Owls join forces to tell the story of Philly’s famed Elfreth’s Alley
When COVID-19 changed tourism everywhere, these graduate history students and an alumnus developed a podcast so people could still experience and learn about the historic street.
Ted Maust, CLA ’18, is putting his master of arts degree in public history to good use as the director of Elfreth’s Alley Museum. A National Historic Landmark, Elfreth’s Alley is a magnet for tourists to Philadelphia and is known as America’s oldest residential street. Maust, though, dislikes that moniker because it ignores permanent native settlements dating back to the 12th century. He sees its biggest appeal as something a bit simpler.
“The thing that makes it notable as a street as a whole is that, among American preserved spaces, it’s one of relatively few that deals with common people,” said Maust.
Elfreth’s Alley was first developed in 1703 by tradesmen who wanted a quick route to the nearby Delaware River. Thanks to preservation work that began in the 1930s, Elfreth’s Alley is now a showcase for colonial architecture and a celebration of the working class that built America.
To continue that celebration in a digital environment, Maust launched The Alley Cast, a podcast he runs with two current Temple public history master’s students Isabel Steven and Joe Makuc, who are interns at the museum.
Maust credits his history professors at Temple and their investment in alumni success as one of the catalysts for the podcast. After he became director of the museum in 2019, former professors reached out to ask how they could collaborate. As the museum’s only employee, Maust needed some help and a couple of graduate students were hungry for some experience. They had taken a course that included a project around some of the work Maust was doing at the museum.
“They [the graduate students] both approached me, and we started planning how they would do summer internships with us in 2020. They would help create exhibit programming for tourists and then carry it out and essentially be my coworkers for a little while.”
Then COVID-19 happened. Tourist exhibits were put on hold.
Not wanting to let the chance to expand the museum’s scope while giving the students valuable work experience slip away, the trio decided to start a podcast. It would not only make the alley accessible to those unable to visit during COVID-19, but would further bring to life the lesser told stories that comprise Philadelphia’s history.
“Elfreth’s Alley offers a much needed voice that counters the dominant narrative told here in the city, which centers elite, white colonial men,” said Steven. “The Alley Cast, by contrast, tells the story of the working class, women and people of color, not just during the colonial era but over three centuries of the city’s history and development.”