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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hervararkviða, or the Incantation of Hervor

Sea Tangle: Songs from the North

You might find this difficult to believe, but I am primarily a composer and not an amateur historian or archaeologist or theater builder/owner or whatever. To prove it, this year I wrote some music? Actually quite a lot of music, if I put it all together, although I am still way behind in my goals, because I will never be good enough and yes I do hate myself for it although I am trying to work on unrealistic expectations of myself in therapy thank you.

One of these pieces is being officially birthed into the world today (that is, Wednesday, December 21, 2016)! And if you are in the Philadelphia area, you are welcome to come witness its emergence in person, which will be beautiful and non-bloody and not at all like a real human birth. This piece was conceived way back in January, when I was approached by dreamy mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano, she of the gorgeous silver curls and even prettier velvety silver voice, whom I knew through her work at Opera Philadelphia (we performed together in ANDY: A Popera),  Choral Arts Philadelphia (I wrote O Oriens for them last Christmas), and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Murder and Mayhem in the Messuages Next Door

If a property has been around for long enough, someone is going to die on it. Given enough human habitation, the chances that someone has been murdered on the premises are pretty decent, because humans are shitty creatures that murder each other a lot. Some locations, though, seem to attract violent crime more than others. While I was researching the history of 103 Callowhill Street (a.k.a. 21 Callowhill Street before the Ordinance of 1856), I noticed something odd: in the Philadelphia newspapers of the late 19th Century, there was a disproportionate number of mentions of the houses next door, 105 Callowhill Street and 400 Front Street (the corner of Front and Callowhill Streets). As it turns out, during this period my poor building was sandwiched between a flophouse and a saloon in one of the worst parts of Philadelphia.

As an aficionado of true crime since puberty, I want to bookend this history with two contemporary Philadelphia-related incidents which became media sensations, one that you probably haven't heard of and one that you probably have (or at least, will probably hear of soon). Public fascination with murder and true crime was really coming into its own in America around this time.

Engraving of Antoine Probst, from The Life, Confession and Atrocious Crimes of Antoine Probst

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Benjamin Mifflin, shady-ass property developer

I have more things to blog about than I have time to blog, but here's a quick hilarious thing.

If you have been following closely my research into 103 Callowhill Street and you have a very good memory, you might recall that in my first history post, I wondered if the original deed contained a measurement error. In 1745, the width of the property was listed as 20 feet, but in all subsequent deeds, the property is described as 16 feet wide. Why? After hunting down early deeds for the lot next to ours, I finally have an answer!

Benjamin Mifflin's original four lots on the north side of Callowhill Street, 1745.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Construction at the Hannah, and a pipkin



The Hannah Callowhill Stage is currently a roofless construction site that cannot be described as a building, let along a theater, without some intense and stubborn imagination. Things are going swimmingly, though, and I don't necessarily mean because a recent deluge left a pond-sized puddle of water in the middle of the janky slab.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

History of the Hannah: Cyberstalking Daniel Williams, Part 3 of 3

Slavery


Click here for Part 1 of Daniel Williams's story.

Click here for Part 2 of Daniel Williams's story.

Before we take up Daniel's story again, a brief photographic interlude! Back in Part 1, I mentioned the Schuylkill Fishing Company, an exclusive men's social club (drunken pseudo-Masonic frat) which Daniel Williams was a member of from at least 1760. According to their wiki page, they erected a monument on the banks of the Schuylkill River in 1947, so on a whim, Matt and I stopped on the way home and found it. Spoiler: from the road, it kind of looks like an electrical junction box, to be honest. And the elements have not been kind to the engraving, which reads:

Friday, August 26, 2016

History of the Hannah: Cyberstalking Daniel Williams, Part 2 of 3

The Revolutionary War


Click here for Part 1 of Daniel Williams's story.

When we left off, Daniel Williams was a successful merchant who bought 103 Callowhill Street on March 6, 1770. For the next part of the story, in which I look at Daniel and his family's lives during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), I first want to backtrack slightly.

Daniel and his family were Quakers, and the Revolutionary War posed a problem for Quakerism because one of the major tenets of the religion is strict pacifism. Quakers could be kicked out of the society, aka disunited, aka disowned, aka "read out" during Monthly Meeting, for engaging in any kind of conflict or warlike training or even just for carrying a weapon; their philosophy was that any and all violence is wrong, even for the purpose of self defense.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

History of the Hannah: Cyberstalking Daniel Williams, Part 1 of 3

Since pulling a bunch of artifacts out of an 18th-Century privy, I have unsurprisingly thrown myself into expanding the scope and detail of my initial historical investigation of 103 Callowhill Street. Back then, all I could find to cover the period between Benjamin Mifflin's 1745 deed and 1872 was a single notice for a sheriff's sale in 1770. WELL NO LONGER. An advertisement Matt found in a 19th century newspaper gave me another name which I was able to use as a key to unlock the missing deeds and information. Behold, the very-nearly-almost-complete provenance of 103 Callowhill Street!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Artifacts from the Hannah Callowhill Stage


In my previous blog post, I mentioned the presence of large holes for structural elements that were being dug around the perimeter of the inside of the building. What I didn't mention is that while I was there that day, I found the base of an old wine bottle sitting half-buried in a pile of dirt:
Photo on left taken on-site, photo on right taken at home after cleaning
This excellent site on dating old bottles informed me that since there are pontil scars on the bottom and no side seams, the bottle was hand-blown and therefore definitely pre-Civil-War, ooh! A few hours later, Matt also stopped by the construction site after work, combed through some of the soil with his hands and discovered pottery sherds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Hannah Callowhill Stage: Loan acquired! Construction begins!

Have you ever seriously said the words "I am going to spend about half a million dollars"?
Who am I. What is this life.
I had not, until I bought a theater. These are words that strike terror, and a good dose of imposter syndrome and existential anxiety, into my cheap little DIY artist heart.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Contacted by a Brisbanite with ancestral ties to 103 Callowhill Street

I have some construction news about the Hannah Callowhill Stage, and it's good! But I don't want to tell you about it until after Friday, when (hopefully, if even mentioning it doesn't jinx me) the deal will be closed.

In the meantime, for all the lovers of historical minutiae out there, let me tell you with inhumanly wide eyes about an e-mail I got from a stranger named Lyndon Garbutt a few weeks ago. I'm reprinting it with permission here:
Hi Melissa

I thought I’d reach out to you, as I stumbled across your website/facebook post on the history of the Callowhill Stage building you are renovating and thought you may be interested in some further information.

To explain this random email - ironically I am researching the history of my own property in your home town, Brisbane.  My apartment was used by Madame Lotte Lehmann as her residence during her 1939 season at Brisbane City Hall.  I had googled ‘Lotte Lehmann’ ‘Brisbane’ and due to you having won an award and coming from Brisbane you were one of the hits.  It sparked my interest as I it looked out of place and I wanted to work out why.  I then noticed you were in Philadelphia and my ancestors were some of the original Quakers who settled there with William Penn.