Loving Philadelphia
John Heinz Memorial Nature Refuge at Tinicum

That’s quite a mouthful, so I’ll just use Tinicum for short.

Today (April 3rd) was a gorgeous spring day, the first day that really felt like spring all the way through. Happily, this was also the day chosen for our field trip to Tinicum wetlands, the most urban of the National Wildlife sites in the US. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/john_heinz/

The refuge is host to many migrating birds, plus turtles, frogs, snakes, native bees, butterflies, foxes, deer, and so forth. We saw the fish jumping in Darby Creek, blue herons on the wing, hawks, ducks, and turtles, but no mammals except us and the other visitors there, many of them photographers intent on capturing the views of that multitude of birds.


It’s a place of rare peace, bordered by Philadelphia International Airport on one end and oil refineries to the side. There are tidal and non-tidal wetlands, fields, and forest; five distinct habitats in all. At this time of year and with our very cool spring so far, the leaves are not showing, but there was some green on the ground. The dried grasses and reeds and the intricate skeletons of the trees were beautiful in the sunlight, though, and actually made the bird-watching a bit easier.


There are trails to follow and an impoundment that shimmers as you cross its bridge, a wide boardwalk with a central area to stop and view all the life on the water. Trails lead into the woods, as well, and there are observation platforms and towers. You could wander for a long time, and indeed it was difficult getting the students to leave!

The environmental experience starts in the parking lot, created to be porous to prevent runoff, and then the Education Center, built to fit the landscape over a rain pond and made of environmentally friendly materials, with solar and geothermal power use. There is an exhibit area there which explains a lot, and you can get maps and guides there as well. They have binoculars, field guides, nets, and so forth on loan for educational groups; the binoculars were a definite plus! Some of the kids had their own, but most used the center’s and happily spotted birds, turtles, and each other.

There’s an interesting story behind the center: Antonio Cusano, a single factory worker from the area of Tinicum, amassed a 2.5 million dollar fortune (stocks) that he left to the federal government, due to his love of country and nature. He wanted it used to help children learn about nature, and these funds were matched (by private donors) so that the award-winning education center could be built. Thank you, Mr. Cusano!

I recommend it! It’s free, and there’s plenty of parking in that porous lot, or you can get to it from the Eastwick station of the Regional Rail Line.

Spring: It’s Come Every Year, so far…

It’s been a long winter…and it’s only February now.  We can have snow up until April, actually.

But spring makes it all worthwhile; just look:

I think it will be here soon—but for a preview, the Flower Show starts on March 1st at the Convention Center!

Barnes and Eastern State Penitentiary: From the crime to the prison?

Okay, I’m a philistine when it comes to art; I knows what I likes, and that’s about it. So I won’t be approaching this topic with, perhaps, the respect and awe that it deserves, but I thought some of the info might come in handy for visitors to this part of the city.

A number of Septa buses go quite near the Barnes. I chose the 48, and the reassuring presence of lots of people who wouldn’t normally be riding the bus let me know I had the right direction. (Hey, I’ve only been riding the buses 42 years; I can get mixed up.) It’s a few minutes ride from Chinatown, and drops you off across the Parkway right outside of the Rodin Museum.
image

The Rodin is one of my favorite spots in the city, a tiny jewelbox with many of its gems outside: the Thinker, the Gates of Hell, the Burghers of Calais (newly cleaned and protected and returned to its outdoor spot.)

image

Inside is certainly worth a visit, but this day I had a scheduled time—you need to make your reservations at the Barnes in advance—so I just enjoyed the gardens for a bit and then continued on to the big Barnes barn.


imageThe entrance to the Barnes is from the 20th street direction; it’s not terribly obvious when you’re approaching on foot from the other way, so I include that helpful hint: you’ll see a gate set up that looks vaguely Disney-esque, and it’s up the slope from there. The building itself I found to be more attractive from closer range; from a distance, it’s just one of those boxy structures that make me long for the Gilded Age (in an architectural sense, of course.) But the variety of textures and the reflecting pools give a softening sense of movement to the static building, and of course its inside is a marvel of new technology and an old setting—that of Dr. Barnes in his Merion home.

