Destruction by Fire of Pennsylvania Hall. On the Night of the 17th May, 1838


This dramatic print shows the destruction of Pennsylvania Hall, a large building that was constructed in 1837–38 at Sixth and Haines Streets in Philadelphia as a meeting place for local abolitionist (antislavery) groups. Dedication ceremonies began on May 14, 1838, and continued over several days in a climate of growing hostility from anti-abolitionist forces in the city. On the night of May 17, 1838, an anti-abolitionist mob stormed the hall and set it on fire. Fire companies refused to fight the blaze, and the building was completely destroyed. A large crowd looks on, as firefighters spray water on an adjoining building. The printer and publisher John T. Bowen issued the print within a few days of the fire to commemorate the event. The illustration is by John Caspar Wild (circa 1804–46), a Swiss-born artist and lithographer, who arrived in Philadelphia from Paris in 1832. He produced paintings and prints of Philadelphia and other American cities, including Cincinnati, Saint Louis, and Davenport, Iowa. His works are important historical records of these cities before the era of large-scale industrialization and rapid urban growth.

Last updated: January 8, 2018