Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Bon Adieu Philadelphia!

Philadelphia's riverfront, as seen from Camden, NJ, across the Delaware River. After three years in Philadelphia, I’m moving home. My worldly possessions stuffed inside Purple Thunder. Waiting for the mail to arrive. Then I’m out. I’ll miss the city. (Parts of it.) Great restaurants, museums and architecture. And the grit. Loved the grit. Never settled in Philly. Never felt like a home. To much traffic, grime and so many people. And the heat. Never liked the heat. (It alone was a deal breaker.) So long Philly! It was never meant to be.  … Continue Reading

The World’s First Modern Prison

Eastern State Penitentiary was the world's first modern prison. Its Gothic architecture was intended to scare prisoners and the public alike. Fairmount, Philadelphia – Eastern State Penitentiary was conceived in 1787, in the living room of Benjamin Franklin, a leading member of the Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. The reformist group was appalled by conditions at the recently opened Walnut Street Jail, located behind Independence Hall, where guards sold liquor to inmates and often made women available. The reformers believed that a policy of strict solitary confinement would better encourage spiritual development. In 1790, the society convinced… Continue Reading

Final Days in Philly

Philadelphia schools have made dispiriting headlines lately. Last year, more than 6,000 students and 500 teachers were assaulted. This elementary school sign near my house is emblematic of the tatters the city and its schools are in. At last, April is here, which, for me, means shoring up life’s odds and ends in preparation for another journey around America. Namely, this entails getting Purple Thunder, my trusty Ford E-150 Conversion Van, in proper working order. Those that follow this blog regularly will recall the electrical mishaps that put a wrinkly in an otherwise spectacular adventure last summer. While that issue… Continue Reading

Turning Bones into Art

Skeleton of Harry Raymond Eastlick, who suffered a progressive condition that turned tissue to bone. A few Sundays ago, I was at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum viewing the Hyrtl Skull Collection, an ensemble of multi-ethnic craniums collected from throughout Central and Eastern Europe by Dr. Josef Hyrtl during the early 1800s. Hyrtl, a professor of anatomy at the University of Prague, believed that racial and intellectual traits could be determined by studying the cranial bone structures of various groups. The museum acquired Hyrtl’s 139 skulls, along with thirty-six placentas and six sets of genitals, in 1875. Beneath each skull is a… Continue Reading

Beautiful Freaks

Olde City Sideshow co-founder Danny Borneo says sideshows are reasserting themselves. Olde City, Philadelphia – During intermission, Danny Borneo, co-founder of the Olde City Sideshow, a neo-vaudevillian variety hour, steps outside to smoke a cigarette. The show has returned to Philly, performing at National Mechanics restaurant, housed inside a former bank that was built more than 200 years ago by William Strickland, in his day a pioneer of Greek revivalist architecture. On stage, Borneo and his three cohorts – Candy Mayhem, Reggie Bugmuncher and other show co-founder Martin Ling the Suicide King – had performed a variety of cringe-inducing skits,… Continue Reading

The Home Stretch

Winter wreaks havoc on the regional rail lines, causing frequent delays, which usually means long waits in the cold. For me, a late trolley equals a missed train equals a missed bus to the office, resulting in tardiness and smaller paychecks. Sometimes the train ride becomes a debacle. Earlier this month, on my way home, the train lost power between stops. For 45 minutes we sat in the dark, cold vessel until it coupled with another train that pushed us to the next station. There, we unloaded and waited 30 minutes for yet another train. I could air grievances all… Continue Reading

A New Year’s Eve Journey Home

The fog was thick just before my 3:15 p.m. departure from Madison. I was twice stranded in Madison last summer due to van troubles, making it back to Philly a week after I was supposed to return to my job in September. Now here I am three months later having missed another week of work due to an inability to get from here to there. Five days after a blizzard slammed the east coast, delaying thousands of flights, I was finally on my way back to Philly. The fog in Madison yesterday was thick, raising concerns I might again be… Continue Reading

Thanks a Billion, Snowflakes!

I was more than a little eager to get back to Philly, to return tomorrow to work since I missed much of last week to be here, and to focus feverishly on the business of traveling and writing. But the specter of disappointment loomed. In case you haven’t heard, an important blizzard blanketed the east coast with more than a foot of snow, causing major delays in air travel. Before leaving today for the airport, I checked Continental’s website, which said my flight was scheduled to land in Philly on time. But when I go to check-in, I double check… Continue Reading

The House Where Poe Wrote

A mural of Edgar Allan Poe painted on a project housing unit in northeast Philadelphia. At the corner of 7th and Spring Garden Streets in northeastern Philadelphia is a non-descript home flanked by project housing and large tracts of commercial space. Between the years of 1837 and 1844, Edgar Allan Poe lived in Philadelphia, writing many of his most famous works during his time here, including The Gold-Bug, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Tell-Tale Heart. In all, he published 31 stories while living here. Poe lived at this house for less than a year in 1843.… Continue Reading

My Encounter with a Steamer in the Gene Pool

Sunday evening I jumped off the subway at 8th and Market amid a crush of people. As the crowd hurried and hummed like a swarm toward the exit, I noticed there was an escalator offering a direct route straight up to the street. It was out of commission, which is why I supposed no one was climbing its tall metal steps. But I wasn’t afraid of working harder to get there faster so I swung a left and lumbered upward. No sooner had I cleared the first couple of steps when some rogue odor punched my nose. It was a… Continue Reading
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