The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for November 16th, 2021

menacing dreams

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite its appearance, the Market Street Bridge crossing West Philadelphia’s Schuykill River is actually fairly modern, having been built in 1932. It’s the fifth bridge in this location, with the first one having opened to traffic in 1805. It was a wooden span, called “The Permanent Bridge” but it wasn’t, and it burned down in 1850. The second one, similarly impermanent, also immolated in 1875. Another wooden crossing then stood here for 13 years, between 1875 and 1888, and the town fathers of Philadelphia seem to have gotten the message when a wrought iron span was built. The iron one then made way for this stone variant in the early 20th century.

Kind of like the Three Little Pigs and the big bad Wolf, this bridge story, huh? Wood, iron, & stone instead of straw, wood, brick.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Grrr. When Old Penn Station was demolished in NYC, the still extant Pennsylvania Railroad donated four of the Eagle statues which used to adorn it to the City of Philadelphia in 1963. Seriously, you cannot escape NYC, no matter where you are. It is the conveyor belt of American history, and ultimately everything everywhere is somehow connected, or sympathetic to, or exists in consequence of the archipelago City.

It seems that there was a pre revolutionary ferry which operated either at the site of this bridge, or pretty close to it, which was established in 1673. The warring sides in the American Revolution independently built floating pontoon bridges to move troops and equipment across the Schuykill River here, predating the aforementioned and so called “Permanent Bridge.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the 1990 vintage Walnut Street Bridge which was the vantage point from which I shot the photos in yesterday’s post. My understanding is that the masonry that the modern steel is affixed to is original to an earlier span of the same name.

At the time of the American Revolution, if you were taking bets on what would end becoming the largest and most important City on the Atlantic Coast, most takers would have put their money on Boston or Philadelphia. Charleston would have also gotten some action, but only as an outlier. NYC wasn’t all that important in the late 18th century, other than as a safe harbor which led to Long Island Sound, Albany, and New England, before the Erie Canal was built in the 19th century. It was that bit of infrastructure spending which gave NYS the moniker “Empire State.” From the minute it opened, Boston and Philadelphia began to decline economically, but they largely didn’t realize it until just after World War 1. By WW2, it was obvious.

Saying that – and again, as a New Yorker I’m duty bound to shit talk Philadelphia – Philadelphia is actually quite an interesting place beyond the whole Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin era. The City of Philadelphia is also the County of Philadelphia (since 1854). It’s second best in terms of population, with just over 1.6 million people living in the city and its greater metropolitan area has 6.2 million residents. It was founded in 1682, and one of the interesting things about Philadelphia in the modern day is that it’s a “minority majority” city demographically. Census data reports about 37% of its population as being non Hispanic White people, with a 42% majority Non Hispanic Black population. Everybody from everywhere else in the world seems to have at least one cousin in Philadelphia, so all the tribes of man – from East Asians to Native Americans, and every flavor of the Spanish speaking peoples, turn up in the census mix here.

As a note – I hate ethno supremacy and race talk, and specifically avoid using terms like “non Hispanic white” in my daily round, but when you’re passing along what the census says it doesn’t make sense to say it in your own voice. Over simplification of the complexity of American racism annoys me, and skirts the heart of the problem, which is the diminution of an individual into a “them.” If you’ve ever met an actual white supremacist, you’d have learned that they don’t think the French or Irish or Russians are “white.” Same for the Greeks and Italians. Certainly not Jews or the Portuguese. We are all assholes to each other all the time, and while we split hairs over ancestry and the ethnic propensities of one cultural group or another towards sin or virtue, the political bosses laugh and distribute your tax money to their sponsors while you’re busy calling somebody else a racist. There’s a whole lot of prejudiced people, but actual “racists” are a lot rarer. You can teach away prejudice, but racism is like a religion and it’s a lot harder to root out.

Lumping individuals into large ethnic groups and classifying them according to the accident of their birth is – in fact – racist, nativist, and leads to nationalism. Talk to people as individuals, instead of “meme-ing” them. This identity politics thing is going to lead to the end of this country.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“William H. Gray III 30th Street Station,” or just 30th Street Station, is found along the Schuykill River, which the Schuykill Expressway runs alongside of, and the Market Street Bridge frames the left side of the shot. I’m actually shooting from the Market Street Bridge in this one, and that uninspiring truss bridge at the right of the shot is – I think – the 1959 vintage John F. Kennedy Boulevard Bridge.

30th Street Station is an intermodal train station which opened in 1933. Amtrak, SEPTA, and N.J. Transit operate trains from here. There’s a parking garage as well, and several local and interstate bus routes treat the area around the station as a hub. In addition to public transit, private companies like Bolt and Megabus also operate nearby.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

30th Street Station hosts several Amtrak offices “up stairs,” and its thought to be one of the busiest transit hubs in the entire country. Connected to it, but due to time constraints not photographed, are Amtrak’s Penn Coach Yard and Race Street repair and maintenance facilities which are kind of an regional analogue to the Sunnyside Yards, found in NYC’s Borough of Queens, which I often discuss. Next time I’m here in America’s “less than” city, I’ll try and explore a bit further afield.

It seems that a local corporation foots the bill for decorative bridge lighting on the Schuykill River, and I’d have loved to stick around until it got dark… but I had a train to catch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the next couple of posts, we’ll be taking a look at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, and what I observed while waiting for the Amtrak people to announce which track my NYC bound train was going to leave from.

More tomorrow – at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 16, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

Tagged with , ,

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