image



I’m not going to wade too deeply into the controversy of the movement of the collection and whether it is, in fact, a “crime”; that’s been done pretty much ad infinitum, and I just really don’t feel knowledgeable enough to give a definitive opinion. I will say, however, that, while I did have visiting the Merion location on a list of things that I wanted to do, it was quite difficult to arrange the proper sequence of public transportation and timed ticket for a time when I would be off work; I tend not to schedule things too far in advance when it comes to my city/suburb visits, as there are so many variables in my life and professions, so Barnes in Merion was not really accessible for me.

After checking my jacket (and Wawa hoagie; I was too tightly scheduled to stop for a leisurely lunch) I made my way up to the galleries. They obligingly let me in a half hour earlier than the time on my ticket (it was a Wednesday morning and I was visiting alone, so a better chance for that than, say, for a group of four on a Saturday) and advised me to start on the second floor, where it was less crowded.

Dr. Albert Barnes, of course, is known for his ideas about grouping art. (My irreverent self has to say here that on first seeing these “groupings” my thoughts flew to the utter ghastliness of a home party scheme known as Home Interiors, which promotes (promoted?) its “groupings” of hideous pictures, sconces, and artificial flowers in an effort to sell you the whole deal for instant decorating, only duplicable by, well, everybody. The Barnes groupings are, to be sure, unable to be duplicated, but he did have some ideas in common with the Home Interiors people. Random metal, anyone?) Don’t get me wrong, I do like the accessibility and the amazing variety of the collection, and the vision that saw these paintings and objects in a related way; it’s unique and interesting and quite compelling. Although, to be frank, yes, you can have too many mediocre Renoirs. It’s like Thomas Kinkade overdose, if Kinkade had actually been an artist. It was a pleasure to finally come to a random Monet and rest my senses.

I also liked the whimsical touch of the included “Egyptian” drawing by nine-year-old Leona Glackens, daughter of Barnes’s major collector and included painter, William Glackens. It’s given no more and no less attention than the other works, simply a sign and a notation in the gallery guide. I used the gallery guides, found in the bench backs, rather than the audio tour; I have strange objections to anyone talking inside my ears, although I do understand that the tour is quite good. The pamphlet guides worked well for me, although some of them need to be replaced. I also loved the furniture collection that is part of the placement, and the extremely well-done lighting that makes viewing all of this a pleasure. One does have to be careful to stay behind the lines on the floor, but on the weekday morning that was not usually difficult. I sometimes had rooms almost to myself, although others were fairly full. (On another not particularly cultured note, I do wonder about the air circulation: let’s just say that some odors seemed to linger quite a while after particular visitors had left the room.)

You could definitely visit and revisit the Barnes and still not see everything, but I began to glaze over after a few hours and took myself off up 21st street to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. It was quite a lovely little stroll of a little over 1/2 mile up to Fairmount Avenue.
http://missalg.smugmug.com/Art/Barnes-and-Eastern-State/29103140_QpVNct

image

On to Eastern State Penitentiary:

Up the hill to the looming walls of the “hub and spoke” prison. It’s meant to be intimidating, and even now has an almost tangible feeling of sorrow. Closed and left to the elements from 1971 to 1994, it’s a decaying masterpiece of good intentions gone wrong: the “Penitentiary” part is because it was designed for solitary confinement, so that inmates could become penitent with all the time for reflection and communion. It seems, though, that this closed in silence tended to promote mental health issues, instead, and a sincere desire to escape: Willie Sutton and others managed to tunnel out, and the remains of 30 other tunnels were found after the prison closed.
image


The prison has been left mostly in its decayed state, with the toilets (flush toilets before the White House had them!) and cots intact in the cells, but trees growing in them sometimes, and rust and crumbled walls everywhere. Very atmospheric, and in this case the audio tour (narrated mostly by Steve Buscemi, and very well done) was not too much of a sensory overload as there is so much space and so much sameness in the high arched ceilings and small cold cells.

