Saturday, February 2, 2019

Podcasting is the new blogging

Four years ago, Melissa created a blog entry on this page introducing the world to our latest project: a theater with an apartment above it. Even as she clicked "publish", it was with the understanding that this wasn't an effort to make a big splash - we were simply leaning on a familiar, easy-to-use tool to document as much as we could as we crash landed next to the Delaware waterfront. In between doing all the things we were doing, Melissa pushed beyond exhaustion to assemble photographs and stories about a story that seemed to grow exponentially every time turned through to each new chapter. But blogs and websites had, by 2015, been largely replaced by the new walled gardens of Social Media. But while these new age advertising giants masqueraded as communities, with record engagement across broad demographic spreads, people were also embracing a Frankenstein of Web 1.0 technologies like RSS and MP3, brewed together and filtered onto our handheld always-on internet comm devices: podcasts.

Serial, arguably the series that truly introduced podcasting to the mainstream, was released the year before we started this blog. In the time since, several professional podcasting networks have self-assembled to assimilate this last vestige of the old internet, racing to build collections of content, or as an old co-worker at the York Newspaper Company once described it, "the stuff that goes around the ads." Those same media consumption devices could just as easily be utilized as media creation devices, and the rush was on to get a couple of friends to get together at the dining room table and talk in the general direction of a Macbook, in the hopes that sweet, sweet Squarespace and Caspar affiliate cash would play pilot to the Patreon flame. Celebrities and public radio defectors joined in, industry veterans turned their skills towards a new frontier, and with our cultural tacit acceptance of mobile surveillance, trackable advertising attribution is waking up the streaming music giants from their gluttonous sleep, with rumors of Spotify seeking to acquire Gimlet, the podcasting landscape is about to shift dramatically.

In the first weeks of this year, Melissa and I recorded three episodes of an idea she'd been talking about for a while now: a podcast about our adventures at the Hannah Callowhill Stage. We sat down and outlined a high level overview of exactly what it is we've been up to over the last five years, designated Sunday as Podcast Day, and on January 27th, released the beginnings of the story into the wild. The reaction has been humbling, and we haven't even got to the really good parts of the story yet. I don't think we're trying to catch the podcast wave, but at the rate of growth we're seeing, I'm not sure we have much choice in the matter.

Our podcast is called The Boghouse - an old euphemism for a toilet, or outhouse, because a couple of privies that pre-date America changed our lives. We've had hundreds of conversations with friends, family, and strangers about how that came to be and about what's happened since, and we hope this podcast will provide a better record of that, and as a side effect, save our voices, so that instead of monopolizing people's times at parties, we can say, "Oh yeah, we've got a podcast all about it, check out The Boghouse on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play Music."

So check it out. If you like what you hear, do that thing all the podcasts tell you to do - rate us, like us, subscribe. We are planning to record on a weekly basis, and this is a finite series that follows a (somewhat non-linear) story arc, so you'll want to listen in order, starting with the first episode.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Boghouse Podcast, Episode 1: Introduction

Melissa and Matt consider investing in a live/work space and discover a real estate listing for a theater with a sordid past.

More information about the Boghouse at

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Front and Callowhill Streets, in pictures

Over the last few years, as we dug into the history of the property we accidentally bought, I was really taken by all the uses it had, and the shapes it took, but became rather frustrated at trying to find any photographs of 103 Callowhill Street. As evidenced by the last couple of stories, by the mid 19th century, the neighborhood got pretty rough, and by the mid-20th century, the powers that be famously decided to bulldoze their troubles away, halting the eastward demolition precisely at the side of our building. Even after that, the "River's Edge" neighborhood had a roughness to it - stories about homeless folks setting fires in vacant buildings right up into the 21st century. By that measure, it's not terribly surprising that finding photographs of the building in its various states proved difficult. Christ Church in Old City has been illustrated from various angles for about as long as it's been built, but the working class fabric of the city barely captured any attention from artists and photographers, and of those that did preserve visual record of what was at the time mundane, few had their works survive into the modern era.
But when you're living in Downingtown waiting for construction on your home in Philly to start, sometimes the best way to relax after a long day of work by burying yourself in research. Since March of 2015, I've been going back to a number of online resources and poring over them for glimpses of what the front of this building looked like. I have a folder in my Dropbox full of related images, and what good is that folder if no one else can see it?

