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A decade ago, Cameron Jones knew almost nothing about Philadelphia. The 30-year-old writer and artist grew up in D.C., then spent his teen years in Tampa. As an adult, he wanted to move back north. While researching his options, he fell in love with Philly.
“The more I found out about the history and the culture and the sheer number of very strange things that happen here, the more I wanted to live here,” Jones told Billy Penn.
Thanks to “intense” online research and conversations on social media, he knew a ton about Philly even before moving here five years ago. On top of all the classical history, he dove into the esoterica, the quirks that make residents nod in agreement when someone calls it the “city of implausible sounding things.”
When Jones poured all that cultural knowledge into a meme this month, it quickly went viral.
The idea to create it came when he saw a version of the graphic for Rochester, New York. “Before then I’d seen it for things like video games,” he said, “but that made me realize, ‘Oh you can do this for a city, too.'”
So the Philly iceberg was born.
Refined with suggestions from social media, Jones’ masterwork holds more than a hundred items connected to Philadelphia. The obvious things are listed at the top, the tip of the iceberg. As you travel down the layers, references get more and more obscure.
Do you know them all? Don’t worry, we got you. Scroll down for a tip sheet you can peruse. Consider this a crash course in all things Philadelphia.
Gritty: The Flyers’ ridiculous, loveable mascot who becomes an international sensation at least once a quarter and was once accused of punching a kid. Perhaps the only thing that still holds a place in Philly’s heart even after global adoption, because what’s better than a monster that represents professional sports also being an icon of freedom and anarchy?
Yo, Youse, Jawn: Philly colloquialisms that were once only used by certain groups or communities within the region and have since been popularized (“Yo, Adrian!”) or otherwise commercialized.
Wing Bowl: The most storied event in the city’s recent history might be this bizarre, gluttonous, sauce-filled eating competition. Founded by two radio hosts, it reached cult hater status (BuzzFeed wrote a whole feature on it) just before organizers pulled the plug after the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
2018 Super Bowl: 41-33. That is all.
Chezstake: A perfectly greasy sandwich with frizzled beef, melted cheese, and sometimes onions. Ever heard of it?
Flipadelphia 2020: Based on an “Always Sunny” game, the credit Philly gets for helping flipping Pennsylvania from red to blue in the 2020 presidential election, when the city felt like the center of the universe.
Anything Ben Franklin: First library, first hospital, first fire department, helping lay the groundwork of modern democracy — yeah, the dude can be credited with a lot, and he did it right here. He was also always chasing after women, and no, he didn’t “discover” electricity.
Concrete Cowboys & Wheelie Kids: Even more well-known now that there’s an Idris Elba movie, the city’s famed urban equestrians ride their horses from Broad Street to 52nd, from Fairmount Park to national polo championships, from Chestnut Hill to City Hall. On the wheeled vehicle side, you can also catch groups of kids taking up entire streets riding bicycles and doing tricks.
Betsy Ross House, Jefferson House, Liberty Bell, Independence Hall: Standard Old City landmarks filled to the brim with the earliest histories of the United States. Breathe in and take a whiff of what people thought was the path to liberty and justice for all.
Art Museum Steps: More famous than the artwork in the building behind them, the Rocky Steps are used daily by hundreds of people, sometimes for exercise, sometimes just to relax. And when it snows, the steps make a perfect sledding spot (even though it’s not actually allowed).
LOVE Park: Once famous for its design as an inadvertent skatepark, recently redesigned to be flatter, the public space across from City Hall is formally called JFK Plaza. But everyone knows it for its namesake sculpture by Robert Indiana, which debuted there 1976 Bicentennial.
Rocky Statue: The statue featuring a fictional boxer might be tied with the Liberty Bell for most visited monument in the city. On any given day, you can find a line of tourists vying for a photo.
Mumia: Mumia Abu-Jamal is a 66-year-old journalist (formerly with WHYY), activist and political prisoner who was convicted in the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer. Abu Jamal and his supporters continue to claim his innocence and insist the officer was struck by someone else during the 1981 incident.
