Though the state of the society never became truly precarious during this period "in the wilderness," it could have, if history is an indication. The group had first moved into its halls in 1877, when the University built them to lure the group from Ninth and Chestnut streets to West Philadelphia, to which the rest of the University had moved five years earlier. In 1927, a campus-wide shortage of classroom space forced Philo to relocate to Houston Hall. Membership and activities declined, and things only got worse during World War II when the Navy kicked the group out to use Houston Hall for training. Hilary Putnam, C'48 -- later chair of Harvard's philosophy department -- held the society together by organizing meetings at members' homes. Charles Fine Ludwig, C'53, L'56, eventually took over the preservation role, doing his best to keep the few remaining members involved and activities running. It wasn't until 1969 that Philo returned to the halls and was revived from its near-death state.
Ludwig, now a partner in a Philadelphia insurance firm, was also among several alumni -- including Eugene Bolt, C'88, Peter Baker, C'90, Jonathan Goldstein, C'93, and Scott Batten, EAS'94 -- who helped ensure that, this time around, the group would return to the halls as soon as possible. With that accomplished, the role of the alumni will revert to what it was before the exile, perhaps even including the three-hour tours of the halls Ludwig routinely gave "baby Philos" shortly after their induction. "We need alums to prod us and go, 'Hey, back in the day, we used to do this,'" Marzullo says.
One important respect in which returning to the halls will aid in this effort to reclaim the past is through the artifacts decorating them. For instance, a replica of the Rosetta stone, the 2,200-year-old Egyptian inscribed slab found by Napoleon's troops in 1799 that led to breakthroughs in deciphering hieroglyphics, hangs on the west wall of the meeting room -- a reminder that it was three undergraduate members of Philo who in 1858 completed and published the first English translation of the stone. Members digging through Philo's extensive archives will find numerous posters of debates and theatrical events, a popular activity as Philo entered the 20th century. One theatrical production in 1915 involved building a full-scale 1,000-seat reproduction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on Hamilton Walk. And evidence of Penn's connection to American history sits on a library shelf in the form of two fake pistols. They evoke memories of a heated pre-Civil War Philo debate in which the moderator placed a pair of revolvers on the podium to keep things fair and announced, "Gentlemen, tonight we debate slavery."
One senior member related the tale and went on to discuss why it is an important part of Philo lore. "Philo always meant one thing to me first and foremost: continuity with Penn's history," says Robert Shepard, C/G'83, a California literary agent. The Society is one of those relatively few Penn institutions that's been around for most of the University's existence. So, besides meeting truly creative peers and thinking great thoughts long into the night, we get a sense of what Penn was like 100 or 150 years ago."
Minutes of such debates may even provide insight into the oratorical beginnings of today's politicians, as Philo has spawned 26 state senators, seven U.S. Representatives, three U.S. Senators, and three attorneys general. "Philo does boast one of the richest heritages on campus," says Ian Gadd, who became archivist in 1993 while at Penn as a British exchange student. "Its records date back to 1813, and for most of the 19th century at least, Philo was the dominant society on campus, embracing about 50 percent of the college students in mid-century. The fact that Philo has retained the integrity of its own archives has helped provide an important sense of historical continuity." The ease of access to the archives and artifacts will help Philo regain the sense of history that its junior and senior members alike hold so dear. The sturdy dais, pews, library full of books, carpeted halls, wooden mailboxes, and paintings, add to a dual sense of order and creativity.
But just being in the halls themselves -- having a place to call their own, whether decorated or not -- may be the most important impact of the group's return. The halls are a place to which Philo's moderator and his or her cabinet have keys, a homey enclave to visit at all hours of the day or night. And hey, back in the day, members would crawl out onto the roof and hug their knees, letting the breeze toss their hair, musing on life's mysteries and staring up at the light emanating from the moon -- or at least from the electric sign on top of the PECO building.
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