Morgan's
Hall


The cornerstone of Morgan's Hall, or as it was called until about 1867, Odd Fellows Hall, at the southeast corner of Fourth and Market Streets, was laid on October 5, 1848. The building was dedicated on November 8, 1849. It was originally a three-story structure sixty feet long and thirty six feet wide. The venture proving too great an undertaking for the lodges interested, it was sold about 1851 by the Sheriff to John Morgan for about $6,000 and re-named Morgan's Hall, by which it was ever since known. In 1866 Morgan added sixty feet to the eastern end of the building and also a suite of rooms in the rear for a private residence. The entire building was covered with stucco in May of 1867.  

Prior to the opening of the Temple Theater, directly across the street at 415 Market Street, Morgan's Hall was considered the fanciest public meeting place in Camden. In May of 1889, Walt Whitman celebrated his 70th birthday with a banquet at the Hall.

Located at 418 Market Street, Morgan's Hall sat adjacent to St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Walter Giffins, who lived in Pennsauken, was managing the premises in the mid-1930s. His wife Ernestine had been a dance instructor, and during the the 1930s dances were held there. A 1933 newspaper advertisement mentions The Owl's Studio as occupying the premises and hosting a dance, and I believe it is quite possible that may have been the Giffins' business.

Morgan's Hall was still standing and in use as late as 1947. Morgan's Hall does not appear in the 1959 New Jersey Bell Telephone Directory.


Prologue to Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography
by

By David S. Reynolds

Blustery winds swept through Camden, New Jersey on the afternoon of May 31, 1889 as a large crowd gathered at Morgan's Hall to celebrate Walt Whitman's seventieth birthday. Camden, the drab town across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, did not have much to boast of. The New York Sun had once joked that it was the refuge for those in doubt, debt, or despair. It is understandable, then, that nine of its citizens would organize a fete in its fanciest public hall for the famous poet who had lived there for sixteen years and who had made the town an unlikely mecca for a succession of traveling notables, including Oscar Wilde, Edmund Gosse, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The heavy skies that day threatened rain, but the atmosphere inside Morgan's was festive. Three long rows of dinner tables, two of them parallel with the third crossing them at the top, were the picture of elegance, with dazzling white table cloths and flowers everywhere. Banners festooned the walls, and a band played from a platform. The guests, some of whom had come a long way, had paid a $5.00 attendance fee. Crisply printed dinner menus, titled The Feast of Reason, promised they would get their money's worth. Little neck clams on the half shell and consomme royal soup were being offered as appetizers; fish with cucumber sauce, lamb, roast beef, and broiled chicken with mushrooms were the choice of entrees. For dessert there would be a tempting array of delectables, including bisque, fancy cakes, and ice cream, topped off by French coffee and cigars--right down to the proverbial nuts.

Whitman himself was not present when the crowd gathered at 5 P.M. It was a motley group. Off-beat writers like Hamlin Garland and Julian Hawthorne rubbed shoulders with stodgy Philadelphia lawyers and bankers. After dinner was cleared away, the air buzzed with anticipation of the poet's arrival. Soon a policeman cried, "He's coming!" The hall fell silent and all eyes were riveted on the entrance door.

Doubtless, many hearts sank at his pitiful condition. His large, once robust frame was now slumped in a wheel chair pushed by a male nurse. He had famously boasted in a poem of his perfect health, but a series of strokes--"whacks," he called them--had partly paralyzed him, while digestive and excretive disorders gave him what he described as "soggy, wet, sticky" feeling as of tar oozing over him.

Still, the undeniable Whitman magnetism was there. He was wrapped in a blue overcoat, under which he wore a black dinner jacket, a natty departure from his usual plain gray one. His clean white shirt was open at the neck, and his round felt hat was pushed back on his head. His snowy hair and cascading beard gave him a jovian majesty. Tiny wrinkles seamed his face, but his pink complexion gave him a deceptive air of health. His gray-blue eyes, their large lids drooping, had a look of tired wisdom and stolid impassivity. The high-arched eyebrows made him seem slightly surprised.

