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Frank L. Thomas's Diary

One particularly interesting and unusual item in the Free Library of Philadelphia's Centennial Exhibition holdings is a handwritten diary by a teenage boy, Frank L. Thomas.

On July 12, 1876, Frank traveled by train to Philadelphia to see the Centennial. He made notes on his trip in a small diary, in pencil. The diary is 38 pages long, including his partial list of trip expenses. You can read the actual diary pages here. Frank's son, Erwin S. Thomas, who was born in 1888, made a note in the diary 100 years after Frank's trip, on July 4, 1976, the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. Erwin S. Thomas died in January 1977. The Free Library of Philadelphia received the diary as a gift in 1983.

We know Frank Thomas was 17 in 1876. This means he was born around 1859, just before the Civil War. We know Frank "returned home to Bergen" from his trip on July 26, 1876. From this, we think Frank lived in Bergen, a part of Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City.

At the Centennial for just two days, Frank visited exhibits from Germany, Russia, Portugal, Tunis, Japan, Norway, and France. He was greatly impressed by seeing Old Abe, a famous live war eagle. Frank recounts how the eagle was captured by a Chippewa Indian on the Flambeau River in Wisconsin in 1861, sold to Company C 8th Wisconsin Regiment, led the vanguard in their march, and was in 25 great battles in a three-year period during the Civil War. For more information on Old Abe, visit http://www.library.wisc.edu/etext/WIReader/WER1300.html.

Frank also mentions seeing:


Besides visiting the Centennial Exposition, Frank toured Philadelphia. Among the Philadelphia sights Frank notes in his diary:

  • Jefferson Medical College (now Thomas Jefferson University) and Pennsylvania Hospital where he saw operations in progress
  • J.P.Lippincott's publishing house on Market Street where he went from floor to floor into each department of book making
  • Ward's Bronze Foundry
  • Carpenter's Hall where he heard a delegate from Germany speak at the Universal Peace convention
  • Independence Hall which seemed to impress him the most with its colonial and Revolutionary War relics
  • a six-story building with an elevator
  • City Hall under construction
  • Betsy Ross House
  • Christ Church
  • Benjamin Franklin's grave
  • Edwin Forrest Mansion at Broad and Master Street (now the Freedom Theatre)
  • gunboats on the Delaware River
  • the Masonic Temple at Broad and Market
  • pleasure boating on the Schuykill River
  • croquet players in Fairmount Park

Frank also mentions the houses of worship at which he attended services. On Sunday, July 16, he attended services at three churches: the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Holy Incarnation, Memorial Baptist Chruch at Broad and Master Streets, and Gethesemane Baptist at 18th and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue). He notes that the sermon at Gethesemane Baptist was particularly fine.

The last 5 pages of the diary are a partial account of Frank's expenses for the trip. The largest single expense was the train fare from northern New Jersey to Philadelphia --$5.00. You may notice that Frank had expenses for ice cream almost every day, but not Sunday.

For an in-depth look at Victorian life, history, and culture, visit the Victorian Web at http://landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/victov.html

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2001 Free Library of Philadelphia