Okay. Here we go.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Murder and Mayhem in the Messuages Next Door

If a property has been around for long enough, someone is going to die on it. Given enough human habitation, the chances that someone has been murdered on the premises are pretty decent, because humans are shitty creatures that murder each other a lot. Some locations, though, seem to attract violent crime more than others. While I was researching the history of 103 Callowhill Street (a.k.a. 21 Callowhill Street before the Ordinance of 1856), I noticed something odd: in the Philadelphia newspapers of the late 19th Century, there was a disproportionate number of mentions of the houses next door, 105 Callowhill Street and 400 Front Street (the corner of Front and Callowhill Streets). As it turns out, during this period my poor building was sandwiched between a flophouse and a saloon in one of the worst parts of Philadelphia.

As an aficionado of true crime since puberty, I want to bookend this history with two contemporary Philadelphia-related incidents which became media sensations, one that you probably haven't heard of and one that you probably have (or at least, will probably hear of soon). Public fascination with murder and true crime was really coming into its own in America around this time.

Engraving of Antoine Probst, from The Life, Confession and Atrocious Crimes of Antoine Probst

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Benjamin Mifflin, shady-ass property developer

I have more things to blog about than I have time to blog, but here's a quick hilarious thing.

If you have been following closely my research into 103 Callowhill Street and you have a very good memory, you might recall that in my first history post, I wondered if the original deed contained a measurement error. In 1745, the width of the property was listed as 20 feet, but in all subsequent deeds, the property is described as 16 feet wide. Why? After hunting down early deeds for the lot next to ours, I finally have an answer!

Benjamin Mifflin's original four lots on the north side of Callowhill Street, 1745.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Construction at the Hannah, and a pipkin

The Hannah Callowhill Stage is currently a roofless construction site that cannot be described as a building, let along a theater, without some intense and stubborn imagination. Things are going swimmingly, though, and I don't necessarily mean because a recent deluge left a pond-sized puddle of water in the middle of the janky slab.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

History of the Hannah: Cyberstalking Daniel Williams, Part 3 of 3


Click here for Part 1 of Daniel Williams's story.
Click here for Part 2 of Daniel Williams's story.

Before we take up Daniel's story again, a brief photographic interlude! Back in Part 1, I mentioned the Schuylkill Fishing Company, an exclusive men's social club (drunken pseudo-Masonic frat) which Daniel Williams was a member of from at least 1760. According to their wiki page, they erected a monument on the banks of the Schuylkill River in 1947, so on a whim, Matt and I stopped on the way home and found it. Spoiler: from the road, it kind of looks like an electrical junction box, to be honest. And the elements have not been kind to the engraving, which reads:

Friday, August 26, 2016

History of the Hannah: Cyberstalking Daniel Williams, Part 2 of 3

The Revolutionary War

Click here for Part 1 of Daniel Williams's story.

When we left off, Daniel Williams was a successful merchant who bought 103 Callowhill Street on March 6, 1770. For the next part of the story, in which I look at Daniel and his family's lives during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), I first want to backtrack slightly.

Daniel and his family were Quakers, and the Revolutionary War posed a problem for Quakerism because one of the major tenets of the religion is strict pacifism. Quakers could be kicked out of the society, aka disunited, aka disowned, aka "read out" during Monthly Meeting, for engaging in any kind of conflict or warlike training or even just for carrying a weapon; their philosophy was that any and all violence is wrong, even for the purpose of self defense.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

History of the Hannah: Cyberstalking Daniel Williams, Part 1 of 3

Since pulling a bunch of artifacts out of an 18th-Century privy, I have unsurprisingly thrown myself into expanding the scope and detail of my initial historical investigation of 103 Callowhill Street. Back then, all I could find to cover the period between Benjamin Mifflin's 1745 deed and 1872 was a single notice for a sheriff's sale in 1770. WELL NO LONGER. An advertisement Matt found in a 19th century newspaper gave me another name which I was able to use as a key to unlock the missing deeds and information. Behold, the very-nearly-almost-complete provenance of 103 Callowhill Street!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Artifacts from the Hannah Callowhill Stage

In my previous blog post, I mentioned the presence of large holes for structural elements that were being dug around the perimeter of the inside of the building. What I didn't mention is that while I was there that day, I found the base of an old wine bottle sitting half-buried in a pile of dirt:
Photo on left taken on-site, photo on right taken at home after cleaning
This excellent site on dating old bottles informed me that since there are pontil scars on the bottom and no side seams, the bottle was hand-blown and therefore definitely pre-Civil-War, ooh! A few hours later, Matt also stopped by the construction site after work, combed through some of the soil with his hands and discovered pottery sherds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Loan acquired! Construction begins!

