Five Fishes Along the River
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
FIVE FISHES ALONG THE RIVER
Interviewees: Tom Williams (TW) and Keith Shively (KS)
(formerly of 3806 Henry Avenue)
Interviewer: Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date of Interview: November 8, 2008
ES: It’s November 8, 2008 and this is Ellen Sheehan. I’m here with Keith and Tom and they have donated the history of the Five Fishes on the river. Do you want to introduce yourselves?
TS: Tom Williams and Keith Shively, formerly of 3806 Henry Avenue, East Falls. We are going to chat a bit about the Five Fishes along the River. We have a book prepared about this but want to say what actually occurred. The start of this was the Falls Bridge Centennial in 1995. We were on a part of the committee for the bridge celebration. That’s the background of the Five Fishes.
We were actually trying to raise money to light the bridge at that time through funds raised at the bridge celebration so we have a lot of materials in this binder that relates to the members of the committee and all of the activities that occurred. We are going to start looking at the materials in the binder.
KS: I don’t know if the date was given for this – November 8, 2008 and we’re in the Falls Library. Our story begins when a committee was formed to celebrate the Centennial of the Falls Bridge which is a very unusual structure. Various committee members decided we would have a festival along East River Drive – Kelly Drive. And Bill deHeyman and Wendy Moody were two of the great movers in this.
TW: They were the co-chairs and the committee was formed, I believe, in late 1994 because the celebration was to be June, 1995.
KS: So little did we know that somewhere along the line someone suggested we might consider raising money to light the Falls Bridge which was a great idea but we simply did not realize just how much money it would cost to light the bridge – the Falls Bridge – with decorative lighting.
But Sallie Maser, another community activist, got her friend, Ray Grenald, to make a light presentation – Ray Grenald does commercial lighting for places like the Comcast Center and that sort of thing. So we had our festival and we had a certain amount of money I am not sure how much, but it was certainly not enough to light the Falls Bridge.
Eventually this morphed into our deciding to have some sort of art installation. And eventually, as the Waterworks was under renovation at that time – I was down there with Tom Williams and I saw these fish plaques that were there and this gave me an inspiration that we could do this in East Falls. The Catfish was the neighborhood symbol of East Falls and which I don’t know if it is good or bad, because catfish are bottom feeders and some people complained about that. But we could have these plaques of indigenous fish along the Schuylkill, so we started working on that.
TW: The plaques at the Waterworks are down by the Art Museum. We have photos of those and we’ll discuss them. We should talk about this committee for a minute. This Bridge Centennial Committee is a very long list and it fluctuated. Pastor deHeyman and Wendy Moody were the co-chairs and then we had a steering committee and an activity head and all kinds of neighborhood people listed here – I don’t know if we want to mention them all individually?
KS: Oh sure we do. The Steering Committee was Julie Camburn, Sallie Maser, Alexis Franklin, Ernst Hohmann, Scott DeLenca (?), Bill Epstein, Bill Hoffman and John Frees. Marcello Schmidt was the secretary and Lucy Iannitto was the treasurer.
The Activities heads – and this of course is for the Bridge Centennial – was: Publicity – Bill Epstein, Bridge Walk Photo display – Ellen Sheehan, Food Vendors –
Keith Shively, Tom Williams, Amusements – Scott Delenca, Horse Carriage Ride – John Frees, Stamp Cancellation – Julie Camburn, Bridge Centennial Poster – Maria Duca, Dignitaries – Bill Hoffman and John Fidrych.
TW: The Coupon Redemption Program was Alexis Franklin, Performance groups –
Ernst Hohmann, Bridge Lighting – Sallie Maser, Band – Wendy Moody, Regatta – Philadelphia Police Marine Unit – Hilary Langer, River Activities – Marilyn Schaffer, Souvenirs – Roberta Ginsberg and various jobs that were not filled at this particular moment. Some people came and went and we have various lists of people here available for reference.
KS: The bridge celebration was a success and as I’m going over this I realize some of the things I had forgotten, like the candle-lit walk across the Bridge and pony rides.
TW: On that evening we formed down there at dusk and just as we were to walk with the candles there was a heavy rain storm but we continued the walk but everything disbanded and there was a big rush to return tables and chairs to the library. That’s how that evening ended but it was mostly a success.