image

There are some exceptions, like Al Capone’s recreated cell with its luxuries, and the fairly newly renovated prison synagogue, originally built in 1924. There are also art installations, including a knitted collection of cell furniture (you kinda have to see it.) The installations are an interesting use of the space, and the prison itself, of course, lends itself to film-making and photographers.

image



When I was there, there was a “pop-up” museum that featured some of the things made by prisoners to while away the time, including a pretty ferocious collection of shivs. It’s down now, but they do have varying exhibits and occasions through the year, like the Bastille Day Tastykake event and the haunted Hallowe’en tours. I was glad to visit it on a more contemplative day, though, and found it to be a most thought-provoking and oddly beautiful site. http://www.easternstate.org/home

image

Here and There: rounding up a few places

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I’ve been keeping busy, visiting places that are new or new to me.  (Hey, I’ve only lived here for 47 years!)

First on the list is the Philadelphia Museum of History at the Atwater Kent, recently re-opened after extensive renovation.   It’s not huge, and its 7th street location would be easy to overlook, but I rather love it.  The artifacts are displayed in groupings of similar/connected-in-some-way objects rather than chronologically; there’s always more to discover on each visit.  The downstairs room, perfect for meetings and school field trips and such, features a floor-size map of Philadelphia.  Another of the downstairs rooms is a timeline of sorts, whilst a third houses changing exhibits.  But it is the upstairs that really shines, with everything from a Mason-Dixon mile marker to a Mummer’s hat, from George Washington’s desk to a fish store sign.  The i-Pads mounted near the displays are a wonderful way to get the full story.  There’s also a portrait gallery (original paintings) with an eclectic mix of the famous and infamous from Philadelphia’s history, and two smaller rooms with special interest features. 

image

Next is the National Museum of American Jewish History, on Independence Mall.  It’s a chronological view with tragedy, comedy, and everyday life (plus a wonderful Purim room and other similar touches) that could take a long time to fully navigate but is able to be seen reasonably in a couple of hours or so.

Fall Hiking in Fairmount Park, the largest urban park*

This was originally written on November 4th, 2011.  This year, on November 4th, we had the aftermath of hurricane Sandy and freezing temperatures.  But this was a great memory and I’m glad last November was so lovely.

Today was a little piece of autumn heaven here, and it happened to be the day for our bi-annual park trip with all of the students in grades 7-12. We like to get them out for the incredible blend of nature and history, plus it does us all good to do a good few hours of walking once in a while.

The Fairmount Park system has 9,200 acres and consists of 63 parks in the city; the Wissahickon portion is about half of that, and it was there and along the River Drives that we concentrated today. (*It depends on who’s counting and what you count for it to be the largest, hence the asterisk.)

Much of our exploration was in the Wissahickon Valley, named for a combination of the Lenape words for “catfish stream” and “yellowish water”. We saw the yellowish stone, too: the Wissahickon schist found only here that is used for many of the houses in the area.


The first stop was the small but lovely Saylor Grove Stormwater Wetland, which treats the stormwater runoff in the natural wetlands process before it goes into the Monoshone Creek, a tributary of the Wissahickon which provides drinking water for Philadelphia. As the role of wetlands has become more appreciated, there have been attempts to re-create them, and this is one of those recreations.



Right across the street (now there’s an urban skill!) is the cluster of buildings known as Rittenhouse Town, the site of the first paper mill in the New World. Here in 1702 William Rittenhouse started the mill, using flax grown in nearby Germantown to make paper which was then sold for the Bibles and newspapers of colonial America.



Our hike along the trail toward Mom Rinker’s Rock took us under the Walnut Lane Bridge; we couldn’t see the Toleration Quaker statue on the rock due to the trees in the way, but it was a gorgeous walk for all that. You can ascend Mom Rinker’s rock for an overlook view via a rather steep and precipitous path, but we left that for another day with a lot fewer people and more time, as we had more stops to make.



In the colonial era, what is now Fairmount Park was far removed from the city, and many wealthy Philadelphians built summer homes as a retreat here, often overlooking the Schuylkill River. We visited a few of them for photo ops and views of classic Georgian or Federalist architecture, both noted for attention to symmetry.

