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Khirad On July - 30 - 2010

Continuing on after D.C., drove northeast to Baltimore and then Philadelphia.

The first thing I did in Baltimore was find the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. To get there, I drove past addicts in the inexplicable tourist attraction of Lexington Market and barring a parking space, had to leave the car idling next to a fire hydrant and rush into Westminster Hall’s cemetery. I wish I could have spent some more time here, as inside the walls of the burial ground I felt safe and cloistered. I am aggrieved that I didn’t have time and was too anxious to find his original grave on the grounds, as the Poe Toaster did every January 19th until the son/impostor failed to appear this past January. Also buried there is his wife (and first cousin, as we all know), her mother, as well as Poe’s brother and grandfather. While one sees ground flood lights, unlike the Poe Toaster, I would not feel comfortable in the neighborhood at night – even though John Hopkins is nearly next door.

A little less than a mile away, in housing projects, is his salvaged home. He lived in this home in the 1830’s with his aunt and Virginia Clemm. Ironically, when the proposed “Poe Homes” projects were to be built in the 1930’s, they were going to raze its namesake before it was saved by the Poe Society. Go figure. In any case, the house was under renovations and only open on Saturday from noon to 3:30. I was out of luck. But, and forgive me for sounding snooty, I wasn’t too stoked to leave the rental there anyway. It could have been perfectly safe for all I knew, but in a strange city I don’t know, I err on the side of caution. In any case, I did not have to make this decision. This picture makes it look deceptively gentrified (again, I don’t mean to sound classist, and am not casting aspersions upon all the people living there).

Here are a few pictures from Fort McHenry. O say can you see?

Baltimore Inner Harbor, and the iconic Pratt Street Power Plant. Unfortunately, I did not have time scheduled to see “John Waters’ Baltimore,” and was quite underwhelmed by what downtown offered. One could visit a museum, or eat at a restaurant, but there was little else to do there. Perhaps since I’ve been spoiled by Seattle’s Elliot Bay waterfront, that biases me. But, while I am too polite to say so, as Anthony Bourdain, who worked in the Inner Harbor for a while put it, “Baltimore sucks.”

The USS Constellation.

Given that I was not staying the night in Baltimore, I had to skip out on Fell’s Point a few blocks away, and merely drove through the cobblestone streets, with admittedly more to offer than Inner Harbor, before driving well out of tourist’s B’more to dine at Annabelle Lee’s. It is a local’s corner tavern, with a Poe theme. Moreover, though, I got the feeling of the real local’s Baltimore there. The server said they actually never get tourists. Leave it to me and my Poe fetish to stumble upon this little jewel, I guess.

Inside, the décor was delightful, and fitfully had passages of Poe’s works stenciled on the walls. The one wrapped around the window in my view, was fitting for the gathering evening clouds outside,

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn  of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher…

Indeed, I found Baltimore, or at least the parts I saw, melancholy. But, it was not without its warmth and quirkiness, either. Across from the cozy tavern atop an upper story patio deck was a New Mexico flag, illuminated by a ray of sun filtering through the clouds which were readying themselves to release an April shower. I can only imagine the story here.

And with that, driving out amid an early evening downpour past Oriole Park at Camden Yards I crossed Delaware (a Lilliputian peregrination, admittedly), and entered Philadelphia through Camden, New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge. My hotel was a short trip from the bridge, and smack-dab in the middle of the Gayborhood. Apart from that perk of culture, was the view.

And, some quaint, undeniably upscale alleyways of Old City Philly. A smartly dressed woman passerby said even she was enthralled by the scene of the blossom-strewn alley.

Here’s me getting a little too cute with the lens play. Unfortunately, whatever the angle, I cannot capture how lovely it was.

On a backstreet to Independence Hall, past the Colonial Jewish Mikveh Israel Cemetery (which was not allowed in the city’s proper boundaries of the time) is Holy Trinity German Church.

Not too striking architecturally, but I have a flag fetish, and that German flag had the finest sheen I’ve ever seen. No shabby nylon flags for them. But, this is not why I mention the church. There is a small graveyard, and I do mean small, where Acadians are buried. I took a few pictures, but there is no real good angle. Not with a children’s playground nestled behind the headstones and apartment high rises to the right. Despite this, try and use your imagination, because this is what inspired the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lines in “Evangeline,”

Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping.
Under the humble walls of the little Catholic churchyard,
In the heart of the city, they lie, unknown and unnoticed.

