Throwback Thanksgiving

Celebrating the Holiday in southwest Germantown

Almost ten years ago, the Germantown Historical Society received a donation of diaries spanning the years 1917-1952, written by a local resident, Frederich Herman Schlimm (1869-1959), known to most as Herman.

For much of his adult life, Herman lived in Germantown — earlier at 251 Zeralda Street and then later at 225 Apsley Street (where he had moved by the mid-1920s). There, he lived with his wife, Mary [Mame]; his mother, Amelia; and daughters, Elsie Loraine and Myra Roxanna [Roxie].

He was an engraver for the Curtis Publishing Company in Center City, and much of the content in the diaries discusses his commute to and from work on public transit, and the sights he witnessed along the way. Those from the mid-1920s were typed, and Herman documented his life, and those around him, in sometimes excruciating detail.

The period leading up to Thanksgiving, 1927 was a busy one for Herman, with work, house projects, and the holiday all pulling him in different directions. Below are excerpts from one of his diaries, with notes included, in brackets:

Tuesday, November 22

“To work on trolley 53 & exchange [transfer] to Chestnut. Phil Weller [a colleague of Schlimm’s], tells me that Gabriel worked on my cover, later Geo tells me that he had to brighten it up. Home on [the] 5.23… Mother had gone down with Bert Phillips to buy a turkey and there is an argument because the bird is 2 ½ lbs shy after the legs, head, and wings are cut off.”

Wednesday, November 23

“To work on 53 & exchange to Chestnut. I walked to Wyoming Ave. I stopped at the library and when I got to station there is an immense crowd but no trains, also got blocked again before we got to Wayne Jct. Mother was sick this morning… I go with M [Mame] on Wayne Ave above Berkley to give some Thanksgiving food to a poor family donated from the girls club, and we walk up to Wyoming and… then home I practice [the flute] and later with Loraine.”

Thursday, November 24

“We get up about eight. I fix the hose in cellar leading to the water tank in heater and practice [flute] after breakfast till 9.45 and then start to get ready. M is feeling badly and does not know if she is going to church [First Primitive Methodist Church at 26th Street and Lehigh Avenue] but decides to go… After a lunch, we put Jolly copper weather strip on kitchen door and fix the lattice out front and I paint the steps… Mattie and Rose are here when we have the Thanksgiving dinner at six. One Wednesday, M took the turkey back that mother bought and we found to be 9 ¼ instead of 12 lbs. She got her money back.”

The details included in just a few days’ entries reveals much about what life was like for a family living in southwest Germantown in the 1920s and show the family’s relationships with other locations in the city. Furthermore, they help to reveal some of the problems residents of the area faced at the time; these included traffic congestion, issues associated with public transit, and those of poor and underserved communities.

225 Apsley Street today

Even the discussion about the home maintenance projects has provided some information on the history of the Apsley Street house, specifically that the lattice visible in the porch railing may be almost 100 years old!As the holiday season approaches, think about the people and places important to you. In your diaries (and blogs!), do you mention them? If so, what do you say? Our personal memories are so important, and what we decide to mention may provide invaluable information for those studying our area’s history in future generations. Therefore, do make observations about things of interest around you, and be sure to preserve them for the future.

Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuomi’s Time Machine goes back in time with Tuomi Forrest, Executive Director of Historic Germantown, as he picks some of his favorite images from the Historical Society’s extensive collection. Alex Bartlett, Librarian of Historic Germantown, writes the columns, bringing photos from the distant past to life.

Historic Germantown’s Library and Archives include an incredible wealth of fascinating documents and publications — lots you can view online, and also available in-person and even via mail. Over 5,000 photos plus books, church records, deeds, scrapbooks and maps going way back to colonial times. Open Tuesdays (9AM -1PM) and Thursdays (1PM – 5PM), contact office for Sunday hours or additional assistance.

Learn more about the history of Germantown and surrounding northwest Philly neighborhoods!  Contact Alex at (215)844-1683, or email with any inquiry. 

About Alex Bartlett 33 Articles
Librarian and archivist Alex Bartlett combines his hobbies with his career. Working for the Germantown historical society, Bartlett manages the libraries’ collection and archives, while also helping to provide visitors with requested research documents. Alex is a self-described “history nerd,” with interests in archeology and old bottles and glassware. He said that growing up in Germantown is what initially stimulated his enthusiasm toward historical documents and objects, and his job manages to integrate all of his interests into one field.

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