He had reason to be surprised now. Although he had helped organize the event, he could not have anticipated the standing ovation that greeted him or the reverent silence that was maintained as he was wheeled to his head position at the axis of the tables. As his chair was pushed through the room by his nurse Ed Wilkins, an African American cook ran up to him and seized his hand, thanking him for nursing her husband in the Civil War hospitals.

He had meant to make only a token appearance but ended staying two to three hours. He picked flowers from a bouquet in front of him, and his weary expression disappeared as he sipped champagne. As was his custom on public occasions, he said little, preferring to take in the speeches and toasts in his honor. After the speeches, letters and telegrams from distant well wishers were read aloud. The list of those who had sent communications was impressive, including Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, John Greenleaf Whittier, Robert Ingersoll, and William Michael Rossetti. One of the most perceptive messages was from his British friend, the ex-Philadelphian Mary Smith Whitall Costelloe, who wrote: "You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without 'Leaves of Grass'....He has expressed that civilization, 'up to date,' as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him."

But some of the day's tributes must have made him squirm with their conventionality. How could the literary innovator and erstwhile bohemian possibly stomach this saccharine tidbit, dished up by Henry L. Bonsall:

All hail to thee! Walt Whitman! Poet, Prophet, Priest!
Celebrant of Democracy! At more than regal feast
To thee we offer homage, and our greenest bay
We crown thee Poet Laureate on this thy natal day.

The fact was, Whitman only half enjoyed events like these, which filled his final years. True, he basked in the world-wide fame that had come to him in old age. The celebrities that trekked to Camden to see him; the heartfelt letters from strangers inspired by his poetry; the inner circle of friends who idolized him; the plaudits not only from literary people but from tycoons like Andrew Carnegie, who had contributed $400 to his support--all such encouragement was welcome, particularly in light of the ridicule and neglect he had endured earlier in his career. He even took amused pride that a tobacco company had brought out a cigar with his avuncular face as its logo. "Smoke Walt Whitman Cigars," the box read. "Gauranteed Cuban Hand Made."

 But fame of this sort had its down side, beyond annoyances like the constant letters requesting his autograph, most of which he used to light his wood fires. The real problem was that from the start he had aimed to be more than an American institution, more than another celebrity to be ogled and feted. He had intended to be an agent of social change. "The proof of a poet," he had written in the 1855 preface to Leaves of Grass, "is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." This was a ringing proclamation of what he regarded as a vital, symbiotic relationship between the poet and society. He had fulfilled his role in this relationship. But had America absorbed him? Fancy fetes, the Walt Whitman Cigar, and money from Andrew Carnegie were hardly what he had in mind when he had envisaged being absorbed by his country.

To be sure, he had effected real change in the realm of literature. Stylistically, he had exploded conventional patterns of rhyme and meter, freeing the poetic line to follow the organic rhythms of feeling and voice. Thematically, he had introduced a new democratic inclusiveness, absorbing images from virtually every aspect of social and cultural life.

But there, exactly, was the rub. His expansiveness and inclusiveness had never been merely a literary exercise. "I think of art," he declared, "as something to serve the people--the mass: when it fails to do that it's false to its promises." The irony was that while he was appreciated by a growing number of the educated elite, he remained, as one of his contemporaries put it, "caviare to the multitude." He was largely unread those vibrant American masses whose concerns, attitudes, and language had provided the basis for some of his greatest poems.

When he left Morgan's Hall that stormy May evening he took with him a rose and the memory of a grand occasion. It was not long, however, before an underlying sense of dissatisfaction would resurface. He confessed to his friend Horace Traubel that he could never get it through his old head that he was not popular. "The people: the crowd--I have had no way of reaching them," he said. "I needed to reach the people:...but it's too late now." He had needed to reach the people ever since he had started writing serious poetry. He had much to tell them, about America and about themselves.