This is near the playground, and this is just a quirky shot I liked. Call it my commentary on the sacred and the profane? [Thanks to Kes, I hadn’t looked closely, but it is St. Thérèse of Lisieux]

Hey, I see stupid white people…

And even stupider…

Now, back to reality. Independence Hall from the side. Like the White House, this is another cool one to walk up to for the first time. Although I first saw it from the front, I figure there’s oodles of those pictures. How many do you see of the side? Behind this is the West Wing, where there is an original copy of the the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and inkwell which was used to sign each of them. A breathtaking experience. It’s an unmarked building which I walked in on a whim. Boy am I glad I did! I’ve been trying to find a Gouverneur Morris quote they had above the inkwell ever since, regarding how the Constitution was the result of imperfect compromise. The strict constructionist baggers would have been mightily confused that all the Founding Fathers weren’t gods, and the Constitution neither infallible nor beyond reinterpretation.

The famous Assembly Room, which I trust I don’t need to introduce to the Planet’s readers. Did you also know that after Lincoln’s body was laid in state in Washington, that on the way back to Illinois, his body briefly laid in state in this room, as well? How ironic, that a president assassinated by a Southern sympathizer, would return via the room where the drafters of the Constitution could not come to a solution on abolishing slavery. The core issue, during the Westward expansion of the United States, that precipitated the Civil War in the first place.

This is the doorway which leads to the Assembly. I like imagining all the people that walked under its arch. Or, if I could sneak away up the restricted stairs to the bell tower!

Carpenter’s Hall. A guild building with Masonic motifs on the interior. This was where the First Continental Congress was held. One of my pet-peeves in life is unaware people. I was waiting for a free shot. This woman was chatting on her cell outside, weaving back and forth. I mean, maybe its my shy nature, but when I’m near a photo op, I’m pretty aware of getting in someone’s shot. So, she walks out of view and finally I have my shot, and it only took a few seconds of her life. What do you suppose but she walks back just as I’m clicking this and I never get another unobstructed shot. Oh well, the lighting sucked anyway.

A panorama of the bell towers of Old City Hall and Independence Hall with “The Signer” in the foreground.

The Merchants Exchange Building. The oldest surviving stock exchange in America. Incidentally, also the headquarters of the Independence National Historic Park. Pretty quiet, but visually striking.

To the right of the stock exchange, I liked this shot.

Some of the old and some of the new. The spire of Christ Church, where many Founding Fathers worshiped, in the background.

This is outside Mikveh Israel synagogue. It’s a helpful reminder, though Republican (and a Democrat or two) assholes may only believe this freedom means the “right” religions.

What’s that? Ben Franklin has something to say?

And it being found inconvenient to assemble in the open air, subject to its inclemencies, the building of a house to meet in was no sooner propos’d, and persons appointed to receive contributions, but sufficient sums were soon receiv’d to procure the ground and erect the building, which was one hundred feet long and seventy broad, about the size of Westminster Hall; and the work was carried on with such spirit as to be finished in a much shorter time than could have been expected. Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.

Well said Ben. Just don’t say it within two blocks of Ground Zero. Newt will have a hissy fit.

Might I push this so far as to say you’d be turning in your grave?

Christ Church Burial Ground is probably easily the oldest cemetery I’ve ever been to. As someone who spent my time in high school haunting the local cemeteries with my B&W 35 mm, I decided to get some worth out of the ground’s “suggested donation.” Just a couple.

No matter the monuments we build, we end up the same.

Just plain awesomely weird. Seriously, if you’re gonna go, might as well leave a lasting impression.

Speaking of remembrance, this was near the stock exchange, only a week after the Polish air disaster of April 10th.

To and fro the historic buildings, I walked around Washington Square. Just an unassuming city block park I had thought. But, this is the East Coast, and Old Philadelphia at that. You trip over history when you least expect it. Turns out it was a mass grave for Colonial soldiers, among others.

Just one half of the cool flags accompanying the memorial.

Free Quaker Meetinghouse. I can trace part of my family tree back to this place.

Elfreth’s Alley.

Franklin Court. The first post office, ruins of Franklin’s home, and that is the arch Franklin passed through daily (minus the car). Some neat interpretive history, like a printer, and more. There are really some interesting, niche jobs out there for history nerds.

The obligatory shot. I’m still not clear why this thing is so famous. But, in any case, is there a way human beings will ever learn not to swarm, to form single file lines, and allow each other clear shots? Oh, right, people are jackasses. The best I could hope for was to get a ranger in the shot.

Look, no people!

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. In the great tradition of Joseph Priestley whose correspondence also shaped Jefferson’s Bible, this was the first Unitarian church in America. Rev. Dr. William Henry Furness who later headed the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, was not only an abolitionist, but opposed the return of escaped slaves so much that President Buchanan almost had him charged with treason. Holding a vigil for John Brown’s body was probably part of this. Though the congregation has gone through several buildings since it was founded in 1796 under Joseph Priestley, the current one hosted a lecture on Thoreau and Gandhi, which Martin Luther King, Jr. attended, influencing his non-violent philosophy. As a Unitarian Universalist body, it also hosted a holiday pageant where Kevin Bacon, who was raised in the church, had his first acting gig. Since I didn’t make it to All Souls Church in D.C., I had to take some small satisfaction in this.