Woodford was the summer home of William Coleman, a friend of Benjamin Franklin. It was built in 1756. A later owner had all of the doors painted to look like (very expensive) mahogany wood. It’s got an orchard, and inside there’s a great antiques collection. Being a bit muddy from the hiking, we didn’t go in, but did do a full circuit of the grounds.

Laurel Hill was built for a young widow, Rebecca Rawle, in 1764. She later married Samuel Shoemaker, who became mayor of Philadelphia just before the Revolution. The original house was just the center part, which is symmetrically Georgian; the other parts were added later. The Shoemakers were Loyalists and lost the property to the State legislature during the Revolution, but later regained it.

Mt. Pleasant also has Revolutionary ties. Originally built by sea captain/privateer John McPherson to show his ability to fit into Philadelphia’s society, it later became the property of Benedict Arnold, who had married Peggy Shippen, from a prominent Philadelphia family. Unfortunately, the Arnolds never took possession of the house, as a certain act of treason intervened. Mt. Pleasant is considered to be one of America’s great architectural gems. At one time it was a dairy, serving milk and ice cream to Philadelphia children.

We settled in for lunch along the Schuylkill; there’s a great cafe there, at the end of Boathouse Row; the Azalea Garden and benches for eating our packed hoagies for those who didn’t go to the cafe; and blue herons, Canadian geese, and various other fauna to keep things interesting while we ate. This was followed by the classic photo op for the senior class: the steps of the Art Museum. Yes, we did have a whole slew of kids running up the steps a la Rocky; no, I didn’t. (Have done, but not with camera in hand and not whilst riding herd on teenagers.) The views of the city down the Parkway are wonderful.


Next we journeyed along Martin Luther King Jr. (formerly West River) Drive.
We stopped at the Civil War monument, the Smith Memorial, one of those elaborate wedding-cake styles which were so popular at the turn of the last century. It’s right in front of the Memorial Hall left from the Centennial Exposition of 1876, a world’s fair to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The monument includes a statue of Richard Smith, who was never in the war…but who gave $500,000 for the memorial to be built. The “Whispering Benches” at the base have an odd acoustical quirk: if you sit at one end and whisper into the wall, a person at the opposite end can clearly hear what is said.

Back to school by 2:25; I think we may have had some kids who went home and took naps today!

North Philly

The setting sun illuminates
Old churches, telephone wires, and the bus.
It’s an October day in my neighborhood,
Fresh and cool and glowing.
Dudes on motorcycles are popping wheelies
While a cloying sweet scent
Passes by my nose, and fades.

I pass the loving paint work on 19th century houses,
Now incandescent blue and yellow.

I love you, my neighborhood.
Te amo, mi barrio.
My neighbors nod and smile.

I cross the street and see my home lights
Glowing their electric candle glow in the windows.
And I realize, with such intensity,
I am so blessed.
I am so blessed.
A Visit to the University of Pennsylvania Museum…

of Archaeology and Anthropology. (The name doesn’t even fit in the title and this is the last time I’ll put the whole thing in this trip report!) This is just a brief report, but as it’s one of my favorite places in Philadelphia, I decided to share a word picture:

It was one of those beautiful crystalline fall days when I took two classes to visit the University Museum. My class of juniors are mentors to the fifth grade, and I was acting as guide for all of them: thirty students all told, nine year olds mixed with sixteen year olds.


The museum opens at 10, and we arrived and parked in the lot in back of the group entrance. That entrance leads you into the education area, but today we didn’t use the services of the docent guides, but did instead our own tour. (*ahem* Since somebody has been coming here since she was in fifth grade herself, there was no shortage of information.)



The totem poles at this entrance drew the attention of the students, but we soon marched into the “Lower Egypt” room, where the sphinx dominates the pillars and columns of Pharaoh Merenptah’s palace. We found cartouches in the hieroglyphs and symbols galore, and then made a little detour into the small but stunning room of Islamic art on the same floor. The mosaic process certainly caught the attention of the younger students, and we’ll be working that into a project sometime in the near future.



