Friday, February 8, 2013

Cathedral Grounds in Philadelphia Haunted? – Built on Ancient Potter’s Field and Execution Site

222 N 17th Street (foreground right) - Rear of Cathedral (background left) Google Maps

I can remember in the seventh grade going downtown after school with some classmates to pick up some boxes of plastic icons of the Virgin Mary down at the Archdiocesan offices behind the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia and returning uptown to make delivery to the local convent of these items before returning home. 

I can remember those buildings, townhouses behind the Cathedral that had many various departments crammed and housed in Victorian building space.

I can remember when they tore those buildings down and in a weekend or was it a week it seemed, they put the prefabricated tinker toy like steel girders snapped into place of the “Archdiocesan Office Building” out of some kit do doubt sent from overseas. 

Then the prefab sheathing of windows and faux stone filler went up. The resulting 13 story office building would provide plenty of office space for decades to come in this new Chancery.

No doubt with Cardinal Krol’s campaign for the papacy and Cardinal Bevilacqua's grand child abuse cover up schemes with future bishops Cistone and Cullen and Rigali's follow up with want a be bishop Msgr. Bill Lynn one must take one’s breath, think of Cardinal Rigali’s using the address as a mere mail drop for his real full time digs in Rome next to the Swiss Guard’s Barracks (wink, nod), one might give pause to the thought how isolated and lonely it is at the top of the Philadelphia Catholic Hierarchy in the 13th floor penthouse suite of the Archbishop’s office.

In that corner office overlooking the copper dome of Sts. Peter and Paul’s, the Parisian style grand public buildings of Logan Square and the magnificent Greek style temple of the Philadelphia Museum of Art beyond, one might wonder if one was at least on the slopes of Parnassus is not on mighty Mt. Olympus itself. 

Indeed even the five star Four Seasons Hotel could only be built here on Logan Circle as the premiere gateway to the cultural heart of the city.

Of course it was not always like this. There was a time when the Cathedral was first planned for and built, Logan Square was quite isolated and not a desirable or fashionable part of the W.A.S.P. culture city further to the east. Logan Square was the ideal out of the way place to build a Papist temple without upsetting the Protestant elites of Philadelphia.

That and Logan Square was the potters field, one of several in the city and adjacent to the gallows once there. That like all things official and or unofficial in the past, the potter’s field, a burial place for the poor, the low lifes, prostitutes, criminals and executed prisoners, the boundaries of a designated city square haphazardly overflowed its boundaries onto the future cathedral site. 

The nearby legitimate Quaker burial grounds would also have had an overflow of graves for the poor who brought their dead and those in the middle of the night that just dumped dead bodies in the general vicinity of the whole general area of death.

That the present chancery of 222 N. 17th Street might have been part of a stockade off Logan Square to house the convicted about to die on the gallows as a staging area to send them off to their fates and a place to hold or store executed bodies after until a means of burying them could be organized or arranged.

Sounds a bit odd but I am reminded of the scene in the movie The Sixth Sense where the psychic child who can supposedly talk to and see the dead sees a place of execution that history does not record but the child witnesses the dead dangling from the gallows that held even children, those whose only crime might have been the capital crime of stealing bread to survive back then in the past.

So it is rumored that before they built the present day fashionable bits of upscale downtown Philadelphia, in the past, the dark past, the underside function of a city dealing with death used to be practiced and had a place here and around Logan Square (now Logan Circle).

It is little wonder that some say the building at 222 N. 17th Street, the Chancery is haunted with death and evil from the past and passing all the way, reinforced, to the present day there.

1895 Map (PhilaGeoHistory)


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