Eliza Otto (and her chair) are back home in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia History Museum. This little lady has a long Philadelphia provenance (line of descent). In the 1870s, she was the beloved play-thing of Mary and Elizabeth Kirkbride. Their father, Thomas Story Kirkbride, was the first Superintendent of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital (originally the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane) and an international authority on the “humane” approach to the treatment of the emotionally and intellectually disabled. He stressed that patients live as “normal” a life as possible, so leisure-time activities were as important as treatments. The hospital grounds (46th to 49th streets from Market Street to Haverford Avenue) were beautifully manicured for walks and carriage rides, and included a deer park, greenhouse, and even a miniature railroad. Magic Lantern slides were a popular indoor entertainment during the 19th century (similar to Powerpoint today). The Museum holds the Institute’s collection of slides, with topics that include illustrations of popular books, travel images from around the world, artwork, portraits, bible stories, and scenes from the Centennial and 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Why all this information about the hospital ? Well, that is where Eliza Otto “lived.” The Kirkbride family resided in the “Old Mansion House” on the campus of the hospital. Located at 4328 Haverford Avenue, the house still stands and now serves as the Lee Cultural Center playground. Donor Elizabeth Kirkbride Creese Davis recalled how her name came about. “Eliza was a Kirkbride family name. Mr. Otto was a friend that the little girls liked.” As the doll descended through the family to Mrs. Davis, she moved from Center City to Germantown, Hoboken, Ardmore, Rhode Island, and lastly Claremont, California.
Mrs. Davis shared the family tradition that “Eliza Otto has always been brought out to sit under the Christmas tree in the little chair that was also Tante Lisa’s and Aunt Mary’s; and my father added in the ‘40s, the tradition that the ‘packages that gurgled’ should go next to Eliza Otto, to cheer her up!”
We are delighted to add Eliza Otto to the Museum’s collection of Philadelphia artifacts and Philadelphia stories, thanks to the generous donation of Mrs. Davis and her family.
Fortune Tellers Costume
This spring the Collection Department received a call from William Miller inquiring about donating his grandfather’s fortune telling costumes. Naturally the Department was intrigued by the idea of a fortuneteller in Philadelphia during the 1930s to the1950s. Frank Kunkel Miller worked at local retail stores and as a sideline also told fortunes for movie theaters, parties and events.
As luck would have it, on the day Bill Miller was to bring his material into the Museum to show the staff; Jeffrey Ray, Curator and Charles Croce, Executive Director were being interviewed by Melissa Dribben for a future Philadelphia Inquirer article. Dribben listened to Bill Miller as he showed the costumes, photographs and talked about his family. Check out Philly.com on March 14, 2013.
The costumes consisted of two Oriental styled long jackets edged with sequins and beading, matching pants and a turban for one of the outfits. Mr. Miller shared the few photographs remaining of Frank (Professor Franko) Miller working as a fortune teller. In one of the photographs he is seated in a small booth at a movie theater. Bill Miller remembered his ‘Pop-Pop’ as a wonderful fun man. He’s delighted that the Philadelphia History Museum wished to accept his grandfather’s unusual working clothes.
"As a person who is fascinated by clothing of all kinds, I am also delighted to have Philadelphia working clothes. Especially ones as unusual as Professor Franko’s" said Susan Drinan, the Collection’s Registrar.
Passmore Williamson Items
Selina Strong, the great-great granddaughter of Philadelphia Abolitionist Passmore Williamson, recently made a donation consisting of several personal items of Williamson's to the Museum.
In 1855, Williamson's arrest and imprisonment made national news, helping to rally the anti-slavery movement. Among Ms. Strong's treasured possessions included in the gift to the Philadelphia History Museum are: Williamson's 1848 marriage certificate; a silver cup commemorating the birth of Williamson's daughter while he was in prison; and rare photographs of Williamson, one showing his prison cell door.
Already in the Museum collection are a coverlet used by Williamson while he was in the Moyamensing Prison (located at 11th and Reed Streets, where an Acme Market now stands) and the door from a Moyamensing prison cell.
"We are so excited to add this material to our collections. It documents Philadelphia's important role in the abolition movement and we hope to incorporate some of these items in our popular Quest for Freedom program," said the Director of the Collection, Kristen Froehlich.