Philadelphia’s Cowboy Creation Story

The Philadelphia Club, 13th and Walnut Streets, 1913. (

In 1891, the fictional cowboy mounted his steed at 13th and Walnut Streets and never looked back. He galloped a circuitous route to the publishing houses of New York, then headed out to Hollywood and the American imagination.

What was the cowboy doing at such an unlikely urban crossroads? There, in the Philadelphia Club (as unlikely a place for a cowboy as anyone might ever imagine) Owen Wister, fresh back from his latest Western exploit, held forth in the club’s dining room with his drinking buddy Walter Furness.

Wister might just as well have been telling tall tales about a European Grand Tour, had he traveled eastward rather than westward. But in the Fall of 1885, Wister, a summa cum laude Harvard graduate set to begin law school, was plagued by headaches, vertigo, and the “occasional hallucination.” Fearing a nervous breakdown, Wister’s father sought out advice from family friend, the physician/author S. Weir Mitchell. “An extended visit to Europe for relaxation” would usually be Dr. Mitchell’s prescription. But in this case, he recommended that the anxious 25-year-old go West and live outdoors. “See more new people,” he told Wister, “learn to sympathize with your fellow man a little more than you are inclined to. … There are lots of humble folks in the fields you’d be the better for knowing.”

After a series of eye-opening trips to Wyoming and the Yellowstone from 1885 to 1891, Wister, now a full-fledged witness of the American West, returned to share glimpses of his newfound narrative riches. In time, he would come to advocate the idea that the American West, as opposed to the East, was the rightful center of the nation’s heart and soul. And the cowboy, its manifestation in flesh and blood, would be animated first in short stories, then, in 1902, in a best-selling novel, The Virginian.

The Virginian, first edition (1902)

Owen Wister at a campfire in 1891. The Owen Wister papers. (American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming)

But in order to make such a leap, Wister would require an epiphany. This blue-blooded Philadelphian needed to convince himself, his family and friends, that he was the one who could actually pull this off and become America’s Rudyard Kipling.

At the Philadelphia Club that Fall evening in 1891, Wister and Furness ate and drank (and drank) and as the evening wore on and the tales got taller, it occurred to Wister that he could write the stories that would bring the cowboy to life as the quintessential American.

Years later, he recalled the moment: “Fresh from Wyoming and its wild glories, I sat in the club dining room with a man as enam­oured of the West as I was. . . .  From oysters to coffee we compared experiences. Why wasn’t some Kipling saving the sage-brush for American literature, before the sage-brush and all that it signified went the way of California forty-niner, went the way of the Mississippi steam-boat, went the way of everything? . . . What was fiction doing, fiction, the only thing that has always outlived fact?”

Wister sipped his claret and staked out the plan. Then he blurted: “Walter, I’m going to try it myself! … I’m going to start this minute.” He headed “up to the library; and by midnight or so, a good slice of [the short story] “Hank’s Woman” was down in the rough.”

Success would require a bit more critical help from Dr. Mitchell. According to historian John Jennings, two of Wister’s manuscripts “gathered dust until Mitchell urged Wister to send them to Henry Mills Alden at Harper and Brothers, promising to provide a letter of introduction. Alden accepted the manuscripts and Wister was launched as a minor western author.”

Eleven years later, with The Virginian hot off the presses, Wister would become America’s major Western author. And the cowboy, originally “a rough, violent, one-dimensional drifter” would transition into a national hero.

[Sources: John Jennings, The Cowboy Legend Owen Wister’s Virginian and the Canadian-American Frontier (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2012); Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902); J. C. Furnas, “Transatlantic Twins: Rudyard Kipling and Owen Wister,” The American Scholar, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Autumn 1995), pp. 599-606; Neal Lambert, “Owen Wister’s “Hank’s Woman”: The Writer and His Comment,” Western American Literature, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 1969, pp. 39-50.]

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Philadelphia’s “Cow-Boy” Monument

“Cow-boys and Indians at the Unveiling of Remington’s ‘Cow-boy’ Statue on June 20, 1908.” (From the Fairmount Park Art Association, 1909. via Hathitrust)

The banks of the Schuylkill were packed with onlookers. On a craggy outcropping overlooking a clearing by the river stood Frederic Remington’s new, larger-than-life bronze statue wrapped in American flags. Soon enough, the cord would be ceremoniously pulled to reveal the city’s latest equestrian monument: “The Cow-Boy.”

Five thousand spectators turned out for the dedication. A band of cowboys (the musical variety) warmed up the crowd. Wyoming Jack, “a noted scout” and Chief He-Dog, in full regalia, did the honors. The popular cowgirls Mida and Lida Kemp were there. Mounted Sioux: Yellow Cloud, Cheering Horse and Driving Bear looked on as their families stood with VIP Philadelphia: leadership of the Fairmount Park Commission, the Fairmount Park Art Association (which had commissioned the piece) and others. A stand-in for Mayor John E. Reyburn apologized for His Honor’s absence. June 20, 1908 was a big day for dedications. The mayor had gone out to Valley Forge for the unveiling of another equestrian in bronze: Anthony Wayne.

The fictional “Cow-Boy” attracted a larger crowd than the real Revolutionary War hero.

One would have expected to see there that day the Philadelphian most responsible for the cowboy legend. More than anything else, Owen Wister’s best-selling novel, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, published six years earlier, had forged the cowboy in the popular imagination. Lauded as “one of the great triumphs of American literature,” The New York Times claimed Wister had “come pretty near to writing the American novel.” The Virginian was reprinted sixteen times; two million hardbound copies found their way into readers’ hands. There would be five film versions and, in the 1960s, a long-playing television series.

Statue – Remington’s “Cowboy” – Fairmount Park. April 12, 1910. (

“It is safe to say,” writes historian John Jennings, “that Wister launched the foremost popular mythology in American history.” And he did so by animating the cowboy with words as much as Remington did with images and figures. From the stormy evening in Yellowstone National Park where they first met in 1893, Wister and Remington together crafted and popularized this American character, the appeal of which, Jennings points out, “stood in stark contrast to the vulgar excesses of the Gilded Age.” But in 1899, Wister and Remington had a falling out. And so, that Saturday on the banks of the Schuylkill, Remington alone stood as the cowboy’s creator.

