Harrisburg, PA – African American sprinter, Barney Ewell, who won a gold and two silver medals in the 1948 Olympics; Ham Fisher, creator of the Joe Palooka comic strip; the Philadelphia Flower Show and the Slinky toy are among the subjects of the 17 new state historical markers approved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).
The new markers, selected from 51 applications, will be added to the nearly 2,300 familiar blue-with-gold-lettering signs along roads and streets throughout Pennsylvania.
Since 1946 PHMC’s historical markers have chronicled the people, places and events that have affected the lives of Pennsylvanians over the centuries. The signs feature subjects such as Native Americans and settlers, government and politics, athletes, entertainers, artists, struggles for freedom and equality, factories and businesses and a multitude of noteworthy topics.
Nominations for historical markers may be submitted by any individual or organization and are evaluated by a panel of independent experts from throughout the state and approved by the agency’s commissioners.
More information on the Historical Marker Program, including application information, is available online at www.PAHistoricalMarkers.com.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is the official history agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Media Contact: Howard Pollman, 717-705-8639
The following is a list of the newly approved state historical markers with the name of the marker, location, and a brief description:
Barney Ewell (1918-1996)
Lancaster, Lancaster County
African American sprinter who won a gold and two silver medals at the 1948 Olympics. Although the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled because of WWII while Ewell was in his prime, he was able to maintain the highest level of performance at an international level to qualify for and medal at the 1948 Olympics. Member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Benjamin Lay (1682-1759)
Abington, Montgomery County
An early Quaker abolitionist, Lay wrote anti-slavery literature, boycotted products that used slave labor, demonstrated in the streets, and was vocal at Quaker meetings encouraging the
immediate abolition of slavery. Due to his activism, the Quakers became the first religious group to outlaw slaveholding by their members. He also influenced the broader abolitionist movement in the US and Great Britain.
D. T. Watson Home for Crippled Children
Leet Township, Allegheny County
Facility at which patients were first to receive the Salk polio vaccine. By the 1950s it was among the nation’s preeminent facilities that treated children with polio and provided physical rehabilitation. Medical Director Dr. Jessie Wright worked closely with Jonas Salk to develop a safe and effective polio vaccine.
One of the earliest LGBT rights protests in the build-up to the Stonewall Riots four years later. Its success served to encourage the LGBT rights activism that followed. The sit-in was also notable for its defense of the early transgender community. It was an important episode in the history of U.S. democracy, political activism and civil rights.
Eddystone Rifle Plant
Eddystone, Delaware County
This 34-acre facility supplied nearly half of all infantry weapons issued to US forces during WWI, as well as over 600,000 rifles for the British army. It was the largest munitions plant in the US during WWI, employing 15,000 workers, 20% of them women.
Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County
Creator of the Joe Palooka comic strip that was syndicated nationwide for more than 50 years. Palooka was a prize fighting, clean living hero. The comic strip gained popularity during WWII, as the Palooka character enlisted in the Army. The strip served to encourage recruitment and to boost morale among American troops. It also served as a tool to sell war bonds and encouraged support of the war effort.
Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall (1806-1882), (1807-1889)
Chadds Ford, Chester County
Quaker abolitionists who were active with the Underground Railroad, collaborating with Thomas Garrett and Harriet Tubman. The Mendenhalls were charter members of the Longwood Progressive Meeting, which broke from the more traditional Old Kennett Meeting in 1853 due to their anti-slavery activism. The meeting hosted national abolitionist speakers such as Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison. Dinah was part of a delegation that met with President Lincoln to advocate for the abolition of slavery just 6 months before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
McAllister Family of Opticians
Beginning in 1799, John McAllister began selling spectacles at his shop in Philadelphia. He became a skilled optician and clients included presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson, as well as other prominent individuals locally and throughout the country. John, Jr. was instrumental in advances in photography. John, Jr., and William McAllister worked and taught at the pioneering Wills Eye Institute. Five generations maintained this distinguished legacy through the mid-20th century.
John Philip Boehm (1683-1749)
Blue Bell, Montgomery County
Founder of the German Reformed Church in America, which developed into the modern day United Church of Christ. One of the most important aspects of his work was establishing governance for churches. He developed a church constitution 60 years prior to the US Constitution. He founded twelve churches and served at another eight as pastor.
Lois Weber (1879-1939)
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
The first American woman film director and a pioneer in early film making. In the era of silent films, she mastered superimposition, double exposures, and split screens to convey thoughts and ideas rather than words on title cards. She also used the nude female figure in the 1915 film Hypocrites and took on progressive and provocative topics, inciting both censorship and artistic praise.
Oliver Pollock (1737-1823)
Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County
A successful merchant and major financier of the American Revolution, Pollock endured bankruptcy and imprisonment. He became agent of the Continental Congress in the Spanish territory of New Orleans and became a friend of Governor Bernardo Galvez, who sent supplies to the Continental Army. Pollock accompanied Galvez in raids against the British on the eastern border. He is credited with financing the 1778 Illinois expedition of George Rogers Clark as well as that of James Willing against Loyalists on the lower Mississippi.
Philadelphia Flower Show
The largest and longest running horticultural event in the nation, the Philadelphia Flower Show features displays by the world’s premier floral and landscape designers. Throughout its history this event has introduced many little-known species. At the inaugural show in 1829, the poinsettia was introduced to the American public. It has been honored multiple times as best in the world by the International Festivals and Events Association.
Richard Moore (1793-1875)
Quakertown, Bucks County
A Quaker abolitionist, active with the Underground Railroad. Moore’s home was a major station on the network. Moore claimed to have assisted more than 600 fugitive slaves in their escape, including William Parker who was involved in the Christiana Riot. Moore also helped a number of fugitives to find jobs and set up residence in Quakertown.
Ruth Plumly Thompson (1891-1976)
Author of 19 Wizard of Oz books, following the death of creator L. Frank Baum. Having earned a reputation as a talented author of children’s literature, Baum’s publisher solicited her to continue the official Oz series. She wrote one Oz book per year from 1921 through 1939, maintaining the series’ popularity through the release of the classic film.
Clifton Heights, Delaware County
Ubiquitous American toy invented by mechanical engineer Richard James in 1943. Following Mr. James’ religious conversion and nearly bankrupting the company in the early 1960s, his wife divorced him. He relocated to Bolivia and Betty James took over the business and turned it into a multi-million-dollar company with international distribution. She was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Slinky was listed on the Toy Industry Association’s “Century of Toys” for the 20th century.
Penn Twp., Chester County
Country and Bluegrass music venue that operated for over 50 years. Some of the biggest names in the business played here and it became one of the premier venues outside of Nashville. This venue helped to spread the popularity of this type of music nationwide. By the 1980s the mailing list included individuals in 48 states. Bluegrass icon Ola Belle Reed played here for over 20 years with the Sunset Park house band.
William J. McKnight, M.D.
Brookville, Jefferson County
Doctor, legislator and historian, McKnight introduced an Act in 1883 while senator that legalized human dissection, provided for unclaimed bodies to be distributed to medical schools for anatomical study, and made grave robbery illegal. The act served to advance the field of medicine and by extension, physical anthropology and forensic science. McKnight also authored several county histories and the History of Northwestern PA.