I Wanna Know

PW exposes the tricks, scams and truth about the powers that be.

By Sara Kelly
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 1, 2002

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Q: At 49th and Grays Ferry there's a bending road that is home to trash dumped on an abandoned lot/factory. There are train tracks right underneath, and next to the tracks, the most out-of-place obelisk I have ever seen. To whom is this obelisk erected, and why was it placed there? I figured a horrendous train accident happened there, and that was the memorial. I can't make out the words on the structure, as graffiti and time have gotten to it. Could you find out?

A: It took I Wanna Know weeks to track this one down. For some reason city offices don't train their employees to answer obelisk questions. (It's a dumb policy, I know, but what can you do?) Asked about the Egyptian oddity, folks at the Fairmount Park Commission, as well as the city's Historical Commission, Public Art Office and Department of Public Property, diligently searched their records, but to no avail. Calls to CSX and Amtrak railroads went unreturned. And a nice man at Conrail directed us to a trio of local railroad museums. Over several more weeks well-meaning folks in various city offices handed us off to similarly well-meaning folks in other city offices we'd already contacted about the obelisk. Then came a breakthrough. Jessica Senker, program assistant at the city's Public Art Office, kept working on the question long after she'd directed us down the telephone chain. And one day she called to say that Ken Sipos of the city's Department of Public Property had talked to Bill LeFevre, director of Historic Bartram's Garden, near 49th and Grays Ferry. She said she thought the obelisk was erected in 1838 and that it recognized the completion of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. A call to LeFevre confirmed her facts. A self-proclaimed Google nut, LeFevre pointed us to a U.S. Geological Survey Web page that explained that at the time of the obelisk's construction Grays Ferry was the northern terminus of a railway built to link Wilmington to northern trading partners (i.e., Philadelphia). So the spur's completion was a big deal at the time. We can only assume the obelisk's inscription once said as much.

What do you wanna know? Send queries and complaints to skelly@philadelphiaweekly.com

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