In fact, credit was due to the trio of Remington, Wister and Wister’s Harvard classmate and lifelong friend, Theodore Roosevelt. In 1888 Roosevelt admired the Dakota cowboy’s “quiet, uncomplaining fortitude.” He found the cowboy brave, “hospitable, hardy, adventurous” and “the grim pioneer of our race, [possessing] to a very high degree, the stern, manly qualities that are necessary to a nation.” This ready-made romantic figure was capable of reassuring some Americans “that the simple, honest virtues of Jeffersonian America were not lost.” With the cowboy, Remington, Wister and Roosevelt (now as the U.S. President who brought Remington’s Bronco Buster in the Oval Office) “manufactured a myth” of this, the “most popular American folk hero.”

The cowboy hadn’t always been the object of such unbridled admiration. Before Wister’s Virginian, this frontier type was more of “a rough, violent, one-dimensional drifter” familiar at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Remington identified something more, something special, in an article titled “The Texas Cowboy” published in 1892:

The cowboy is strongly unimaginative, absolutely unconventional, and his character is as tough as his life, made hard and narrow by combat with appalling dangers, great vicissitudes, and an absence of ideas at variance with his own. He shows in his method of verbal expression that he has succumbed to his environment, for he thinks horse, talks horse, and dreams horse, and awakens to find himself, with some meat and bread and a quart of coffee under his belt, sitting on a horse.  … The cowboy’s life is passed alone, with only his pony and the great stretch of solemn plains and the flat, blue sky. He has little use for his voice, though his thoughts may wander as far afield as any poet’s. . . .  You will find in his gaze a positive quality . . . for no English high-caste man ever regarded the rest of the world from so high a pinnacle as this tanned and dusty person who sleeps in a blanket and eats bacon three times a day.

Statue – Remington’s “Cowboy” – Fairmount Park. April 12, 1910. Detail. (

Remington and Wister met the next year and soon elevated the cowboy a few notches higher, while revealing distinct biases along the way, in an article published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.  In the American West, wrote Wister, one could avoid the “hordes of encroaching alien vermin, that turn our cities to Babels and our citizenship to a hybrid farce.” He went on: “it won’t be a century before the West is simply the true America with thought, type, and life of its own kind. We Atlantic Coast people, all varnished with Europe, and some of us having a good lot of Europe in our marrow besides, will vanish from the face of the earth.” Accompanying this essay, titled the “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” were five illustrations by Remington, including, most notably, “The Last Cavalier,” depicting a cowboy on horseback “with a host of Anglo-Saxon knights, crusaders, cavaliers, frontiersmen, explorers, and soldiers of the Raj receding into the misty past.”

Why not introduce this larger-than-life American hero to the public in the form of a larger-than-life monument? “The fast disappearing Indians and western cowboy should be put in enduring bronze,” encouraged New York art editor Alexander W. Drake in a letter to Remington in 1899, “. . . this should be done by the only man in America who can do it,” he flattered. “What could be more appropriate for an American city?”

Statue – Remington’s “Cowboy” – Fairmount Park, October 13, 2019.

The Fairmount Park Art Association agreed. And so would The Philadelphia Inquirer, which described Remington as “the most truly American,” artist who “owed nothing of his craftsmanship to foreign study or to copying foreign ideas. He was a product of our own soil, educated in an American atmosphere.” Remington produced sculptures “with such fidelity to life that they will remain long after the last cow-puncher has gone to his grave.”

Many other cities wanted larger-than-life cowboys by Remington. Only Philadelphia would get one. A year and a half after the 1908 dedication, Remington died of complications from appendicitis. The Corcoran Gallery in Washington would be the first of many museums to purchase one of his bronzes (Off the Range, also known as Coming Through the Rye) but table-top sculptures, however spirited, just didn’t have the presence or the unexpected gravitas of this 12-foot “Cow-Boy” monument overlooking the Schuylkill.

[Sources: Frederic Remington, “The Texas Cowboy,” The Denver Republican, Sept 1892 (Published in Current Literature, Vol 11, September-December, 1892); Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: The Macmillan Company,1902); “Cowboy Statue to be Unveiled,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 19, 1908; “Picturesque Scenes Attend Unveiling of the Cowboy Monument in the Park,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 1908; Fairmount Park Art Association, Annual Report (Philadelphia: Fairmount Park Art Association, 1909);, “A Genuine American Artist, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 28, 1909; David Sellin, “Cowboy,” in Fairmount Park Art Association, Sculpture of a City: Philadelphia’s Treasures in Bronze and Stone,” (Walker Pub. Co, 1974); David A. Smith, “Owen Wister’s Paladin of the Plains: The Virginian as Cultural Hero,” South Dakota History, 2008, vol. 38, no. 1, pp 47-77; John Jennings, The Cowboy Legend Owen Wister’s Virginian and the Canadian-American Frontier (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2012).]

Disclosure: The writer is a member of The Association for Public Art (formerly The Fairmount Park Art Association) board of directors.

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A Philadelphia Firehouse Designed by the “Other” Philip Johnson

Fire Station at 701 S.50th Street, designed by Philip H. Johnson in 1903. Photographed by R. Carrollo, December 9, 1959.

All our municipal governments are more or less bad. Philadelphia is simply the most corrupt and the most contented.”

-Lincoln Steffens, 1903

The firehouse at intersection of Baltimore Avenue and 50th Street is a redbrick Flemish revival structure dating from the early 1900s.  In the days of coal-fired kitchen ranges and unreliable electrical wiring, a modern fire station was a big draw to potential residents of Cedar Park and Spruce Hill, which by the early 1900s had become a desirable and expensive streetcar suburb.  The fire engines at the station at 701 S.50th Street were horse-drawn until at least the mid-1910s, when internal combustion engines finally became powerful enough to haul heavy ladders and pumping machinery through the streets at high speed.


A British fire engine, powered by an internal combustion engine, 1905. From Popular Mechanics.

Although dripping in fin-de-siècle charm, the Cedar Park firehouse was the result of a no-bid, lifetime city contract that remained inviolate for 30 years and netted architect Philip H. Johnson a small fortune.  Johnson owed his good luck thanks to a familial connection to one of Philadelphia’s most powerful political bosses. In 1903, when journalist Lincoln Steffens described Philadelphia as “corrupt and contented” (and the same year Johnson’s drafted the firehouse plans), the city’s 7th Ward was under the iron-fisted rule of the Republican boss Israel M. Durham. A longtime party operative who had served in the Pennsylvania State Senate and as State Insurance Commissioner, he lavished generous salaries on himself and his loyal associates.  He also traveled widely to Europe and the American West, all while receiving a handsome $20,000 a year salary as State Insurance Commissioner. During his final years, he became majority owner and president of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team.  Although poor health prevented Durham from watching from the stands, he kept a telephone by his hospital bed so he could manage the team and follow the games in real time.