Billy Penn curse: Not us! For decades, there was an unspoken agreement not to build any towers higher than the top of William Penn statue on City Hall. In 1987, Liberty Place broke the rule — and Philly sports teams subsequently started a drought of no championships that lasted all the way through the Phillies World Series win in 2008… just after someone installed a mini statue on the then-under-construction Comcast Center tower. Hmmmm.
Mütter Museum: A Center City medical museum filled to the brim with weird artifacts (skulls, brains, other body parts) and #tbt healthcare-related supplies. It hosted a “Spit Spreads Death” parade to bring awareness to the 100 year anniversary of the 1918 flu epidemic, so that’s the vibe.
Shofuso House: A Japanese cultural center, garden, and traditional tea house inside of Fairmount Park with lovely views of cherry blossoms thanks to a gift from the country of Japan in 1926. The grove started with 1,600 trees and has since grown.
Frank Rizzo: The unapologetically gruff and unabashedly racist former mayor and police commissioner who’s been adopted as a hero for local Italian Americans and is known for violent tactics during Black Panther-era Philadelphia. His statue in front of MSB became a flashpoint, and was frequently desecrated before the city removed it in the dead of night.
Hebrew Israelites: Also known as the Black Hebrew Israelites, they’re a religious group who believe Africans and their descendants are the “real” Hebrews. Some members of the group make their sentiments known via boisterous street preaching sprinkled with anti-white attitudes.
First post office, museum, hospital, uni, zoo, etc.: City of firsts, baby. The birthplace of the nation, obviously, and that’s not all. Philadelphia Zoo? First in the USA. Pennsylvania Hospital? First. However, though there are plenty of true firsts (Computer! Cupcakes! Art school!), things get blurry fast. Ben Franklin was the first congressionally recognized postmaster general, but Boston had the first post office. Philly didn’t have the first museum (the Charleston Museum wins this one) or the first university (that’s Harvard). But you get the idea.
Hitchbot: Some Canadian inventors created a hitchhiking robot that traveled the country alone in a test of human kindness and togetherness. Until it got to Philly, where we murdered it.
SS United States: Built 70 years ago as the largest ocean liner constructed in the United States, it was the fastest to cross the Atlantic — in its day, it could move faster in reverse than the Titanic could going forward — and is now docked in Philly, rusting next to Pier 82 as plans to turn it into a museum come and go.
Wooder ice: Originally introduced by Italian immigrants trying to recreate granita, this summertime treat isn’t really found anywhere else. It’s thicker than a slushie, wetter than shave ice, and softer than the “Italian ice” sold in other cities.
Eastern State Pen: Once a prison that pioneered solitary confinement and held notorious gangsters, now a museum and criminal justice cultural center known for its night tours and a former Halloween attraction.
Mural Arts Project: Created as a diversionary program for graffiti artists in the ’80s, the initiative has evolved and is now responsible for maintaining thousands of murals, employing hundreds of artists and residents each year.
Philadelphia Experiment: The 1984 science fiction film by this name features two sailors who are trying to figure out how to make their ship invisible to radar. It’s very loosely based on the actual Philadelphia Experiment, when the U.S. Navy supposedly figured out invisibility in 1943. Pretty much universally understood to be a hoax.
Gravy SEALs: Name for a bunch of self-proclaimed Italian Americans from South Philly got in formation to protect a suddenly beloved statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza from protesters.
MOVE bombing: That time the City of Philadelphia dropped a bomb on itself. MOVE is a revolutionary Black rights organization created in the early 70s, whose members all adopt the last name Africa. The group continues to operate. In 1985, Philadelphia officials infamously made a call to bomb the rowhome where MOVE women, men and children lived after a standoff with police, killing 11 people, including five children.
Mummers blackface controversy: You’d think this was a historical reference, but it’s something that continues to happen every year. The 120-year-old New Year’s Day parade has made strides to be more progressive, but the tradition is rooted in racism, and it springs up annually despite attempts to tamp it down.
You’re a fan
Boner 4Ever: Two separate taggers are responsible for the iconic graffiti on the side of an Art Deco skyscraper at Broad and Erie in North Philadelphia. Developers renovating the building said they intend to showcase the scrawl somehow.