Through the doorway and up the stairs to “Upper Egypt”, where we first visited the replica Rosetta Stone. Whilst most of the artifacts are authentic, I’m glad they have this copy of the beginning of Egyptology. The sarcophagi, huge heads of Rameses II, representations of Aken-aten (the monotheist pharaoh), and the squished stone enemy whose back served for the door-turning pole all excited interest, but of course the mummy display attracted the most attention.



After lunch under the huge textile map of the world (a hidden treasure if you don’t go to the lunchroom!) we retraced our steps and went through Egypt into the Chinese rotunda. The prize piece there is the Dowager Empress Cu-xi’s solid crystal ball on its wave base; it was once stolen from the museum, and eventually recovered through a series of rather odd events. The room itself is gorgeous, with its ninety foot dome and teal silk wall insets glowing, but the crystal ball and its story have pride of place.



From there, the next stop was the prized possessions of the Iraq/Mesopotamia exhibit, including Lady Pu-Abi’s gold headdress from some 4,000plus years ago; the lapis lazuli and gold bull-headed lyre; the “ram in the thicket”; and the seemingly insignificant but overwhelmingly important cuneiform tablets.



There is a somber and touching 9/11 fragments memorial exhibit just past Iraq; it was poignant to hear the questions of the children who were not even alive when this happened. The older ones, of course, remember it vividly.

Our final stop was the Canaan/Israel gallery, with its unique sarcophagus, trade routes map (Phoniecians and their murex!), and touchable artifacts. We could have stayed even longer, and we did pay a visit to the replica of Hammurabi’s laws down on the stairway, but we had to hurry to our souvenir stop at the children’s Pyramid Shop and then to some class pictures outside.


There’s a lot more to explore in the museum, and I’m hoping that some of the children who came with me will one day be bringing their own children—or students!—to visit the museum for the 15th (or so) time. http://www.penn.museum/about-us.html

Fourth of July in Lawncrest

I grew up in Lawncrest.  In fact, I spent the first forty years of my life there in the house where I was born.  A tiny enclave between the neighborhoods of Lawndale to the north and Crescentville to the south (hmmm, wonder where it got its name?) anchored by the Lawncrest Recreation Center and Library and bisected by Rising Sun Avenue, it was an Irish Catholic/German Protestant neighborhood with the church of St. William (not St. William’s; thank you, Msgr. Mortimer) and Furlow’s 5&10 as neighborhood institutions.  It’s a rowhouse neighborhood, and during my youth it was pretty much a Wonder Bread enclave straight out of the legends of the 50’s…and I grew up during the 70’s.

The big celebration, the raison d’etre, the culmination of committees and canvassing and contributions was always the 4th of July celebration.  The morning parade went down Bingham Street; we’d race through the driveways behind the Van Kirk street houses to our viewing spot, the one where the slobbery friendly St. Bernard lived, and sit on the curb to watch the veterans’ groups and Mummers and local celebrities (even the mayor, sometimes) and occasional Shriners and school marching bands and kids on decorated bikes, and then we’d race back up to Rising Sun Avenue and Van Kirk to watch it all over again.  You’d always meet up with neighbors, of course, but there were also the people your parents knew who’d come back for the parade and you’d wait there in the sun and humidity while they talked and talked and talked and finally you got back home to breakfast, but then ran back out to go to the Rec, ‘cause there were carnival rides (big sis and cousin had a crush on one of the carnies, but not me, nossir) and funnel cake and, eventually, a flea market.  Plus the string bands that Pop loved and always a minor music celebrity and even our resident Lawncrest celeb, Andrea MacArdle, incognito and just one of the Lawncrest folks.  The Little League would play, there would be ceremonies, water ice and stuffed toys and net-frocked dolls were sold with abandon, sunburn would happen, and then we’d go home for lunch.

