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BARBARA L. JOHNSTON / Staff Photographer
A pint-size William Penn has been placed atop the Comcast Center in an attempt to phend off the jinx Philly teams have been under since Liberty Place rose above City Hall.
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Lifting the curse of William Penn

He's a petite Penn, a wee Willy really, but the prayers of superstitious Phillies fans ride high today atop his tiny windblown shoulders.

Can the figurine on the roof of the Comcast Center, glued to the highest point, 975 feet above the ground, once and for all exorcise "the curse of William Penn" as the Fightin' Phils face the Tampa Bay Rays tonight in the World Series opener?

Legend has it that Philadelphia's sports teams have been jinxed from reaching champion status because real estate developers had the temerity to build higher than the top of the hat on the massive statue of William Penn above City Hall.

Philadelphia's image as a low-rise city was shattered in 1987, with the topping off of the Liberty Place skyscraper amid much brouhaha that "the gentlemen's agreement" not to overshadow Alexander Milne Calder's landmark statue of Penn was being violated.

Since then, more skyscrapers have followed, and the major Philadelphia teams have been denied their sport's top prize. Some fans have attributed the championship drought to a curse that the city's famous founder must have issued from the grave.

"I believe in the curse. I think there is something to it," said Sports Radio 950 talker Jody "Jody Mac" McDonald. "I'm not a superstitious guy by nature, but spitting in the eye of one of the founders of our city is a bad move."

Recognizing the currency of the curse without quite subscribing to it, the owners and managers of Comcast Center, the city's tallest building, had the foresight to affix a statuette of Penn to the final beam put in place during the June 2007 topping-off ceremony - just in case it could help, they said.

It didn't hurt that Comcast Corp. chief executive officer Brian Roberts and executive vice president David L. Cohen are avid Phillies fans.

So when the final beam went skyward that day, carrying the traditional evergreen branch and American flag, it also carried a Billy Penn "Mini Me" for good measure.

Somehow over time that voodoo Billy got swiped, perhaps as someone's souvenir, said D'Arcy Rudnay, Comcast's vice president of corporate communications. So without pomp or ceremony, a new, even smaller Billy was put in its place.

That 4-inch replica faces northeast, just as its mammoth inspiration does. And over the peewee Penn's shoulder on the southern horizon, amid planes landing at the airport and cars streaming to the Commodore Barry Bridge, sits Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phils.

"The more we lose, the more passionate we become," said Rob Marcolina, a University of Pennsylvania tech-support employee, who coproduced a 44-minute film about the curse and thinks it soon will be laid to rest.

"Now remember, I am a trained lawyer," Cohen said yesterday when asked about the curse and efforts to end it. "I'm trained to interpret things. My interpretation would be that putting Billy Penn on top of the highest piece of steel of any building in Philadelphia is enough to remove the curse."

Then, chuckling at what to him seemed the most delicious part, he added, "And you can't tell if I'm right until the Phillies win the World Series!"


Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com.


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