KS: So what happened after that, we don’t seem to have any financial data but we kept trying to raise money to light the bridge. We even talked to a lot of people but we had already asked people for money for the bridge celebration so we didn’t think we could ask people for more money for lighting, so we formed another committee and came up with the Fish Signage project along the river.
TW: That committee consisted of Keith Shively, Tom Williams, Alexis Franklin, Julie Camburn, Marilynn Shaffer, Alice Reiff.
ES: The Henzes?
TW: No, the Henzes became involved because we needed some financial support later on for maintenance so we turned to Penn Reels, so Gayl became involved. What we
did at this point, this was 1998, we engaged – contacted – a person who worked at the project down by the Waterworks, this chap named Steve Sears, from Sears Iron Works from Ottsville (?), Pa. We did a lot of work with him with prototypes. We presented at the East Falls Community Council, we were down at the river with signs – prototype signs and posts at a location at the bottom of Midvale and Ridge, but this turned out not to be a logical spot.
KS: I don’t really remember why – I think people thought it was too dangerous to put something there – cars might crash into it. So we went down to the area under the twin bridges which is really more dynamic. We got Steve Sears, as I think Tom said, because he had done some of the work at the Waterworks and he turned out to be very cooperative with our low budget art installation and the Schuylkill Valley Riverway or Greenway gave us a grant also. There was another financial contribution but it just slips my mind.
TW: Well, what we have is a letter dated April 22, 1998 from Sears Ironworks which gives all the specifications and did he give the cost at that point? I’m not sure if he did. That might have come up later.
This was a letter written to the Fairmount Park Commission from the Falls Bridge Centennial Committee asking if this was referencing the Schuylkill Heritage signage grant. They provided funding and we also had funding from the Penn Reels Fishing Company for some maintenance.
KS: We have a letter here, June 10, 1998, to Julie Camburn, Vice President of East Falls Development Corporation, from the Fairmount Park Commission Secretary, Dottie Buckley, “This will confirm that at its meeting held June 1, 1998 Fairmount Park Commission voted to adopt recommendations from the Park Use Review Committee installation of five fish silhouette interpretive plaques on the edge of the Schuylkill River under the twin bridges of the Schuylkill Expressway.”
With certain modifications, the approval was made. The installation will be privately funded when the Penn Reels Company has made a written commitment to contribute $500.00 per year for 5 years for maintenance. This is not a notice to proceed, you are required to obtain a permit from the Park Engineer before commencing construction. So that was the OK from Fairmount Park. Shall we do these finances a little bit?
We have a summary of the cost. The expenses for the fish silhouettes
and the information plaque and the brick hardscaping came to $15,617.00. From the Falls Bridge funds – Centennial Committee funds – we had $8,000 and from the Schuylkill River Greenway Association – they did a matching – that came to $7808.50. And we had a funding from the construction company for the hardscaping. And then we had total funds of $16008.50.
KS: I wanted to say that Fairmount was not all that easy to get along with during this installation and we have to realize the Five Fishes are on Fairmount Park property and City of Philadelphia property and they really wanted us to donate money to Fairmount Park instead of just getting a sculpture in the East Falls area. But we were determined and we got our Five Fishes.
I also wanted to say that this was a small job for someone like Steve Sears who has a very good reputation in the ornamental iron sculpture work. I think he really cut us a break in the pricing of this.
I think at this time we could say what the Five Fishes are. The five fish are indigenous fish to the Schuylkill River; the small-mouth Bass, Carp, Shad, Catfish – the East Falls symbol, striped bass – and the Yellow Perch.
Many times they’re referred to as silhouette signs at the Falls Bridge. I don’t know if that’s really a silhouette – it’s more of a cut-out. I don’t know the correct term for it.
I think we can probably go through a lot of this correspondence here and get to the point where we finally arrive at our Dedication of the Five Fishes.
We have some photos and can identify the people who were there. I want to say that mid-way through the process, Keith Shively and Tom Williams got a fax machine and it saved our life. (laughter)
There are a lot of fish photographs and drawings in here.
TW: You might want to talk about the information plaques because that took a lot of people and a lot of time to decide the wording. We have some examples here.
KS: (Keith reads the wording about the history of the fish in the Schuylkill.) That’s the first paragraph of our explanatory sign.