Elmo: The lead character of several Philly drumlines, popularized by Tony “Tone” Royster and the Positive Movement Entertainment troupe
Eraserhood: Filmmaker David Lynch lived at 13th and Wood streets and was inspired by the Callowhill neighborhood when creating his horror movie “Eraserhead.”
Poe House: Edgar Allen Poe isn’t usually connected to Philadelphia, but he lived in several places here. Only one survives today, on North 7th Street near Spring Garden, now designated a national historic site.
Penn Christmas: The summer holiday that happens when fancy UPenn students move out of their temporary housing and leave furniture and other valuables on the sidewalk. Happy trash picking!
Johnny Doc: Officially, John J. Dougherty is business manager for the IBEW Local 98 electricians union and the entire building trades council. Unofficially, the labor boss is a major power player in almost everything related to politics in Philly — and plenty that’s not. Oh, he’s also twice-indicted on federal corruption charges, awaiting trial in both cases.
Bartram’s Garden: A horticultural oasis and nonprofit organization in Southwest Philly on the site of the country’s first botanical garden.
Flash mob fights: Throughout the 2010s, groups of a couple hundred children and teens would gather at night and sometimes clash with other pedestrians, police and businesses. Years later, some feel the narrative around flash mobs was racially biased and overblown.
I-95 tire fire: Two decades ago, 10,000 tires caught fire in Port Richmond and melted part of the highway. The blaze burned for five hours, sent up smoke plumes visible for 30 miles, and reached eight alarms before 180 firefighters brought it under control.
Vent Guy: This man who became a meme because he was often spotted standing over street vents in Center City and letting the air puff his clothes out to comical extent. Apparently he’s a street evangelist.
Delaware Generating Station: A massive Philly power station on the Delaware River in Fishtown. It hasn’t actually supplied electricity since 1960 — but has since become a sort of public monument, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
1918 flu pandemic: Philadelphia was the hardest hit city in the U.S. during the 1918 flu pandemic after it decided to hold a war bonds parade that drew 200k people. About 12k people got sick and died as a result.
ODB McDonald’s: That time in November 2000 when police found Wu-Tang Clan member Russell Jones, aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard, at the McDonald’s at 29th and Grays Ferry. Jones had previously escaped a drug rehabilitation center in California after violating probation.
One Meridian Plaza: A 1991 fire so intense it basically destroyed a Center City skyscraper and caused more than a dozen deaths. It also sparked major reforms in building regulations, like requiring stairwell level number signs, and having sprinklers on every floor.
Zagar mosaics: Glinting murals by artist Isaiah Zagar that proliferate around South Philly and are centered at the Magic Gardens.
1964 race riots: After a community in North Philadelphia believed police assaulted or perhaps killed a pregnant Black woman, it sparked days of riots starting at the end of August. Police had actually only scuffled with a Black couple in the neighborhood.
Veterans Stadium Courtroom: Eagles fans were so out of control, the team’s former stadium hosted an onsite jail and courtroom.
Furnace Party: An elderly man circulated a cryptic letter in Brewerytown that compared the human body to a furnace and brought hundreds of local residents to an outdoor party at an empty lot on the corner of 27th and Girard.
Chicken Man assassination: Philly mob boss Philip Carlos Testa was known as the Chicken Man because he was involved in the poultry business, and because his face was scarred by a bad case of chicken pox. He was killed in 1981 by a nail bomb left under his front porch.
Wanamaker organ: The world’s largest concert organ inside the former Wanamaker’s department store. now the Center City Macy’s. It plays twice a day Monday through Saturday, and during some special concerts like the famous holiday light show.
Roosevelt Blvd. subway line: For more than a century there were talks and plans about putting a multi-billion dollar elevated subway line out on Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philly. Didn’t happen.
You’ve gone to Philly parties
Toynbee tiles: These colorful mosaic tiles inscribed with cryptic messages have been found fused into the street in a handful of major American cities since the 1980s. They were first discovered in Philly.
