Life goes on. Freedom is maintained enough that most in North America, and yes, including Mexico, individuals can choose to tear away the veil of ignorance and find out the facts behind the truths in our larger story. That's what this blog is about, my own journey to discovery about our story here in North America, and not just about great people or events or even transitory concepts. Instead, I take a look at even the small things. My latest read seems to be taking me for a ride down that particular path; Sarah Vowell has been entertaining and informing me about how taking a look at the small things can help one understand how the bigger picture fits together. Better put by a really good friend, she takes a look a reality through the perspective of one within the fishbowl. After all, this is why those who study history and geography even bother to look at details even when the facts are largely laid out in plain sight for them; happenings like revolutions are a bit more complex than the slogans which ignite the passions which drive them. Sometimes we need to tear down the sacred statues and become iconoclasts in order to prevent such revolutions from turning away from said passions and into the realm of pure legalistic precedent. Alright, so maybe I have also been reading some of that iconoclast Gore Vidal. The thing is, I'm back to share some more of what I have found.
And what better little thing to then bring to attention than this charming little discovery:
Does not look like much, does it? I am sure that most people would never recognize it as anything other than a slight depression in the ground which for some reason was bridged rather than filled and paved like the rest of the surrounding city. In reality, this is what remains of Dock creek, a small tidal creek that perhaps served as the mark for where William Penn decided to center his capital city of Philadelphia. The "dry water feature" rests buried in a lovely park behind Carpenters Hall, meeting place of the first Continental Congress ,and, as such, another relic of the city's past that gets largely ignored by the visiting public in favor of bigger, grander things like Independence Hall. Today, aside from the depression in the ground, the only thing that lets the walker know that anything different was ever here is a plaque set up by the National Park Service. The plaque lets people know that this center of the famous seat of American political birth was full of not only the gassy overtures of politicians, but also plain, simple swamp gas. Much like inheritor Washington and predecessor London, this first capital of the United States was a rather wet and marshy affair that has otherwise transformed and been paved over.
Of course, the modern face of Philadelphia tends to look a lot more like this:
|Chestnut street at 4th, looking west.|
And, as expected, this:
|Passyunk and 10th, turning south onto 10th.|
She started out as the last grasp of the Atlantic's dominance against the fall line. This is what makes this little creek so interesting, really. Philadelphia, you see, is unlike many other cities in that it falls not soundly with the "North", is definitely not part of the "South" either, and while hardly on the ocean and farther away from salt water than even Washington, is definitely more coastal than inland. Many houses here have gardens that feature a magnolia alongside a spruce, fitting for a city that can be buried by snow in the odd winter and yet experience a summer every bit as unpalatable as any given city further south. In essence, we have a city that had a noticeably longer growing season than what could be offered by New England and the Hudson valley, thus suitable for plantations, yet not idealistically part of a colony founded otherwise for the sake of individual liberty (in contrast to Jamestown) in which the good land could be used for families of farmer-workers. We thus have a city founded not in consideration to proximity to the coast and thus the broader market, and yet not so far removed from it as to be deaf to the siren song of international commerce.
Here we have a city founded on the principles of religious tolerance and a degree of personal liberty that also had an increasing number of African slaves imported into it in the mid-eighteenth century. Proudest son of the city, Benjamin Franklin, otherwise later noted to be something of an abolitionist, did not actually free his slaves until after the Revolution. As the creek was covered over, so too was slavery, and the city and her history were simultaneously whitewashed; the colonial federal style look was abandoned for a lot of marble even as Pennsylvania passed the first abolition act in the United States in 1780. The creek gives us two lessons: not everything is as simple as it seems, and nothing on this earth is immutable. So, let's take a stroll further up the creek...