One of Durham’s most controversial acts was the awarding of a lifetime contract to his brother-in-law Philip Johnson for City Health Department projects. No relation to the famed modernist architect of the same name, Johnson was a competent (if not particularly imaginative) architect who had previously worked at the City’s Bureau of Engineering and Surveys. After starting his own firm in 1903, thanks to the contract granted by his brother-in-law, Johnson churned out dozens of public buildings during his tenure.  Among them were the City Hall Annex (now the Notary Hotel), the Philadelphia General Hospital, the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases at Byberry. and the old Philadelphia Convention Center on Civic Center Boulevard.  After Durham’s demise in 1909, several Philadelphia mayors tried to get Johnson’s lifetime contract overturned. The courts consistently sided with Johnson, and as a result more than $2 million worth of projects flowed into the architect’s office until his death in 1933. Protected from competitive bids, Johnson made few efforts to hide the wealth garnered from the city coffers, belonging to the Philadelphia City Yacht Club and the Larchmont Yacht Club in the suburbs of New York City.

After closing in the 1980s, the Cedar Park firehouse became the home of a popular indoor farmer’s market. Today, the former firehouse now houses a quartet of Cedar Park businesses: Dock Street Brewery, Satellite Cafe, Firehouse Bicycles, and The Fireworks Co-Working Space.

Sleeping quarters, fire station at 701 S.50th Street, photographed by R. Carrollo, December 9, 1959.  Now Firehouse Bicycles.

The engine garage, photographed by R. Carrollo on December 9, 1959. Now Dock Street Brewery.

Firehouse at 701 S.50th Street. photographed by R. Carrollo on December 9, 1959. Now the site of the Satellite Cafe.


Sandra Tatman, Johnson, Philip H. (1868-1933), Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, 2019.

Howard Gillette, Corrupt and Contented, The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

“Israel Durham Quits: Abandons Claims to Leadership of Party Machine,” The New York Times, January 10, 1906.

“Israel Wilson Durham: Politician and Owner/President of the Philadelphia Phillies,” Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery.


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Pershing’s Short, Yet “Epochal” Visit to Philadelphia

Philadelphia lavished patriotic honors on General John J. Pershing, one year ago. The commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in World War I carved out only two-and-a-half hours for celebration in the City of Brotherly Love. No matter. Everyone seemed to make the most of what was touted as an”epochal visit.”

“Pershing’s long, long, trail, blazed with the everlasting glory of victory, crossed Philadelphia,” glowed the Inquirer the following morning. “The city that cradled the Nation swept America’s military idol from his feet in the tumult and ecstasy of a welcome which veteran generals from overseas declared shamed those other historic moments of Paris, London and New York.”

“This demonstration to honor the man whose leadership and genius had wrought a final triumph, destined to live eternally in the pages of history, was majestically superb and gloriously epic. Business and industry went A.W.O.L. for hours in order that the city where American liberty and freedom first were translated into government might lay its tribute at the feet of a man who directed the might of America in crushing autocracy and tyranny in Europe.

“One half million throats roared acclaim to the splendid figure who rode in an auto at the head of the line, a figure who visualized to the cheering multitude the spirit of fighting, victorious America. A million eyes followed this military leader, alight with love, affection and idolatrous worship that the fires of renewed patriotism had kindled and kept aglow.

“Previous celebrations and fetes, hitherto apocryphal in the city, were overshadowed by this welcome. . . . Streets became living canyons, throbbing and pulsating to the emotional greeting of a people stirred to the depths by the man and all that he meant to those who had kept the home fires burning. Forests of flags nodded and waived and danced in the breeze, obedient to the chubby fist of childhood as well as the palsied hand of age.

“Women in their ecstatic jubilation pelted the Commander, home from the wars, with roses and other flowers. From the skies and windows of the great office buildings of the city came showers of confetti raining down upon him.  And behind all adulation, all this wealth of affectionate greeting and stupendous welcome, were the ceremonials which the city and State had arranged to give a stately touch to this riotous ovation that extended over three miles of march, and never once died down…

“Recent history holds no parallel to yesterday’s demonstration for enthusiasm. . . . From the moment that he stepped from his car . . .  he found his pathway figuratively carpeted with the hearts of his countrymen here. All along the stretch of this turn in the long, long trail, too, he found adulation and affection bloom and blossoming in his path.

“Deeply affected and immeasurably delighted, Pershing found that the charm and the splendor of this welcome rested largely in its spontaneity. His eyes greedily drank in their fill of the entrancing sight, and shone with the keenest appreciation and gratitude which found their outward expression when he spoke at the Union League. He told his hearers that the reception surpassed anything in his experience.”

General Pershing Speaking from Union League Balcony, September 12, 1919 (

“You have every reason to be proud of your patriotism because you inherited it from your forefathers and because of the way in which you have defended the principles for which they stood,” said Pershing at the Union League, overlooking Broad Street. “I wish I had more time to say what I feel in my heart, on being in this historic city of Philadelphia, I only hope that I many again come to drink from this fountain of patriotism.”

General John J. Pershing, Governor William C. Sproul and Mayor Thomas B. Smith at Independence Square, September 12, 1919 (

“Mayor Smith and Governor Sproul were among the prominent personages of the city and State on hand to meet the General, as spick and span and smart as any subaltern fresh from West point . . . Flanked by the Governor and Mayor General Pershing strode . . . . Here he found the real guard of honor drawn up to greet him. Two dozen or more boys who had won the Distinguished Service Cross for their valorous deeds in the armies which the distinguished guest had commanded. The moment that Pershing’s eyes fell upon these heroes he deserted his civilian hosts and became the soldier and the commander instantly, and unaffectedly.”

“Goddess of Liberty” at Reception to General Pershing, Independence Hall, (

“His eyes roved over the men, rested for a moment or two on the decorations that embellish their tunics, and questions several of them as to the deeds which brought this distinguished recognition. As he walked away, he turned to the little knot of civilians in his wake and said musingly: ‘These are the real men: the real fellows who did the work. Real men, every one of them; don’t forget that.'”