Octavius Catto: Catto was an educator, intellectual and Black rights activist in the 1800s who was shot and killed by Irish anti-reconstruction Democrats when he tried to vote in 1871. When his statue was unveiled outside City Hall in 2017, it was the city’s first public monument to an African American.
Coltrane House: Renowned jazz musician John Coltrane lived and created at a home in Strawberry Mansion. It’s designated a National Historic Landmark, but is still at risk because of the conditions of the properties around it.
Joe Frazier statue: An homage to non-fictional boxing hero Smokin’ Joe Frazier, erected posthumously outside Xfinity Live at the stadium complex more than four decades after he won the heavyweight championship.
Father Divine: Father Divine was a spiritual leader, sometimes called a cultist, who claimed to be God. He facilitated a multiracial movement, and acquired and renamed the Divine Lorraine Hotel building in 1948.
2300 Arena: A multipurpose South Philly event space often used for boxing, wrestling, coneerts, MMA fights…and in the parking lot, sometimes other fights.
Graffiti Pier: Philly’s most-Instagrammed site, adorned with street art as far as the eye can see, is technically private property but will soon become a public park.
Bones under Washington Square: Like many Philadelphia public spaces, Washington Square was once a potter’s field (aka a burial ground for poor people). In the 1700s it was used for fishing and animal grazing. Then it became a public gathering place for free and enslaved Africans, and a burial ground for that population, especially during the 1793 yellow fever pandemic.
Philly Jesus: Real name Michael Grant, a man who dresses like Jesus to spread the gospel. He’s an avowed hater of homosexuality, and has had a few run-ins with the law, most recently when he was arrested while evangelizing in a public park. He’s suing the city.
Mother Bethel AME: The first and oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the country, founded in 1794 by Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and others in response to discrimination at white churches.
Columbus Blvd. will always be Delaware Ave.: In 1992, the city changed the name of the southern part of Delaware Avenue, turning it into Christopher Columbus Boulevard. It’s super confusing when it comes to directions/navigate, and mostly no one (except Google Maps) uses the new name.
Penn statue jerkin’ it: It’s his hand being held at a 90 degree angle for, like, a handshake, people! Seek help.
Point Breeze Keith Haring mural: The American pop artist added his touch to the city in 1987, painting the “We The Youth” mural at 22nd and Ellsworth.
MOVE is still around: The revolutionary organization continues to operate and advocate for a number of human rights and Black civil rights issues, including the release of Mumia Abu Jamal.
Frank Furness: Famed local architect known for his work on hundreds of buildings, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Zoo gatehouses, Centennial National Bank on Drexel’s campus, many rowhomes in Center City, and several other structures.
Original Thinker sculpture: The most valuable ones were either made by artist Auguste Rodin before his death and or cast as limited edition copies afterward. None of them are what’s in front of Philly’s Rodin Museum.
Dumpster pool parties: Some neighbors in Kensington and Fishtown thought it’d be swell to rent one of those portable dumpsters to turn into an urban-friendly pool — until the city outlawed it.
Miracle on 13th St.: A street in South Philly lights up the night every holiday season with a coordinated display of sparkling Christmas light splendor.
You’ve done your research
1793 yellow fever pandemic: More of an epidemic, now that we have some perspective. About 10% of Philly’s population died from the mosquito-spread illness, and the city’s African American residents were called on to lead response efforts because experts believed Black people couldn’t contract yellow fever. (They were wrong.)
Bus to Nowhere: Local urban legend has it that among the 100+ SEPTA bus routes mapped through Philadelphia, there’s one bus with no destination. No route number. No passengers, and no stops. It’s the Bus to Nowhere.
Robeson House: The home of celebrated artist and actor turned activist Paul Robeson, now kept as a museum and cultural center by the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.
ENIAC: The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer was the world’s first general-purpose computer, created at UPenn in 1946.
Frankford Slasher: The serial killer who was active in Philly’s Frankford neighborhood in the ’80s. A Black man named Leonard Christopher was sentenced to life in prison for the nine killings — but it likely wasn’t even him, since bodies were still discovered after he was locked up.
Swiss Cheese Pervert: Christopher Pagano, a creep turned criminal who pleaded guilty to flashing and propositioning women while holding cheese slices.
