The most curious things we learned about Philly in 2020
Readers had questions about police in a strip-club parking lot, cicadas, and streets named after a Revolutionary war traitor. We found answers.
Readers had a lot of questions in 2020. But COVID-19 and the election weren’t the only things they were wondering about. They also had questions about police in a strip-club parking lot, cicadas, and streets named after a Revolutionary War traitor.
These queries came through Curious Philly, where readers ask our reporters to hunt down answers to their burning questions. You can ask your own at inquirer.com/curiousphilly.
» READ MORE: Ask us a question through Curious Philly
The police used a strip-club parking lot as a home base during the protests
Over the summer, one reader made an interesting observation: Philadelphia police seemed to be gathering en masse at a strip-club parking lot. “I noticed during the BLM activism in June and again after Kenosha that police use the parking lot of Delilah’s as a muster point or some kind of command center. While it makes for a funny photo (100s of cops under a sign for a strip club), what are the police doing there?” he asked. He wasn’t the only one to notice. On Twitter, one user asked: “Can anyone tell my why half the Philly Police appear to be having daily cookouts in the Delilah’s parking lot off the side of I-95?” Another was more pointed: “LMAO!! THE COPS HAVE BOGARDED DELILAH’S STRIP CLUB, AS A HUB!”
Stephanie Farr tracked down the answer: Philadelphia police were using the parking lot as a tactical staging area during “large-scale events.” (The space is private property, and, yes, the department asked for permission.) While a spokesperson “declined to detail why Delilah’s is a ‘tactically sound’ staging area for deployment, the lot is near I-95, close to the major thoroughfare of Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard, and is less than half a mile from the city’s Office of Emergency Management,” Farr wrote.
» READ MORE: The naked truth about why Philly police used a strip club parking lot as a home base during the protests
2021 is going to be a noisy one for cicadas
While fireworks made for a noisy summer, some noticed an eerie silence in the heat. “I have only heard one cicada all summer. What gives?” asked one Inquirer reader. Grace Dickinson found the answer. Experts say there wasn’t a lack of the noisy bugs in 2020, but 2021 will be louder. “They tend to draw the most attention during brood years — when as many as 1.5 million cicadas synchronously emerge per acre — and that’s not happening in Philadelphia this summer. As for next year? That’s a different story. In spring, ‘Brood X’ is predicted to hit the region,” Dickinson wrote. In Pennsylvania, there are 13 species of cicada, and each one sings a different song. (Listen at songsofinsects.com/cicadas.) Each species falls into two categories: annual cicadas, which we heard in 2020, and periodical cicadas, which appear by the millions every 13 or 17 years. No one quite knows why periodical cicadas emerge so infrequently, though some experts think it may help them avoid predators and parasites.
» READ MORE: You may hear fewer cicadas this year, but next year will be noisy
Columbus Day remains a city holiday
As the Columbus statue became a focus of protests this year, some wondered: What about the holiday? D.C., and a growing list of places, have abandoned celebrating the day, though it remains a federal holiday. In 2020, the holiday was still officially on the books in Philly, though that might change in 2021. As Grace Dickinson reported: “All official city holidays are outlined in the collective bargaining agreements made between the mayor’s office and the city’s four municipal unions. Any changes to those holidays must be agreed upon by all parties. To do away with Columbus Day and/or replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, one of the city’s four municipal unions, or a city administration representative, would need to propose it during contract negotiations. And, again, all unions and the mayor would then need to agree on the change.” So, even if Philly wanted to stop observing Columbus Day in 2020, it wasn’t possible. The next window to make that happen: June 2021, when municipal union contract extensions expire.
“Philadelphia already recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but it’s mostly symbolic,” Dickinson wrote. “Why? City Council cannot appoint official city holidays, but can only mark observances. (The difference: On official city holidays, services shut down; on others, business carries on as usual.)” Indigenous Peoples’ Day falls on the first Saturday of October in Philly. But, as Dickinson writes, “without the designation of an official city holiday, few know the recognition exists.”
