SEX AND THE FIRST CITY TOUR DISHES ON PHILADELPHIA’S FRISKY FOUNDING FATHERS.
By A.D. Amorosi, For The Inquirer
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
David Cross does not look like a guy who would discuss sex in public.
Clean-shaven and bespectacled, with a patriotic bow tie, white shirt, pressed khakis, and sensible close-cut hair, he is mild-mannered and soft-spoken – a seemingly gentle soul, for a one-time criminal lawyer.
Yet, get him started, and Cross talks a blue streak about the sordid details of Philadelphia’s most historic characters. Sure, he’ll espouse the better-known virtues of our frisky founding fathers – the stuff of Benjamin Franklin and his prostitutes – but Cross can share the rarer tidbits, too. He’ll speak about Gen. George Washington and his quest for the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly, and Thomas Jefferson’s lustful ways with the local lionesses of Philadelphia society. He may be a star of Broadway these days, but Alexander Hamilton, during his time as secretary of the Treasury, had an affair with Maria Reynolds at his Walnut Street digs while blackmailing her husband, James Reynolds.
Welcome to the “Sex and the (First) City Tour,” a new, entertaining, early-evening sightseeing path (at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday) through Old City with Cross as your cool, collected host.
“I don’t really know where the touring idea came from, but it was there one day, out of the blue, and I decided to run with it,” says Cross, who penned Chasing History: One Man’s Roadtrip Through the Presidential Libraries. During his book tour, he realized he enjoyed speaking about our storied past. “My real strength is in talking to people as opposed to writing for them.”
History will never seem the same once you’ve walked with Cross through the valley of vice. Adultery, betrayal, carnality – it is all here, cleaned up just enough for families such as Plymouth Meeting’s Stephen Jarrett, who brought his 13-year-old-godson, Ruben Dario de Jesus Jr.; his fiance; and a third cousin along for the semi-torrid trip.
“This is nothing Ruben wouldn’t hear on cable,” Jarrett said during the part where Gouverneur Morris’ numerous affairs with married women (“including times when the husband was in the house” notes Cross) get described as “certain gesticulations,” “the act,” “love’s disport,” and “Cyprian mysteries.”
“Had it not been for his salacious lifestyle, Morris would be known by one and all as the father of the Constitution,” Cross contends.
Although he is soft-spoken, Cross knows how to draw in an audience – since starting in late May, the tours have ranged from two attendees to 20, all ages – without hamming it up. He doesn’t need to dress like Thomas Jefferson to tell the story of America’s third president “accosting Betsy Walker in her bed, repeatedly, telling others at the party that he had a headache, and chasing after her for – reportedly – years,” or about his affair with the married Maria Cosway. That’s where the lawyering comes in handy.
Cross went to law school in Virginia and, 25 years ago, moved to Philadelphia. He practiced first as a public defender in the District Attorney’s Office, then as a sole proprietor, a trial attorney. He taught Continuing Legal Education courses. And he wrote a book, How Not to Think Like a Lawyer.
The gist: Forget what you learned in law school when trying a case. As Cross tried to do for 20 years, tell the jury your story in a way that engages their sympathies.
Then one day four years ago, Cross decided that he just couldn’t go through another criminal trial for murder or rape, and got out of the legal business.
“As I was leaving, I had an interesting conversation with a judge,” Cross recalled. “She said, ‘You’ll be back.’ I said, ‘Only with handcuffs on.’ ”
No sooner out of the legal business, Cross started Bow Tie Tours, a nonprofit organization that offers trips throughout historic Pennsylvania, including Valley Forge.
“I’d love to do more than just give walking tours,” said Cross, whose board of directors includes local lawyers, historians, and business people. “I’d like to help with schools and go to assisted-living facilities, help those who are home-schooling, create useful podcasts. . . .”
For now, however, Cross is talking dirty in front of Second Street’s City Tavern on a humid June evening, reading aloud an ad for, er, help that Gen. William Howe, commander-in-chief of British forces during the American War of Independence, placed in Philadelphia papers:
“Wanted to live with two single gentlemen, a young woman to act in the capacity of a housekeeper, and who can occasionally put her hand to anything. Extravagant rates will be given and no character required. Any young woman who chooses to offer may be further informed at the bar of the City Tavern.”
After the tour, de Jesus announced to his family that he “didn’t realize the presidents were all such perverts.” Jarrett said, “We fell out laughing. He was right.”
Max Popel, a one-time local tour guide and history buff, who checked out Cross’ tour, said that “Sex and the (First) City” removed Philadelphia’s most historical characters from the abstract.
“These were no longer great men doing great things,” he shouted, having a Yards beer at Silence Dogood’s Tavern on Market Street, the unofficial last stop of Cross’ tour. “This was about personalities, a cool human element. The founding fathers liked sex – go figure.”
To book a tour, go to: sexandthefirstcity.com.