Flags of Allied Nations at Independence Hall, September 12, 1919 (

“His short visit—all too short for the big welcoming host of Philadelphia—will never be forgotten,” wrote John Wanamaker. “General Pershing must come back and give us more time, when we will see that Philadelphia, big as it is can give him a bigger welcome and more courtesies than could be crowded into the brief visit of yesterday.”

Really? How could another visit have possibly topped this one?

[Source: “General Acclaimed By Thousands Here in Epochal Visit,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 1919; [Advertisement letter by John Wanamaker] “General Pershing, the Great American Soldier and Commander of Our Victorious Armies,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 1919.]

See more on Pershing’s patriotic encounter with the Liberty Bell.

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Patriotic Etiquette at the Liberty Bell — 1919 edition

“Philadelphia Paying Tribute to Its Soldier Sons,” Broad and Spring Garden Streets, May 15, 1919 (

After the conclusion of what would become known as World War I, mandatory visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell provide us, a century later, with a laboratory of contrasting and complementary patriotic practices.

May 15, 1919: Eight miles of the “khakied legions” and their “forests of bayonets” march in celebration throughout the city. On Broad Street and the new Parkway, “bands blared their music, cheerleaders awakened the stands to fresher and more frequent tumult, while songs burst upon the air, like some festival prepared for a Roman general back from his journey of conquest into other lands.”

At Independence Hall the spirit of celebration turned serious. If ever there was a ground zero for understated expressions on behalf of American Freedom, Liberty and Independence, it was Independence Hall, and more particularly, at the Liberty Bell. “While the cheering and the tumult multiplied in many places,” here it was “chained by a somber realization that silence could best pay tribute…” For this special day, the Liberty Bell was brought into the sunlight of Chestnut Street where all those who passed could feel its powerful, mute presence.

Liberty Bell outside Independence Hall, May 15, 1919 (

July 4, 1919: The first peacetime Fourth offered another opportunity to celebrate American victory with song, dance, speeches and other patriotic displays. This time, the Liberty Bell is carried out to Independence Square “and placed on a pedestal banked with ferns and potted plants.”  If it wasn’t for the blazing sun and extreme heat, the event would have attracted more than 100,000. Only “meager thousands” turned out for the traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence and what came after.

In an unscheduled speech, Judge John M. Patterson, a candidate for Mayor, took over the podium. He described the Liberty Bell, as “the holiest relic in the world.” Then the earnest, unctuous Patterson, who would lose his mayoral bid, took a right turn away from the usual  somber, bell-based patriotic etiquette.

“The bell could proclaim to the Bolshevists today that America is a land of law and order,” Patterson declared.  And “as long as we have religion and patriotism, the red flag of anarchy will never oust the flag of the United States. Let the churches see that every member of their congregations is an American in deed as well as in word, and if he is not, then let him be an outcast from the Church as he is from the Nation. We can array good people against the bad and blot out this menace. Let the Bolshevists and those who rail at our laws and liberties understand that if they don’t like this country and the way its government is administered then the best thing they can do is go to some place that does suit them.”

General Pershing at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall September 12, 1919 (

When Patterson stepped down, Iowa Congressman James W. Good, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, replaced him at the podium and continued. “There is no room in America for any flag but the flag of America and your duty and mine in this country, in times of peace as well as in times of war, is to obey the law and pay obedience and reverence to the flag of the United States. There is no place in America for the Red flag. It means the destruction of all that our civilization represents.”

September 12, 1919: General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front returns. He visits the Bell and the Hall and re-focuses with silence and somber tones after a welcome by Mayor Thomas B. Smith. “We stand on holy ground, General Pershing,” says the mayor. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence signed it within these four walls. This is the home of the Liberty Bell, loved by one hundred million free people.”

The General walks up to the Bell, ensconced and decorated for the occasion “mute but glorious in its cradle. . . . Unconscious of the shouts and the cheers, or the interruption of the photographers’ flash lights, the soldier stood there, silent before the venerable relic of the days when liberty was first proclaimed throughout the land. With head bared and eyes softened, the man who had led the great army overseas to carry to victory the armed purpose that sprang to life in this historic shrine, riveted his eyes upon the Bell.”

“For several moments he stood tense, and then his eyes roved over the symbol of freedom, and he seemed to be pondering in his mind if his stewardship were worthy of the traditions which the Bell conjured to his mind. Then, bending low, as if to press his lips to the Bell, he saluted paused for a moment and then walked out to address the throng.”

Pershing had an adoring crowd. By the time he made his way to Broad Street, “the sidewalks were jammed with great masses of cheering people.”

Pershing briefly toyed with the idea of running for public office. He never did.

[Sources: “Commonwealth and City Pay Magnificent Tribute to Valorous Sons Who Risked All in Liberty’s Cause.” The Inquirer, May 16, 1919; “Wide Celebration of First Peace 4th Held In This City,” The Inquirer, July 5, 1919; “City Will Accord Big Welcome Today To Gen. Pershing,” The Inquirer, September 12, 1919; “General Acclaimed By Thousands Here In Epochal Visit,” The Inquirer, September 13, 1919.]

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101 Years Later: Mapping the South Philadelphia Race Riot

“To one who is familiar with the political conditions in Philadelphia, the rioting of July 26-31 was not unexpected,” wrote Walter F. White, Assistant Secretary of the NAACP a few months after the dust settled. “The only surprising feature is that such an outbreak did not occur much sooner. It is doubtful if there is any other city in the country where a more unclean system of pollical chicanery exists.”

Readers who watch this space know the story. For those to whom the 1918 South Philadelphia Race Riots is news, earlier posts start here (for the incident where it started on Friday, July 26th), hereherehere,  here (about the spreading and sustained violence over the weekend that followed) and here (for a summary and chronology of the events from July 24th through July 31st).

“Crowd at 28th and Federal streets during yesterday’s riots trying to take negroes off Darby car.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1918.

What do we know from contemporary sources? Other than White’s 8-page account, the city’s newspapers presented a range of coverage that was accurate at times, inaccurate others, and usually rife with rumors and bias that leaned toward the dramatic. “In a series of street battles waged for twenty-four hours by more than five thousand white and colored men in a downtown section covering about two square miles, read one example, “scores were seriously injured in the most terrific and bitter race riot that has ever taken place in this city. …[Rioting] grew in intensity . . . with individual fights and mobs engaged in gun fire on nearly every other corner of a section bounded by Washington Avenue, Dickinson Street, 23rd and 30th Streets.”

More than a century later, there’s no living memory of the events. All we have are the contemporary written sources and previous few images, including the photograph presented here (right). On the 101st anniversary of this and other moments in the riot, we present a mapped version of the story to help restore awareness of what took place, where and when. Not only does this give us a clearer sense of the hot spots, it grounds our understanding of how violence spread through the community over those fateful days and who was involved.

South Philadelphia Riot Map (Google)

Click on the map (here, or left) to get a better idea of where the riot took place, where it spread and who participated as instigators and victims. Red circles indicate hot spots, blue circles indicate where they lived.

Riot Locations:

  • Residence of Adella Bond, 2936 Ellsworth Street, July 26, 1918
  • Shooting of Hugh Lavery by Jesse Butler, at 26th and Annin Street, July 27th
  • Shooting of Officer Thomas McVay by Henry Huff, inside 2716 Titan Street, July 28th
  • Attack on Henry Huff home – 2743 or 2745 Titan Street
  • Mobs reign on “small streets” [Annin and Alter Streets] between Federal Street and Washington Avenue [25th and 28th Streets]
  • Attack on Eleanor Grant home, 1522 South Stillman Street
  • Armed Mob barricaded itself in a vacant house with weapons, 27th and Alter Streets
  • Mob Attack on an African-American church, 27th and Federal Streets
  • Federal Arsenal employee shot in tavern, Grays Ferry Avenue and Carpenter Streets
  • Police attack Preston Lewis in the Polyclinic Hospital, 1818-1828 Lombard Street
  • Mob attack of the Darby Car, 28th and Federal Streets (see illustration)
  • Riley Bullock arrested by police, Titan Street and Point Breeze Avenue
  • Riley Bullock murdered by police in the 17th District Police Station, 20th and Federal Streets

Grays Ferry Avenue at 28th and Federal Streets in 1936. (

Identity and home address of 31 seriously injured or killed riot participants and victims, including race and age, if published:

  •  Millard Berry [or M. Derry] 28, “colored” 2623 Annin street, “scalp abrasions.”
  • Noam Bewz [or Nonah Bews] 33, “colored,” 1838 Naudain Street. “dying; three broken ribs and multiple body and head lacerations.”
  • Isaac Bradford, 2020 or 2220 Morton [sic, Manton] Street, “fractured jaw.”
  • Riley Bullock, 30, [African American] 2032 Annin Street. (shot dead in the 17th District Police Station)
  • Joseph Bush, 29, 2603 Mantua Street. “Lacerated scalp.”
  • Jesse [or Joseph] Butler, 18, “colored,” 4849 Haverford Avenue, “badly beaten.”
  • Lem Carter [or L. Lem Carter], 27, “colored,” 2536 Alter Street, “bullet wound in left leg.”
  • Frank Donohue, 1325 South Stanley Street, “shot in groin.” (dead).
  • William Duberry, 33 [African American], 1511 South Stillman Street, “internal injuries and a fractured skull.”
  • Joseph Fleming, 27, 1524 South Ringgold Street, “forehead lacerated.”
  • Joseph Graham, 19, 2928 South Van Pelt Street, “laceration of the head.”
  • Henry Hale, 50, “colored” 400 Eldridge Street, “broken arm.”
  • Henry Huff, 23 or 25, [African American] 2743 or 2745 Titan Street, “beaten about the head and face with a club” and “lacerated forehead.”
  • Albert Hankerson, 27, [or Elbert Hankson, 37, “colored”], 2603 Mantua [sic, Manton] Street. “Lacerations of face, scalp and fingers.”
  • Joseph Kelly, 23 years old, 2311 Carpenter Street, “shot in right leg.”
  • Hugh Lavery, 34 or 42, 1229 or 1234 South 26th Street, “shot by a negro” at 26th and Annin Streets (dead).
  • Preston Lewis, 33, [African American], 2739 Titan Street, “lacerations, scalp and face.”
  • Robert McDevitt, 14, 2043 Federal street, “slight cuts and scratches, treated in drug store.”
  • John McPolin [or John M. Polen], 22, 2717 Titan Street, “shot in thigh.”
  • Thomas McVay [or McVey] patrol driver, 24, 2731 or 2735 Oakford street, “shot to death” at 27th and Titan Streets.
  • Gordon Matthewson [or Gordon Matenson], 38, 2747 Titan Street, “lacerated scalp.”
  • George Miller, 44, 1217 South 26th Street, uncle of Hugh Lavery, “shot in leg.”
  • Thomas Myers, 34, patrolman. 2212 Titan street, “shot in right leg and left hip.”
  • William Nahar, 29 years old, of 1406 South 19th Street, “lacerated scalp.”
  • Edwin Noley, [or Edward Naley or Edward Naby] 38, “colored,” 2737 Titan street, “broken nose and jaw, internal injuries, fractured skull; not expected to live.”
  • William Reason, 18, “colored.” 1740 Rodman Street, “fractured jaw, body contusions.”
  • John Riley, 22, 1243 South 20th Street, “bruises and lacerations.”
  • Thomas Scully, 34, “colored,” 2031 Fernon Street, “shot in head.”
  • Patrolman John M. Synder, 17th District Police Station, 20th and Federal Streets, “hand fractured, lacerations.”
  • Isaac Thompson, 27, 1554 South Woodstock Street. “Lacerations of scalp.”
  • Robert Wilson, 26 “colored.” 2043 Federal Street or 1406 South Nineteenth street, “lacerated scalp.”

What more can we know from the information above? Lots, we’d like to think. A century plus after the fact, there are bound to be family accounts, shared or unshared, verified or unverified, that should be part of the evolving historical record. In addition, all kinds of questions arise about the riots and their aftermath in and around the impacted neighborhoods. These accounts could only be provided by those who heard about the events, or echoes of them, in the century that followed.

One hundred and one years later, it’s beyond time to share what we know.

[Sources: Philadelphia Race Riots of July 26 to July 31, 1918, An investigation by Walter F. White, Assistant Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and an account of actions taken by the Philadelphia branch of the N.A.A.C. P.; “2 Slain, 20 Injured As 5000 Fight Race War in South Philadelphia,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1918; “Another Dies in Race Riots; Marines Used.” Evening Public Ledger, July 29, 1918.]

