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Philadelphia Celebrates Walt Whitman's Birthday

The poet's 200th birthday was celebrated at City Hall Friday. Events continue into June.

Penn Alexander School student Nate J. reads two poems by Walter Whitman during Walt Whitman's 200th Birthday Celebration at City Hall on May 31, 2019.

Photo by Colleen Claggett

Today marks the 200th birthday of American poet Walt Whitman and the Philadelphia-Camden region celebrated one of their own.

On Friday, poets, writers, and artists participated in readings of Walt Whitman's poems along with musical performances by VEnT, Patti Smith and Jesse Paris Smith, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, and Andrew Boyask and Caleb J. Tracy.

Patti Smith at Walt Whitman's 200th Birthday

Patti Smith and Jesse Paris Smith perform at Walt Whitman's 200th Birthday Celebration, an event organized by University of Pennsylvania Libraries, at City Hall on May 31, 2019. (Photo by Colleen Claggett)

The celebration at Philadelphia's City Hall even featured a Walt Whitman look-alike and concluded with birthday cake and cupcakes from The Fancy Crumb.

Whitman was a giant of American literature who influenced many great poets of the past two centuries and continues to do so today. Not only a great poet, Whitman was also a model of civic engagement who volunteered to help treat wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

Walt Whitman's 200th Birthday Celebration

Spectators gather in the courtyard of City Hall to watch poem readings and musical performances at Walt Whitman's 200th Birthday Celebration in Philadelphia on May 31, 2019. (Photo by Colleen Claggett)

He spent the last twenty years of his life living in Camden and riding the ferry to visit friends in Philadelphia. He has become a folk hero and many landmarks are named in his honor, including Whitman Park, Whitman Plaza, and the Walt Whitman Bridge.

This year, on his bicentennial birthday, he is being honored with a series of cultural events and interactive works of art organized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Check out these family-friendly ones:

New Song of the Open Road

June 1, 3 pm; June 15, 4 pm; & July 6, 4 pm;

Mander Recreation Center, Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library, Marconi Plaza & Parkway Central Library

See Philadelphia like never before on guided walking tours led by gospel ensemble “In the Company of Friends.” Singers will perform new lyrical compositions inspired by Whitman’s poetry as they lead the walks. Open to families and children of all ages.


June 4 and 5, 8pm and 10pm

Penn’s Landing

A multimedia presentation of Whitman’s poem “Songs of the Open Road,” crafted by Carolyn Healy and John Phillips. Ride along the Delaware River on a barge to a unique soundscape and a reading of the poem by operatic bass baritone James Osby Gwathney. Not suitable for young children but teens and pre-teens are welcome.

Colleen Claggett and Sawyer Thomson are interns at MetroKids.

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