Sigma Sound Studios: The music studio where iconic music production and writing duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff launched Philadelphia International Records and created the “Philly Sound” in the 60s and 70s.
School asbestos crisis: Most of Philly’s public school buildings were constructed before we knew how dangerous asbestos was. As recently as last year, the poison was still being discovered inside educational centers last year, and the school district is working to remediate the issue.
Cave of Kelpius: There’s this creepy cave built into the side of a hill in Fairmount Park with a stone frame entrance, marking what people think is the 17th century home of America’s first cult. Cool cool cool.
Lynnewood Hall: This abandoned Gilded Age mansion was once considered one of the finests pieces of real estate in the region. The owners were so rich that they boarded the maiden voyage of the Titanic, which… didn’t end well for them. Technically in Elkins Park.
Annual reminders: Philly’s LGBTQ community collabed with New York and D.C. in the ’60s to set up an annual picket line called the “Annual Reminder” to remind folks that they were denied rights guaranteed to everyone else.
Napoleon’s brother: The French leader’s older brother, Joseph, emigrated to Philly in 1815 and lived on 9th Street near Spruce. You can tour the house.
Sears Warehouse: In 1920, Sears opened a giant warehouse in Northeast Philly that employed 4,500 people. It was so big it had its own fire station! But the company waned in popularity, and by 1993 the warehouse was shuttered.
Eddie Savitz: A Philly businessman who was arrested in 1992 for paying hundreds of young boys for sex and souvenirs, like their socks, underwear… and excrement.
1842-45 race riots: There were a series of race riots in Philadelphia during the 1830s and 1840s between free African American residents and Irish Americans. Many were caused by Black people migrating into certain neighborhoods, and other small skirmishes. Later in the 1840s, the Nativist riots were a series of clashes between Irish Catholics and Protestants.
Byberry: An old psychiatric hospital located on both sides of Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philly’s Somerton neighborhood. Now regarded as a “clinical and management nightmare.”
Logan Triangle: Close to 1,000 rowhomes had to be demolished and 5,000 residents hurriedly evacuated from this North Philly neighborhood at the turn of the 21st century. Turns out the city had dumped so much coal ash in the nearby Wingohocking Creek that houses began to settle and the gas pipes ruptured and started to leak.
Seth Williams: The former Philly DA who served prison time for federal corruption charges but has since come home and was recently hired to lead the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives vocational program in Philadelphia.
Ira Einhorn: A hippie who spoke at Philly’s first Earth Day event in 1970 and is now mostly remembered for murdering his girlfriend, locking her in a steamer trunk in West Philly and fleeing to Europe. He died in 2020 of natural causes in a Pennsylvania prison.
Rosenbach Museum: A historic site spanning two Fitler Square rowhomes that contains rare books and manuscripts collected by Philip Rosenbach and his younger brother Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach.
H.H. Holmes hanging: One of America’s first well-known serial killers, who struck mostly in Chicago and likely killed more than 200 people, was hanged to death and buried in Philly in 1896.
Tiberino Museum: Painter Ellen Powell Tiberino was one of Philly’s most prominent artists in the 1980s. The art she created with her husband, Joseph, is still on display in their old Mantua home, which their son Raphael turned into a museum.
West Philly street dildos: Philadelphians living west of the Schuylkill have taken to hiding phallic objects all over the neighborhood and then posting them in neighborhood Facebook groups. It’s West Philly, baby.
First Legionnaires’ outbreak: The first known outbreak of this serious form of pneumonia was found in Philadelphia, among people who had attended an American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in 1976.
John Neumann’s body: Saint John Neumann’s actual body is on display in a shrine inside a church at 5th and Girard, with his face covered by a smooth, white mask meant to look like him.
Omar: Before he died in 2017, the man known as West Philly Omar was a fixture at 45th and Locust — sometimes drunk and shouting offensive things, other times known as selfless and kind.
1971 FBI burglary: Eight anti-war activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania with a crowbar and stole basically all the documents inside. They didn’t come forward until 2014.
