John, Claire and Grace Fisher
Grace, Nell and Claire Keller
What fun my daughters Claire and Grace and I had in Philadelphia over the 4th of July weekend connecting with my first-cousin Grace Cooke Keller and her two daughters, Nell and Claire. Grace and I had recently renewed our acquaintance at her mother’s funeral in October 2013 in Ithaca, NY, after some 20 years absence. Grace’s mother, Mary Keller Cooke, was my mother’s sister and always one of my favorite relatives. At the funeral reception, Grace (my first cousin), asked me when I was coming to visit her in Philadelphia. “Well, how about sometime next summer – maybe over the 4th of July? Seems like that might be a good time to visit you AND the City of Brotherly Love,” I said. “Sure,” Grace answered, “as long as you don’t mind crowds!” So it was a deal and within 48 hours of returning from the funeral I had bought three RT, non-stop tickets to Philly from Dallas-Fort Worth on Spirit Airlines for $509 total. Interestingly, within the same hour that I had bought these tickets, I received an e-mail message from our university president stating that the board of trustees had voted to give every full-time faculty member a one-time $500 bonus, effective at the next pay period! So it was definitely meant to be! Here’s an account of what went down that week!
Wed., July 2, 2014:
Fort Worth to Philly – a New Experience Our first flight ever on Spirit Airlines – a discount carrier in the same vein as a Virgin or JetBlue or even the old FunJet – turned out to be more memorable than we expected – and not necessarily for good reasons. As mentioned above, the basic per person fare [what Spirit calls its BareFare] was nice and low – less than $170 RT…a darn good price for travel that far in the middle of the summer. As with so many things in the world today, however, there’s usually a counterbalance for such a bargain, so if you’re considering traveling on any of these discount carriers, caveat emptor, and read on. Still a Bargain While the basic fare was low, if you’re not careful – and prompt – you might end up paying some big additional fees for services which the more traditional, so-called “legacy” carriers [American, United, Delta, etc.] USED to include in their ticket prices, but now not so much – everyone seems to be charging for services that used to be included. I’m talking about checked baggage [on Spirit you can pay up to $100 per bag if you wait until the last moment, when you appear at the gate!] but also for carry-on luggage [up to $50 per item at the gate], and even the seats on the plane have to be bought [minimum $10 for the least desirable choices]! Always your best bet is to purchase the services you think you’ll need at soon as possible – either at the time of ticket purchase or at the very least by the time of check-in, which should be done online as soon as possible – typically from as much as 24 hrs before departure until as little as 1 hr before. Anyway, just for your information, I ended up paying an additional $270 total ($90 apiece for the three of us) at the time of online check-in, in order to cover one checked bag apiece ($35 pp, each direction) plus the seats we chose cost $10 apiece, each direction. So $509 plus $270 = $779, though divided by three is still a bargain at under $260 per person. Unfortunately, however, the flight was delayed several times, for an eventual total delay of over four and a half hours – I hasten to add not Spirit’s fault, but instead due to heavy weather in the Philadelphia area, mostly as a spinoff from Hurricane Arthur raging off the coast of North Carolina. Happily we were told about these delays in the DFW terminal, and didn’t have to sit cooped up in a plane on the tarmac during that time! A Shockeroo Incidentally, there was a bit of a shock awaiting me upon completion of the TSA security check-in at DFW, and is worth relating the details – if only as a warning to avoid it happening to you! Here’s the story: I carry a cash money pouch with me – have for over 30 years of international travel – a hand-made leather pouch just the right size for holding $$ and passports very conveniently. I hadn’t thought about the pouch at all on this particular travel day – until I passed through the TSA security check in the Terminal E, Gate 17 area, when I suddenly realized I hadn’t placed it in any of the screening bins – and therefore I didn’t have it with me! My heart just sank, because there was – [*ahem,* as my Mother would say] $1,600 in cash in that pouch…16 new, crisp, Fort Worth-minted $100 bills. Many thoughts passed quickly through my mind, but it quickly dawned on me: the pouch was packed in my checked luggage! I had left it on top of clothing in my not-quite-completely-packed suitcase the night before, and in my haste during the morning’s final packing, I had forgotten about it. Now came the question: do I say nothing to anyone, including my girls, and just pray that the $$ is still there in the suitcase when we get to Philly, or do I tell them about it and see what they think? I opted for the latter, mostly because I knew I couldn’t hold that kind of information for long! When they heard, they were just as concerned, and definitely thought I should go back through security and ask at the ticket counter if the bag could still be retrieved before flight time. The TSA manager made a phone call; he assured me that Spirit could still retrieve the bag, esp. since the flight was now officially long delayed. So, leaving my briefcase/laptop computer with the girls, off I shot, back outside the secure area of the terminal and up to the ticket counter. Unlike when we had first checked in, there was now a long, slow-moving (of course!) line up to the counter! I got in it briefly, but then as luck would have it, here came a nice-looking, verbal, competent-sounding young man in a Spirit Airlines uniform. So I told him my story, using the excuse that I needed to retrieve some “important papers” (they WERE important papers – $100 bills!!), and gave him the relevant information to locate the bag – a large, 28-inch, all-black canvass piece. After making a phone call he proudly announced that the “bag would appear in approx. 20 minutes at one of the two closest baggage claims,” which I could see directly ahead of me. Thus with great hopefulness I began to wait…and wait…and wait. After 40 minutes of checking and double-checking the carousel, during which time several flights dispensed their luggage, I finally went back to the same young man and asked him to make another call. This time the response was “the bag has been delivered to baggage claim.” Very surprised, I told him I hadn’t seen it, so this time he walked with me up to the location. Still nothing. At last we asked at the baggage claim office. The attendant there also called down to baggage handling and AGAIN was told “the bag has already been delivered.” At that point I asked which were the Spirit Airlines baggage claims, and was told “#33 and 34.” Well, dang, I had been told to look in the first two baggage claims, which were #31 and 32! So I had been looking in the wrong place! Immediately I set off to check carousels #33 and 34. At first there seemed to be nothing in either, but I was intent on checking thoroughly, so I walked completely to the back of each, which happened to be in somewhat of a darkened corner. Lo and behold, there, all by itself was, not my bag, but a smallish, military green, very familiar-looking piece – in fact I knew right away to be my daughter Grace’s! They had sent up the wrong luggage! I realized why, too: I had given the young gentleman who helped me claim check information from my ticket stub, the one with the name “John Fisher” on it, but due to the group nature of our original check-in, the actual claim stub on one piece of luggage was not necessarily attached to the claim check of that person. In this case the ticket stub with my name on it was attached to Grace’s luggage. So in spite of the additional description of size and color I had given them, they just matched the bag number and didn’t consider its description. It was an understandable slip, but the result was, after all that time and effort, I didn’t receive my bag after all, but my daughter Grace’s! In a very real way I was relieved at this outcome, however, because it had been occurring to me all during the time I was waiting that perhaps unscrupulous baggage handlers down below might very well have had previous experience with this kind of thing – meaning a passenger requesting a return of luggage to “retrieve” something in it might very well be a red flag that the luggage contained something valuable, cuing them to look first, before sending it up. By forwarding me the wrong bag, they had at least not been alerted to my “loaded” luggage with all the cash in it! Anyway, at this point the die was cast, and I would just have to wait until we arrived in Philadelphia to find out whether my money pouch was still in the luggage or not, an outcome I was more or less happy to resign myself to for the next five+ hours. There was one funny little footnote to all this drama: as I returned to the ticket counter to re-check Grace’s small green bag (not my big black one), the same young Spirit Airlines employee who had helped me earlier noticed as I hurried by and said: “That’s not a black bag.” Without losing a step I mumbled something like “they sent the wrong bag,” and left him in the dust. I must say he looked quizzically at me, very much like Mr. Lowrey (Vaughn Taylor), the real estate agent in Psycho who had just given his secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) $40,000 cash to take to the bank, but on the street notices her driving – in the wrong direction! Whew! What an ordeal! Meeting Plans Blown Sky-High! The original plan was for cousin Grace to meet us at the Philly international airport and give us a lift to our hotel, the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District, a very pleasant and well-situated property located at 400 Arch Street (coincidentally, Grace’s work address is also on Arch Street, though nowhere near our hotel). But our plan was only good when the arrival time had been 6:50 pm. As that time began to be pushed further and further back, it quickly became clear that there was no point in Grace trying to hang around the airport for untold hours before the plane finally arrived. She and I agreed via text that, once the plane did finally arrive, the girls and I would take a taxi into town, and in the meantime she could just very well head home and we’d see her tomorrow. A Big Relief So over the course of the afternoon, our estimated arrival time had gone, in increments, from 6:50 pm to 11:05 pm, more than four hours later than scheduled! Ultimately, that’s about what happened, too – we were finally standing at baggage claim in Philly at about 11:20 pm. Of course our big question was: will the money pouch with its $1,600 cash still be in the luggage? I had a good feeling about it, but also had had plenty of time on the plane to prepare myself if the worst had happened, including rationalizing what I’d do to replace those funds, how I would explain it to Marge, what kind of emotional fallout I’d have to live with, oh, the shame of it all, etc. When the bags arrived and the moment came to look, I took my luggage to a more private corner of the baggage claim area, and with the girls looking on, opened it up. Within a few seconds, and before I saw it, Claire says “I see the edge of it.” Quickly I rifled through the clothes and pulled out the pouch. Inside, all was well…all 16 of the $100 bills were present and accounted for. Thank you, Jesus! A grave lesson learned, with a good outcome to boot. Wonderful Surprise at the Hotel! From there it was a quick (20 minutes?) and enjoyable taxi ride into the city, passing by Eagles Stadium (football) all lit up on the way. Happily the fare to and from the airport to a downtown hotel is a fixed rate: $28.30, plus $3 for the two extra passengers, so a total of $31.30, which I found refreshingly reasonable, and certainly less than I was expecting to pay. So after a rather tortuous day of waiting, wondering and traveling, we found ourselves checking in at the Wyndham around midnight. To our great surprise, the desk clerk told us we had a package waiting for us. He didn’t know what, who from, or why, but asked “are you a senior?” I said “none of your damn business” “yes, in fact I was. Why?” He said, “well, maybe the hotel has been providing gift packages for senior clients,” but he didn’t know, and was just guessing. That did not ring very true, but we more or less accepted that explanation for a moment. Anyway, as I was peeking into the doubled handled, double-bagged gift on the counter, I could see bananas, apples, water bottles, chips, maps, train schedules, a big round tin from the Pennsylvania General Store, AND a letter with my name on it. Immediately I recognized the handwriting: Grace’s!! Mystery solved, and it had nothing to do with the hotel giving gifts randomly to “senior” clients. We hurried up to our room and spread the entire contents of the “care package” out on the bed to see everything. It was truly wonderful. All those things and more were SO welcome at that moment, and we had Grace Keller to thank for them! Found out later, instead of coming to pick us up at the airport, she had made a roundtrip from her work – hoofing it – first to the Reading Terminal Market (more later below) for the food items, and then to our hotel to drop the package off. We couldn’t have been more appreciative or grateful to her for this very touching bit of thoughtfulness, providing exactly the kind of thing we craved at exactly the right moment. I think we devoured about half the fruit and chips, drank a bottle of water, sampled the chocolate-covered chips and pretzels in the PGS tin, and settled in for a lovely, comfortable night, thinking only wonderful thoughts of cousin Grace!
Thurs., July 3, 2014:
Preliminaries On our first full day in Philly I was up ahead of the girls (7:20 am) because I knew the Independence Visitor Center, an arm of the National Park Service, had free but required same-day timed entrance tickets to Independence Hall, which they begin distributing at 8:30 am. By 8:20 I was standing in a short line at the Visitor Center, only a couple blocks from the hotel, and without much wait secured three late morning entry tickets to Independence Hall. Incidentally, on the way back to the hotel I noticed an open section of wall in the old Christ Church graveyard. In 1719, Christ Church purchased two acres of land on the outskirts of town at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets. The burial ground became the final resting place for over 4000 members of Christ Church, including five signers of the Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Hewes, Francis Hopkinson, George Ross, and Dr. Benjamin Rush. Also buried here are many of the nation’s early founders and leaders, prominent lawyers, medical pioneers, military heroes, victims of the yellow fever epidemic, and members of the Church from the colonial era up into the last decade. The main grave visible to the public from the sidewalk – with only a simple steel grid as a protection – was that of Benjamin Franklin! I later found out that when Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, he was buried in his family plot in this, the NW corner of the burial ground, along with his wife Deborah and their two children, Francis and Sarah. In 1858, Franklin’s descendants requested that an opening be placed in the brick wall so the public could see Franklin’s grave day or night, and a metal fence was installed. After this, it was much easier for Franklin’s many admirers to show their respect and remembrance of him by tossing a penny onto his grave. (“A penny saved is a penny earned.”) At this early point in the day there were no pennies on the grave that I saw. But when we went by later, it was covered with bits of bright copper, and people were still throwing! A Funky Breakfast Anyway, by now the girls should have been up and ready for breakfast, which they were, so we asked at the desk for a recommendation for a breakfast place outside of the hotel. Their suggestion: Mrs. K’s Koffee Shop, a few blocks south. That turned out to be a bit of a bust – to begin with it was all-counter service (no tables), cramped quarters with no armrests, AND our waitress was surly, unhelpful, and [so she said] stressed. Plus she was hard to contact for service, and the food was basically terrible – but other than that it was a fine breakfast (NOT!). We grinned and bore it, and set off from there, promising never to come back! Historic Philadelphia Philadelphia has at least as much history as Washington, D.C. It was founded on October 27, 1682 by “Billy” [Grace’s description] Penn. By the 1750’s it was the largest city and busiest port in the original 13 colonies. During the American Revolution it served as the meeting place for the Founding Fathers, who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 and the Constitution on September 17, 1787. The city served as the temporary national capital from 1790 to 1800 while Washington, D.C. was under construction. The Liberty Bell Our first stop in historic Philly: the Liberty Bell exhibit, right on Independence Mall, a few blocks away. The exhibit is wonderful – and free! It has many short, localized exhibit sidebars leading up to the bell itself, all interesting and focusing on the bell’s history and influence as an international symbol of freedom. Hung in the Pennsylvania State House in 1753, the bell summoned state representatives to work. In the 1830’s anti-slavery groups named it the Liberty Bell. The bell cracked about 1846, but, as the brochures say, its message stills rings out! It was interesting to watch hordes of international tourists, many of them Asian, want to have their picture taken with the American Liberty Bell. Apparently they appreciated the meaning and significance. Independence Hall From the Liberty Bell it was on to Independence Hall and our 11:15 am timed entrance there. In doing so, there proved to be another little hurdle to our progress. As we approached security into the area, the guard queried us about our possession of weapons, sharp objects, etc. I realized I was carrying my trusty South Dakota pocket knife, and showed him. He said, nope, you can’t bring that in here. So, OK, back out of the line we went, me in search of a place to stash the knife until after our tour. I found the perfect place – on the ground, under some leaves next to a remote park bench surrounded by a lot of foliage. Afterwards, we got the knife back without issue. I was relieved to be able to keep my very useful and trusty pocketknife! Independence Hall was a real treat of a history lesson for all of us. First you are ushered into a holding area where you meet your tour guide and hear preliminaries of what you are about to see. In this area is a famous painting, the Thence you make visits to the two most famous rooms in the building, both on the ground floor – 1) the PA Supreme Court courtroom and 2) the Assembly Room. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was the occupant of the first room during the 1700’s. On July 8, 1776, an act of defiance occurred here when a group of Pennsylvania militiamen stormed in and tore down British King George III’s coat of arms. As was common practice at the time, prisoners were made to stand in a cage during the trial. The most important and famous site in the building, however, is the Assembly Room. . It is almost literally the birthplace of America. Both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and U.S. Constitution (1787) were debated, agreed to and signed in this room.Later, the room became a shrine to the founding of the nation, proudly displaying the Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers. That was the scene when President-elect Abraham Lincoln visited the Assembly Room and praised the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Following his assassination, Lincoln’s body lay in repose here for two days. One of the room’s nice details is the chair behind the head desk, where George Washington sat. Built into the top of the chair is an image of a rising (or setting?) sun. As the delegates were in the process of signing the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin observed he had often looked upon the President’s chair with its painted sun and wondered whether it was rising or setting. Franklin expressed his optimism at this moment, having the “happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.” BTW, I commented to our tour leader that the Assembly Room seemed very small for 50 or so men in their debates and deliberations, all crammed together. She agreed, saying not only was the room crowded, but also hot, stuffy and miserable most of the summer of 1776. As we were standing in air-conditioning comfort, but knew what it was like outside in a July Philadelphia summer, we were certainly all the more appreciative of the Founding Fathers’ accomplishments! The Reading Terminal Market Having been dutifully edified and impressed by the morning’s experience, it was now time to eat! Since Grace had recommended a visit to Philly’s famous Reading Terminal Market, that became our next destination. It was right on the way to Macy’s and the Wanamaker organ , where we were planning to meet her and her girls later in the day. About an 8-block walk from Independence Hall, at 12th and Market, the Reading Terminal Market proved to be one of the most fun experiences of our trip. The place takes up about a 2-block square area and consists of an endless variety of “mouth-watering aromas, locally grown and exotic produce, Amish specialties, fresh meats, seafood, poultry, handmade confections and baked goods straight from the oven, plus everything needed to create a memorable meal, from cookbooks, to table linens, to kitchen ware, to fresh cut flowers, and more.” The Reading Market also contains perhaps the widest variety of restaurants under one roof I’ve ever seen. We couldn’t get over the number of choices of shops and foods and cuisines! The first vendor we encountered – Chocolate by Mueller – was selling chocolate shaped in every conceivable design, including human lungs, ears, even dentures, just for fun! From there it was only a matter of walking and looking. As long-time Market supporter and Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Rick Nichols wrote:
“Cities build and plow under. Favorite haunts go dark. But the story of the Reading Terminal Market is that it is still with us, holding down the same acreage a century later. It had doubled down — a relic ripe with life, a memory still unburied, its story preciously rare and well worth telling…well.”
For lunch we ended up ordering different dishes from different vendors – I chose a hot Indian/Pakastani rice & chicken dish with green salad, Claire had her favorite crab cakes, and Grace F didn’t order anything, but basically scavenged her meal from Claire’s and mine. Not to worry, everyone got plenty to eat and we all walked away satisfied! The “icing on the cake” was a stop at Bassetts Ice Cream, America’s oldest ice cream company, open in 1861, the first merchant to sign a lease at the Market in 1892 and still owned and operated by the same family today.They are also the local favorite producer so I opted for a much-too-big black cherry cone – so big, in fact, I couldn’t eat it all! If you come to Philadelphia, DON’T MISS the Reading Terminal Market! Macy’s and the Wanamaker Organ After a brisk walk back to the hotel, both to work off the ice cream and for a short respite, we were set to meet up with cousin Grace and her daughters, Nell and Claire, in the Grand Court of Macy’s flagship store in downtown Philly. The occasion? To attend one of the daily concerts of the massive 28,500-pipe Wanamaker Organ at 5:30 in that location. Wanamaker Organ History Built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the Wanamaker Organ was designed by renowned organ architect George Ashdown Audsley, author of The Art of Organ-Building. This heroic instrument had more than 10,000 pipes, and its construction was on such a lavish scale that costs soared to $105,000, bankrupting the builder. In 1909, Philadelphia merchant-prince John Wanamaker bought the instrument for his new Philadelphia emporium. Thirteen freight cars were required to ship the entire organ from St. Louis, and installation took two years. The Grand Organ was first heard in the Store’s seven-story atrium on June 22, 1911, at the exact moment when England’s King George V was crowned at Westminster Abbey. Later that year, it was prominently featured when President William Howard Taft dedicated the Store. Despite its immense size, the tone was judged inadequate to fill the huge court. Wanamaker opened a private pipe-organ factory in the store attic, employing up to 40 full-time employees to enlarge the instrument. William Boone Fleming, the original factory supervisor, was hired to direct the work. Lavish construction and elegant workmanship made the Wanamaker Organ both a tonal wonder and a monument to superb craftsmanship. The largest pipe is made of flawless Oregon sugar-pine three inches thick and more than 32 feet long—so large that a Shetland Pony was once posed inside for publicity photos. The smallest pipe is a quarter-inch in length. More than 8,000 pipes were added to the organ between 1911 and 1917, and from 1924 to 1930 an additional 10,000 pipes were installed, bringing the total number of pipes today to 28,500. Commanding these huge resources is a massive console with six ivory keyboards and 729 color-coded stop tablets. There are 168 piston buttons under the keyboards and 42 foot controls. The console weighs 2.5 tons; the entire instrument weighs 287 tons. During the lifetimes of John Wanamaker and his son Rodman, the world’s finest musicians were brought to the Store for brilliant after-business-hours concerts, among them France’s Marcel Dupré, Louis Vierne and Nadia Boulanger, Italy’s Fernando Germani and Marco Enrico Bossi, and England’s Alfred Hollins. At a 1919 Musicians’ Assembly, virtuoso Charles M. Courboin, in association with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, performed before a standing-room-only crowd of 15,000. Since then, great organists have continued to perform at the Store, many making special pilgrimages. “Meet Me at the Eagle” Following an old Philadelphia custom, I found out, to rendezvous in Center City by saying “Meet me at the Eagle, ” all of us met there, under “the Eagle,” at 5:30, just as the concert was about to begin. Like the organ, “the Eagle” also came from the St. Louis World’s Fair, where it was part of the German Exhibit of Arts and Crafts. Made of Durana bronze from models by Berlin sculptor August Gaul, all of the heavy plates that form the inner structure, as well as the feathers and other surface features, were separately wrought by hand with chisel, file and hammer. Each individual feather on the head and body was carefully modeled and fitted into place. There are 1,600 feathers on the head alone, and 5,000 on the entire Eagle. The sculpture weighs 2,500 pounds and sits on a granite base. When brought to Wanamaker’s it became the John Wanamaker chain’s corporate trademark. The floor of the Grand Court had to be strengthened with girders to accommodate it. The Organ Concert Anyway, I had met both of Grace’s daughters at Aunt Mary’s funeral back in October, but my girls were meeting Nell and Claire for the first time here. It was fun to introduce people: “Grace, this is Grace.” “Claire, this is Claire.” The organ and its concert pretty much lived up to the hype – it was capable of a massive sound – but only when pretty much all stops were pulled. The courtyard is also a massive space, so I had to coax the organist (since we were all welcome to assemble around the console behind him while he played) to really let it out, which he did on the final selection – but only then. Otherwise the sound was very audible but not intrusive. It actually seemed to be the perfect “background music” for shoppers at their business! Truly a remarkable experience, and we had quite a nice little visit with the organist both while he was playing, and afterwards. Dinner in South Philly From here, it was on by taxi to dinner at Ralph’s Italian Restaurant in south Philly, a lovely prospect which unfortunately didn’t live up to expectations – but then you can’t win ‘em all. The food was overpriced and underwhelming in quality and preparation, and the waiters pushy and prickly. I know Grace was also disappointed by that truth, which she readily admitted. But certainly it was a fun time to visit and enjoy each other’s company, and the prospect of the remaining two full days of our visit together! The end of this day came in the form of a very funny and cramped taxi-ride by the six of us in one vehicle, back to our hotel. It started with the problem of Claire Keller and me together in a much-too-small front seat, where she was being gouged so badly by the seat buckle that the driver had to stop in the middle of the street and let us switch seats! From there everyone pretty much laughed the whole way back to the hotel! Once there, the four girls tried out the hotel pool, and Grace K. and I sat and had a drink in the hotel bar, covering every topic imaginable – and a few which weren’t – making a start on 20+ years absence! Way too soon it was time to say goodbye and the Keller ladies headed off from our hotel in the next available taxi.
Fri., July 4, 2014:
4th of July Parade! So here we were, in Philadelphia on July 4th! Just what had anticipated for months! Though our original plan for the day was to head first to the Betsy Ross Museum, a block and a half away, and thence E to Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River, a few blocks further, that was all changed when we heard the sound of – a brass band! The city’s 4th of July parade had just started, and it was streaming down Market Street, two blocks S of us, so we immediately reversed gears and headed that direction! I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a parade more – every kind of civic, commercial, patriotic and ethnic group you could imagine seemed to be represented there: from several different “Mummer” bands to colonial fife-and-drum corps to Chinese & Phillipino & Bolivian music and dance troupes to various local and national “Misses” (Miss New Jersey, Miss Philadelphia, Miss Pennsylvania, even Miss America!) – even “Betsy Ross” herself! Though there were a few spritzes of rain now and then, it was very little and the girls had gone back to get our umbrellas anyway. Just a very fun and patriotic way to spend this 4th of July! Christ Church Our next stop was meant to be the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, on near north 7th street, and eventually it was, but not before we had a charming little sidetrack first. Since it is my habit to try to walk different streets in a new city, and not duplicate previous routes, in order to get to know the landscape a little better, we took a new route towards the Poe site which seemed interesting – including a lovely tree-lined pedestrian walkway. Lo and behold, the path led directly to the historic Philadelphia Christ Church, a structure quite reminiscent of Boston’s North Church (Paul Revere fame), both inside and out. Huge gravestones and markers with ancient inscriptions lay about the outside, and inside was a charmingly simple sanctuary with big pews and hanging lamps. The Burial Ground, both that immediately outside the church itself, and the “overflow” plot where Franklin is buried, at Arch and 5th Sts., has some 1,400 markers, including some of America’s most prominent Colonial and Revolution-era leaders. It is estimated that more than 5,000 markers have disappeared due to erosion with time. In 1864, church warden Edward L. Clark compiled a book containing over 1,400 inscriptions that were still visible on existing gravestones. Most of the inscriptions have disappeared over time. About thirty new metal plaques have been placed in front of some of the more prominent markers with the original inscription on the plaques. Many inscriptions for thousands of those known to be interred here were lost at the time the inscription book was created. It may never be known where they are buried in the burial ground. As a collector of gravestone epitaphs, I found Clark’s book irresistible, both for a record of the ages of those at the time of their demise – they’re all over the map, from as little as a few months to as much as 87 years old – and for the charming sentiment expressed in the verses often attached at the bottom of the stone. Survival was far less predictable in those days and, much more commonly than today, one could die unexpectedly at any age which, as the stones relate, they often did. All that makes one appreciate the benefits of today’s modern medicine even more. Edgar Allan Poe Historic Site From Christ Church it was now time to hoof it over to the Edgar Allen Poe Historic Site in near N Philadelphia. I have visited the Poe home and museum in Richmond, VA, where he was sent to live with tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife at the age of three, after his mother died. Poe also had strong connections to Baltimore and New York City. Of course wherever he lived he struggled with bad luck, personal demons and his young wife’s tuberculosis. Nonetheless, the six years he lived in Philadelphia were his happiest and most productive. A couple things I didn’t know about E. A. Poe before this visit: 1) when the Raven was first published by the NY Evening Mirror in 1845, it was an overnight sensation, and made him famous. Children followed him on the street, flapping their arms like ravens’ wings, and he’d good-naturedly wheel about and yell “Nevermore!,” scattering them in all directions. But just because the poem made him famous, it did not make him wealthy. In fact, he received only $14 for it. 2) Poe’s short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue is credited with being the world’s first murder mystery AND detective story, and was a direct forerunner to Sherlock Holmes. [Remember who the killer is? Worth re-reading, if not!] Anyway, this National Park Service site has a visitor center and gift shop, as well as small video projection room, in addition to the house proper. Rooms in the original part of the house are small, whitewashed and kept completely unfurnished, with steep, narrow staircases between floors. The basement became the inspiration for Poe’s short story The Black Cat, and it’s easy to see why, since his descriptions there so closely resemble the real thing. As we were preparing to depart the premises, the NPS ranger advised us not to miss the Reading Room, down a separate hallway. The Reading Room is the only one in the home furnished as it might have been when Poe lived there – all cast in an ominous red tinge, prominently featuring a red tint in the window panes (shades of The Masque of Red Death). So we all “Posed” for a picture there! Our last stop was the gift shop where, the ranger agreed, I found the best bargain in the place: a paperback collection of Poe’s most famous short stories – for $3. Anyway, very much a worthwhile visit for both the time (ca. 45 min.s) and money ($0.00) invested. Grace K told me she had never been to the place, but after our recommendation she intends to go. Dinner at Grace’s! It now being about 3:00 pm, and us with a 4:41 SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Transport Authority) train to catch, we hightailed it downtown to the Market East commuter rail station. Luckily we are all strong walkers, so this didn’t take long, and even allowed us time for a brief stop at a Vietnamese restaurant we chanced to pass. A little noodles and nibbly sounded good as an afternoon snack before dinner at Grace’s home in the ‘burbs later that evening. So after buying flowers for the occasion, we boarded the SEPTA train for the 40-minute ride to Strafford, PA, W of Philly, for our 4th of July dinner and fireworks in Grace Keller’s home area! After short stops in places like Villanova (and its University), Rosemont (Grace’s college alma mater) and Bryn Mawr (Bryn Mawr College), we arrived at the Strafford station only a little later than scheduled, and after a short wait, here came Grace! In a few minutes we were at her beautiful home. The menu that night featured Grace’s famous patti melts, which were delicious – so filling and satisfying. A special treat for dessert was an incredible bowl full of red-white-and-blue strawberries, which Nell and Claire had prepared using melted white chocolate and blue sprinkles. They were absolutely to die for! Afterwards, we all loaded up in her vehicle and headed for a local fireworks display nearby. Again too soon it was time to head to the Strafford train stop and say goodnight to our hosts, which we did about 10:30 pm [the last train into Philly on this line was at 10:41]. As we traveled, the girls and I discussed whether they would like to try to attend the 11:00 pm fireworks show above the Philadelphia Museum of Art (home of the “Rocky Statue”), which we were warned would be mobbed. The girls decided to exit the train one stop earlier than me, at the Suburban Station, because that was the one closest to the art museum. I was headed on to the 8th Street Station which would leave me only a short walk back to the hotel. Fortunately, we were still stopped on the train in the Suburban Station when I overheard a train official announcing outside that, since this was the last train of the evening going toward downtown Philly, the train wouldn’t be leaving this station for another 45 minutes to be sure all 4th of July revelers would have a ride. That was my cue. Off I headed, fighting first the mobs in the station – esp. daunting because most of the exits from the station up to the street were closed, due to the late hour – and then the even greater crowds on the street, the vast majority of whom were Millenials. Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb! There were one or two questionable moments on the walk back, involving one car shouting something at me, and another in a particularly dark section of Arch Street with a suspicious-looking twenty-something man lurking about. Turns out, the fireworks show at the art museum was finished well before C & G got there, and they were already walking back to the hotel as well. I warned them via text about the dark stretch of Arch Street, but they had no problem and by midnight all three of us were safely in the hotel room getting ready for bed.
Sat., July 5, 2014:
To the Beach, To the Beach, To the Beach, Beach, Beach! Of all the days of our itinerary, today was probably the day we had looked forward to most of all – we were headed to the shore! And the weather itself SO cooperated – it was a perfect beach day! High going up maybe to 90, sunny and clear. Grace K and her girls met us in their vehicle at the hotel ca. 10, and in a few moments, as soon as we had crossed the Delaware River on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, we were in New Jersey, headed E toward Ocean City – NJ, not MD! What’s Wawa’s?! Before we got to the beach, however, Nell and Claire Keller insisted that we stop at Wawa’s – and of course my girls and I had no clue what “Wawa’s” was! But we had seen Wawa signs here and there in our travels thus far, even seen a Wawa’s float in the parade the day before. What is Wawa’s? It’s a chain of convenience stores/gas stations in the mid-Atlantic states, founded in 1964, with corporate headquarters in Philadelphia – in the Wawa area of Chester Heights, Greater Philly. Hence the name. Grace K. had the impression that the name was rooted in a native American word for “goose,” and lo and behold, as we were first entering the store parking lot, here came a foot parade of 50 or more Canada geese right across our path, single file, in no big hurry, everyone following the goose in front of him! It was a charming moment, though after the first 5 minutes of waiting that charm started to fade! To us newbies, Wawa’s was a much glorified Qwik-Trip or RaceTrak type convenience store, with many more choices and a bigger emphasis on more wholesome food [fruits, vegetables, organics, etc.] than you would find at those other places. We all bought something to sip and nibble, including me, with my coffee and a hot dog. [Grace was a little shocked at that choice, but said she “understood”…I took it that she didn’t!] On to the Beach! From here it was tallyho to the beach! The actual mileage was short (64 miles), but with the holiday weekend crowds, it took more time than usual (1¼ hrs) to get to our destination – Ocean City, NJ. Grace said she chose Ocean City because it was relatively close AND because they had a boardwalk. Though parking was also TERRIBLE, and again took extra time, nonetheless by 1:00 pm we were setting up shop on the sand at about 51st street S, well past the end of the boardwalk at 23rdThe rest of the day time was spent doing what most people do at the beach – testing the water (COLD!), walking the beach, sitting in our rented and/or carried-in beach chairs, soaking up some sun, having snacks, and generally chilling. Claire K was fearless when it came to getting in the surf, but the rest of us weren’t that interested…it was not comfortable water, even after an extensive acclamation period! Grace and I at this point had our longest uninterrupted visit of the trip, just sitting and talking, watching the girls in the surf. As the sun moved, she kept repositioning her chair to face the light directly. Of course I followed suit which, since I hadn’t used sun block on my chest [everywhere else, yes, chest, no], resulted in my paying a price later. [See below.] So after a long, leisurely afternoon at the beach, we were all hungry and ready to eat. That meant a trip by car to the boardwalk area with all its varied restaurants and activities. So we cleared the beach and headed for the car. The Ocean City, NJ, boardwalk is wonderful. Some 27 blocks long, it is wide, clean and full of exciting things to do, including an amusement park! The Keller girls were so excited they didn’t know what they wanted to do first – after eating, of course. Was it the midway rides, the shops…or the tattoo parlors?? Time to Eat! Anyway, first order of business was indeed eating – and we found an appropriate pizza+ sit-down spot not very far away – Manco’s Pizza. After attempting to learn some confusing and inconsistently applied ordering requirements [single pizza slices (only!) had to be ordered at the counter, everything else from the waitress!], we gradually got our food, though in waves, including my Philly cheese steak sandwich, which was something new to me. It was OK, though the bread was (using one of my Mother’s favorite words) “doughy,” and the meat stringy. Not that good, I’m afraid, but it kept body and soul together. And at this point in our day, who’s being picky? Anyway, now it was off for some fun – and the girls’ choice? Tattoos! I hasten to add that this meant those of the henna type, using dye prepared from that plant which since antiquity has been used in the art of temporary tattooing! Apparently henna tattoos are appealing to a wide range of girls – and young women – including at least the 13-25 age bracket [age range of our 4]! All four of our girls wanted a henna tattoo, though for the life of me I can’t see why. But it was their choice. And it’s quite a process, too – first you choose a pattern from the posted sheets showing many hundreds of possibilities, then you pay for it, then you wait in line for the technician to stain the pattern on your skin where you wish it, and finally you wait for the tattoo artist to apply the actual henna “goop” over the outline already there. It took at least an hour to get all four girls finished. Even then, they had to keep a bandage covering on overnight for the best effect/longest results. With luck, the tattoo might last 3-4 weeks before eventually washing off. Both of my girls’ tattoos were gone within a week! [I’m thankful!]. After a little souvenir shopping and ice cream, there was one more unscheduled activity left for us: a fabulous fireworks show from boats out in the water! The show easily lasted a half hour, and was crazy varied! Quite a delightful and appropriately patriotic end to our Philly trip. The only thing remaining was the long ride home to Philly and our hotel – and of course the sad goodbyes to our wonderful hosts, Grace, Nell and Claire Keller!
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