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Avenue of the Arts: a mid-century concept that lives in the imagination

First “Avenue of the Arts” street sign erected for the Philadelphia Arts Festival. 16th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Deputy Street Commissioner Michael J. Gittens and Moore art students Helen Hickey and Drena Ricci, June 5, 1962. (PhillyHistory,org)

In a freezing drizzle in January 1993, at the corner of Broad and South Streets, Mayor Edward G. Rendell asked a modest gathering of creatives, advocates, developers and funders to ignore what was on the street in front of them and imagine an Avenue of the Arts. The big idea, a “cultural district initiative” would serve as “a tourism-based economic development strategy” designed to enhance the city’s tax base “drained of its population and employment.” A new nonprofit, named Avenue of the Arts, Inc. would promote and oversee the promised upgrade.

“Two years later,” reported the Inquirer’s Stephan Salisbury, the promised crowds were “still not jostling one another along Broad Street. No other theaters have been built. No orchestra halls. No recital halls. No art centers. No schools.” Bringing Rendell’s Avenue of the Arts into being would require far more time, money and patience than originally anticipated.

By the end of the 1990s, the Avenue of the Arts would get built and audiences would fill seats. According to sociologist Anna Maria Bounds, South Broad got “11 cultural and educational institutions and seven venues, providing over 10,000 performances seats. Total investment for the initiative was $378.4 million, with over $75 million from the state and over $30 million from the local government.” According the Pennsylvania Economy League, the Avenue of the Arts generated “more than $157 million in revenue annually, providing 2800 full-time and over 1000 part-time jobs.”

A lot could be claimed, though not the name. The moniker “Avenue of the Arts” had been kicked around on South Broad Street since 1978, when about thirty “business and cultural leaders created the Avenue of the Arts Council (AAC) to redevelop South Broad Street as a cultural destination.” And it had been used even earlier, in 1962, though not on Broad Street, but on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

As posted previously, in 1962 the city went on “a 16-day crash diet of high-calorie culture” known as the Philadelphia Arts Festival in 1962. It included music, ballet, painting, sculpture, architectural exhibits, poetry and drama. For the duration of the Festival, the Parkway was renamed Avenue of the Arts.

“You name it, Philadelphia will have it” boasted The Philadelphia Daily News. “And a good many of the cultural dishes will be just what the best things in life are supposed to be—free as the air. Most of them, in fact, will be in the air. Like under-the-stars offerings in a new outdoor theatre behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. … There’ll be more than 100 events, more than 5,000 performers—pros, amateurs, students, even some members. And estimated one million persons will peek at some phase of the fete before the curtain rings down on June 24.”

The cultural smorgasbord of 1962 included exhibits focusing on the work of native-born designers Tina Leser, James Galanos and Gustave Tassell). Folk singer George Britton performed at what is now LOVE Park, organist Robert Elmore cut loose at Wanamaker’s. Jack Bookbinder, director of art education at the Philadelphia Public Schools, lectured on the “Understanding and Enjoyment of Modern Art.” Grace Zahn and Margaret White entertained children with stories in French and songs. Mummers music animated the streets and fireworks made statues and buildings shimmer. Dances by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Philadelphia Workshop (directed by Maria Swoboda) complimented concerts by the Philadelphia Arts Festival Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Anshel Brusilow with soloists Wilmer Wise on trumpet and soprano Anna Marie Kuhn.) City-wide event listings included pianist Edna Bockstein and cellist James Holesovsky at Lemon Hill Mansion, art hung at the 40th and Walnut Street Free Library and square dancing at the Cheltenham Shopping Center mall.

Are there lessons to be learned from comparing Philadelphia’s Avenues of the Arts? For that, we should take the mayor’s advice: “’Close your eyes and dream.” After all, when you get down it it, an Avenue of the Arts isn’t so much about paving as it is a destination for our collective imagination.

[Sources: Citywide Stage is Set for 16-day art Festival, Philadelphia Daily News, June 8, 1962; 3rd Festival of Arts Opens on Saturday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 9, 1962; “Arts Festival Events at Peak,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 1962; Stephan Salisbury, Progress Lurches up Broad Street, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 1993; Anna Maria Bounds, “Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts the Challenges of a Cultural District Initiative” in Melanie Smith, editor, Tourism, Culture and Regeneration (CABI, 2006)].


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The One That Got Away: Marian Carson’s On Washington Square

South Washington Square, December 1959. (

The six, second-floor windows look out on Washington Square. They’re not very high, not even at the tree tops. On the outside they appear to be adjacent houses, except they are one, bought and joined together by Marian S. Carson, the widowed, single mother of two girls who traded their sprawling farmhouse in Bryn Mawr for whatever city life might offer—an unusual and bold move in the mid-1950s.

Across the square, Mayor Richardson Dilworth’s colonial replica was under construction. He’d move in, too, staking out a social/political/urban commitment that inspired the city’s first wave of gentrification. At Washington Square’s quieter southwest corner, Carson was more interested in the authentic, the vintage—the actual and historical. Her pair of rowhouses would be connected on the second floor creating a double-wide parlor, a gracious, even palatial room of more than 1,000 square feet. There she’d raise her daughters, host salons of sherry-sipping editors from nearby publishing houses and conduct a decades-long game of show-and-tell with collectors of all stripes from all over the United States.

Marian Carson had the stuff of history. She inherited much from generations of collectors on all sides. And over the decades she added acquisitions in great sweeping swaths as any seasoned, capable collector would—if they had the chance.

Visiting Marian never failed to be a treat, or a tease—depending on what she chose to share with you, or promise you might get to see next time. Behind those windows, you’d encounter early American gems of cabinetry illustrated in the volume  (Blue Book, Philadelphia Furniture) that she and her first husband William McPherson Horner, Jr. compiled and published privately in 1935. Visits often went beyond the woodwork and into the broader strokes of history. The tables in Marian’s parlor would be littered with specimens accumulated over the generations and added to in her own time: paintings, watercolors, archives, manuscripts and photographs. Not any photograph, mind you, but the first self-portrait (now known as the first selfie) by pioneering daguerreotypist Robert Cornelius. Marian might have had Francis Hopkinson’s toast to his friend George Washington from 1778, published in the Pennsylvania Packet, but she certainly had the original manuscript in Hopkinson’s songbook, purchased in Paoli at a consignment shop where a Hopkinson descendant had left it.

Home of Marian S. Carson 704/706 South Washington Square, December 1959. (

An early printing of the Declaration of Independence? Marian had one of two known copies of a July, 1776 printing from New York City. A post-humus portrait drawing of George Washington himself by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin? Marian’s dated to 1800. A depiction of the senate of Liberia, a new nation settled by former American slaves? Marian’s watercolor was from 1856.

After an hour of looking at such treasures, one welcomed the calming view of sycamore branches out on the square.

Marian developed a revised vision of what history could and should be about. It would move away from celebration by those fortunate enough to inherit heirlooms. Her vision accommodated those who might make the past part of their lives and the life of their communities. As Marian expressed this shift, this awakening, in the 1977 reprint of her Blue Book, it would be “a new breed of informed collector” whose labors, explained historian Robert V. Remini, “would include research, public forums, restoration and publication, not simply acquisition.” This was Marian’s new creed as steward and collector. That commitment, as well as her vast collections, would make Marian a target for scholars, curiosity seekers, curators, librarians, philanthropists and collecting institutions.

In her later years, when Marian answered the doorbell at 706 South Washington Square, she looked frail, at first. But the more knowledge and appreciation shared, the younger she’d appear. For those who made it inside, it would be a decades long courtship requiring persistence, but most of all, patience.

It cane to an end in the mid-1990s, when Librarian of Congress James H. Billington stepped over the threshold for the first time. With the generous help of his James Madison Council (described by The Washington Post as “the wealthiest Friends of the Library group in the world”), Billington’s people negotiated a combination gift and a $2 million purchase of more than 10,000 manuscripts, photographs, paintings, books, broadsides, letters and official documents valued at approximately $6 million.

In the Fall of 1996, at a celebratory dinner in the Library of Congress’ Great Hall, Billington called the acquisition nothing less than “the most significant acquisition of Americana by the Library of Congress in this century.”

Good for the Library of Congress. Not so good for Philadelphia, the logical, contextual home for the Carson collection.

Other collections got away over the years, but nothing quite like this one.

[Sources: Marian S. Carson Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room, The Library of Congress; Sarah Booth Conroy, “Philadelphia Stories,” The Washington Post, October 14, 1996; Bernard Reilly and Gail Fineberg, “Library Acquires Carson Collection,”LOC Information Bulletin, October 21, 1996; Gathering History: The Marian S. Carson Collection of Americana, (Washington, D.C. Library of Congress, 1999); Gayle Ronan Sims, “Marian S. Carson, 98, preservationist,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 2004.]

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“Life Illustrated Thoroughly”

Market Street Ferry, Front and Market Streets, December 16, 1915 (

As we learned last time, Whitman much preferred the ferry. Not that bridges didn’t have their fine points. A night on the Mississippi, for instance. Whitman “haunted the river every night…where I could get a look at the [Eads] bridge by moonlight. It is indeed a structure of perfection and beauty unsurpassable, and I never tire of it.”

From far away, Whitman praised even the Brooklyn Bridge, which ultimately made obsolete his favorite Fulton Ferry. “To the right the East river—the mast-hemme’d shores—the grand obelisk-like towers of the bridge, one on either side, in haze, yet plainly defin’d, giant brothers twain, throwing free graceful interlinking loops high across the tumbled tumultuous current below…”

But up close and personal, Whitman always chose the ferry. “It is impossible to overstate the psychic investment [Whitman] had in ferries,” writes Arthur Geffen, who argues that the Brooklyn Bridge “became psychologically disturbing to him because it endangered a world in which he had made deep personal investments.”

On the water, Whitman could experience and celebrate all that he saw: “Such a show as the Delaware presented an hour before sundown yesterday evening, all along between Philadelphia and Camden… It was full tide, a fair breeze from the southwest, the water of a pale tawny color, and just enough motion to make things frolicsome and lively. Add to these an approaching sunset of unusual splendor, a broad fumble of clouds, with much golden haze and profusion of beaming shaft and dazzle.”

Delaware Avenue, North From Market Street, ca. 1890 ( Library of Philadelphia)

On the water, Whitman could revel in the humanity. Ferry crossings became his signature events, experiences that started on richly crowded landings. As he observed in Specimen Days:

“The reception room, for passengers waiting—life illustrated thoroughly. Take a March picture I jotted there two or three weeks since. Afternoon, about 3 1/2 o’clock, it begins to snow. There has been a matinee performance at the theater—from 4 1/4 to 5 comes a stream of homeward bound ladies. I never knew the spacious room to present a gayer, more lively scene—handsome, well-drest Jersey women and girls, scores of them, streaming in for nearly an hour—the bright eyes and glowing faces, coming in from the air—a sprinkling of snow on bonnets or dresses as they enter—the five or ten minutes’ waiting—the chatting and laughing—(women can have capital times among themselves, with plenty of wit, lunches, jovial abandon)—Lizzie, the pleasant-manner’d waiting room woman—for sound, the bell-taps and steam-signals of the departing boats with their rhythmic break and undertone—the domestic pictures, mothers with bevies of daughters, (a charming sight)—children, countrymen—the railroad men in their blue clothes and caps—all the various characters of city and country represented or suggested. Then outside some belated passenger frantically running, jumping after the boat. Towards six o’clock the human stream gradually thickening—now a pressure of vehicles, drays, piled railroad crates — now a drove of cattle, making quite an excitement, the drovers with heavy sticks, belaboring the steaming sides of the frighten’d brutes. Inside the reception room, business bargains, flirting, love-making, eclaircissements, proposals—pleasant, sober-faced Phil coming in with his burden of afternoon papers—or Jo, or Charley (who jump’d in the dock last week, and saved a stout lady from drowning,) to replenish the stove, after clearing it with long crow-bar poker.”

“Besides all this ‘comedy human.’ The river affords nutriment of a higher order.” And Whitman goes on to share some of his “memoranda of the past winter, just as pencill’d down on the spot.” For that, best to track down a copy of Specimen Days or simply click here and read.

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A Walt Whitman Bridge? The Good Gray Poet Wouldn’t Want It.

No matter how much Walt Whitman’s philosophical beliefs and sexual preferences rankled the priests of Camden, no matter how many mimeographed form letters of protest were sent in by Camden’s parochial schoolchildren, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) held firm. The new bridge would bear Whitman’s name.

