A Fellow Survivor - Day 4
Total Miles Traveled: 310
Ben Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe and Thaddeus Kosciuszko were to be the focus of this morning’s destinations. But the real highlights occurred on an evening trip to Villanova to see Tori Maley, a dear friend and fellow survivor and on the corners of 9th and Passyunk at Geno’s and Pat’s venerable cheesesteak institutions.
Tori Maley and her twin sister Stasia looked as beautiful as ever. Tori even more so since the last time I saw her she was recovering from a pretty intense surgery and still undergoing cancer treatment. I was Tori’s counselor at Camp-Can-Do the summer of 1996 and since Tori was a little under the weather that first year, I had the privilege of being her personal chauffer around the campgrounds. Me, Tori and the golf cart managed to get ourselves into plenty of predicaments, mostly, ok, entirely, due to my poor driving skills. To this day, I am really very thankful that the American Cancer Society hasn’t sent me a bill. Tori celebrated six years in remission last week and was proudly modeling a Relay For Life t-shirt when we saw her. I Am Winning was her motto ironed on the back. Today’s entry is dedicated to her and her family.
Let’s start with the second best moment of the day – lunch at the Italian Market in South Philly.
From the peaceful setting of the Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site just a ½ mile from Penns Landing, Michael and I ventured into bustling South Philly around noontime in search of the essential Philadelphia experience – a cheesesteak from Geno’s or Pat’s.
In the name of research, we decided that we should really have (at least) one cheesesteak from each of the local legends, whose establishments stare each other down on opposite corners of 9th and Passyunk streets. The two sites are set up in similar fashion – a walk up window to order your cheesesteak, another for drinks and fries. Geno’s is a bit flashier. “More Hollywood” my husband would say. Pat’s is definitely more prescriptive as far as ordering technique. Thankfully, they have a prominently posted sign with instructions for non-locals like us. Michael went for a plain wit – cheesesteak with no cheese, with fried onions. Feeling traditional, I ordered a cheese wit – cheesesteak with cheese wiz and fried onions. Because even though American and Provolone are options, it’s not really a cheese steak without artificial cheese, right?
Although Geno’s steak had a better roll, more onions and was slightly bigger and they had birch beer on tap, the consensual favorite was Pat’s, probably pushed forward to victory by the display of fresh sweet and hot peppers you can grab to give your steak a bit more bite. Dried cayenne peppers were an option, but we steered clear. Eating lunch amid all shapes, sizes, classes and colors of customers enhanced the experience. We found a seat next to three business women who were elbow to elbow with workers from a local construction site, who moved out of the way to let the Goth student and young kids on bikes get in line. I’m pretty sure I heard some English accents in the crowd. The atmosphere was crowded but friendly. It’s no wonder Pat’s has won Best of the Best almost every year since the rankings began.
Carrying the distinctive aroma with us as we walked, we went to the Italian Market on 9th Street, the oldest and largest outdoor working market in the U.S. Between the fresh sausages, spice stores and pungent cheese shops, this qualifies as my idea of heaven. Too full from lunch and keeping in mind our travel plans, we regretfully had to walk away empty handed, except for a few photos of this magical place.
In case you’re wondering, here’s what we did with the rest of our day:
Our first stop was the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial which stands in the atrium of the Franklin Institute. Since we arrived a few minutes before the Institute officially opened, we shared the floor with Ben and no one else. Michael and I took a moment to view the lobby displays and take photos we never could have achieved among the crowds of school groups and visitors which would probably begin appearing at any moment. Nice.
And we were just in time. We exited the building and found the first fleets of school buses just arriving. As they should. The Franklin Institute is a fantastic place for a field trip. Unfortunately, seeing the nuns usher in this particular school group gave me some nasty flashbacks to a high school physics trip to the Institute gone horribly wrong. Any fellow student of Sister Marilyn’s physics class knows of the impossible worksheet incident. I won’t go into it here.
High school flashbacks aside, the Franklin N MEM was grand, the visit made sweeter by the sweet parking space that we found just around the corner from the Institute. A feat repeated at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, but not without some maneuvering.
Edgar Allan Poe’s former residence is north of the Franklin Memorial, located on the corner of a residential section in a neighborhood also shared by several union offices and non-specified industrial buildings. A few things make the Poe NHS stand out from its neighbors, but not much. The black raven statue in the yard, the kind of creepy wall mural painted on the wall of the row house across the street and, of course, the brown National Parks sign are the only indicators that this quiet block was the home of the famous poet/critic/writer for (they think) about a year and a half.
The house itself is a bit of mystery, but the Ranger and Eric the NPS volunteer gladly shared the facts that were known. The house was purchased by a member of the Gimble family, given to the city of Philadelphia then accepted as a National Historic Site. The interior of the house remains bare because the National Park Service is unsure of how to accurately furnish it. While they are waiting for more research, and more funding to carry out the research and subsequent restoration, visitors travel through empty sunlit rooms and down into the musty basement (inspiration for The Black Cat?) unfettered by someone else’s ideas of how things might have been.
Today the rooms were filled with an excited group of grade schoolers who clearly just finished reading several of Poe’s works. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Michael and I snuck in behind them, enjoyed their interactions with the Ranger who took them through the house, said goodbye to Eric and went south to the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.
Although the Kosciuszko N MEM is the smallest site maintained by the National Parks Service, it was a must-see for this ignorant American, who received nothing but grief from her students in Poland when she had to admit she knew nothing of the man they believed she owed everything. “He won your Revolution! You should be grateful to this Pole!” We spoke with the Ranger about the absence of Kosciuszko in popular American Revolutionary history. Here are his thoughts:
Well, you know, most people learn about the American Revolution in fifth or sixth grades. At that point, it’s difficult to get into too much detail, or much further than the key figures of Washington, Franklin and the like. Besides, Kosciuszko is an awfully hard name to spell, let alone pronounce….
The theory sounded pretty plausible to us. We went upstairs to view the room that Kosciuszko rented, see portraits he made for friends, see the animated film and read an excerpt from his will, which granted all of his remaining dollars to the freeing and educating of slaves.
So there you have it, friends from Lyceums II and IV in Wroclaw. I didn’t know about this “hero of Poland,” but now I do. And we even have pictures to prove it. Sto Lat!
From Poland to Sweden, our next visit was to the quiet Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site, the oldest church in Pennsylvania, otherwise known as the Old Swedes Church. Betsy Ross was married here. Revolutionary War Officers are buried here. The simple yet elegant interior of the church has hosted services continuously since the early 1700s.
After a quick stop to pick up our things at Jody’s and say farewell to Henry, her handsome pug, we drove to the Germantown/Mt Airy section of town in search of a handful of historic sites Michael found on an NPS map we acquired the day before, went back to Conshohocken to look for a battery recharger to replace the one we left at home and then settled in Villanova and took a stroll of the campus and met Tori and Stasia for coffee. Being freshmen nursing students, Tori and Stasia are very busy so we left them to get ready for the evening’s events on campus and set out to Trenton, NJ for a quick look at the Capital Building before finally resting in East Brunswick for the night. TRENTON MAKES. THE WORLD TAKES.
See you in the morning.
**Notes: If you plan on visiting the Edgar Allan Poe of Thaddeus Kosciuszko sites, don’t come on a Monday or Tuesday. Both sites are only open Wednesday through Sunday due to a lack of federal funding.