Sunday, November 23, 2008

Arnold's Olney

Thanks to recently declassified KGB files, we present this Russian spy satellite photo of the Olney of Philadelphia’s beloved “Brakeman Poet” Arnold Schnabel, circa 1963. (Please click on the photograph for a larger view.)

The small rowhome Arnold shared with his mother for many years still stands where it stood then, down near the lower right, at the corner of B Street and W. Nedro Avenue, across the street from the foreboding stacks of the (now sadly demolished) Heintz metalworks factory.

Fisher Park, the site of Arnold’s famous poems “Dead Man’s Hill” and "In Fisher Park", remains much as it was in Arnold’s day, over to the left of our photograph. It was within this leafy urban paradise, on the concrete path descending from the corner of 5th and Spencer, that the three lovely young ladies who became known as the Green Parrot Mob committed the crime that would lead to their downfall and incarceration at the state women's prison in Muncy.
Across from the park on the northeast corner of 5th and Champlost were (and still are) the offices of the Olney Times, the venerable publication in which Arnold published a poem a week for over thirty years.

A block north, the large dark blotch directly across 5th Street from Fisher Park would be the Fern Rock Theatre (since converted into a food market), where Arnold saw countless Jerry Lewis and Steve Reeves movies on Saturday matinées.

Moving up 5th Street, between Spencer and Godfrey, on the right side, the entire block (a block immortalized by, among many other of Arnold's poems, the heart-wrenching "May Procession") comprises St. Helena’s parochial school, the convent, St. Helena’s church, and its rectory. For many years Arnold served as an usher at St. Helena’s, and was also active in the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization and the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

(Click here for Part 112 of Railroad Train to Heaven, and kindly go here for our previous installment. A complete listing of links to all other available chapters can be found on the right hand side of this page, as well as to many of Arnold’s classic poems. Send us an e-mail if you are interested in joining the upcoming holiday walking tour of Arnold's Olney, sponsored by the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)


Unknown said...

Reading "Dead Man's Hill" reminded me of Arnold's poetic genius. His poems like him are almost blase on the surface, making the rising wonder, sorrow, and ordinary miracle of every day life so extra-extraordinary.

CPR in 1963: I wonder if Arnold (he was certainly scrupulous enough) confessed to putting his mouth on the boy's even as he saved the child's life. Father Reilly must have spent his weeks eagerly anticipating Arnold's next original sin.

Dan Leo said...

Kathleen, I daresay Arnold's visits considerably eased the tedium of the Saturday confessional grind.

Unknown said...

Who says you can't go home again?
I'd like to get an aerial map of Chicago circa 1963 to see if the Nike missiles in Lincoln Park show up. I'm sure the Russkies were keeping an eye on those.

Anonymous said...

I'll sign up for the walking tour, but only if if we get to stop at the Green Parrot!

Dan Leo said...

Manny: hmm, could those odd rectangular shapes in Fisher Park be underground missile sites?

Samaritan: The Green Parrot will definitely be one of the stopping places on our walking tour!