Camden Democrat - May 25, 1872
Morgan's Hall - Camden Home for Friendless Children

Lecture Ticket - April 7, 1875
front and Reverse Sides of Ticket
Camden Home for Friendless Children - Morgan's Hall - Wong Chinfoo
Elizabeth O'Bryan - Florence Eugenia Barnard 

Philadelphia Inquirer - December 29, 1875
Charles Todd - James Cain - Thomas Lee - Morgan's Hall

Philadelphia Inquirer - November 21, 1884
The Jennens Millions - Morgan's Hall

Philadelphia Inquirer - February 18, 1890
Sons of Temperance - Morgan's Hall

Philadelphia Inquirer - May 19, 1893
Hayden West - Linden Guards - Morgan's Hall

Philadelphia Inquirer - May 19, 1893
Abraham Browning Council No. 122, Order of United American Mechanics  
Minerva Counci No. 5, Daughters of America - Morgan's Hall

Philadelphia Inquirer - March 15, 1904
Legion of the Red Cross - Morgan's Hall

Camden Courier-Post

January 9, 1928


Camden Courier-Post - February 10, 1933

CLUB DANCE TONIGHT

The Eleventh Ward A. C. will hold its first annual dance tonight at Morgan Hall, Fourth and Market streets.  Three South Jersey and one Philadelphia District A. A. U. champion will be the honored guests. The honored guests are Phil Mungo, Bill Toomey, Georgie Wright and Eddie Gehringer. The committee in charge of the dance is composed of James Zimmerman, chairman, Charles Hutchinson, Ed Peard, Jr., and  James McCann..


100 ATTEND RECEPTION HERE TO NEWLYWEDS

Miss Nettie Viggiano, of 269 Division Street, and Anthony Teti, 1131 Christian Street, Philadelphia, were married at 4 p. m. yesterday in Mt. Carmel R. C. Church, Fourth and Division streets.

More than 100 attended the wedding reception in Morgan's Hall. Miss Mary Chaslong was bridesmaid and Nicholas Siteverio best man. Anthony Jennetta was in charge of arrangements. The couple will live at 1131 Christian Street, Philadelphia, after a honeymoon trip. 

Camden
Courier-Post

June 6, 1933

 


Camden Courier-Post - February 7, 1936

KING'S TALENT CONTEST DRAWS 12 PERFORMERS 

Twelve South Jersey entertainers will meet tonight in Morgan Hall, Fourth and Market streets, to start the Talent Contest sponsored by King's, leading credit jewelers. Five prizes will be awarded and the first three winners will appear in the finals to be held on March 7. 

The contestants are Mickey Rogers, of 218 Friends Avenue, tap dancer; Leona Johnson, 441 Atlantic Avenue, singer; Eddie Osborn, 910 North Nineteenth Street, radio performer; Ethel Papp, 20 Morse Street, dancer; John O'Neill, 874 York Street, blues singer; Marshall Wix, Lindenwold, singer and dancer; Isabella Esbensen, 2001 River Avenue, known on the stage in this vicinity; Miss "X," Camden's mystery singer, who will appear masked; Bob Bender, 146 South Thirty-second Street, local Bing Crosby; Edith Kunitz, Lindenwold, marathon dancer and entertainer; Eddie Clarkson, 139 North Thirty-fourth Street, tap dancer, and Bonnie De Lisle, 1012 Haddon Avenue, dancer. 

The dance in connection with the contest wi1l begin at 9 o'clock. Music will be .furnished by the Griffin Brothers orchestra.


Camden Courier-Post - February 9, 1936

FIVE PRIZES PRESENTED AT CONTEST OF 'TALENT'

King's Talent contest and dance got under way to a big start when the first preliminaries were held at Morgan Hall, Fourth and Market Streets. Miss "X," Camden’s mystery singer, pleased the crowd with a display of talent. She won first prize, a ring presented by King's. She sang masked and refused to reveal her identity in spite of insistent demands of the audience. The second prize, a month's tuition at the Warrington School of Dancing, was awarded to Miss Bonnie De Lisle, who sang and danced her way into favor. Bob Bender's rendition of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," won third prize, two ringside seats to Charlie Grip's wrestling bouts. Fourth prize, a series of treatments at the De Marco Beauty Shoppe, was won by Miss Leona Johnson. Mickey Rogers' nimble feet won fifth prize, a three-piece wallet set presented by the management.

The first three prize winners will I compete in the finals, to be held March 7, the winner of which will receive a wrist watch. Eddie Roecker, winner of the “Fame and Fortune" contest, acted as master of ceremonies and judged the contest. The music for dancing was furnished by the Griffin Brothers and their orchestra. 


Camden
Courier-Post

October 3, 1936


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