When John Vidumsky, a Philadelphia based rowing reporter went to the first floor restaurant  of “The White Dog Café’ he was intrigued to find the place was steeped in History. In fact its owner, Judy Wicks,  a west Philadelphia waitress who  bought the place at # 3420 Sansom street in the city’s Ritten House square, seventeen years ago, was concerned when someone knocked at her door one night and enquired whether it was the very house that Madam Blavatsky stayed in 113 years ago. At that time she did not know either Madam Blavatsky or about Theosophy. But, then on finding a letter written by HPB about her gangrenous knee and how a white Dog that lay across her leg when she slept, brought about a miraculous cure. The Doctors had lost all hope and recommended to amputate. This miracle was also narrated by HPB to the iconic Irish Poet and Theosophist W B Yeats. It was this incident that inspired Judy to name her restaurant – The White Dog Café.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky did in fact reside in this house in 1884. She had moved to Philadelphia to investigate the seances of Nelson and Jennie Holmes, who later in life were found to be conning the public by faking two mediums named John and Katie King, an old Spanish pirate and his pretty young daughter, whose graceful picture was  a sellout and the monies collected were misused to buy a horse and a carriage. Initially though HPB was in support of them, subsequently on finding their fraud, she was forced to expose them to safeguard ‘Spiritualism’ which was gaining ground in America, with Philadelphia having as many as 300 odd members in this esoteric community. She described the Holmes as the biggest fraud of the age of spiritualists.  In later years though HPB stayed away from these séances, being aware of the pitfalls. HPB at that point of time was living with her short term husband, the whimsical Michael Betanally, a Businessman from Georgia. It was upon her divorce that she left for New York, where in 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society together with Col Henry Steel Olcott.

The restaurant is now popular with students and heritage seekers. On White Lotus Day, the Death anniversary of HPB, around fifty enthusiasts had gathered; Professors and students from the University of Pennsylvania, members of the Theosophical Society and Ms Marsha Siefert a concert pianist who played the music of Alexander Scriabbin, a Theosophy inspired composer. As John Vidumsky remarks; “Though their numbers are few, Theosophists have an outsize influence on American culture as forerunners of the New Age Movement.”


Source: Philadelphia Times


Written by

Arni Narendran began his career as a Radio and Print journalist. He moved to the Banking Industry where he stayed put for four decades. and won Banking Awards at Shanghai and Dubai. He continues to serve the Industry as a Banking consultant for Banks targeting clients at the Bottom of the Pyramid- the marginalised. He joined the Theosophical Society in 1976 and served as the Manager of the International Theosophical Youth Centre at the Adyar, Chennai Headquarters. He is presently the Honorary Treasurer at the Blavatsky Lodge, Mumbai and a regular speaker. He contributes to journals across the world in content relating to Theosophy and metaphysics. A keen student of Art History, he is a practitioner of the Ananda Kriya Yoga, and has been directly initiated by the late Swami Kriyananda.-founder of the Expanding Light Retreat, Nevada-California.

Latest comments
  • Arni narendran’s article is interesting and at the same time gives a rare glimpse of the unique personality of madam hpb .thanks arni narendran for deleting the distance of Time and space and make one feel like an eyewitness of the entire episode.

  • Arni narendran’s article is interesting and informative. It gave a rare glimpse into the unique personality of madam hpb. Thanks arni narendran

  • The white dog Cafe was one of my first table-waiting jobs, and helped support me as a student at Penn in the 80’s. it was also my first exposure to the theosophical society, which many years later led me to the blavatsky lodge in mumbai and a fortuitous encounter with arni narendran. In addition to the inspirations of mme blavatsky, working for judy wicks inspired me to later open my own cafe in pittsburgh, the (now defunct) quiet storm coffeehouse. this large planet is made up of so many small circles.