Have you ever seriously said the words "I am going to spend about half a million dollars"?
Who am I. What is this life.
I had not, until I bought a theater. These are words that strike terror, and a good dose of imposter syndrome and existential anxiety, into my cheap little DIY artist heart.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Contacted by a Brisbanite with ancestral ties to 103 Callowhill Street

I have some construction news about the Hannah Callowhill Stage, and it's good! But I don't want to tell you about it until after Friday, when (hopefully, if even mentioning it doesn't jinx me) the deal will be closed.

In the meantime, for all the lovers of historical minutiae out there, let me tell you with inhumanly wide eyes about an e-mail I got from a stranger named Lyndon Garbutt a few weeks ago. I'm reprinting it with permission here:
Hi Melissa

I thought I’d reach out to you, as I stumbled across your website/facebook post on the history of the Callowhill Stage building you are renovating and thought you may be interested in some further information.

To explain this random email - ironically I am researching the history of my own property in your home town, Brisbane.  My apartment was used by Madame Lotte Lehmann as her residence during her 1939 season at Brisbane City Hall.  I had googled ‘Lotte Lehmann’ ‘Brisbane’ and due to you having won an award and coming from Brisbane you were one of the hits.  It sparked my interest as I it looked out of place and I wanted to work out why.  I then noticed you were in Philadelphia and my ancestors were some of the original Quakers who settled there with William Penn.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Eyes on the Prize

Eyes on the prize, Melissa. Eyes on the goddamn prize.

What's the prize? The Hannah Callowhill Stage, with two apartments on top, one to live in and one to rent out, making this whole crazy theater venture financially viable.

What's in the way? A sum of money that doesn't seem all that astronomical if you live in Sydney or San Francisco, or if you earn maybe twice as much as we do, or if you're not in the arts. But to us, it's staggering. And it's money on top of what we paid for the property already.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dream Brainstorm

Tripoli inspects my proscenium doodles
One of the most common questions I'm asked about the Hannah is: "What exactly are you going to do with the space once it's finished and open?" I have a lot of ideas. I don't know how many of them will end up on the cutting room floor, but maybe you'd like to know what I'm thinking.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Long Overdue Update

It's been four months since we bought 103 Callowhill Street, aka the Hannah Callowhill Stage, and I haven't blogged too much about it, because so much has happened, but there's isn't a whole lot to physically show for it yet. I keep getting asked for updates on the proceedings, however, so here they are, all the boring details I can stand to type.

103 Callowhill cross-section from the west side

Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Overview of the History of 103 Callowhill Street

As I mentioned in my previous blog post about The Hannah, one of the things I did back in July after we first looked at the theater was delve into the history of 103 Callowhill Street. I had never before faced the prospect of living on a property that even comes close to having a well-documented written history going back hundreds of years. I think at least part of my initial excitement was due to how much detailed historical information I could find, thanks to Philadelphia's excellent online property records and searchable databases of old newspapers. There is definitely something to be said for living in a city which, following European colonization*, has had a history of being populated by swarms of lawyers and journalists (a tradition which arguably continues to this day).

The Penn Charter

First, a touch of background from Wiki, for those of you unfamiliar with the basics of Pennsylvanian history:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A new addition to the family ... congratulations, it's a theater

A few times in the past couple of years, Matt and I have idly discussed the idea of one day owning a property with a space that we could turn into some kind of music studio. It would be nice to have somewhere that isn't a windowless and somewhat smelly and damp basement where we could practice and record. Maybe I could also use it as a teaching space for both music and acting. Maybe we'd even be able to have small performances of some kind there. Every now and then, we'd window shop empty lots and buildings on sale nearby, and we'd dream.

In early July of last year, a house a block away from us went on the market, and out of curiosity, we took a look inside. It belonged to a sculptor (who incidentally worked with H.R. Giger - that's him on the far left in the group photo), and included a sizable artist workspace which might have worked for our purposes. But the price was much too high, especially for our area (over $600,000!), and the living space was too small, so we didn't pursue it.

I put the entire matter out of my mind, thinking we weren't ready to buy anything right now anyway. This was something to think about in the coming two or three years after extensive window shopping and research. But Matt liked to procrastinate bedtime by continuing to casually browse real estate listings on Zillow.

Only a week or so later, at 1:30AM on July the 16th to be precise, while I was busy wasting time on Facebook, I heard an urgent shout from Matt's office. "Mel! Mel, come here! Look at this! What ... what is this?"