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Philadelphia, N.J.: Iggles, cheese steaks and cheese steak eaters

(Reprinted with permission from Howard's Comprehensive Encyclopedia of the United States, 2003 edition.)

By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 17, 2003


PHILADELPHIA is a large, historic city in southwestern New Jersey. William Penn, inventor of the tennis ball, was born in Philadelphia. An anonymous colonial-era emigrant seeking religious freedom accidentally discovered Quaker Oats in Philadelphia. Legionnaire's Disease was invented there. Literally translated, the city's name means, "Love of Overpriced Grease-and-Onion Sandwiches."

From the often-misspelled Schoolkill River to North Philadelphia, the city is filled with innumerable charms. Philadelphia features one of the nation's largest city halls, topped by the world's largest statute of a cheese-steak sandwich. For more than a century it was illegal in the city to sell any food item larger than the one depicted atop City Hall.

Philadelphia was originally inhabited by the Delaware Indians, who tried to confuse European colonists by pretending to live in Delaware. The English eventually beat out the Dutch and Swedes for dominance.

The relative ease of that struggle is commemorated in modern times each year by allowing the city's football team, the Philadelphia Eagles (in the colorful local argot, "Iggles"), to waltz over token competition in their division.

In 1723, a young man named Benjamin Franklin moved to Philadelphia and was surprised to learn that his face appeared on the $100 bill. He started the city's first newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. This was a great relief to Tories because at last there was a liberal media to complain about. Franklin also published The Poor Farmer's Almanack, featuring witty aphorisms such as "early to bed, early to rise," which he intended entirely as satire.

Philadelphia won a stiff competition with New York and Tampa, Fla., to be the host city for the Continental Congress. The members sweltered terribly in the summer heat as they posed 84 consecutive days for their group portrait. Having commissioned a large bell from the lowest bidder, the governor's brother-in-law, Congress was dismayed to find that it cracked upon its use and set it aside as a tourist attraction.

Having agreed upon a Declaration of Independence, the members of Congress hired a professional calligrapher named Famuel Fmith, only to learn too late that he had the quirk of replacing all his "s" letters with "f." They decided there was not enough time to write a new document but did defeat a motion to change the name of their body to "Congreff." Flamboyant insurance salesman John Hancock was allowed to sign the document first in exchange for the promise that he stop pestering all the other delegates about their whole-life coverage.

Until 1776, the city's basketball team had no name. However, Kate Smith did frequently sing God Bless the Colonies at hockey games. General Howe was assessed high-sticking, fighting and game-misconduct penalties. Without his leadership the British fled Philadelphia in the winter of 1777, starting a popular custom that continues today.

Over time Philadelphia has prospered and grown, and has consistently ranked as one of the nation's fattest cities. Leading citizens have included Connie Mack, later a U.S. senator, basketball great Clyde Drexel, who founded one of Philadelphia's universities, and Frank Rizzo, founder of the Frank Rizzo Center for Integrity and Civic Harmony. Tourists enjoy many aspects of modern Philadelphia. After doing all the history tours and running up the steps of the art museum, Rocky-style, well, you can run up and down the steps again.

Lastly, there are the famous cheese steaks. In 1981 each of the 124,000 places that serve them held an election for "Philly's Best Cheese Steak." The election results were a 124,000-way tie, and today every eatery in the city shares the title.

Unfortunately, the quality of some of these varies greatly and may produce untoward side effects, known as "The Sound of Philadelphia."

Related articles in Howard's Comprehensive Encyclopedia include:

Bell repair

Bruno, Angelo

New Jersey

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