Saturday, September 25, 2010


by Nell Pratt

I’m a little bit nervous, because I’m making my debut next week. Me, Nell Pratt—a debutante! My first story, Fundraising the Dead, will be “coming-out” on October 5th.

Philadelphia, where I work at the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, boasts a long list of “firsts”: the first hospital, the first zoo, the first fire insurance company, and the first chartered bank, for example, and there was Ben Franklin’s American Philosophical Society, founded in 1732 (Ben had a hand in a lot of things!).

Then there were the “Dancing Assemblies,” which date back to 1748. I’ve read that in the eighteenth century, the term “assembly” meant a social gathering “upon a plane of equality.” In other words, no riffraff allowed, only Ladies and Gentlemen, by paid subscription only. The people of quality back then probably boiled down to about two hundred—out of a city population of 15,000.

Somehow, over a couple of centuries, this morphed into The Philadelphia Charity Ball, which dates back to 1888. Nominally it’s an event to raise money for Philadelphia non-profit organizations and to inspire young people to become involved in philanthropy. The youngsters pick their own charities—and the website proudly proclaims that many of the participants have gone on “to assume leadership positions in Philadelphia area charitable organizations.” They even have a Facebook page now.

Believe me, I support any event that raises money for non-profits, because I do that myself, and I know how much that money is needed. I thank all those Old Philadelphians, descendants of the founders of the city, for their generosity. I know a lot of them because they’re on our board of directors, or their names are on our collections. I’d be willing to bet my new friend Marty Terwilliger, whose name is all over the Society’s collections and board lists, might have been invited to one of those Charity Balls—but knowing Marty, I’d also be willing to bet that she told them what they could do with their fancy invitation. Marty doesn’t mince words, but she’s a good person to have watching your back. So’s her cousin Jimmy, who conveniently happens to be an FBI agent.

I’ve never been on the guest list for the Ball. I’m one of the invisible people who keeps things running behind the scenes—I don’t have an important name or a fat bank account. But that’s okay, because now I get my very own debut, and I don’t have to share it with anyone. Of course, in Fundraising the Dead, I had to deal with stumbling over the body of a friend in the library stacks, but Marty and I made sure we found his killer, with a little help from Jimmy (actually he prefers to be called James, but I can't let him get too stuffy).

So please come keep me company at the debut of Fundraising the Dead!


  1. Ooo, congratulations, Nell! As one of those "invisible people who keeps things running behind the scenes," I totally get where you're coming from. Sorry about your friend, though. Good luck with your debut. You can definitely count on someone rooting for you =)!

  2. I'm getting excited about your debut, Nell! Congratulations!

  3. Nell can't wait to learn more about you. Good luck with your debut.

    Thoughts in Progress

  4. Nell, I can't wait for your debut. Looking forward to it. So, tell me about James? Is he a person of your interest?

  5. Oh, yes, Dru, James is very interesting. What's even better is that he breaks a few of those pesky FBI rules now and then. I think Marty's got some dirt on him.

    And I don't even need white gloves? Well, only the cotton ones you're supposed to use with archival materials--I've got plenty of those.


  6. That's quite the job you have, Nell. Enjoy the ball. I am looking forward to your book.

    Charlotte Adams

  7. See you October 5th, Nell!


  8. Nell, love the title of your debut! Fundraising the Dead. Great! Good luck.

  9. Enjoyed reading about Philadelphia "firsts". Debut book sounds like one I would enjoy reading.

  10. It's on the Wanton Wantin' Book List to get next week. Can't wait to meet you.

  11. Nell, you make me want to read more of Philly's history - can't wait for your debut!