The Flat Earth and the Philly Skyline, Far Out

Shoutout to Atlanta rapper B.o.B for his courageous campaign against a spherical Earth. He’s doing God’s work (or perhaps not!), and in at least one case, he’s bringing the Philly Skyline into the discussion to back his claims.

As you can see in his tweet above, B.o.B uses a photo of mine to explain that the skyline is visible 40 miles away at Apple Pie Hill in the Pine Barrens because, of course, the Earth is flat, and if it was a sphere, the curvature would hide it. Never mind that the buildings visible—from atop a 200-foot fire tower—are all over 500 feet tall. Plus Apple Pie Hill is actually about 32 miles, not quite 40. Oh, and . . . well, that photo is not from the Apple Pie Hill fire tower. It’s from a helicopter in North Jersey, somewhere near Metuchen, closer to 75-80 miles.

Chopper Jerz
Chopper Jerz

This photo’s a little blurry because we were flying pretty fast, and the hatch was closed, so the curvature (of the hatch, not the Earth) made it a little difficult to shoot through. Also, I shot this with a 200mm telephoto lens at full zoom, and the edited photo is slightly cropped.

One can see the skyline from the fire tower at Apple Pie Hill in the Pine Barrens, though.

Mmm, Apple Pie
Mmm, Apple Pie

This photo was taken with the same 200mm telephoto lens, but it was panned back a bit to maximize the canopy of pygmy pitch pines in the late day light. Apple Pie Hill is about 32 miles from Center City, about the exact same distance as the Ridge Road overpass on the PA Turnpike Northeast Extension near Lansdale.

Over the years, folks have alerted me to distant skyline views in Boyertown, Holland, and other places like the Delaware Memorial Bridge near Wilmington, DE. My friend the kayaker Rob Danner once told me that you could see it from the fire tower in Reading, PA. Knowing that Reading’s a good 60 miles away, I said no way. I was wrong.

Whoomp, there it is
Whoomp, there it is

Visiting the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower requires pretty precise calculation, as it’s only open one day a month. A lot of people know about the Pagoda, a tourist attraction built in 1908 that stands on the edge of Mount Penn above Reading; it’s a symbol of the city. It was even an alternate logo of the Reading Phillies for a time.

Billy Penn goes even higher in Reading
Billy Penn goes even higher in Reading

A little farther up the ridge, the Fire Tower stands 120 feet tall and 1,015 feet above the Schuylkill River. Built in 1939 of stone and concrete, it was used by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry until 1988, and is now cared for (along with the Pagoda) by the nonprofit organization Pagoda Skyline (no relation).

On a clear day, you can see over 60 miles in every direction, all the way to Pottsville in the north, way down past the cooling tower at Limerick facing southeast, the Philly Skyline. (This is to say nothing of the stellar view of Reading and the Schuylkill just below.) I measure it to be about 52 miles in a straight line (58 by car); you can clearly make out the tops of Comcast Center, One and Two Liberty Place, Mellon Bank Center, and the Bell Atlantic Tower. Soon, Comcast Innovation & Technology Center will join the view.

Here’s the full crop:

Hey Philly Skyline
Hey Philly Skyline

Needless to say, the view is pretty spectacular, and at the right time of year, the very distant skyline reflects the sunset. Plan ahead and make a day of it in Reading. The fire tower is open the third Saturday of each month, noon-4pm.

Click any of the thumbnails to launch a mini-gallery of the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower and Reading Pagoda.

(Thanks to Doc for the heads up, and to Nick Vadala for checking in with Derrick Pitts on the matter.)

Pope Francis Visits Philadelphia


What a weekend in Philadelphia. Pope Francis visits the city of brotherly love in the third and final stop of his American tour. Many fled, many complained, and many of us stayed and enjoyed ourselves. I seriously had a blast. Some observations…

– Re: the Pope himself, his biggest critics on the right are putting their politics over their faith (see Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, George Will), and in a party where faith apparently guides politics. That’s absurd.

– Mayor Nutter, STFU. You made your bed.

– Apropos of the Ben Franklin Parkway and its many flags, there were so many flags of pilgrims, visitors, tourists, hustlers: Dominican Republic, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, New Mexico, Uganda, and of course The Vatican.

