The University of Penn Campus

My planned adventure for the day was to explore the Woodlands Cemetery near the University of Penn campus.  I worked out the route to get there by train and trolley and set out one cool morning to test it in practice.

Amtrak 30th Street Station

Amtrak 30th Street Station

I got off the train at 30th Street Station, but had to go outside onto Market Street, then down several flights of steps to find the trolleys.  The subway is also way down there, and it is unusually deep because that is where they cross under the Schuylkill River.  The 30th Street Station is so huge it is surprising to find they do not connect and this must be confusing to first-time visitors.  The station now has an extensive food court, a convenient place to get fortified for the rest of your journey.

I was heading for the trolley stop at 40th Street and Baltimore Avenue.  That is called the “Portal” since it is where the trolleys all emerge onto ground level.  All of the several trolley lines, except No. 10, leaving from 30th Street stop there, so you can usually take the first one to come along, whatever its route.  This is all free for seniors, by-the-way.  Just flash your Medicare card and they wave you through the turnstile.

Trolleys are way more fun than the subway.  The tiny cars twist and turn in the dark underground like an amusement ride.  You expect a laughing skeleton to pop out at any moment.

The entrance to Woodlands Cemetery is across the street from the Portal, but the gate was closed.  A handwritten note taped to the bars explained I had chosen the one day of the year they were closed for tree-trimming.

On to Plan B, or, more precisely, make up a Plan B on the spot.

I decided to wander around the Penn campus instead.  It was close enough to walk and I headed up Baltimore Avenue.  If you haven’t been there recently, you would be amazed.  That area of the campus is filled with huge—huge!—hospitals: Penn, the VA, CHOP, and many buildings of supporting services.  If you want to blend in with the locals scurrying in every direction, wear a scrub suit.  A stethoscope would nail it.

IMG_5805While waiting at a crossing light, I asked a passerby the direction to Locust Walk, just as a check.  Locust Walk is the portion of Locust Street that goes through the center of the campus.  It is now closed off to all but pedestrians and is an absolute delight, lined with benches and overhanging trees.

He pointed to the left, but in our brief chat, suggested I go to the right to Hamilton Walk where there was a hidden park with a pond, a gem tucked in behind the Zoology building.  And there it was, exactly as he said: Kaskey Park that I had never heard of and would have certainly missed without his suggestion.  I had never heard of Hamilton Walk, either.  A group at the park seemed to to be patients from the VA Hospital with their nurse, and a few scattered individuals were quietly reading on the secluded benches.

IMG_5799Almost as a bonus, on a building next to the park were these amazing gargoyles, many more than the three shown here.  (Click on the photo to enlarge.)  I should be collecting royalties on the middle one that clearly depicts my wife and me.

The brick pattern is Flemish bond, the same as seen on Pierre du Pont’s house at Longwood Gardens and the Mary Owen House in Lansdowne.  it is two bricks laid side-by-side tied at each end by a brick end-on.

(The Penn website has several campus maps, one locating all of the campus sculptures, and that will be the basis of a future exploration.  Another shows the locations of “gender-neutral restrooms.”  Am I now gender-neutral?)

Further along, the undergraduate part of the campus was alive with the activity of new students moving in, mostly Asian girls and their parents.  The days of a largely Jewish male student body appears to be over.  As always, I stopped at the magnificent Penn bookstore at 36th and Walnut.  They had bins of items for setting up new living quarters: extension cords, cleaning supplies, hair dryers, etc.  An extensive, very clean fruit stand was in front.  A guard was standing at the doorway.  I asked him if he wanted to check my backpack, but he just laughed and waved me in.  He waved again when I left.

IMG_5818Coming out, I crossed over to Spruce Street and stopped at a lunch cart, one serving Thai-Vietnamese-Chinese food run by an amazingly hard-working older couple.  I got their vegetable lo mein and ate it with chopsticks sitting on a campus bench in the warm sun, watching all of the activity.  The food was so good, I wish I had ordered something more adventuresome from their extensive menu.

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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