by Stan Cutler

Seventy people came to the library branch on Germantown Avenue on April 23 to hear Claude Epstein’s presentation about an intriguing Philadelphia mystery – what happened to the people who lived here before white men? In elementary school, we learned that folks who called themselves the Leni Lenape lived here peacefully until William Penn’s son, Thomas, cheated them out of a lot of land in the early 1700s.

We have seen movies featuring Apaches, Comanches, Cheyenne, Iroquois, Seminole, Mohicans and Inuits. But what about “our Indians?” Why aren’t they neighbors? Where did they go? Are they okay? Why are there no Lenape reservations?

Apparently, these questions have occurred to many of us, which is why we ran out of chairs at the event and why late-comers had to stand in the back. In itself, that’s remarkable. A couple of months ago, when we started the Friends of the Library Speakers Series, we didn’t know whether anyone would show up on a weekday afternoon to sit still for a speaker. We put out a call for local experts to propose presentation ideas, not knowing whether anyone would offer. That was just last December. Now, it seems, we have our answers. Many people in our community are hungry for intellectual stimulation, and there are a good number of us with fascinating knowledge they want to share.

Epstein’s talk provided some of the answers to the Lenape mystery. In a nutshell, they moved west and assimilated with other groups. We learned details of why they moved – a sad story of war, real estate, commerce, inhumanity, technology and change. We had some out-of-towners too, as word had somehow gotten out beyond Chestnut Hill. Experts on the Lenape showed up and augmented Epstein’s excellent presentation, offering their insights during the Q&A.

Four hundred years from now, will Philadelphians wonder what libraries were like? Will these learning centers have disappeared like the Lenape long houses and the log cabins of the Forest Finns? Will the gracious Carnegie Libraries, like our gem on Germantown Avenue, be buried rubble? Iron tools profoundly changed Lenape society. Cyber technologies are having as profound an effect on us. What will become of libraries?

The Friends organization is preparing a Fall Speakers Series. Please consider being one of our speakers. Describe your topic and why it is of interest on the CONTACT page at if you you’d like to submit a proposal. Ideally, programs, presentations, talks or lectures should be 60 to 90 minutes. For the fall, we are also considering offering courses and workshops. We will provide projection equipment for PowerPoint or internet-linked display.

Stan Cutler is a member of the board of the Friends of Chestnut Hill Library.