– I didn’t make it down to see the Jade Buddha, alas. And the Dalai Lama has canceled his visit. A speedy recovery to His Holiness. (Er, that His Holiness.)

– So many restaurants and bars sounded off like whiny bitches. Dawg you had six months to plan. Either close down for two days and cut your losses, or throw down block party style like Village Whiskey did. They got it right.

– I’ve never seen so many different types of cops — Philadelphia police, PA state troopers, MontCo cops, HSI (Homeland Security Investigations), TSA, FBI, National Guard, National Park Service, Allied Barton (seriously), many others. Most of them were friendly.

Untie a knot, say a prayer, share a burden: the knotted grotto
Untie a knot, say a prayer, share a burden: the knotted grotto
– Meg Saligman’s “knotted grotto” installation at the Basilica was beautiful and full of heartfelt sentiments: “Peace in the Philadelphia community,” “please help my family get out of debt,” “please bless Eddie’s cat,” “Pope Francis I believe you are the second coming of Christ.”

– Protesters of the pope came from both sides of the aisle, but the ones at Franklin Square took the cake: I believe there is some Westboro Baptist Church affiliation, and these folks, who called Pope Francis the antichrist, claimed responsibility for the distribution of the Great Controversy books this summer. They had more here, and left them all around town, including at the Convention Center.

– It was wild to see Philadelphia’s staggering backdrop of cranes — Comcast Innovation & Technology Center, FMC Tower, East Market, 1919 Market, CHOP, that ugly ass building next to the Ben Franklin Bridge — for such a world event.

– So many pope billboards: Wawa, Dranoff Properties, Michael’s Way, Visit Philly, St Joseph’s University (who referenced Francis’ Jesuit education)

– I’m glad I got to walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge since I missed the 75th anniversary party in 2001. I wanted to ride my bike across, but the National Guard was making people walk their bikes, although cops could still ride, of course. John Pettit called BFB “Philly’s hottest new popup park.”

– It took me one hour and 42 minutes to get from the beginning of security to my ticketed seat for the Festival of Families on Saturday night. It was worth it.

– The Bob Brady pope glass theft was absolutely hilarious.

– But not as hilarious as The Onion’s coverage of Francis’ visit.

– I am sorry, but I still think scrapple is disgusting. Reading Terminal Market had a tray of it in bricks for visiting journalists, and hardly anyone tried it.

– Jim Kenney, I know you loved these open streets, let’s keep that momentum going.

* * *

All told, a fun and positive weekend in Philadelphia. I made a photo essay with about 100 photos on one long, scrolling, easy to use page. If you’d like to view that, you may do it…


Happy Earth Day! and other assorted One Man’s Trash affairs

A touch of the finger: get in touch with nature at Fingerspan
Get in touch with nature at Fingerspan

Well by golly, whattaya know, Earth Day has arrived, bringing sixteen months of work—12 months picking up trash, 4 months organizing, analyzing, and preparing it for fancy display—to a close. Or has it just begun?

Why yes, I would like to make prints of this map available for purchase. Would you like one?

This map, printed at 42″ x 66″, will be among the display panels at the exhibition tonight. Others include original infographics by Mark Adams and Jason Killinger of Eyes Habit and photography by Sarah Kaufman. Click, enlarge, and consider whether you’d like a copy of this hand drawn map of the Wissahickon when it becomes available this summer.

Tonight marks at least one beginning, the opening reception of One Man’s Trash, the exhibition of the goofball litter project I’ve conducted in the Wissahickon, Philadelphia’s magical, mystical Northwestern land. It’s at 6pm at the historic Fairmount Water Works, which began operations 200 years ago, 1815, serving to protect Philadelphia’s water supply.

It was a mission and vision that 50-some years later manifested as the Fairmount Park Commission, whose first order of business was to buy up and protect the lands surrounding the Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Creek. There are lots of connections between our waterways, our parks, and specifically the Wissahickon and Schuylkill and Delaware (the three of which are represented in anthropomorphic form in Swann Fountain at Logan Circle).

