A “Bazaar” Tale Told By Widener AlumsNovember 30, 2012
By Autumn Heisler ‘15
When you think of English and engineering majors, you usually don’t picture them together. But class of 1999 alums Patrick Manley, with a degree in English, and Brendan O’ Riordan, with an engineering degree, thought otherwise. This pair of Widener graduates collaborated to make and produce a documentary on a groundbreaking Delaware County mall known as the Bazaar of All Nations.
The Bazaar was one of the first models of today’s modern mall, predating the King of Prussia Mall among others. It opened November 8, 1960, on Baltimore Pike in Clifton Heights with the idea of bringing stores together. A community — one that some considered a family — grew out of the four-city-block-long center. Manley and O’ Riordan, along with cinematographer and director Melissa Whitely, decided to commemorate this “mother of all malls” by creating the documentary that debuted in 2010, the 50th anniversary of the Bazaar’s opening.
The idea came to Manley about a decade ago when a basic search on Google turned up little information on the Bazaar. “It seemed odd to me, considering there are websites for even the most obscure things, that a place as fondly remembered had no presence on the Internet, or anywhere else for that matter,” Manley said. But it wasn’t until 2006, when Manley met Whitely and proposed the idea of putting together a documentary, that the idea truly blossomed. Manley asked his lifelong friend O’ Riordan to join them in their project.
Through their research, the three-person partnership discovered a lot of Bazaar tales, ranging from contests, to celebrities, to simple acts of kindness. “One woman we interviewed won a pony at a contest in front of the Bazaar when she was about 10 years old,” O’ Riordan said. “She had to call her father to come to the Bazaar and help her bring the pony back to their suburban home. Together they walked the pony across Baltimore Pike and through the neighborhood streets to the confusion of onlookers.”
Manley particularly enjoys the stories he heard about the 1966 Christmas holiday. A sudden snowstorm stranded shoppers on Christmas Eve, but the community of the Bazaar pulled together, handing out free food and offering show furniture as beds to sleep in.
Even political figures stopped by this remarkable landmark during their campaigns. In the documentary, never-before-seen photographs of Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and President Richard Nixon can be seen. When first released, the film sold out its premiere weekend. Recently, the documentary was featured on PBS station WHYY-TV, and continues to gain support through its Facebook group and website where DVDs are available.
The Bazaar of All Nations no longer stands as it once did. It closed in 1993 and was demolished two years later, but that doesn’t mean it won’t live on in the hearts of its community. “My memories of the Bazaar really fill most of my childhood and adolescence, and I think most people who remember it would tell you the same,” Manley said. “It’s kind of a shared adolescence over a couple of generations, wholly unique to this area. [The documentary] really has been a tremendously rewarding project for all of us.”