Sometimes we hop on the Speedline to Camden's RAND Transportation Center, then take the River LINE up to Bordentown or Burlington City to spend the day walking around, admiring the historic sights in those old towns. Ulysses Grant's family lived at 309 Wood Street in Burlington City from 1864 until the end of the war. He was there when Lincoln sent him an invitation to attend a play at Fords Theater, which luckily, he declined. The ride up there goes through some interesting areas of Camden and past landmarks like the old Federal St. Bridge over the Cooper River. As you travel toward State St., you can take in a number of abandoned, dilapidated factories and warehouses that once employed thousands in this once thriving city. Above Camden, there are nice stretches where the train runs along the Delaware River and through wetlands teeming with geese and ducks. If you're not into wildlife, you can listen in on the conversations of fellow travelers and learn where to score drugs and how to maneuver through the court system if you get arrested.
When feeling adventurous, we get off in Camden and walk down to the Yacht Club; passing crackheads, hustlers, dropouts, and single mothers out for a stroll; past luxury condos nestled behind impregnable barricades, set amid new construction going up for dormitories to house future scholars and hospital wings to heal people not yet sick. While heading down Mickle Blvd. one day, I noticed a small house with a plaque out front that read "The Walt Whitman House." Walt Whitman? Didn't he build the bridge? Was the bastard connected to the DRPA? After firing up Google, I learned that he was just a poet who lived here in the late 19th century and wrote a collection of poems, The Leaves of Grass.
Walt Whitman was born on May 31,1819 in Long Island, NY. He worked as a clerk, type-setter, journalist, carpenter and school teacher, and during the Civil War, as a nurse caring for wounded Union soldiers. He embedded himself in 19th century American life, traveling around the country, working at various jobs, loafing when he could, writing down what he saw and heard along the way. Later in life, when his health was failing, he settled down in Camden; first at 431 Stevens St., boarding with his brother, then at age 65 he purchased his first house at 330 Mickle Blvd.
He was the first indigenous, American poet to break away from the European romantics popular at the time. He created a realistic, uniquely American verse form, reflecting the optimism of a people knowing no bounds. America was expanding in the 19th century, with immigrants from Europe piling into the cities and heading out West to settle the recently conquered frontier. America was young, and made up of the malcontents and refuse of Europe who set out to create a new way of life here. They left Europe behind, along with the petty squabbles between kings and nobles, and wars over things of no consequence to the common man. Whitman wrote about farmers,...