I’ll be talking a little more about these connections as spring unfolds with a series of events planned to go along with the run of the show, April 22 through June 26. Lots of excellent partners are coming together to make it happen, including Friends of the Wissahickon, Fairmount Water Works, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Streets Department, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Fairmount Park Conservancy, and more. And big props and big thank yous to my favorite brewery in the world, Victory Brewing Company, for supporting tonight’s opening. Likewise thanks to Weavers Way for accommodating this working member for the wonderful spread of snacks.

With these events, we’re hoping to generate a deeper consideration for our parks, our water, and the waste we each generate everyday. Hopefully this leads to a better appreciation and stewardship for what we’ve got.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” —The Lorax

Actually no, it IS pretty easy being green.
Actually no, it IS pretty easy being green.

Anyway, some fun dates to choose from.

SATURDAY APRIL 26: The annual Wissahickon Creek cleanup sponsored by the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association and Friends of the Wissahickon.

SATURDAY MAY 9, 10am: As part of the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Love Your Park Week, we’ll clean up the lowest reaches of the Wissahickon Creek, where it empties into the Schuylkill River. In doing so, we’ll explore some vastly underserved land and peek ever slightly into the future. The Fairmount Water Works and Friends of the Wissahickon each have separate cleanups scheduled as well.

THURSDAY MAY 14, 10am: A tour of the Philadelphia Streets Department’s official recycling center, operated by ReCommunity at 29th and Wharton Streets in Grays Ferry.

SUNDAY MAY 31: One Man’s Trash: The Presentation. This slideshow takes place at the Fairmount Water Works, where I’ll talk about the origin, process, and results of the project, then lead a tour of the exhibit.

SATURDAY JUNE 6, 10am: Guided hike in the Wissahickon Valley Park in conjunction with the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

WEDNESDAY JUNE 24: A tour of a Philadelphia Water Department Wastewater treatment plant.

FRIDAY JUNE 26, 5:30pm: One Man’s Trash closing party at Fairmount Water Works.

* * *

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more info, and thanks for stopping by. Longtime readers might be happy to know that I at least in theory plan for a slight return to more traditional Philly Skyline content this summer, especially as the Comcast Innovation & Technology Center and FMC Tower race up from the ground. Peace.

One Man’s Trash: The Exhibition, coming to a historic Water Works near you

Some good looking balustrades there.
Some good looking balustrades there.

Save the date, friends: Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015, 6–8pm. The Wissahickon is coming to the Schuylkill. Just like real life!

Celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, the Fairmount Water Works‘ mission has long served to protect Philadelphia’s water supply and watersheds—and to foster an informed stewardship of the lands surrounding it. So with great honor and pride, I am happy to announce the exhibition of One Man’s Trash, my yearlong project which, in so many words, served to protect the Wissahickon watershed and foster a better stewardship of the park surrounding it. To merge these ideas, we’re hosting a two month exhibition, April 22–June 26, with an opening party on Earth Day.

This project has been a labor of love. In late 2013, I relocated to Mt Airy for a lot of reasons, none greater than the access to the Wissahickon Valley Park. Though its dramatic scenery could easily be mistaken for some Appalachian hinterland, the Wissahickon’s 1,800 acres are indeed right here in the fifth largest city in the country. And with that comes the inherent big city problem that has always bothered me most about Philadelphia: litter.

So. For all of 2014, I took a trash grabber with me on weekly hikes to pick up all of the litter I could carry. Each hike lasted roughly 2-3 hours and went roughly 4-5 miles, and each one traveled a different section of the park than the previous week’s. This enabled me to learn every corner of the park and its 50 miles of trails. It also allowed me to study how the park interacts with its neighbors—neighborhoods, private residences, institutions. For example, while Mt Airy is spoiled with an abundance of access (there are three trailheads within six blocks of my home), East Falls is all but completely cut off from the park, despite sharing close to two miles of border with it.

Thanks for the neat pile, anyway: remnants of a Natty Ice party along Rex Run.
Thanks for the neat pile, anyway: remnants of a Natty Ice party along Rex Run.

As the project has had many components, so too will the exhibition. All of the litter I’ve removed from the park has been sorted, catalogued, and arranged neatly for display. Aluminum cans, glass bottles, hard plastic bottles, soft plastic bottles, plastic wrappers, plastic bags, SO MUCH PLASTIC, styrofoam, cardboard boxes, paper receipts, discarded clothes, miscellaneous items… it’ll all be here.

