When I moved to Philadelphia from Boston, I was like my fellow mass of 20-somethings: post college, pre-career, and completely freaked out. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, besides (hopefully) use my English degree to work in the arts-and-culture sector. To gain some experience, I took an internship in the development department of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I figured it would be interesting, and hey, I love history.
I had a chance to see all of these beneficiaries on our grand reopening day this past October. Throughout most of my internship, I only knew HSP by its employee entrance on the side of the building, and my makeshift desk made of drywall. But that day, I too saw the library’s complete transformation after seven months of rigorous renovations.
As the public streamed in through our beautiful new foyer, there was a sense of awe. Many visitors were new or had walked by the building “hundreds of times,” never knowing what was inside. They were met with a special document display for the occasion, showcasing some of our collection’s best treasures including the first handwritten draft the United States’ Constitution, and life portraits of William and Hannah Penn. They could go on tours inside the formidable vaults, and talk to the staff that preserves and digitizes our documents, and get an introduction on how to research in the library.
I worked the registration desk that day, and something that struck me was the constant question of “What else can we do?” After exhausting the day’s activities, visitors still wanted more. They wanted to see everything HSP had to offer, because they were excited about the possibilities, and that, to me, is the essence of this city.
Something I find unique to Philadelphia is that it’s a living history. The old and new are seamlessly intertwined and unquestioned. There is a proud acceptance of who we are and from where we came — and where we’re going. I think this sentiment is so profoundly echoed in what researchers and family genealogists come to HSP to do. They seek tangible evidence of their past, and in doing so, find wholeness in their present selves.
I feel that wholeness taking shape every day that I intern here. I find it worthy and a vital part of our human identity; and as such, this Young Friends event is important to me. What began as a fun internship has become my own small way to contribute to my new city — and hopefully help future patrons find what they seek.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bethany Chisholm reports that the “Mad Men” event on Nov. 21 raised nearly $2,500, enabling HSP to adopt the Balch Ethnic Images in Advertising Collection that was on display that night, and the Theatre of the Living Arts Collection. HSP’s archives staff will now be able to preserve these to make them available to genealogists, scholars, historians, and students for years to come.
Bethany Chisholm is a Boston transplant, eager to fall in love with a new city.
This was originally published by Philly Love Notes in November 2013.