On this page we will look back at life in the city during the war years. Here we will provide the visitor with the stories making the news, what was happening in sports and entertainment, city politics, the social scene and the prominent people at the time. So, check back often for new editions. To share your family or neighborhood stories, please email PhillyWWIyears@gmail.com
TODAY IN PHILADELPHIA – THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 1917
Snow fell on the city overnight leaving about 2 inches on the ground. The snow started about 3:00am and was over by dawn. Today’s high will reach 38° and the low tonight 26°. On this Washington’s Birthday the great President’s Farewell Address was read at the opening of the Senate this morning. Here in Philadelphia flags were seen everywhere. They flew from office buildings, warships and private homes. And pictures of the great man met the gaze of every proud citizen looking out from windows. At schools patriotic exercises are planned extolling the virtues and teaching the lessons taught by the man who was “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. This evening celebrations, dinners and dances will be held at army posts, armories and other fraternal organizations.
Unfortunately a terrible event has marred an otherwise wonderful day. The entire sugar refinery district in South Philadelphia, from Reed to Morris Streets and Front Street to Delaware Avenue, is virtually under martial law today as a result of striking workers rioting last night. The riot began around 5:00pm at the Franklin Sugar Refinery where strikers accompanied by their wives and children began screaming at police guarding the entrance and managers to give them food. The women then urged their men to fight. One woman, with a baby in her arms, pulled out a gun and opened fire at police. At that point the violence escalated. Over 1000 strikers threw bricks and other missiles at police. Pepper was thrown in the faces of police horses. It is feared some horses may lose their sight. Then hundreds of pistol shots rang out.
Every available policeman was rushed to the scene. They eventually rushed the crowd with their riot sticks to break up the mob. The fighting went through streets and alleys of the neighborhood. An hour later when it was finally over 30 strikers and policemen were injured. Some suffered gunshot wounds while others had broken bones and fractured skulls. One man, Martin Petkewicz of 133 Tasker Street, was shot in the chest and killed. Petkewicz (shown below) was identified as an Industrial Workers of the World union leader. Of the other wounded at least 3 are not expected to survive.
After the fighting the strikers met at the Lithuanian Hall, Moyamensing Avenue & Christian Street. Some men called for more violence but they were dissuaded by their leaders. A representative of Franklin Sugar Refining Company said the fault lay entirely with the strikers. He said the men and their wives were agitated by union outsiders from New York. At daylight today police were patrolling the area in force with riot sticks and revolvers at the ready. The State Constabulary has offered to come to Philadelphia to assist the police if necessary.
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