Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Philadelphia, A Running Commentary
A series of observations in and around Philadelphia by notables over the last three and one-half centuries.

Mark Twain Sees Philadelphia in 1853

Mark Twain

In 1853 Mark Twain, then a 17 year-old vagabond, made his first visit to Philadelphia. To support himself, he worked several months for the Philadelphia Inquirer as a typesetter, a fact that makes the present newspaper very proud. His comments (which differ strikingly from the sour views of his later Connecticut Yankee days) follow:

"The old State House in Chestnut Street, is an object of great interest to the stranger; and though it has often been repaired, the old model and appearance are still preserved. It is a substantial brick edifice, and its original cost was L5,600 ($28,000). In the east room of the first story the mighty Declaration of Independence was passed by Congress, July 4th, 1776.

Philadelphia's Independence Hall

"When a stranger enters this room for the first time, an unaccountable feeling of awe and reverence comes over him, and every memento of the past his eye rests upon whispers that he is treading upon sacred ground. Yes, everything in that old hall reminds him that he stands where mighty men have stood; he gazes around him, almost expecting to see a Franklin or an Adams rise before him. In this room is to be seen the old "Independence Bell", which called the people together to hear the Declaration read, and also a rude bench, on which Washington, Franklin, and Bishop White

"It is hard to get tired of Philadelphia , for amusements are not scarce. We have what is called a 'free-and-easy,' at the saloons on Saturday nights. At a free and easy, a chairman is appointed, who calls on any of the assembled company for a song or a recitation, and as there are plenty of singers and spouters, one may laugh himself to fits at a very small expense. Ole Bull, Jullien and Sontag have flourished and gone, and left the two fat women, one weighing 764, and the other 769 pounds, to "astonish the natives." I stepped in to see one of these the other evening and was disappointed. She is a pretty extensive piece of meat, but not much to brag about; however, I suppose she would bring a fair price in the Cannibal Islands. She is a married woman! If I were her husband, I think I could yield with becoming fortitude to the dispensations of Providence, if He, in his infinite goodness, should see fit to take her away! With this human being of the elephant species, there is also a "Swiss Warbler"--Bah! I earnestly hope he may live to see his native land for the first time."

Originally published: Thursday, January 28, 1993; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 23, 2019