Back in January, website visitor Ed Centeno wrote to us:
Many thanks for posting great postcards…. have several postcards not in your collection…. would love to share please email and will send….
This was remarkable since lots of people come by to view, but few actually stop back to drop off something. Ed sent a few scans of Camden postcards as email attachments, and I could see this serious collector had a theme right away – Walt Whitman.
There was his Camden home and his gravesite in Harleigh Cemetery plus statues and commemorative stamps.
Like other collectors I know, Centeno did not have just one version of the sought after image, but he had collected every iteration he could find.
(I suffer from that same collector’s addiction myself and always have room for another rendition of the RYC.)
Ultimately, Mr. Centeno sent in a few dozen scans and photos of the many items of philately, ephemera, commissioned art, collectibles, and commercial products related to the controversial and influential American poet, essayist and journalist.
Since then I have learned that admitted Whitmaniac, Mr. Centeno, has exhibited his still growing assemblage of Whitman artifacts at the Whitman Birthplace in Huntington Station, New York and elsewhere.
Here is a bit of Mr. Centeno’s massive collection displayed in a 45-page Walt Whitman Virtual Scrapbook and you don’t even need a ticket.
In related developments, Will Valentino of Palmyra Historical and Cultural Society sends us this timely and informative piece he wrote on the Whitman House in Camden (click here for PDF link) and reminds us that Mickle Street, a new drama inspired by a meeting between Oscar Wilde and Whitman, has opened at the Walnut Street Theater.
I confess that except for high school memories of Cliff-Noting my way through studying “I Hear America Singing” and recalling many crossings of the Walt Whitman Bridge to South Philly, I have taken little notice of the “father of free verse.”
I never really got it – the lack of rhyme.
Had I read decades ago his “Blab of the Pave,” a vibrant catalog of urban sights and sounds, I would not have missed the rhyme.
Today, however, for a man who received little public acclaim for his poems during his lifetime, it seems Whitman is everywhere.
Over a century since Whitman’s passing, countless books and articles interpret his life and work, and commercials invoke his name. Libraries, schools, roads, and parks across the USA plus a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop bear his designation, and frequent popular cultural references to him in movies, television, music, and plays serve as proof of his abiding appeal to today’s fans.
He’s been here all around me the whole time, but I wasn’t paying enough attention.
Even growing up in Camden, Whitman’s words were literally under my nose, or perhaps above it, on the south face of Camden’s City Hall tower which bears the engraving “In a dream I saw a city invincible,” an excerpt from his poem “I Dream’d in a Dream.”)
Years later I find it hard to believe these powerfully insightful nuggets were not just penned by a 21st century motivational guru.
“Re-examine all you have been told. Dismiss what insults your soul.”
“Be curious, not judgmental.”
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”
“Either define the moment, or the moment will define you.”
No wonder his message resonates with so many today. Of course, there is waaaay more to Whitman than is teased at here. Enjoy Ed Centeno’s collection and possibly find more to explore in the links you find there. – JMc