Blue historical marker plaques are all over Philly. They’re so ubiquitous that the last time you passed one, you probably didn’t pay attention to what it said. How many are there? Since the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission took control of the program in 1946, the agency has put up about 2,000 markers around the state.
In the city proper, there are about 300. And boy are some of them peculiar. Here’s a dozen that caught our eye:
Hershey’s First Candy Store
Wouldn’t it be strange to have Hershey Park across from Union Transfer? It almost happened. Milton Hershey’s first candy store opened at Ninth and Spring Garden streets in 1876. Despite initial success, the store didn’t do very well, so Hershey moved on, heading west across the state.
David Salisbury Franks
This Revolutionary era man did not have much luck. A Philly native who had moved to Canada, he was accused of colluding with Gen. Benedict Arnold, but then acquitted. Less than a decade later, he died during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 that killed about 5,000 Philadelphians. His marker can be found on 5th and Arch streets right by the Christ Church Burial Ground.
Girl Scout Cookies
Way to go Philly for realizing that people will always fall victim to buying a $5 box of sweets. On Nov. 11, 1932 the local Girl Scout chapter sold cookies out of the windows of Philadelphia Gas & Electric Co. at Broad and Arch streets. Four years later the national organization adopted the idea.
Funded and built by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society, and other abolitionist groups in the area, this hall stood only for three days after being completed when anti-abolitionists disrupted a meeting and set fire to the $40,000 building. The marker is located at Sixth and Race streets, at the site where the structure burned to the ground.
This prison, opened in 1835, was home to one of America’s first known serial killers, H. H. Holmes. When Holmes was hanged his neck didn’t snap, and he wriggled around for about 20 minutes before being pronounced dead. The site, at the intersection of Passyunk Avenue and Reed Street, is now home to an Acme.
America’s First Lager
John Wagner, a brewmaster from Bavaria, did beer-drinking Philadelphians a favor by bringing lager yeast to Philly in 1840. (All previous beer here had been made using ale yeast.) Wagner brewed America’s first lager — clean and crisp, compared to ale — at his home in Northern Liberties at the corner of Poplar and American streets.
Having a door that opens right on the sidewalk seems normal now, but it wasn’t always. The country’s oldest residential street, Elfreth’s Alley, is in Old City, and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Its 18th-century homes just off Second Street, once inhabited by artisans, are still lived in by families, and look to continue to be for many years to come.
First Republican National Convention
The Republican Party, at the time known as the Party of Lincoln, held its first national convention in the Musical Fund Hall at Eighth and Locust streets. The party was against the extension of slavery, and they nominated John C. Fremont as their candidate for US President. But he lost the election to Democrat James Buchanan, who went on to be what’s considered one of the worst presidents in history (to date).
William Penn promoted religious freedom for new settlers coming to Pennsylvania. This “Holy Experiment” attracted German hermits, led by Johannes Kelpius, who sailed across the ocean, landed in Philadelphia and lived in a section of Fairmount Park. They wrote poetry and music while waiting for the Second Coming of Christ to end society.
Thomas A. Edison High School’s Vietnam War
The marker at Eighth Street and Lehigh Avenue was placed for the 64 Edison High School alumni who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. The school had more former students killed in the war than any other in the country. Most were drafted into the army, but some went voluntarily. The high school, located at Front and Luzerne streets, honors its former students’ sacrifice every year.
Arch Street Meeting House
In 1804, this Quaker meetinghouse was built on the same site as a burial ground. William Penn, who owned the land, allowed the Religious Society of Friends to bury their fellow Quakers, townspeople and Native Americans there. The meetinghouse at Third and Arch is still used today, but no one has been buried in its grounds since the late 1800s.
During the Cold War, the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a deep-sea drillship, was used as part of a secret CIA plan to recover Soviet intelligence. Its mission was to recover a sunken USSR submarine in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, and it was successful, recovering parts of the sub and six Soviet bodies, which were later buried. The marker can be found at the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing.