For answers, Sleuth went to journalist Murray Dubin, author of “South Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories and the Melrose Diner.”
Murray Dubin reported for The Inquirer for 34 years. Besides his book on South Philadelphia (Mummers, Memories and the Melrose Diner), he recently published Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, which he co-authored with Dan Biddle.Despite his decades of research into South Philly lore, he found Sleuth’s question a tough one. Here’s his answer:”I am afraid I do not have a definitive answer. But here is what I know:”I was a kid in the 1950s, and back then there were cars parking in the middle of Broad Street. My parents didn’t own a car so it was not a part of South Philadelphia life that had impact on my life.”But I knew then, and know now, that where I lived parking was always neighborhood — not city government — driven. I grew up on Wolf Street near Fifth, and there was no double parking on the street because there were no large commercial enterprises except for small grocery and candy stores at the corners. But on the 1400 block of Porter or the 1500 block of Shunk or the 1000 block of Wolf or on dozens of others streets, restaurants and bars on corners and mid-block drew customers with cars in the same way that Mummers attract glitter. And those cars had nowhere to park because South Philadelphia row houses had no garages.”So those cars began double parking on the street. Then residents, not wanting to be blocked in, began doing the same thing and it has now become the norm.”As for South Broad Street, my guess is that the funeral homes that populated both sides of the street since the early 1900s (they, no doubt, located there because the buildings on Broad Street are quite deep), had no parking lots. Grieving families had to park somewhere, and that began the practice of parking in the middle of the street.”But I could be wrong. Remember, South Philadelphia is full of stories, some true, some not.”Dubin, apologetic for the uncertain answer, urged Sleuth to contact Dr. Richard Juliani, a sociologist at Villanova University who has written several books on the Italian-Americans of Philadelphia.But Juliani could not resolve the mystery, either. His reply:”I’ve given some thought to your question, but I have no answer at all. Murray’s suggestion about the parking for funeral home viewings makes some sense, but as a social scientist/historian I find that not enough to take the place of evidence. I also think that if you continue asking people to offer an explanation, you will get many different answers. When questions about popular customs are asked, there are always “informants” who think that they can invent the right answer. “OK, the experts have had their inconclusive say. So Sleuth asks: Is there anyone out there with reliable information as to how this legendary custom got started?