Philly’s weirdest stories of 2018, from Gritty to fishing in Center City
Did you forget 7,000 live insects were stolen and never recovered this year? Because we can't.
Philly has never claimed to be normal, but in 2018 the city fully embraced its weird in a way rarely before seen.
Greased poles? Yeah, we got those. Fugitive peacocks. Who doesn’t have 'em? And a new mascot who’s as unsettling as he is beloved? Yeah, he’s ours, too.
From an illegal pop-up chicken farm to a 76ers Twitter scandal, here are the strangest stories out of Philadelphia this year.
1. The city gets super weird for the Super Bowl
During the Eagles' playoff run to the Super Bowl, Philadelphia police greased poles across the city — first with Crisco and then with hydraulic fluid — in an effort to keep fans from climbing the fixtures in celebration.
But instead of taking a hint, Eagles fans took it as a challenge and continued to climb despite all logic and reason.
Greased-pole shirts and greased-pole doughnuts were created to honor the high jinks, and the adult entertainment company Pornhub offered to give 110 gallons of lubricant to help Philly grease its poles. The city didn’t touch that offer with, well, a 10-foot pole.
Aside from the greasy poles, there was a fan who went viral for running into a subway station pillar, Jason Kelce’s epic Super Bowl parade speech in full Mummers regalia, people climbing on trash trucks, and the inexplicable horsing around by one fan that can never be unseen or understood.
2. Gritty and the year of the mascots
When the Flyers revealed Gritty on Sept. 24 (yes, it’s only been three months), Philly — and the entire nation — went from horrified (does he have a drug problem?) to intrigued (oooh ... he’s sassy!) to in love (marry me!) faster than the female lead in a Hallmark Christmas movie.
It’s hard to say just when we fell in love, but it was sometime between his first hate tweet to the Penguins and his official debut at the Wells Fargo Center, where he descended from the ceiling to the Miley Cyrus song “Wrecking Ball.”
Most recently, Gritty made a half-court shot at a basketball game (and a celebratory split), stole the spotlight — and a poinsettia — during the city’s official tree-lighting ceremony, stood up Philadelphia City Council, and attacked Santa with a wreath.
Stay classy, Gritty, and stay ours.
3. When good stories go bad
One of this year’s strangest sagas began as one of last year’s happiest stories.
Kate McClure, her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, and homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt made headlines across the country when Bobbitt gave McClure his last $20 so she could get gas in her car, which had stalled on an I-95 ramp.
At least that’s the story they told on GoFundMe, where more than 14,000 people donated $400,000 to Bobbitt after McClure and D’Amico started a campaign to repay his supposed kindness.
But the tale began to unravel in August, when it was reported that Bobbitt was homeless again, despite the donations. He blamed McClure and D’Amico for withholding most of the money from him, and they accused him of stealing their belongings to feed his drug habit.
As it turned out, all three were lying — about everything — according to prosecutors, who filed charges against them on Nov. 15, alleging theft by deception and conspiracy.
4. The 76ers, Bryan Colangelo, and the curious case of the bitter Twitter transmitter
In May, the sports website the Ringer published a story based on an anonymous tip that Bryan Colangelo, the 76ers' president of basketball operations and general manager, had five secret Twitter accounts he allegedly used to criticize and gossip about the Sixers.
The scandal was dubbed — what else? — Woodergate.
5. A beach grows — and gets shut down — in North Philly
In North Philly this year, they sanded a parking lot and put up a paradise.
The New Beach Club was created in a parking lot next to an auto-body shop in Swampoodle in July, complete with above-ground pools, sand, beach chairs, and hundreds of landlocked beach-goers.
That jawn was “popping” and “lit,” according to attendees, who paid $15 if they were men and nothing if they were women dressed in bathing suits.
But organizer Chris Knight never got permits for the beach and when the lot’s landlord, Ray Murphy, received complaints from a neighbor, he drew a line in the sand and shut it down, leaving many beach-bummed.
6. A fish out of water
When pro fisherman Mike Iaconelli was spotted fishing in Center City storm drains in October with bits of hot dogs and soft pretzels as bait, many people thought his story was fishy.