Smith and Windmill Islands – Delaware River Near Foot of Chestnut Street, Frederick Gutekunst, 1891 (

Thing is, Whitman didn’t much care for bridges. But the Good Gray Poet had been dead for six decades when the DRPA deliberated on the new bridge’s name. But if he could have been consulted on the matter, Whitman would have declined the honor. “I have always had a passion for ferries,” he wrote, “to me they afford inimitable, streaming, never-failing, living poems.”

Back in Brooklyn at the mid-century, Whitman regularly crossed the East River to Manhattan, often making his way up into the ferry’s pilot-houses where he could take in the “full sweep, absorbing shows, accompaniments, surroundings.” He had no kind words to share when construction of the Brooklyn Bridge got underway in the 1870s. Anyway, by then, living in bridge-free Camden, Whitman doubled down on his passion, finding in each ferry ride crossing the Delaware  River a “refreshment of spirit.”

Whitman’s ideal crossing was about experience, not efficiency. On the deck of a bridge, high above the water, he’d be disconnected from the river’s sounds, sights and smells – its culture. Sure, crossing would go faster on a bridge, but it would deny Whitman what a city by a river city was all about, what he lived for.

In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” his poem of 1856, Whitman transforms would-be mundane mid-nineteenth-century experience into something glorious and transformative. “Crossing” confirmed not only Whitman’s utter joy in the moment (“Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face! / Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face”) but, as Whitman scholar Howard Nelson points out, Whitman expected such moments would always be part of urban life:

Detail – Delaware River Near Foot of Chestnut Street. Frederick Gutekunst, photographer, 1891. (PhillyHistory)

Others will see the islands large and small;

Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,

A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,

Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

However, “a hundred years hence,” both ferries were gone. “Whitman did not foresee the demise of the ferries,” explains Nelson, he assumed “people in the future would, like him, see the gulls turning in late afternoon light, the rise and fall of tides, the river flowing, and the sun…” Such experiences even suggested “a kind of immortality.”

“I have never lived away from a big river,” wrote Whitman. “I don’t know what I should do without the ferry, & river, & crossing, day & night.” After a debilitating stroke in 1873, Whitman regarded the Camden Ferry as therapy, crossing back and forth as many as half a dozen times in a day. To assure access, he bought a house within walking distance of the ferry landing. Toward the end of his life, too frail to make his way to the waterfront, Whitman delighted in having it come to him. “One of the watermen came to see me yesterday afternoon & told me all ab’t the river & ferry (of wh’ I knew so much & was fond-but now kept from a year & more).”

In New York, the Brooklyn Bridge (built 1869-1883) eventually killed off Whitman’s treasured Fulton Ferry. It’s last crossing took place in 1924. Likewise, Philadelphia’s Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) did away with Whitman’s much-loved Camden ferry on March 31, 1952 when the Millville, skippered by Capt. Clayton E. Dibble, pulled away from Philadelphia for the final time. Construction of the Walt Whitman Bridge began one year later.

Today, crossing the Delaware in the style of Whitman is not only impossible, it’s an unfamiliar experience. All we have are left to remind us are Whitman’s words:

“Then the Camden ferry. What exhilaration, change, people, business by day. What soothing, silent wondrous hours, at night, crossing on the boat, most all to myself—pacing the deck, alone, forward or aft. What communion with the waters, the air, the exquisite chiaroscuro—the sky and stars, that speak no word, nothing to the intellect, yet so eloquent, so communicative to the soul.”

Detail – Delaware River Near Foot of Chestnut Street. Frederick Gutekunst, photographer, 1891. (

“A January Night.—Fine trips across the wide Delaware tonight. Tide pretty high, and a strong ebb. River, a little after 8, full of ice, mostly broken, but some large cakes making out strong timber’d steamboat hum and quiver as she strikes them. In the clear moonlight they spread, strange, unearthly, silvery, faintly glistening as far as I can see. Bumping, trembling, sometimes hissing like a thousand snakes, the tide-procession, as we went with or through it, affording a grand undertone, in keeping with the scene. Overhead, the splendor is indescribable, yet something haughty, almost supercilious, in the night. Never did I realize more latent sentiment, almost passion, in those silent interminable stars up there. …

“Night of March 18 ’79.—On the edges of the river, many lamps twinkling—with two or three huge chimneys, a couple of miles up, belching forth molten, steady flames, volcano-like, illuminating all around—and sometimes an electric or calcium, its Dante-Inferno gleams, in far shafts, terrible, ghastly-powerful. Of later May nights, crossing, I like to watch the fishermen’s little buoy-lights—so pretty, so dreamy—like corpse candles—undulating delicate and lonesome on the surface of the shadowy waters, floating with the current.

“April 5, 1879.—With the return of spring to the skies, airs, waters of the Delaware, return the sea-gulls. I never tire of watching their broad and easy flight, in spirals, or as they oscillate with slow unflapping wings, or look down with curved beak, or dipping to the water after food. The crows, plenty enough all through the winter, have vanish’d with the ice. Not one of them now to be seen. The steamboats have again come forth — bustling up, handsome, freshly painted, for summer work — the Columbia, the Edwin Forrest, (the Republic not yet out,) the Reybold, the Nelly White, the Twilight, the Ariel, the Warner, the Perry, the Taggart, the Jersey Blue — even the hulky old Trenton — not forgetting those saucy little bull-pups of the current, the steamtugs.

“For two hours I cross’d and recross’d, merely for pleasure—for a still excitement. Both sky and river went through several changes. …”

[Sources: Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry (first published in Leaves of Grass, 1856); Walt Whitman, Specimen Days in America, (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882); “Ferryboats Span Delaware Tonight for Last Time,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 31, 1952; Arthur Geffen, “Silence and Denial: Walt Whitman and the Brooklyn Bridge,” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 1, no. 4 (1984),(PDF); Joann P. Krieg, “Democracy in Action: Naming the Bridge for Walt Whitman,” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 12, no. 2 ( 1994), (PDF); Howard Nelson, “’Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ [1856],” (from J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998); M. Jimmie Killingsworth, “Walt Whitman and the Earth: A Study in Ecopoetics,” The Walt Whitman Archive (first published by the University of Iowa Press, 2004).]

For more posts on the naming of the Walt Whitman Bridge, click here and here.

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