The Great Depression Encyclopedia Gallop

In our exploration of Philadelphia encyclopediana (or is it the other way around?) we make the case for our own when, in fact, we already have one. Or some of one.

Joseph Jackson (no, not the shoeless one) compiled an Encyclopedia Of Philadelphia just as the Great Depression began to draw its blinds on such ambitious efforts. The National Historical Association of Harrisburg issued this four-volume set in the early 1930s.  Today, copies are found in the reference sections of libraries and are still available through used book sources.

The first installment, published in 1931, covers (mostly) everything from the city’s “Abbatoir” to the lost neighborhood of “Bonnafon.” Jackson One is replete with illustrations, charts, maps, and photographs, and gets the series off to a meaty start in 310 pages. Jackson Two, similar in size and published later the same year, covers “Boker, George H.” to “Evangeline’s Grave.”

Remembering our alphabet, Jackson seems to have gotten ahead of himself putting the first installment to bed when he did.  By those rules, Boker, the long-forgotten diplomat and writer (described as the “total contrast and equal counterweight to [Walt] Whitman”) would come in as the final entry in volume one.

But under pressure, mistakes are made. And we can imagine Jackson grew distracted as pressure mounted to complete the project as the Great Depression settled in. At Jackson’s pace though A, B C, D and E, he doubtless expected the entire project to total something like fifteen volumes.  But this alphabetical saunter turned to an editorial gallop as Jackson forced his way to the finish line in only two more volumes. Jackson Three covered “Evans” though “Old Drury” in 1932.  Jackson Four makes its way from “Old” to “Zoological” in 1933.  By that abbreviated point, Jackson’s Encyclopedia pretty much ground to a halt and began its fade from popular memory.

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