by Harlan Radford Jr.
Are you are old enough to remember hearing the words, “Meet me at the Eagle”? I do recall hearing those very words uttered by my own mother. It was quite common for people who were shopping at the John Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia to arrange to do so with their family or friends. Moreover, if one were to become lost or even separated from their loved one while shopping, then this phrase took on real significance and became very sound advice!
In an age before cell phones and GPS, “Meet me at the Eagle” was the only geographic coordinate needed to arrange a meeting place in any John Wanamaker department stores. The following account along with several accompanying vintage postcard images will serve to illustrate the origin of that signature store symbol.
The Eagle was the centerpiece of the Grand Court in the John Wanamaker Main Store located in Philadelphia. This prominent symbol would become the meeting place for thousands of Philadelphians since Mr. Wanamaker brought it to the store from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis.
Separately made parts form the heavy plates of the inner structure and the outer features and other surface parts. The Eagle contains some 6,600 bronze feathers and each individual feather was made and painstakingly placed by hand. Created by the noted German sculptor August Gaul, the dimensions of his creation measured 6’6” in height, 3’3” wide and 9’10” in length. Overall, the Eagle was a spectacular and imposing work of art as well as the store mascot!
For many years, the Wanamaker store had to distinguish itself from among the other retail giants as considerable competition was coming from other notable names such as Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Brothers and Gimbels.
In order to satisfy the demands of competition and to grow its retail business, Wanamaker’s made a strategic decision to open a number of branch locations. During the 1950s and ‘60s, the company built new stores in area communities including Wilmington (Delaware), Wynnewood, Jenkintown, and King of Prussia (all in Pennsylvania) as well as in Moorestown (New Jersey).
Furthermore, every Wanamaker Branch Store had its own large version of the Eagle, prominently displayed for all shoppers to see and enjoy. These Eagle replicas were placed in a relatively new type of merchandising venue, the suburban shopping mall.
Two more postcards depict the famous Eagle at the Moorestown Shopping Mall. Like its Philadelphia cousin, the massive golden Eagle perched high upon a pedestal amid a fountain of dancing waters at the mall entrance to the John Wanamaker store also served as a rendezvous spot.
In this final postcard, the Wanamaker Eagle sports a celebratory horn to trumpet and announce an upcoming store-wide event. Printed on the address side of this postcard, the message conveys the following information: “120TH / ANNIVERSARY / SALE / OCT. 14-25. We’ve made our 120th Anniversary Sale the most exciting storewide sale ever. Sale starts Wednesday, Oct. 14, in all Wanamaker stores. Doors open 9:00 am sharp! I look forward to seeing you.” Mrs. Fulcanetti, salesperson in the Linen Department at the Moorestown Store, mailed it from Moorestown, N.J. Oct. 8, 1981.
In 2001, the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated the Eagle an historic object. The original Eagle is currently located at what is now Macy’s Department Store at 13th and Market Streets in Philadelphia.
We welcome your recollections and stories and look forward to hearing from you should you wish to tell us about your memories of the classic Wanamaker Eagle.
Amazon offers a lengthy preview of Wanamaker’s: Meet Me at the Eagle (Landmarks) (Paperback) by Michael J. Lisicky.
PS: Since publishing the above, a few Facebook comments referenced eating in the Crystal Tea Room, seeing the Christmas Village, and attending the organ and light performance in the Grand Court. Our family has done those things, but the only photo in our album I could find was this one of the Rudi Express, a monorail that traveled around the 8th floor Toy Department. Could shopping online at Amazon ever duplicate the unforgettable and magical day we had shopping in-person at Wanamaker’s? – JMc