The data tallied from all of those items will be here too. Visitors to this site over the past year have probably noticed the project’s 52 weekly reports. All of these reports have been collected in one place and laboriously added up. From this data, the extremely talented Jason Killinger and Mark Adams will design infographics that speak to the city’s consumption—of disposable products and of water—and how its waste is handled.

And, since Devil’s Pool is the Wissahickon at its very best and its very worst—it’s at once a spectacular specimen of Wissahickon schist geology punctuated by a stone aqueduct dating to the City Beautiful 1890s and a party spot whose litter seems to get worse by the year—an entire wall of the show will focus its attention here. Germantown native and resident Sarah Kaufman has photographed Devil’s Pool in use over the past few years; prints from this series will highlight this wall.

With help from Friends of the Wissahickon, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and the Philadelphia Water Department, we’re also planning a series of events that will include talks at the Water Works, tours of municipal facilities, park cleanups, and guided hikes. All told, we’re going to cover some ground, and we’re gonna have a good time doing it. A full menu will be published when it’s ready, but for now, circle Earth Day on your calendar, and come out for the opening night of One Man’s Trash… and Friends!

One Man’s Trash: Week 52 Report

WEEK 52: Allens Lane & Lincoln Drive to Carpenter’s Woods

1 towel
1 winter headband
2 gloves (unrelated)
1 tag

2 cigarette butts
1 box Camel

1 wiffleball
3 tennis balls (1 green, 1 red, 1 nude)

1 fishing bob
1 fabric glasses case(???)

1 24oz cup Dunkin Donuts
1 16oz cup Dunkin Donuts
1 16oz cup
1 20oz cup
1 tub
2 pieces random styrofoam

1 part big box
1 12oz cup Wendy’s
1 receipt Weavers Way
1 wrapper Tootsie Roll frooties
1 wrapper Ricola

1 piece painted pipe
1 24oz can Miller High Life
1 16oz can Colt 45
1 16oz can Steel Reserve
1 12oz can Miller Lite
3 16oz cans Budweiser
1 12oz can Budweiser
1 12oz can Lionhead
1 16oz can Red Bull
1 10oz can Red Bull
1 7oz can Diet Coke
1 12oz can Yuengling Lager
1 24oz can Arizona green tea

1 12oz bottle clear no label
1 16oz bottle Pepsi (old school)
1 12oz bottle Saranac caramel porter
1 7oz bottle Coronita
1 12oz bottle Seagrams calypso colada (seriously)
1 jar Brandy Butter hard sauce

2 plant pots
1 food tub
1 yellow plant thing or other
1 32oz cup Wawa
3 coffee lids
2 soda lids
6 straws
5 wrappers Snickers Christmas bite size
1 wrapper Snickers bite size (not Christmas)
1 32oz bottle Powerade
1 32oz bottle Gatorade
1 16oz bottle Wawa iced tea
3 16oz bottles water Poland Spring
2 16oz bottles water Deer Park
1 16oz bottle water Dasani
1 16oz bottle water no label
1 label bottle water Ice River
1 wrapper SoyJoy
1 wrapper fresh mushrooms container
2 shopping bags
1 wrapper Snickers 4-to-Go
1 wrapper Tastykake mini donuts
1 ziploc bag
1 wrapper Kit Kat
1 wrapper Fruit Smiles
1 wrapper American Heritage string cheese
1 wrapper sweet rice cake
1 wrapper David sunflower seeds
1 wrapper Quaker chewy granola
1 label Prestone power steering fluid
2 pouches Capri Sun
1 bag Wise white cheddar popcorn
1 bag Lays barbecue chips
8 pieces random plastic



1 dog shit pile
9 dog shit bags
6 dogs on leash
12 dogs off leash

– Party spot below Livezey and above Fingerspan under big rock outcrop still filthy.
– Dog shit pile DIRECTLY on step of “nail” side of Fingerspan, middle of the trail. Terrible.
– HOLY CRAP, this is the last trash hike!
– Joined by the esteemed Dave Bower, Philadelphia Parks & Rec volunteer coordinator who has been absolutely instrumental in the carrying out of this project.

* * *

⇦ WEEK 51 • THE END ⇨