Philadelphia cannot allow its own history museum to shut down. It would be like throwing away the family photo album.
But it could happen. The first step toward the closure of the museum was taken just days before America’s 242nd birthday.
Saturday was the last day the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent on South Seventh Street was open to the public. When the doors will open again is anybody’s guess.
The museum had been negotiating a potential partnership with Temple University, with hopes that it would allow the museum to reduce or even eliminate the need for a $250,000 city subsidy. But the talks broke off for unknown reasons, surprising even city Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis, who didn’t know the deal had fallen through until he read Inquirer writer Stephan Salisbury’s story last week.
Now, the museum board and the city are trying to save the museum.
There’s a lot to lose if the museum closes to the public. Its 100,000-plus artifacts, paintings and photographs tell our story.
We should take a stand to preserve the history of our nation.
While the world views Philadelphia as the place where American democracy was born, an awful lot happened before and after the Revolutionary War. Before the war, the region was home to the Lenape tribe, and the museum explores their history. After the war, Philadelphia dominated manufacturing.
The factory jobs attracted workers who lived in lunch-pail neighborhoods just steps away from their jobs. In fact, the museum only exists because electronics pioneer Atwater Kent, who once employed 12,000 at his radio factory in Germantown, gave the building to the city, which opened the museum to the public in 1941. Although those factories are long gone, the workers’ chip-on-the-shoulder attitude is still a proud part of the Philadelphia identity.
There is even more to the museum — and our city’s history. The collection includes Joe Frazier’s boxing gloves, Mike Schmidt’s batting helmet, and campaign buttons for mayors from Dilworth to Nutter. The museum has an exhibit on 19th-century civil rights leader Octavius V. Catto’s battles for full citizenship for African Americans. It took over the collection from the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies in 2006 that includes a Polish Women in America ribbon, a quinceanera gown and a Hmong story cloth. Those are just some of the many treasures the museum holds.
None of this can be forgotten.
One intriguing suggestion for saving the museum comes from history videographer and former mayoral candidate Sam Katz. He says the museum’s collections should be relocated to the first floor of City Hall.
Why not? It’s Philadelphia’s most important public building and sits in the heart of the city.
As we celebrate America this week, let’s take a stand to preserve our history. After all, our history is who we are, where we came from. It’s our ups and downs, the mistakes we’ve made and the victories we’ve fought for. When we lose our history, we lose a valuable guidepost for the future. And that’s not something Philly — or any city — can afford to do.