day to the Mutter museum—or rather their library. The librarian there was particularly helpful, and they didn’t care what I took in or out. What I learned about Bec and Hannah the day before I learned about Tom, Francis, and Paul there. (Though admittedly, Samuel Meredith‘s letters were VERY Paul. Obviously.) I was handed actual notebooks purchased at Front Street stationers (hey, now I know where they got their school supplies!) and scribbled in by these would-be physicians: lectures in anatomy by Dr. Physick, material medica, chemistry, surgery, etc. (Most of these notes were from winter terms on either end of '26, but I'm okay with that. I still say this book should happen in the spring/summer just so I can end it on Jul 4 1826. It's just that cool.) I now know all kinds of fascinating Latin terms that no doctor would ever use today—and some that they would! I also know precisely what Dart would’ve done for Tom’s bullet wound and what Tom would’ve done for Paul’s face. (Also spotted the occasional bored/distracted doodle, which was in its way even more awesome.)
Incidentally, it’s no wonder the mortality rate was so high. God, Lister could’ve come a bit sooner, couldn’t he?
Sadly my body sabotaged me about four notebooks in—which was okay since I only had one more I was thinking of looking at anyhow, and the cheerful librarian was nowhere to be found for the last hour even if I had wanted it. I ran downstairs to see the museum for an hour, then fucked off at closing time for the library with a head full of disturbing and fascinating medical anomalies. I ate at the typical chain restaurant Ruby Tuesdays, indulging in the veggie burger and, in much greater quantities, the restorative Jack and Coke.
By then you might imagine my back was fucking killing me, hauling my shit around Philadelphia for a few days like that. Granted, there’s pretty much nowhere in Philadelphia that takes more than 10 minutes to reach—at least so long as you’re in the city proper—but it’s still a pain in the ass when your back sucks like mine. Never mind that, there is research to be done! But my point is that that’s not quite the body issue I was having (if you’ll take my not so subtle hint) and so I spent the evening after that with a little paper cone of Godiva chocolate covered strawberries, crap decaf hotel coffee, and the History Channel. Then I curled up in a ball and, thankfully, slept the worst of the pain off.
Yes I felt better in the morning, I’m glad to say! So I got up and had the morning Luna Bar and hotel coffee, then made my way to the Library Company. The librarian there was a sweet middle-aged woman who helpfully did as her emails had promised and showed me how to find the exact newspapers I needed. I spent the morning flipping through the National Gazette and Literary Review for March-July 1826, snapping photos of interesting ads, notices, and happenings about town, happy in the knowledge that I now knew precisely what Paul was carrying tucked under his little arm all day, Becca and Hannah were fighting him for, and Tom was mocking heartlessly. Major topics of interest were Mr. Jefferson’s financial difficulties, the theater (naturally—hell now I actually know what was going on in it!), random ass foreign politics (particular interest in the English and French, but also stretching to the oddly far eastern), sensational murders, fires, &c., the stock market, the exhibition at the Institute of Fine Arts, and whether or not Genl. Jackson the dubious Hero of New Orleans might be a candidate for President in the next election. (Spoiler alert: he was.) Even found an advert for a newly minted copy of The Federalist and a lot of discussion of a duel between Calhoun and Randolph that was all very condemning and generally delicious.
Anyhow, I took lots and lots of reference pictures of it, so here’s hoping my camera loves me when I get home. I can hardly believe I remembered to bring the thing, it was so fucking useful. Knock on wood.
Today was also different, though. This day, I decided to eat lunch. For the past two days I had just been sneaking out for ten minutes, a bottle of water, and a pack of crackers. But today I retraced my steps to Society Hill (the Library Co. being just next to HSP, and therefore in familiar territory) and stopped at a Jimmy Johns for a cheese and mustard on the way. I swallowed it whole en route and returned to Physick House, where I took a tour with a strange and motley crew of other visitors and voyeurs (a middle aged man and his old ass, chatty, amateur historian father + a very probably gay couple, who snerked with me a lot). Most useful, and I hopped a cab back so as not to make the whole adventure last much more than an hour.
(I found out that Raphael Peale was buried nearby and wanted to go and pay my respects, like Paul would've wanted. Oh well, next time!)
Then I finished up with The Aurora and Franklin or whatever it was called—the decidedly more democratic flavored Philadelphia paper, but I only made it through the spring. I needed to look at the Philadelphia Visitor’s Guide and Directory for 1825 (1826 was not available, but I think I’ll survive), which pretty well answered my remaining questions.
I left a good 20 minutes before the sweet little librarian would’ve had to throw me out on my ass, repaired to the nearest Italian bistro for a well-timed martini. I also ate half of about everything I ordered (pasta primavera should probably not be swimming in butter, because that is gross; that said, the house wine was all right, and the crème brulee rather good).
And then I went off to pick up the bags, which the hotel had been so good as to watch for me all day, caught a cab, and here I sit. Well, I did have to remind Balaji to buy Interpol tickets, as they went on general sale this morning, but that’s about all the excitement after entering 30th Street Station. Certainly nothing like a train arriving. Not one going south, anyhow.
In short (see, I almost wanted to say “In fine”—it’s happening again, goddammit!!) it was a useful, worthwhile, and excellent research trip. I hope to god my pictures worked. I took a lot of notes by hand in the HSP and I transcribed a lot of the most important pages (the anatomy lectures in particular) at the Mutter. But it wasn’t at all useful to do that today with the tiny little newspaper articles and—yeah. Lots of the letters just need to be seen in situ—no that’s not the phrase I want, goddammit I’m turning into Bertie Wooster misusing this Latin bullshit. It's one of the few we art historians know, though. Anyhow, you know what I mean. Even if the camera busts somehow it will have been worthwhile. If it doesn’t, it will have been incredible value for the dollar.
And now it says it's 2hrs 15 minutes late. I think I need another drink, the last 3 are really wearing off. Also, this bench is like a church pew. Which is uncomfortable, though probably not for the reasons my mother would hope.