But when we got him on the phone, Iaconelli — whose urban-fishing show Fish My City, was premiering that week on National Geographic Wild Channel — swore he’d caught catfish from the drain.
We checked with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and a rep said it would be possible to catch fish in Philly’s storm drains, as long as those drains are connected to area waterways.
Although the story didn’t send people rushing to storm drains across Philly with their fishing poles, it was off-the-hook click bait.
7. Insect intrigue
This story still bugs us out.
Back in August, thieves stole about 7,000 insects valued at more than $40,000 from the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion. To this day, the bug-lars — and their booty — remain unaccounted for.
Why aren’t we freaking out more, Philly? Some of these missing bugs are spiders!
Employees were suspected in the theft, mainly because some were caught on surveillance carrying bugs and lizards out of the facility, but also because employee uniforms were found dangling from knives that had been stabbed into the establishment’s wall.
These buglars were obviously centi-peeved.
We’re praying like a mantis for a resolution to this creepy crawler critter caper, but when we asked, Philadelphia police told us, “There are no updates regarding this incident.”
8. Rock out with your peacock out
But despite police’s best peacock-blocking efforts, the birds evaded capture. One was later found dead and two were found unharmed shortly after and returned to the zoo. The fourth was still believed to be a fugitive, but when we checked with the zoo, director of communications Dana Lombardo told us the final bird was eventually found unharmed by the city’s Animal Care and Control Team and returned to the zoo.
No word on when or where the peacock was found. We’re happy he’s safe and we don’t want to ruffle any feathers, but we kind of hoped he was on a beach right now in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, with Red and Andy.
9. St. Elmo’s fire
When a 13-second clip of Elmo dancing down the sidewalk between two drummers as a four-alarm fire burned brightly behind them hit the internet this July, it seemed peak Philly.
To date, the video has amassed more than 473,000 views on YouTube, where people have wondered whether it’s a trailer for the next Purge movie while also positing that it’s the “greatest thing to ever exist.”
But the backstory behind the clip is far from warm and fuzzy. The man in the costume is William Fulton, 29, a member of the Positive Movement drum line who was dealing with lack of stable housing and had a warrant out for a probation violation when the clip went viral.
He was arrested the day after the fire.
10. Thumb’s down
This is a story about why we can’t have nice things, Philly.
In February, federal authorities charged Michael Rohana, 24, of Delaware, with stealing the thumb off of a Terracotta Warrior that was on loan to the Franklin Institute from China for the museum’s “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibit.
This is a 2,000-plus-year-old ancient artifact valued at $4.5 million and this genius allegedly thought a missing piece of it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Rohana allegedly got into the Terracotta exhibit during an after-hours party at the museum, broke the thumb off, put it in his pocket, and kept it in a drawer at his home until the FBI’s Art Crime Team came knocking on his door and took it back.
Good luck with that ancient curse, dude.
11. A plot most fowl
One bird-brained entrepreneur who set up a substandard “pop-up chicken farm” with 2,500 baby chicks on an Olney lot he didn’t own ended up with egg on his face when his plan went haywire.
The man bought the chickens intending to flip the birds and sell them for food, but the enclosure he built for them on land he didn’t own was too small and contained no heat source, according to Pennsylvania SPCA officials.
By the time the PSCPA was alerted to the operation, only about 1,200 chicks were still alive. The others had succumbed to overcrowding and the elements, or escaped the shoddy enclosure and succumbed to Philly’s streets.
But in a bit of good news this month, PSCPA officials reported that the surviving chickens all have new homes, from Pennsylvania to Washington state.
12. The clipping of Wing Bowl
In October, sports radio WIP announced that it would end one of Philly’s weirdest traditions — Wing Bowl — after 26 years.
The early-morning, drunken, misogynistic gorge fest that centered around a chicken-wing-eating competition was equally beloved and reviled in Philadelphia.
The idea for Wing Bowl, which was held the Friday before the Super Bowl at the Wells Fargo Center, was to have a celebration for Philadelphians around the time of the big game, because their team rarely made it in.
But with the Eagles' win at Super Bowl LII (see #1), and in the era of the #MeToo movement, the event seemed not only out of touch, but out of a different time.
And Philly has already proven that it has plenty of weird to fill the void.