In his footsteps: Places to get closer to Walt Whitman
Walk in Walt Whitman's steps at Historic Crystal Spring in Laurel Springs, N.J., where Whitman summered and enjoyed nature while revising 'Leaves of Grass.' Wochit
Pay a visit to Laurel Springs, in southern Camden County and you can dip your toes in a natural spring and wander near Timber Creek, where Walt Whitman, always happiest among the butterflies and fields of laurel, bathed in his altogether.
You probably don't want to try skinny dipping now, as there are houses well within sight, but Historic Crystal Springs, with its babbling rivulets, wildflowers and old growth trees, is a beautiful escape from the everyday, especially in spring — and especially if you love poetry.
Preserved with the help of Green Acres funds by Camden County and the borough, the site attracts bird watchers, hikers, families and especially lovers of the written word. Wander among ferns and moss-covered logs, and follow Whitman's Walk — a simple wooden boardwalk periodically etched with the poet's own verse — and lose yourself in nature as Whitman so loved to do.
The poet loved this place, a balance to his home in the industrial port City of Camden, and it greatly influenced his late work.
"Walt hit it off with a family here and had an open invitation ... He visited, sometimes for long periods,'' says local historian Rich Zimmermann, who was instrumental in preserving and renovating the home. "He would roll in the laurel and swim and climb in the trees and eat good quality food, and he maintains Mrs. Stafford was responsible for his recovery from a stroke, because of the food the exercise and the family.
"He did a revision of 'Leaves of Grass' related to hearing Crystal Springs, and he worked some on 'Specimen Days,' one of the early environmental texts ... there is definitely stuff in both that we can identify from this area.''
Laurel Springs had a special place in Whitman's heart but it is just one place you can go to commune with this poet of the people:
Walt Whitman House: The only home he ever owned, this dwelling is where Walt Whitman lived in the latter part of his life, in Camden. It is operated by the NJ Division of Parks and Forestry. See his boots beside his bed. Visit by appointment. The Walt Whitman House will host site tours May 22 to 26, May 29 to June 2 and June 5. Go: 330 Mickle Boulevard (also Martin Luther King Boulevard), Camden. state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/historic/whitman/index.html
Walt Whitman gravesite: Whitman wanted to be buried in Camden and designed his own grave site, a mausoleum that is also the final resting place for his parents and other family members. If you visit, stop by the nearby grave of haiku master Nick Virgilio, who also lived in Camden. Go: Harleigh Cemetery. 1640 Haddon Ave., Camden. https://www.facebook.com/harleighcemetery/
Laurel Springs: Walk in the footsteps of Whitman while reading his poetry, to the backdrop of the natural spring he found helpful in his recovery and to serve as his muse as he wrote. Whitman was close friends with Montgomery and Hannah Stafford, farmers whose son worked in a print shop in Camden. Whitman stayed often with the Staffords in their farmhouse from 1876 to 1881. While the interior of the house is furnished with donated antiques of that period, you can walk on the same stairs Whitman used to climb and gaze out onto the same laurel and lilacs he loved so well.
Walt Whitman House curator Leo Blake discusses the late poet's legacy and the work that went into preserving his home. The Courier-Post
The Whitman Stafford House will host WaltFEST 2019 on June 1 at 3 p.m., sponsored by Laurel Springs Green & Whitman Stafford Committee.
Go: Whitman Walk, Historic Crystal Spring, Laurel Springs Borough Park, 613 Lakeview Ave., Laurel Springs. southjerseytrails.org/2017/09/23/whitmans-walk
Go: Whitman-Stafford House, 315 Maple Ave., Laurel Springs. facebook.com/WhitmanFarmhouseLaurelSprings
Walt Whitman’s Birthplace — What better place to learn about Walt Whitman than the place where it all began? Whitman lived in this house until he was 4 and his family moved to Brooklyn. It is a New York state historic site in West Hills, Long Island, and includes the restored home, an interpretive center and art gallery. It is a host site for many Whitman@200 events.
Go: 246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station. waltwhitman.org/
Walt Whitman House — The Walt Whitman Association organizes events that connects New York City to Walt Whitman's legacy. One mission is to restore a house at 99 Ryerson St., Brooklyn, said to be the only NYC home still standing in which he lived. Go: Visit waltwhitmaninitiative.org/
Walt Whitman Bridge: This single-level suspension bridge built in 1957 spans the Delaware between Philadelphia and Gloucester City, near Camden. The poet never crossed it, of course, but the busy bridge is also a symbol of how connected Whitman felt to Philadelphia while he lived in New Jersey, often crossing over to attend opera and other events. There is a movement in Philadelphia to have the bridge painted in rainbow colors to symbolize Whitman's status as a gay icon. A statue of the poet by artist Jo Davidson stands at the intersection of Broad Street and Packer Avenue, Fairmount area of Philadelphia, near the approach to the Walt Whitman Bridge. Visit associationforpublicart.org/artwork/walt-whitman and drpa.org/bridges/walt-whitman-bridge.asp
Bear Mountain, N.Y.: A second casting of Jo Davidson's statue is also in Bear Mountain, New York. Trailside Museum & Zoo. Visit www.trailsidezoo.org
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: Collingswood: Walt Whitman helped raise funds for the original brick church that stood on this site in Camden County by reading his poems in town. The church includes a large labyrinth set in stone for prayer and contemplation. Go: 839 Haddon Ave., Collingswood. Visit holytrinity.us/
Walt Whitman Service Area: This service area of the New Jersey Turnpike is located midway between Exits 3 and 4. It is worth noting that it is one of two New Jersey rest areas to be named after a poet (the other being Joyce Kilmer at between 8A and 9), and the one of three for literary figures (James Fennimore Cooper, between Exits 4 and 5). Visit turnpikeinfo.com/view-exit.php?state=new-jersey&road_name=new-jersey-turnpike&key=3_sb_plaz
Walt Whitman statues: “Walt Whitman with a Butterfly’’ by John Giannotti is a statue on the Rutgers-Camden campus (outside the student center) and in the Camden Children’s Garden on the Camden Waterfront, adjacent to the Adventure Aquarium. (A third statue is located in Japan). giannottistudios.com/
Ocean Grove: This seaside section of Neptune Township near Asbury Park was once a brief getaway for Whitman, who is said to have had a particular fondness for a photograph of him taken there, holding a paper butterfly. The photograph inspired Gionnatti's statue. Of the sea, Whitman wrote: The first and last confession of the globe/ Outsurging, muttering from thy soul's abysms/ The tale of cosmic elemental passion/Thou tellest to a kindred soul in "With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea!.'
New Jersey Hall of Fame - Walt Whitman was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009. A temporary Hall of Fame exhibit is in Newark Airport, with a permanent one proposed for America Dream Meadowlands, a mega mall under construction in Rutherford. Visit njhalloffame.org
Walt Whitman SOHO walking tour – Begins at 645 Broadway and explores neighborhoods said to have been frequented by the bard. Visit poets.org/poetsorg/text/walking-tour-walt-whitmans-soho-historic-district-new-york-city
Walt Whitman means a great deal to fellow Camden poet Rocky Wilson. The Courier-Post