Thursday 8 December 2011: Layers of Legend & Myth
These two houses stand at the corner of 46th Street & Springfield Avenue, two blocks from my door. The legend that was passed along to me, and that I've been repeating for years now, is that this was the site of the stagecoach stop during colonial times. I've never thought that these houses were that old (and they aren't). People told me the story in the early 1990s, and they'd been around for years, so without further investigation, it sounded good to me. When I read Howard Fast's novel Citizen Tom Paine, I was thrilled by this:
"Paine found an old, swayback nag, bought a saddle for a few dollars, and rode out of one end of Philadelphia as the Hessians marched into the other. And on the Baltimore Pike, he drew up his horse and sat for a while, listening to the British drums."
I was delighted to imagine that the coolest of the founding fathers had stopped right here (I figured if he could hear the drums, there's no way he was any farther from the city).
The passage is historical fiction, but Paine must have passed through this neighborhood on September 26, 1777, on his way to York. On that date there was no structure, nor even an intersection on this spot. The only place he could have stopped, if something existed there, was the Cherry Tree Tavern (or Hotel), which stood about one block to the Northwest, about a century later (1886). Paine rode along the Chadsford Turnpike, later called Baltimore Avenue.
These two houses are, at any rate, among the oldest in the neighborhood. They were built in the mid-1880s and look completely different from what we call "Victorian" houses constructed from the following decade --the local standard, one of which I live in.
I love blipping because when I begin to write up a picture and re-tell a story, I need to freshen up the details, and sometimes (like this time; it happens a century before I usually inquire) the story freshens itself out of existence and a new, more interesting tale emerges. There's nothing like a blip and a hot bowl of fish chowder (made it myself) to pass a chilly December evening.