After the hot dogs and hamburgers and deviled eggs, there was the afternoon baby parade.  The floats, the youngest baby, the too-cute-for-words, all would go down Rising Sun to the judging at the Rec.  Grandmom would always be at this one, even though in retrospect you don’t really see her as a baby type person; too unbending.  But she did love being with her daughter (Mom) and she’d spend the day before chopping the pickles for the potato salad and the celery for the macaroni salad into perfect miniature pieces and getting all of the mayonnaise out of the Hellman’s jar until it looked clean.  (I still can’t do that.)

Then it was back to the Rec, and back and forth to home (Malta Street:  single block between Van Kirk and Comly, just a short walk away) and perhaps Uncle Rich’s home-made ice cream until finally, finally it was time for the biggest deal of the day:  the fireworks. 

Ooooooooooo.   Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh.

This past Wednesday morning I was back for the parade.  Now it’s only on Rising Sun Avenue, and there’s been some changes made:  the Irish dancers no longer jig and reel up the street (I was always rather morbidly fascinated by the possibility of one of them passing out; they always looked hot), the Shriners don’t drive their motorcycles and tiny cars here, St. William just graduated its last eighth grade, and the Mummers have gone, but there’s still that sense of community, still a tear in the eye when the veterans come past—now including a contingent of Khmer fighters—still candy being tossed into the street to be scooped up by the little kids, still flags to wave when you contribute to the fireworks.  I sat on the curb again and listened to the familiar sounds, watched the antique cars go by, saw the multi-hued faces of the marchers (no longer just sunburned Caucasian), and waved my little fireworks flag to beat the band.

Happy Father’s Day (an immigration story)

My dad used to wake me up in the morning by shaking my hand.  I sleep with my arm under my pillow, hand hanging out beside the bed, so most mornings I’d wake to a gentle hand-shaking.  He made up nicknames (I was Squlerb, short for Squlerblehead, which is someone who reads a lot, or occasionally “Hey you with the snot-green eyes”) and loved to tease and never, as far as I can remember, talked negatively about people.   I love him and miss him like crazy, and that’s one reason I think that I’ve gotten involved in finding out what I can about his family.

Radviliskis, Lithuania, in 1891 was not actually Lithuania at all; it was a part of the Russian empire.  But as it was at one point and now is again Lithuania, we’ll use that.  Lithuania is a very green country, with big pine forests and rolling lands, but Radviliskis was a railroad town.  (Lithuania pix are here:  http://travel.webshots.com/album/554398583VMJIOD )  In 1891, disaster struck:  there was a huge fire, and many of the people were out of a job.  Quite possibly this included my great-grandfather, Ignaci, because he left for America in 1892 and settled in Philadelphia (yay!); from there, he was able to send tickets back for his wife and their five children to arrive at Ellis Island in 1895, sailing on the ship Neckar out of Bremen.  The 10 year old became my grandpop, John Michael.  You can still see the trains that went into Philadelphia and many other places at NJ’s Liberty State Park, where the terminal of the Central Railroad of New Jersey received the immigrants.  (Quite likely Great-grandpop would have had to come to Ellis Island to meet his wife and children, as they would have been deemed “unaccompanied.”)

Through the years they made their way in Philadelphia and the surroundings, living at 1603 North Phillip Street in 1900 and working at one of the city’s textile mills.  (G-Grandpop was a “wool puller”, and his name was listed as John at that point; John “jr”, my grandpop, was a “morocco worker”—that is, leather.)  At one point they had a farm in Custer (near Norriton) in PA, but it didn’t have timber so they gave it up.  Great-grandpop ended up in Cape May area of NJ where his son George had a farm (now the Cape May Zoo.)  By that time Ignaci was Sam; you can see why it’s been a bit difficult to find out all about the family, particularly as the last name underwent several incarnations.

Son John eventually joined the cavalry and spent a year out at Fort Yellowstone; that might have something to do with his love of Florida later on in life.  According to one of my aunties, he did exhibition riding for a while with the cavalry after his time there.  I’m not sure where he learned to ride, but the “horsey” gene has cropped up in a few of his descendents. 

