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March 7, 2013

Community Helps Excavate Oldest Street In The US

By KATHY MATHESON

Philadelphia (AP) - The Colonial-era houses along Elfreth's Alley, the nation's oldest residential street, have well-researched histories that document the names of nearly every homeowner over the past three centuries, as well as their occupations.

What's less well-known are the backgrounds of the impoverished immigrants who lived in tenements behind those brick rowhouses in Philadelphia. Discovering their stories has become the mission of archaeologist Deirdre Kelleher, who is excavating two courtyards on the passageway.

And she has invited the public to help.

``I'm studying the general populace,'' said Kelleher, a 28-year-old doctoral student at Temple University. ``I thought it was important to get the community involved.''

Every year, tens of thousands of tourists trod the cobblestones and narrow sidewalks of Elfreth's Alley to admire the architecture of its quaint homes. A mix of renters and owners still live in the 32 rowhouses, which were built between 1728 and 1836.

Kelleher is focusing on two homes, built in 1755 by Jeremiah Elfreth, that now comprise the Elfreth's Alley Museum. She's spent the past three summers overseeing digs in their courtyards, where nearly hidden, three-story structures called trinities once stood.

Volunteers Help With Excavation

Philadelphia's 19th-century immigrants have been understudied archaeologically partly because they didn't live in discrete ethnic enclaves, Kelleher said. Whereas New York and Boston saw immigrant housing concentrated in certain neighborhoods, such populations were dispersed throughout Philadelphia, she said.

And while archival records can offer glimpses into the lives of these newcomers, Kelleher said there is little firsthand information.

``They're not the ones writing their histories,'' said Kelleher, herself the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. ``You don't have their own voice in the written record as much, which is where archaeology comes in.''

So far, about 45 people have helped with the excavation, including current alley residents, a descendant of a former resident, and the simply curious. Archaeology experts say involving the public is accepted practice as long as they are overseen by professionals.

Gail Lovett, a picture framer from nearby Bryn Mawr, happened upon Kelleher's invitation to dig while surfing the Web. Soon enough, she and her daughter Emily, a history major at Washington College in Maryland, were toiling in the summer heat to uncover items like buttons, pipe stems and marbles. They were even able to date an ink bottle they found through its unique shape.

``You don't know what you're going to find,'' Gail Lovett said. ``It's like a puzzle, it's like a mystery.''

After digging each summer, volunteers again join Kelleher during the winter at Temple University, just a couple of miles away, to clean and analyze items unearthed at the alley.

Patrick Wittwer, operations manager for the Elfreth's Alley Museum, said the project has verified previous research and uncovered new material.

For example, records had indicated two sisters-in-law worked as dressmakers in one of the homes. Kelleher confirmed that by finding straight pins and sewing needles in the ground, Wittwer said.

He hopes the work will intrigue both residents and visitors to the museum, which had about 45,000 tourists last year. Many thousands more walked the street without stopping in. ``They're kind of missing out on the full story,'' Wittwer said. ``To them, it's just some cute old houses.'' www.elfrethsalley.org

For Fun & As Collectibles, Retro-Style Toys Remain Popular

By KIM COOK

Associated Press

New York (AP) In a megabyte-driven world, you’d think kids would be playing solely with mega-tech toys.

But at the recent Toy Fair 2013 here, buyers gathered like kids on a playground around the booths stocked with the classics, wooden play sets and ride-on toys, craft materials, table games and building sets.

``Retro-style toys for the under-tween crowd are on the upswing,’’ says Adrienne Appell of the Toy Industry Association.

Kids may see the un-wired stuff as novel; parents appreciate having some balance in the toy basket.

Here’s a look at some of the new offerings, and also which toys are worth hanging onto after kids outgrow them.

WHAT’S NEW

Building sets, including Lego, are hotter than ever, according to consumer market research firm NPD Group. The category grew nearly 20 percent in 2012, the group said.

Lego’s booth at the February fair included new entries in the Lego City and Lego Friends categories, the new Galaxy Squad space fantasy sets, and the DUPLO Read and Build sets, among others.

K’Nex representatives were writing orders for glow-in-the-dark rollercoasters, and construction sets based on Angry Birds, Pac-Man and Super Mario. The manufacturer’s Robo Battlers allow kids to make smaller figures and stick them together to make a more elaborate creation.

And Tinkertoys are turning 100 this year, now rendered in durable high-density plastic. The colorful components include perennial favorites like rods, spools and washers, as well as some new bendable pieces.

British-based Le Toy Van offered high-end, high-quality, creative-play toys: sustainably produced rubberwood and engineered-wood dollhouses, pirate ships and accessories, with accompanying characters. The company’s faux food array included petit fours, fine chocolates and croissants.

Some toymakers were touting franchises beloved by today’s kids’ parents: board games and figures based on Cabbage Patch Dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Fraggle Rock. There were Bozo the Clown outdoor games. And New York-based Yottoy had old-timey books like ``Harry the Dog,’’ ``The Poky Little Puppy’’ and ``Scuffy the Tugboat’’ paired with plush toys.

In arts and crafts, Crayola’s booth showed new kits for making custom markers and crayons. Play-Doh demonstrated a new fluffier formula, while at Waba Fun, buyers were elbow-deep in Bubber, a never-dries-out play dough made with hollow ceramic beads and non-toxic polymers; Shape-It sand, which can be formed, baked, sculpted and then warmed back into a pile to start again; and Kinetic Sand, another polymer-filled sand.

OLDIES BUT GOODIES

When a kid outgrows them or loses interest, which toys are worth hanging onto?

Those with sentimental value, perhaps—books, dolls or train sets that parents dream might one day be passed on to grandchildren.

And then there are collectibles.

``I think the ones based on popular movies and shows might have value. Couple that with a brand-name toy and you’ve got a potential collectible,’’ says Bene Raia of Boston, one of the antiques pickers on PBS’ ``Market Warriors.’’

Hard-to-find sets of ``Star Wars’’ Lego, for instance, are worth big bucks, she says; an out-of-production Rebel Snowspeeder was recently offered online for more than $1,300.

And pay attention even to what’s in those fast-food bags.

``One of the biggest surprises in toy collecting is the Happy Meal giveaway,’’ Raia says. Tie-ins to films offer an instant cross-collectible, that is, an item of value in more than one collectors’ marketplace. Whole sets command more on the resale market; a ``101 Dalmatians’’ Happy Meal set from McDonald’s now sells on eBay for around $100.

Raia says many toys from the Baby Boom era are valuable now, Louis Marx toy trains, Madame Alexander Cissy dolls from the 1950s, Parachute Jump erector sets from the `40s, especially if they have the original boxes and accessories.

That’s key: Keep the packaging.

``Some people will buy two boxes of Lego, one to play with and one to keep,’’ Raia says. ``It might sound extreme, but for the `Star Wars’ series it might be a good idea.’’

When is it time to get rid of toys?

Raia, a mother of four under age 10, says her rule of thumb is simple. ``Anything that hasn’t been played with in the past three or four months, we give away.’’

Incomplete games and sets can be donated or passed along, although with a popular toy she suggests posting it online to help someone else complete their set.

 

 


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