Bite me, I accidentally permanently reduced the size of the original on this before copying… I hate it when I space out.

It speaks for itself…

Swann Fountain. This is the midway between the “Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” To the south his father designed the statue of William Penn atop the City Hall, and to the north his son created Ghosts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some families have too much talent.

William Penn.

I’d had a big breakfast, so I couldn’t possibly physically stuff myself with a cheesesteak. I was regretful at this, but it just wasn’t happening. I did get to see a bit of South Philly overshooting this by quite a bit, though. I swear, the sight of cars and trucks double parked on the medians was a sight to see. Apparently, there is little enforcement of traffic laws in general! The windows with flowers and Virgin Mary’s and all sorts of tackiness was a cultural experience which was new, as well. In these old big cities, I was always a little taken aback at how much of a difference one block makes. Thinks can change so much. It was not hard to imagine generations of families which have lived within a few blocks since coming to America. I couldn’t do it, though. It would feel claustrophobic to me.

In a sketchy part of town not far outside of the Old City, is Edgar Allen Poe’s Philadelphia home. I’m silly, and perhaps naïve, as I got right out and took pictures, while most people just drove by. Where the mural is, to the left, a young man was sitting and cars driving up… To the right, a grandma was waiting at a bus stop, but never got on a bus. When I tried to give her a smile, she was cold. I still don’t know what the deal really was, but I don’t imagine cop cars visit that neighborhood often, if they don’t have to. It’s funny that only after I’m driving away do I fit it all together and get a chill down my spine. I guess, in this instance, I was one of those assholes too absorbed in my own world to pay attention to my surroundings – which is very rare for me – I’m usually hyper-aware. It is one of the times where I appreciate my long hair more than usual. In other words, I’m no narc. This one was actually part of the National Park Service. But, its hours were limited too. No matter, I didn’t want to leave the car out of my sight. Somehow, it’s fitting that though he wrote “The Black Cat” in this house, Poe can still produce a bit of a startle and unease from beyond his grave in Westminster Hall.

Back to the Christ Church cemetery, before I bid thee all adieu…

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

12 Responses so far.

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  1. javaz says:

    Awesome photos, Khirad!

    When we were back east, we didn’t make it to Philly or Baltimore, and it sounds like we didn’t miss much in Baltimore, but wish we could have made it to Philly.

    I can’t find the first installation from your trip -- it’s our laptop that has problems and really, we’re lucky that we can even log on and do what we do!

    But the Christ Church in Philly looks like the Christ Church in Boston.
    (did you go to Boston?)

    I also love Poe and have a collection of short stories in both English and French -- both languages in one book that you flip for one language or the other -- from our travels in France that were left in hotel rooms and patrons urged to take.

    You don’t sound snooty or like an elitist for being wary of rundown areas.
    It’s always wise to err on the side of caution.

    Beautiful diary, Khirad, and I look forward to reading more once we get home!

    • Khirad says:

      Your en face Poe collection wouldn’t happen to be the translation made by Baudelaire, would it?

      Nope, no Boston. That will be another trip one of these days.

      I will say though that that is what’s crazy for this West Coaster.

      I mean, just compare California, Oregon and Washington with how many states constitute the same length on the east. And when you’re there you see how close all these cities are together. I mean, you know intellectually, but when you start driving, it’s like insane how close everything is! Boston was only like an hour or two drive away, I think.

      I think my first fell victim to house cleaning. But, I’ll have more from DC, as I do a loop and come back up through Virginia.

      Here’s Christ Church, and just not the spire:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_Church,_Philadelphia

      I went in it, and it was beautiful. The lighting was a little tough and I only got a couple decent shots though.

  2. Kalima says:

    Great pictures Khirad. My personal favourites are the two of the blossom-strewn alley, Elfreth’s Alley because it reminded me of Europe and the mews houses in London. I love old houses with wooden shutters, they look like my grandparent’s house. Pure nostalgia for me. :)

    The picture that sticks in my mind is the one of the ugly trash bins in front of the religious statue, I can’t quite find the words to explain how it made me feel, but it seemed to drag my spirit to a place I don’t wish to go.

    The Edgar Allen Poe tavern was interesting, just the kind of place that I would love to have a quiet drink in.

    You certainly packed a lot of travel into a few weeks, no wonder you were exhausted on you return.

    Thanks for the pictures and your commentary, again I felt as if I had visited for a short time too.

    • Khirad says:

      I almost included more from Elfreth’s alley, with the Union Jacks. It would have made you more nostalgic. :-)

      Oh dear, I was afraid that trash bin one might have been offensive. I just really found it odd and curious on some level.

      How life’s inconveniences must be accommodated, even if that’s the last place you would expect it.

      Annabelle Lee’s actually had really interesting beers and drinks, too. It had a quirky menu, as well.

