Forging Public Memory: Official and Unofficial Ways to Connect Stories, People and Places

in history •  last year

“My name is Lily Goodspeed and I live in South Philly,” read the email.

“I found your name because you wrote about so-called "Camingerly" recently, and I was searching for more info on "Deep Down in the Jungle." Your blog is great!”

That’s my other blog, the one at PhillyHistory.

Anyone who compliments my writing, let alone who is willing to call it “great” is a true friend. Even if we've never met.

Lily continued: “I am working on a street art project that puts lesser known histories of Philly onto the streets through sticker ‘plaques,’” You can check out her project here. “Now that I'm off the ground with some of my friends silly submissions, I want to start posting some deeper cut stories of Philly history.”

I took a look at Lily’s online invitation to nominate stories at her website. And I read the stories she had been posting on the street from her Instagram account.

Goodspeed - landing.jpg

Then, the very next day, The Inquirer ran with a story by Samantha Melamed featuring Goodspeed’s project and picturing Lily “installing” a “plaque.”

Goodspeed - installing.jpg
Source: Caleb Snoke

Now, this is all quite different than the century-old “real” historical marker program
run by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Here’s what they want in a nomination:

“The person, place, event, or innovation to be marked had a significant impact on its times, and has statewide and/or national, rather than local or regional, historical significance. The significance of the subject must be historically established rather than of contemporary interest.”

And so far, with the bar set that high, more than 2,500 markers have been approved and installed. The annual deadline for the next crop is only a few weeks away: December 1. But it’s not for everyone, or every story. Each nomination needs to jump through a series of hoops: submitting twelve copies (!!) of the nomination and documentation; waiting for the review process with independent experts to run its course; and, once approved, raising as much as $1,625 to pay for fabrication and installation.

Hardly every story is deemed worthy of perpetuity and being cast in aluminum with raised bright yellow letters on a field of blue. Yet many of the refusée, and many more that never even get proposed, have real merit. Some are simply worth remembering. Others are true signs of the times, full of character, telling, frivolous yet meaningful, transient yet lasting, weird yet valuable.

Real stories at real places.

That’s where Lily Goodspeed and her collected tales of captured pigeons, bad breakups, departed parents, reunited families, flying fish and a dead possum comes in.

Goodspeed - six from Instagram.jpg

What no-holds-barred Philadelphia stories would I hope to share in 35 words or less?

As a historian of authentic, ephemeral, down-to-earth Philadelphia, the imagination runs wild.

Stay Tuned For More


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Fantanstic. This sticker plaque idea is a good one. Resteemed by your #eastcoaststeem community


Thanks @eastcoaststeem! We thought so, too. An effective combination of online and on the street. Maybe other cities will pick up the idea?


That would be terrific. If you want to move forward with the idea it would be a great thing for us to resteem on this page on a regular basis. Let me know what your thinking.