Monthly Archives: January 2016

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.)