By David Baugh, Joshua Blay and Kenneth Rice
In celebration of American Archives Month, the staff here at the City Archives would like to share a few stories with you. The Archives holds many families’ history records—including births, naturalizations, marriages, and deaths—and among them are many items associated with nationally (and even internationally) known historical figures and events.
The Three Stooges
For over a hundred years, the antics of The Three Stooges have entertained millions around the world. The lineup changed over time, but along with Moe, Louis Feinberg remained present throughout the changes and was easily recognized by his partial baldness and thick curly hair.
Known as “Larry Fine”, he was born in Philadelphia on October 4, 1902, to Joseph and Fannie Feinberg—a fact documented by one of the many birth records found at the City Archives. Louis spent most of his childhood in his father’s jewelry shop in South Philadelphia. When he reached his teens, he became a student at Philadelphia’s Central High School, but after failing to graduate, he left the city and found employment as a Vaudeville performer in Chicago during the 1920s. While there, he would meet the first of his fellow Stooges. Needless to say, comedy would never be the same again.
The 1889 Johnstown Flood
The 1889 Johnstown Flood in western Pennsylvania—still considered the worst flood in US history in terms of loss of life—claimed more than 2,000 lives and led to property damage in excess of what would today be over half a billion dollars. Two of the flood victims were Reverend John Lichtenberg and his wife Anna, who, as shown by our death records, were laid to rest at Mount Vernon Cemetery in Philadelphia. Originally from Germany, Lichtenberg lived in Philadelphia while attending the city’s Lutheran Theological Seminary. He would eventually go on to preach his first sermon at the German Evangelical Church of Johnstown on May 12, 1889, a mere nineteen days before the flood would claim his life along with that of his wife and children. The flood would claim the church as well. Little is known though about the final resting place of his children, and one child is still listed as missing.
Our final story involves the Titanic, the infamous ship that was sunk by an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Among the ship’s passengers from Philadelphia was William Crothers Dulles. Born in the city in 1872, he came from a well-to-do family on South 12th Street. Dulles had been in Europe with his mother in early 1912 and was in the process of returning to the U.S. without her when the ship foundered. Like many of the Titanic’s other passengers, he died in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. His body, however, was one of the few recovered and, as evidenced by one of our death records, was brought back to Philadelphia for burial at Laurel Hill Cemetery.
The Philadelphia City Archives is home to the vital records of numerous historic figures and celebrities. Among them are the birth records of two legendary 20th Century female vocalists, Billie Holiday and Marian Anderson.
Billie Holiday, the renowned jazz and blues vocalist, was born in Philadelphia as Elinore Harris on April 7, 1915. She was the daughter of Sarah Julia “Sadie” Harris and (according to her birth record) Frank DeViese. Various sources suggest she took the name of “Billie”, after watching Billie Dove, an actress whom she greatly admired.
(Birth certificate. See featured image above)
Marian Anderson—who was deemed one of the finest operatic contraltos of her time, and was also the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York—was born in Philadelphia on February 27, 1897. Along with her many professional accomplishments, she also spent her life championing civil rights and battling racial segregation. In 1939, after being prevented from singing at an Easter concert sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Anderson, with the aid of Eleanor Roosevelt, instead spent her Easter performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There, her singing talents not only drew over 70,000 spectators but also reportedly attracted a radio audience of millions.
Visit the City Archives
The City Archives of the Philadelphia Department of Records is located at 548 Spring Garden Street. It is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and contains many items that are historically significant to the city, the nation, and beyond.