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 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 23, 1917
The weather calls for overcast skies and a light rain today with the high reaching 66° and the low about 50°. Notwithstanding the weather Rittenhouse Square is blooming with color because today was Flower Market Day. The Square was the place to be and residents turned out in droves to see the beautiful array. Wonderful food was also being served by this city’s most fashionable matrons, debutantes and sub-debutantes. Each booth around the Square featured a different type of flower or garden tools, toys and delectable snacks. Profits from the event will be distributed to the Woman’s Navy League, The Child Federation, Lincoln Day Nursery and the Rittenhouse Square Improvement Association.
Hobart “Hobey” Baker of Bala Cynwyd has been commissioned a second lieutenant in the army aviation service and assigned to the Essington Aviation School as an instructor. Lt. Baker was well known for his exploits at Princeton University in football, baseball, track and hockey. His skill and ability earned him the reputation of being one of the finest athletes in the country.
Word has reached this city of a horrific act committed by a mob yesterday in Memphis, Tennessee. It was “lynch law” but far worse. Eli Persons, a negro, was burned at the stake for the murder of a white girl. Two other negroes, Dewitt “Dummy” Ford and Dan Armstrong, whom Persons identified as also involved, have now been captured and are in jail.
The murdered girl was Antoinette Rappal, 15 years old. She disappeared on April 30 after leaving school. Her body was found on May 2. She had been raped and decapitated. Persons was arrested for the crime due to his living close to where the girl’s body was found. After being interrogated for two days he confessed. He was scheduled to be sent to Nashville for trial but a mob rushed the train and carried him off. He was taken to where the girl’s body was found and tied to a stake inside a metal cage. Then gasoline was poured over him and he was set alight.
The lynching took on a carnival atmosphere. Soft drinks, sandwiches and liquor were sold. Between 5000 and 7000 people attended including schoolchildren. It was scheduled to take place yesterday at 9:00am but was delayed because word was received from Mississippi that citizens from there wished to attend. A sheriff’s posse made a halfhearted attempt to stop the killing but was turned away at gunpoint.
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