Author Tom Keels will be at Historic Strawberry Mansion on April 22nd, 2017 to discuss his new book, Sesqui! Greed, Graft, and The Forgotten World’s Fair of 1926. Keels did research for Sesqui! in the archives of Historic Strawberry Mansion, and this new book places a spotlight on the contributions of the Sesquicenntenial Women’s Committee, the group who would later form the Committee of 1926 and restore Historic Strawberry Mansion!
“In his portrayal of the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial, Tom Keels has once again opened a wide, insightful and revealing historical lens on Philadelphia. It is hard to imagine how the flaws and fault lines in American society could be more stunningly exposed than in this fast-paced story of the 150th anniversary of the nation’s birth in the city where it all started. By tracing the political, social, cultural, and economic conflicts that inflicted the once promising event, Sesqui! portrays the ongoing tensions between good government reformers and the political machine, reinforces the second-class citizenry bestowed on women and African Americans, and vividly shows how the best intentions and investment can go so badly wrong through human error. Sesqui! is a great read that helps us better understand urban America in the early twentieth century.”
—Sam Katz, Executive Producer, History Making Productions
In 1916, department store magnate and Grand Old Philadelphian John Wanamaker launched plans for a Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition in his hometown in 1926. It would be a magnificent world’s fair to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Wanamaker hoped that the “Sesqui” would also transform sooty, industrial Philadelphia into a beautiful Beaux-Arts city.
However, when the Sesqui opened on May 31, 1926, in the remote, muddy swamps of South Philadelphia, the first visitors were stunned to find an unfinished fair, with a few shabbily built and mostly empty structures. Crowds stayed away in droves: fewer than five million paying customers attended the Sesqui, costing the city millions of dollars. Philadelphia became a national scandal—a city so corrupt that one political boss could kidnap an entire world’s fair.
In his fascinating history Sesqui!, noted historian Thomas Keels situates this ill-fated celebration—a personal boondoggle by the all-powerful Congressman William S. Vare-against the transformations taking place in America during the 1920s. Keels provides a comprehensive account of the Sesqui as a meeting ground for cultural changes sweeping the country: women’s and African-American rights, anti-Semitism, eugenics, Prohibition, and technological advances.
Seating is limited, reserve your space here!