Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Birth of A Christmas Carol

Christmas came on a Friday in 1868.
The Sunday School children of the Episcopal Church of Holy Trinity, on Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, stood up at their special holiday service, and sang a little song. It was especially written for the occasion, by the pastor of the church and the organist. It was a simple Christmas song. Nobody expected it ever to be heard beyond the walls of Holy Trinity.
The children had rehearsed the song on the previous Sunday morning. “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” it began, “how still we see thee lie.” This Christmas, the 140th Christmas since that day, hundreds of thousands of Christians and many creeds and languages will sing the carol that the children first sang at Holy Trinity. The Sunday School song that became a traditional carol was born in the upstairs rear apartment at 113 Walnut Street. That was the residence of the Rev. Phillips Brooks, rector of Holy Trinity. Mr. Brooks had just turned 33 on December 13, and was already pastor of an impressive 11-year-old church on fashionable Rittenhouse Square. He would go on to become bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts and a leader of the Episcopal Church. He had just come back from a trip to the Holy Land. The sights and sounds of the actual location of the Christmas story were on his mind.
So was the upcoming Sunday School program. Mr. Brooks sat at his desk and began to write a poem. Perhaps, he thought, his organist, Lewis H. Redner, could write an appropriate melody for it. The song would have to be finished by the Sunday before Christmas, so the children could learn it. Four verses he wrote, picturing the everlasting light of the Nativity illuminating the dark streets of quiet Bethlehem.
He gave the poem to Redner, who said he would see what he could do. Redner was a real estate man, with an office at 735 Walnut Street. He was jolly, mustachioed bachelor. His friends called him “Bubbles.” He was known for donating peanuts in bushel quantities to the students of the Episcopal Divinity School, and for conducting midnight religious services for the employees of the Philadelphia Gas Works. On the Friday before the day for rehearsal, the rector asked his organist, “Have you ground out that music yet?
“No,” Redner replied, “but I’ll have it by Sunday.”
He kept thinking about it, but when he went to bed in his residence at 1711 Spruce Street, Saturday night, he still had no finished idea. “But I was roused from my sleep late in the night,” Redner wrote later, “hearing an angel strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper, I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning, before going to church, I filled in the harmony. Neither Mr. Brooks nor I ever thought the carol or the music to it would live beyond that Christmas 1868.”
(This story was written by my friend, James Smart, for the Philadelphia Bulletin 12/22/68 on an anniversary of the carol. He called to ask me if I was related to Lewis Redner, and I was happy to report that he was my great, great uncle, according to family folklore.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Giardello statue announced

PHILADELPHIA (December 2, 2008) – Former middleweight champion Joey Giardello will be honored with a life-sized statue on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia in 2009.

This Sunday, December 7, 2008, a ceremony is scheduled for 11:00 AM to officially announce the statue project at the future site of the monument – the triangle of East Passyunk Avenue, South 13th Street, and Mifflin Street. Both the public and media are welcome to attend.

The December 7th event date commemorates the 45th anniversary of Giardello’s winning of the middleweight championship in 1963. At the event, Giardello will be remembered, the statue location will be dedicated, and refreshments will be served.

The statue project is a non-profit effort being conducted by a partnership between the Veteran Boxers Association – Ring One, the Harrowgate Boxing Club, and the Web site Philly Boxing History.com. 1st District Councilman Frank DiCicco cleared the way for the group to use the East Passyunk location and is supporting the project completely.

World-renowned artist Carl LeVotch has been commissioned to create the statue of Giardello. LeVotch is responsible for numerous artistic works throughout the world, including such boxing-related pieces as “The Spirit of Boxing”, “The End of the 9th”, and the “Briscoe Award.”

Giardello, who became champion by defeating Dick Tiger at Atlantic City’s Convention Hall, was born in Brooklyn but lived most of his life in South Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, NJ. Giardello passed away September 4, 2008.