» READ MORE: Columbus Day is still an official city holiday in Philly. Here’s why.
A lot of highway signs disrespect Philly
“Why do all northbound signs on I-95 in Maryland say New York and not Philadelphia or Wilmington? Very irking to me and several million Philadelphia-area residents,” said reader James Udell. Grace Dickinson investigated. “Federal regulations limit the number of destinations that can be shown on guide signs to two per sign. So, if a sign is pointing people in two directions, each can only show one destination,” she wrote. “The idea is that it’s the most recognizable of all the options.”
“Using ‘NEW YORK’ as the guide sign destination clearly captures all northbound motorists regardless of their ultimate destination without presenting information which could confuse motorists destined for an interim destination,” said John Sales, Maryland Transportation Authority public affairs manager. “Adding additional destinations causes confusion for motorists at a time when they are processing significant amounts of information as part of driving.”
» READ MORE: Why do highway signs on the way to Philly only point people to NYC?
The stadiums’ parking lots were packed during the lockdown — with rental cars
Early in the pandemic, with everything closed, we got a very curious question: Why are the parking lots at the Wells Fargo Center full? Stephanie Farr unraveled the mystery: “They’re all rental cars,” she wrote. “Given the ‘precipitous drop in air travel’ over the last few months, rental car companies at Philadelphia International Airport found themselves with more cars on their hands than their airport lots could handle.” So, to help fix the problem, rental cars had to go somewhere. And the stadiums seemed like the perfect fit.
» READ MORE: Why are so many cars parked at the stadium complex in South Philly right now?
The lights on Philly’s skyline are color-coordinated
“Do building managers for the major skyscrapers across the city coordinate their light colors?” asked reader Madeline DelVescovo. Gabby Houck shed some light. “When the skyline is matching, it’s not by accident,” she found. “Building managers take the initiative in changing light colors or are asked to do so through the Building Owners and Managers Association of Philadelphia, which represents property managers of all commercial building types.” The organization covers nearly 300 buildings, including One Liberty Place, Two Liberty Place, the BNY Mellon Center, and the FMC Tower.
“We get e-mails from different campaigns, charities, and sports teams, and then we’ll send those e-mails out to the skyline buildings requesting them to light up a certain color from this date to this date,” said Kristine Kiphorn, BOMA’s executive director. And you can submit your own request. “Email your preferred illumination dates to BOMA Philadelphia at firstname.lastname@example.org at least three weeks in advance, and give a three- to five- sentence explanation detailing your campaign, organization, occasion, and reason for the request,” Houck wrote.
» READ MORE: The lights on Philly’s skyscrapers are often matching, and that’s no accident
There are streets named after a Revolutionary War traitor in the suburbs
“It is common to name streets after Revolutionary War heroes, but what about a traitor and highwayman who met his end at the end of a rope?” Joseph Gambardello wrote. So it is with Sandy Flash Drives in Ridley Creek State Park and Kennett Square, which had a reader wondering.
“‘Sandy Flash’ is a moniker, much like a Mafia nickname, attached to James Fitzpatrick, son of Scots Irish immigrants. But that appellation, like so much in his story, was an embellishment that came as a legend grew around him long after he was in the grave, and fiction merged with fact,” Gambardello wrote. The nickname comes from a novel published in 1866, long after his death, with a Robin-Hood-esque character modeled on Fitzpatrick. The real Fitzpatrick fought in the disastrous Battle of Long Island, deserted, then joined the British, fighting at the Battle of Brandywine. As a highwayman, he targeted militia officers and tax collectors. Fitzpatrick was tried, convicted, and hanged for robbery on Sept. 26, 1778.
“When fiction merges with fact, which predominates? That question will indicate whether you believe the Sandy Flash Drives are named after a traitor or a Robin Hood figure in Chester County literature,” Gambardello wrote.
» READ MORE: This Revolutionary War traitor is the namesake of streets in the Philly suburbs