      I had a Saint Bridget’s Porter. On the topic, I drank a whole lot of Yuengling over there. Curiously, it cannot be found on the West coast.

      • Kalima says:

        I wasn’t offended by the trash bins Khirad. I’ve just found the simple word that I was searching for in my comment above, seeing them just made feel a bit “sad.”

        My last job in London was in Park Lane. I would often walk through Hyde Park, all the way to Marble Arch to avoid one of the two bus rides home. Sometimes I walked all the way to Mayfair to see the mews houses there, and dream of living in one of those, with the quaint, old cobbled one-way street outside. It didn’t happen, as you know, but now and again I find a wonderful picture of them or an old, English country cottage with beautiful gardens, which I stick on the fridge door. Every time I open the fridge door I smile about what might have been if I hadn’t given up everything to come here with hubby. For now the pictures are enough.

      • kesmarn says:

        Well, at least the statue is of St. Therese of Lisieux, who placed enormous value on the virtue of humility. So we may be able to console ourselves that she would have found being placed next to the refuse containers an edifying spiritual exercise. :-)

  3. dildenusa says:

    OK. So here is where I tell everyone at planetpov that I was born in Phildelphia and lived there, except for military service during the Vietnam War, until I was 29 before moving to Vermont. I was an intern at The medical center in Camden NJ. The joke about Camden is, so you’ve been to Condemn, NJ. My ex wife is from Jersey City, NJ. She lives in Berkley, CA now and I live in northwest Arizona.

    Khirad, one thing I notice that you overlooked about Franklin Court and the ruins of his house is that there is an outline of his privy. Also, from 9th and Wharton at Pat’s Steaks, I think if you head north on 9th street a few blocks you come to the old Italian market. It’s not like it was when I was growing up but it’s still a sight to see. I notice you didn’t go to the art museum. If you had you would have seen a very famous sculpture on Ben franklin Parkway in rememberance of the holocaust of World War 2.

    I hope you had fun.

    • Khirad says:

      Heh, I notice how you said Pat’s. I would have gotten a picture of that too if I had gotten out. And, I hadn’t really planned on doing much in South Philly at all. If I had more time in Philly, that would’ve been real fun to do though. I knew about the market, vaguely.

      I only have a faint picture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art down the Parkway and didn’t include it. I was headed out, and behind schedule. It does gnaw me how I didn’t get to it to do a Rocky, though. Nor did I, as a consequence, see this: http://www.philaholocaustmemorial.org

      I can’t remember if I saw Ben’s privy or not. But, since I saw the kitchen, it might have not been far off.

      I’d heard from Philly natives a joke about the Ben Franklin Bridge that the Camden side is unpainted and rundown. This was not literally true when I crossed, but it was definitely true of what I saw of Camden from the highway!

      I’m relieved you are from Philly, because I’m actually dreading a Baltimore native chewing me out more!

  4. kesmarn says:

    The words “thank you” seem inadequate, Khirad. This series has been just beautifully, beautifully done.

    The pink-petal carpeted alley way. The history and background material. The highly individualistic, artistic approach to the whole experience. It’s perfect. If, down the road a few years, you should become a family man, your kids are going to be incredibly fortunate to be able to travel with you.

    I love Poe. Hawthorne and Thoreau are my great favorites, but Poe and Margaret Fuller are right up there. If memory serves, wasn’t Poe’s cousin/wife about 15 years old when they married?

    And I love cemeteries. The older the better. When I lived in CT, I would stop at every possible little ancient roadside one that I could find. Like you, I don’t find them at all depressing. Fascinating and serene would be more like it.

    Were those pennies I saw on Ben Franklin’s grave? “Saved” and hence, earned?

    You can almost feel the spirits of those founders, authors and just ordinary citizens in these places, can’t you?

    I can only hope there’s going to be a Part III.

    • Khirad says:

      No, it was creepier than that. Virginia was 13. And, Poe moved in with his aunt when she was ten. One can say it was less unusual for the time or whatever, but, yeah… In any case, there is some thinking that he married her early for financial reasons and to be a man of the house for the Clemm women. I have little doubt he loved her though, as icky as we’d consider it.

      No doubt about the pennies. I guess it was more practical than leaving $100s?! One would wonder what Ben would think about wasting pennies though.

      Cool, you totally get it about cemeteries. 😉

      Oh, a part III, and IV, and… hopefully in continued weekly installments.

      AdLib will be happy that I dusted off my image hosting account, and pics won’t be stored at POV anymore (I didn’t won’t to burden the site).

      • kesmarn says:

        Wow. You’re right. That is --odd-- the whole thing with Virginia. Married at 13. (Well, I suppose Loretta Lynn was, too, nevertheless…) And dead by age 24. Life could flicker away so quickly then.

        Glad to hear that there will be more installments!


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