I want to give credit where credit is due. It was originally my inspiration which I got from the signage at the Waterworks on the walkway. Other committee members gave insight or input into this. Steve Sears was very helpful in contributing to the design. There was a gentleman named Bill Burke from Philadelphia Art Commission who came out to look at our proposed installation and it was his suggestion that the five fish signs be cantilevered over the river so that you could see the water flowing through the fish cut-outs. We gave ample credit to these two gentleman at the presentation to the Fairmount Park Art Association.
TW: We have come to the part of the book that has a couple of photographs of the information signs headed up “Welcome to East Falls. It’s to the right of the fish plaques at the right level for people to read – it’s below – so it’s accessible for anyone who’s handicapped.
On the next page we have the front cover of the East Falls history book to celebrate “Three Hundred Years of East Falls History. I think the photograph on the cover of the book is the photograph on our information signs.
KS: And that shows the rocks in the river – probably an old woodcut or lithograph – and it shows the rocks that were covered after the Fairmount Dam was put in.
TW: We’re looking at photographs of the signs after they were installed with the Falls Bridge in the background, some with the high bridges, some of individual plaques.
ES: Can I ask who did the installation?
TW: The installation of the plaques and the information signs was done by Steve Sears. The brick work was done by Mariano Construction. I think they donated some of their service.
This is some information on the Waterworks because we talked about them earlier. This is a letter from the Schuylkill Greenway Association allotting us the funds. Then we have a letter from the Water Department – at one of our meeting a local person, Liz Harvey, an intern at the Water Department who grew up on Penn Street – her parents are Alan and Judy Harvey – gave us information from the Water Department.
KS: I don’t think we should get into all that. She said their esplanade was conceived by Alan Fletcher and the design was done by Tourbier (?) and Bromsley (?)
TW: And this is the esplanade down at the Waterworks near the Art Museum. What they did down there was at a cost of $600,000.00 which we thought was rather interesting.
KS: Which is why I say I think they cut us a break.
TW: Let’s talk about this Waterworks thing for a minute. They were not fish, they were
KS: But the fish plaques were in the walkway much like the stars on South Broad Street – the bronze stars – were put into the cement – that’s how the fish plaques were put into the brick walkway at the Waterworks.
TW: We want you to notice that there are photographs here of the signs at the Waterworks and Powers and Weightman Manufacturing Chemists is one of the signs and I believe Powers & Weightman was in East Falls.
KS: And the Weightman house was once Ravenhill Academy and is now part of Philadelphia University. I read somewhere that Weightman’s daughter was considered to be one of the richest women in the world.
TW: Photographs are identified. We have one of the original proposed site of Kelly Drive and Midvale. We met there one day with mockups from Steve Sears with wood posts and foam board.
We have photos of people who were involved at the time: Steve Sears, Julie Camburn, Alice Reiff, Cynthia Kishinchand, Keith Shively, Tom Williams, Laurie Hayes from Fairmount Park, Liz Harvey, and L. Fisher an intern at Fairmount Park Commission at the time.
We show the signs straight up against the wall – this is not what we did later, but we wanted to show how we were working on this particular location.
KS: Now we’re to a flood – this is out of order. A newspaper clipping of a flood in March, 2000 along Kelly Drive which was prone to flooding. Someone put an arrow to show where the fish signs are. Just a little black mark. That was the year we lost one of the fish signs. Steve Sears refabricated and installed and at the end of the installation we noticed on the bottom of the river the missing plaque. He retrieved it and I think it may be available.
TW: In October of 1999 Sears Iron Works did this repair work from the flood. They replaced one missing fish silhouette – the small-mouth bass, they repaired a damaged post and straightened another fish sign at a cost of $450.00 and they wanted to do further maintenance at that time.
KS: The ongoing maintenance is a problem for us. There is no endowment and I don’t know how to address it.
TW: It was agreed that it would be turned over to the EFDC and there is documentation relating to that. We also have correspondence for the lighting of the Falls Bridge as late as 1999. All the bridges along the river were being lit at that time. We were pushing for the Falls Bridge. We wrote to Millennium Philadelphia; we wrote to PECO but nothing came of it but we have a lot of correspondence.