(That’s Grandpop standing and Great-uncle Joe sitting, above)

He married Nana, Bessie Everett, in 1912; by that time, he was so Americanized (although not yet a citizen) that she had no idea that he was a “furriner”.  She was from a Massey, MD family that had been there since before the revolution; on her mother’s side, the Powells, there was just as long of a heritage and a family traced back to Welsh nobility.   John and Bessie had five daughters and one son, and then, lo and behold, when Nana was 48 and Grandpop was 53, my daddy came along.  His five strong sisters had a lot of say in how he was raised (treat women like queens was one instruction) but it seems that Grandpop was another influence as he also was known as a teaser and a charmer. 

The little girl is my Aunt V; when she was three years old, the doctors gave up on her health*, (*she lived to be 93) and Grandpop was told of a church where trust in God was taught.  He joined (and stayed) and that’s how the son of a Russian/Polish/Lithuanian Catholic immigrant met and married the daughter of an English Quaker/Methodist/Salvation Army family: that’s my dad and mom.

So thank you, Great-grandpop Ignatz/John/Sam etc. for taking care of your family and enabling them to come to Philadelphia; thank you Grandpop for raising my father the way that you did, and thank you Pop, for being you.  We share more than just a birthday.

(This is Grandpop as I remember him; I was three years old when he died, at the age of 86.  This is Nana and Grandpop’s 50th anniversary; they married strong women, those Gillin men did.)

And this is my Daddy. 

Visiting Bartram’s Garden

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days.

Then Heaven tries Earth if it be in tune,

And over it softly her warm ear lays.

Whether we look, or whether we listen

We hear life murmur, or see it glisten…

(James Russell Lowell, but, let’s face it, I know it from Betsy and Joe.  Everybody should read the Betsy books.)

Yesterday was one of those rare perfect June days, and I decided I needed to be outside and explore more.  So I walked down to Broad and Erie to catch the subway to get me to the trolley which would land me in Southwest Philadelphia.  It’s so great to see the number of houses that are redone or in the process thereof;  the front gardens are always fun, too.

Lo, a horse!

 It…startled me a little, I have to admit.

I got to the subway and off at City Hall for the free interchange to the trolleys, or “Subway Surface Lines”.  I think it’s funny how the signals/lines/stations are still that traditional trolley green color, whilst the trolleys themselves are quite new and sleek and white.  (I like the trolley green, though.  It’s traditional.)  I got the 36 trolley, whose sign reads “Eastwick”.

54th and Lindbergh isn’t announced, but it’s a few stations after you come up to the surface, so at least you can read street signs.  Of course, I was past when I read it, which meant a bit of a walk back.

Bartram’s Gardens were started by the Quaker John Bartram in the 1700’s; he wandered and found plants and supplied North American species to European gardeners and scientists; he had a working relationship with Carl (Carolus) Linnaeus; in fact, Linnaeus called him the “greatest natural botanist in the world.”  He also played host to guys like, oh, Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.  At that time this would have been way on out in the country, and there’s a nice arbor and vistas of the garden down to the Schuylkill.  Quite lovely.

There are also some great views of the city’s skyline across the meadow (in which I saw a fox, incidentally.)

The floral part of the gardens is delightful, but small; all of the garden area is arranged in a way that would be sensible for a botanist/nurseryman, more naturalistic than formal and adhering to his ideas of keeping species together that were found in the same area.

I took a tour of both the gardens and house; the gardens are open to the public without admission (part of Fairmount Park, in fact) but I enjoyed the tours and was glad that I had chosen them.  The house, of the mica-rich WIssahickon schist that so many old Philadelphia houses are built from, held Mr. and Mrs. Bartram and their nine children, plus a thriving business.  Son William carried on, and was also an accomplished artist and did a lot of exploring of the East Coast, particularly the Florida territory.

(The front of the house became fancier when John Bartram was read out of meeting for not accepting the divinity of Christ; he did hang around with Deists like T. Jefferson, of course.  He continued to attend Darby meeting, however, and was buried there.)

It was a lovely visit; I could wander the garden and physically feel the stress leaving my bones.  I wish that it were a bit closer to me, although I do have some fairly ravishing roses right in the ‘hood: