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Jersey Week: “I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old …” on the Walt Whitman Bridge

JERSEYPLANE

This week the Library News blog will be highlighting everyone’s second favorite mid-Atlantic state, New Jersey! So grab your flip flops and head east with us each day this week.

 

Walt_Whitman_Bridgetr

There are many river crossings to New Jersey, but if you’re at all of a literary bent, your favorite is probably the Walt Whitman Bridge. If you’re old enough, you may remember the construction and controversy surrounding its naming in the late 1950s. Known as the Packer Ave-Gloucester City bridge during its planning, officials sought to find a New Jersey resident equivalent in stature to Philadelphia’s choice of founding father Ben Franklin, for a second river crossing planned four miles south. The choice of Whitman, who lived the last 19 years of his life on Mickle Street in Camden, raised the hackles of several religious and community groups who disapproved of his bohemian and homosexual lifestyle.

While his poetry was beautiful and iconic—in fact, Leaves of Grass was hailed as the “Declaration of Independence of American Letters”—protests against Whitman were played out in the press via op-eds and editorials and in letter writing campaigns addressed to the Delaware River Port Authority. The name stayed, however, and scholars have since speculated that Whitman would have appreciated the democratic ‘airing of the grievances’ that accompanied his honor.

The kerfuffle inspired a poem by a member of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association on Long Island:

Well, Camerado, I guess you heard,
There was quite a tussle recently
In the Quaker City of Brotherly Love
About you and a bridge
Joining said city with the other city
Where you lived, talked, peddled your books, and died;
And where your memory is already somewhat perpetuated
By Walt Whitman Canned Tomatoes (a grade A line) and other choice groceries.
Your opposers were the usual public inflicters of private morality
That you were long in life familiar with;
And you were accused of the usual perversions:
Bestiality, immorality, verselessness, and the corruption of the kiddies.
Even another bard was puffed in your place –
Joyce Kilmer, for God’s sake.
Whose leaves are less tall that your leaves, to all
But the shielded eye.
An old story, no doubt.
But the funny thing about this case, Camerado, was
That they lost.
And that sparkling, soaring, two mile span of steel
Is all yours:
The Walt Whitman Bridge.
What do you dream of that, Walt?
Is it for real?

On summer weekends the suspension bridge carries as many as 150,000 vehicles across its seven lanes and full length of almost 12,000 feet, including approaches. The original structure cost $90 million dollars. Its two towers rise to almost 400 feet in the air and are suspended by two 24-inches-in-diameter cables, which support its weight of 36,500 tons. A one-way toll of $5.00 is charged for travellers going westbound from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. The fare from Philly to Jersey is free … as long as you don’t come back.

Dig Deeper:

For more information on the fascinating life of Walt Whitman, visit these links curated by Sarah Wingo, subject librarian for English, literature and theatre.

Biography:
https://library.villanova.edu/Find/Record/535582

Whitman’s life during the civil war:
https://library.villanova.edu/Find/Record/1230039

Cambridge Companion to Walt Whitman (book and e-book):
https://library.villanova.edu/Find/Record/419405

The Walt Whitman Archive (great free to use resource):
http://www.whitmanarchive.org/


SarahDig Deeper links selected by Sarah Wingo, team leader- Humanities II, subject librarian for English, literature and theatre. Article by Joanne Quinn, Team Leader for Communication & Service Promotion

Evening view of Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA Photo taken by Jdnrite01 {{PD-author|Jdnrite01]] http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Walt_Whitman_Bridge.jpg;

Sources:
 http://www.phillyroads.com/crossings/walt-whitman/ and

Krieg, Joann P. “Democracy in Action: Naming the Bridge for Walt Whitman.” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 12 (Fall 1994), 108-114.

 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. Comment by John Schultz — July 9, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

    This is quite beautiful. Thanks for this …

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Last Modified: July 9, 2014