KS: And we cornered Ed Rendell in McMichael Park and asked him about it. He was not dismissive and said he would donate $1000.00 if you guys get it going. We didn’t have the talent to do that sort of thing.
TW: We wrote letters to PECO. We have a response to PECO. Phil Steinberg, the President of the East Falls Community Council at the time, wrote to PECO. Michael Nutter helped us also. But as you know the lighting of the bridge eventually happened in January 2008.
KS: We’re now at the Dedication Day – I don’t have the date. We have photos of the dignitaries. The fish signs were covered with white muslin covers with fish and abstract waves on them and the dignitaries used rods that Herb Henze from Penn Reels brought to “catch” the covers and lift them off. Here’s Bill Mifflin doing that. Photos identified (Phil Steinberg, Tom Williams, Roberta Ginsberg, Cynthia Kishinchand, Laurie Hayes from Fairmount Park, Marilynn Shaffer, Herb and Gayl Henze.
TW: We gave Herb one of the cut-outs
KS: ….Which I wrapped in brown paper like you would do years ago in the fish market and I think Alice Reiff presented it to him– “Here’s something from the fish market.” All very apropos.
TW: We had a little reception with food under the bridges across from here which is now a parking lot.
KS: And I think we had tuna tea sandwiches and cookies and ice tea.
TW: We wanted to register this with Fairmount Park Art Association as a permanent art installation so Keith wrote a letter to them back in July of 1999, asking about registering this. We have a letter back from them in August 1999 saying “Thank you for sending along information and photographs of the East Falls Five Fishes. I’ve seen it and I applaud your efforts because I remember when this was an idea and not a reality. We had an interesting discussion in our office on whether the work was a sculpture or a very innovative signage display. Since we couldn’t agree, we decided we would include it in our inventory. I’m enclosing an inventory form for you to fill out and return. Sincerely…” Keith and I worked on this application…
KS: The inventory form, and we finally sent it in last month, October 2008.
TW: We sent it to the Fairmount Park Art Association, 1616 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. We have a copy in the book of this multi-page form. It was involved so we put it off for a while. We haven’t heard back from them but they did agree to register it.
KS: But it’s in the inventory, so to speak. And it’s my understanding that the Fairmount Park Art Association does rehabilitate and restore and maintain art installations. I think they did the signs along the Manayunk Canal.
gentleman named Bill Burke from Phil. Parks Comm. Who suggested that the Five Fishes be
cantilevered over the river so that you could see the water through the fish cut-outs. We gave
credit to these two gentleman at the presentation to the,Fairmount Park Art Ass. Mt.
We have come to the part of the book “Welcome to EF”. To the right of the plaques is the
information board at the right level for anyone to read and assessable for the handicapped.
The photograph on the information sign is the photograph on the cover of the book “Three
hundred years of EF history”. It shows the rocks in the river that were covered after the
Fairmount dam was built. We have many photographs here. The installation of the fishes and
the information plaque was done by Steve Sears. The brick work was done by Mariano
Reference made to letter in the booklet from the Schuylkill Heritage Project, and from the Water
Depai truent. At one of our meeting Liz Harvey, an intern at the Water Department who grew up
on Penn St., gave us information from the Water Dept. The sculpture at the Waterworks cost
$600,000.00. They were local companies. Powers and Weighman co. is one of the companies
and was in EF. The Weighman house was donated by Ann Marie Weighman and became
Photographs are identified.
Newspaper clipping of a flood in March, 2000 along Kelly Dr. We lost one of the fish signs. It
was replaced and repair in Oct. At a cost of $450.00 The ongoing maintenance is a problem.
There is no endowment. It was agreed that it would be turned over to the EFDC and there is
documentation relating to that.
There is correspondence for the lighting of the Falls Bridge. Nothing came of it but we have a lot
of correspondence. We cornered Ed Rendall in McMichael Park and asked him about it. He was
not dismissive and said he would donate $1000.00 if you get it going. We didn’t have the talent
to do that sort of thing. We wrote letters to Peco. The lighting of the bridge happened in January
Photos of the dedicated day of dignitaries. The signs were covered and the dignitaries used reels
to take the covers off. The reception was held across the street.
We wanted to register this with Fairmount Park. Inventory form was sent by us to Fairmount
Park in October 2008.
They did agree to register it. They may restore and maintain.