Pepper pot soup: A thick stew with beef and veggies, made popular in the Philly area during the Revolutionary War. The broth recipe was likely brought to the region by enslaved Caribbean people.
Tombstones built into the Betsy Ross Bridge: When Temple University bought a former cemetery to develop the land, the university relocated about 26,000 tombstones — dumping them along the Delaware River to shore up the foundation of the soon-to-be-built Betsy Ross Bridge.
1737 Walking Treaty: Officially called the Walking Purchase. This is when Pennsylvania colonial authorities told Indigenous people they found a lost treaty that said they were entitled to all the land that a man could walk in about one and a half days. William Penn’s son found the fastest walker in town and swindled tribes out of about 1,200 square miles.
Reichstag was based on Memorial Hall: Philadelphia’s Memorial Hall, the main building of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, was a direct model for the Reichstag building opened in 1894 in Berlin.
Sun Ra House: A rowhome in Germantown where the jazz musician Sun Ra lived for about 50 years. It partially collapsed and is now undergoing major repairs.
Disney Hole: An indoor arcade and theme park that was supposed to come to fruition at 8th and Market in 1998 — but then the plans totally fell apart. In the center of a supposed shopping district, it remains a parking lot.
New Sweden: When Sweden was a great military power in the 1600s, it secured a bunch of land along the Delaware River in Philly and set up a colony inhabited by about 400 people.
Pennsylvania Hall burning: A mob set fire to the Old City building in 1838 because it had hosted an abolitionist meeting the day before.
You eat, sleep, and breathe Philly lore
Harriet Cole’s nervous system: Harriet Cole worked as a maid at Drexel’s College of Medicine. When she died at 35, she donated her body to science. A Drexel researcher used her body to perform the first nervous system dissection, which took five months.
Joseph Kallinger: Another notorious serial killer. Joseph Kallinger brought his 12-year-old son along with him on a killing spree through Philly, Baltimore and New Jersey.
Asimov House: Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote the popular novel “I, Robot” and the Foundation series, once lived in West Philly. Some have suggested his house should get a historical marker.
DuBrow’s furniture store shooting: Eight masked men performed a gruesome armed robbery at a South Street furniture store in 1971, shooting one employee to death, lighting another on fire and beating others.
Benjamin Lay: A Quaker who was one of the very first abolitionists, performing early anti-slavery work and staging protests in the 1700s.
America’s first automat: Automats were basically the precursor to fast food restaurants, and Horn & Hardart opened the original in Philly in 1902.
Dickens’ taxidermied pet raven is at the Free Library: Yup. The raven’s name is Grip, and it lives/sits in the rare book department.
Jim Stix: The Yorktown resident at the center of a complicated and absurd neighborhood feud that started when he lambasted a neighbor for having windchimes, allegedly chucked light bulbs at a neighbor’s porch, and was subsequently arrested.
“Sakimauchheen Ing”: The Lenape name given to the area now known as Fishtown, where it is believed that Pennsylvania founder WIlliam Penn signed a treaty with Tamanend of the Lenape Indigenous tribe. You might recognize the Anglicized version: Shackamaxon.
Kathy Change self-immolation: A persistent political activist and artist who committed suicide by setting herself on fire on Penn’s campus.
Dolores Della Penna: A 1972 murder victim. Investigators are still searching for the person who killed and dismembered the 17-year-old Torresdale student.
North Broad Mansion District: More than 20 Victorian, Beaux-Arts and Italianate mansions dot the historic landscape in North Philly near Temple, between North Broad and Willington streets, Jefferson and Oxford streets.
Have met a MOVE member: Remaining MOVE members, including Pam Africa and Mike Africa, Jr., continue to attend protests and rallies.
Arlene Ackerman: Former Philly School District superintendent who was at times cheered for improving student outcomes but ultimately forced to resign by then-Mayor Michael Nutter over allegations of inflated scores and cheating, increased school safety issues and clashes with teachers and staff.
Actually ridden the Broad-Ridge spur: The offshoot of the Broad Street Line that runs diagonally from Fairmount to Chinatown. Originally intended to be one quarter of a train loop around Center City, it’s been plagued for years by low ridership.