A ukulele revival

The ukulele is back as a popular instrument

By Shreepriya Poudel

Hawaii is five thousand miles away from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Yet, the soft sound of the Hawaiian ukulele echoes in the hallways of the college’s dormitories. Moving away from the usually popular guitar, violin or the piano, students today have embraced the ukulele. For a small wooden instrument developed on an island and barely a hundred years old, the ukulele is gaining popularity,fast.  And it looks like it is here to stay.

Sheena Gopal is a junior at Bryn Mawr college. She has been playing the Ukulele for two years now. After a busy day filled with homework and classes, she likes to sit on her bed, relax and strum the ukulele. She started playing this instrument after her friend taught her a few chords. She liked it so much that she decided to teach herself more.

“It is so easy to play that I have taught myself a lot of songs just through Youtube”, says Gopal. Most people find it easy to learn the simple four-stringed instrument. Unlike violins or pianos, ukuleles are inexpensive to buy index_ukuleletoo; you could buy a good one for anything from $20 to $100. Since the instrument is so easy to learn, there is no added cost for lessons. It might just become the new favorite for parents.

Hannah Nacheman, another junior, agrees that the ukulele is intuitive and easy to play. She thinks that it is a “fun” instrument and plays it whenever she needs a “break” from schoolwork. The portability of the instrument and the ease of handling are what makes it a favorite with her.  Both Nacheman and Gopal have friends who also play the instrument because of the low cost of buying one and learning to play it. “Fun, cheaper and easier than the guitar”, is how Sarina Shrestha, another student, describes it.

Nacheman occasionally goes to ukulele jam sessions on campus. This is where she gets to hang out with fellow ukulele enthusiasts and jam. For a relatively unconventional instrument, the ukuele has found many college students ready to try it. The popularity of this humble instrument might soon rival that of the guitar.

It is not just the students at Bryn Mawr who have discovered the wonders of the “Uke” as it is affectionately called. According to the National Association of Music Merchants, sales of the Ukulele in the US jumped 16% in 2010. From New York to Wisconsin, ukulele groups have sprung up all over the country.  The Central PA Ukulele club in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, meets once a month to sing and play together.

The Uke has clearly fit into a niche. It suits perfectly people who are musically inclined but do not have much time to spend learning an instrument. The ukulele has jumped into their lives like a savior. It is also popular with students who have grown to dislike more mainstream instruments and are on the lookout for something fun and exotic.

Popular artists clearly harbor similar feelings for the ukulele. It is featured prominently in the popular song “I’m yours “ by Jason Mraz, which spent 76 weeks on the billboard charts. “Hey, soul sister,” by the rock band Train was the top-selling song in the itunes store for 2010. Wikipedia quotes Pat Monahan, the songwriter, “It made my words dance. It made sense. These words were meant to dance with the Ukulele and not with the guitar.”

It may lack the glamour of an electronic guitar or a set of drums, but the ukulele has still managed to quietly slip into popular culture. Its affordability and easiness have made their mark upon youngsters today. The uke seems to possess all the traits that made the guitar so popular in the 70s. Perhaps the next band to reach the stature of the Beatles will do it with ukuleles!


Showtime in Chinatown

For chef Joseph Poon cooking is a performance art

 By Quingyi Gong

It was a chilly Friday afternoon in November, six days before Thanksgiving. The leaves of trees on the other side of Vine Street Expressway had already turned into a bright red color. The winds were blowing vehemently and

Joseph Poon

Joseph Poon

three trucks rushed out from the firehouse located at North10th and Cherry Streets, their sirens ringing piercingly before the trucks disappeared at the corner of Market East Station.

The sky was bleak and gray. It might not be an ideal day in Chinatown for tourists, except some adventurous foodies, who might be lurking somewhere in restaurants, searching for authentic Asian food.

It was almost three o’clock. Chef Joseph Poon, 67, was waiting impatiently in an upstairs room at 1010 Cherry Street, a few steps away from the firehouse. The building lay in a quiet alley, facing Jiyuan Produce Market across the street. Outside the building, the signage read: Joseph Poon Chef Kitchen.

Walk past a glass door on the first floor, and a narrow, steeping staircase with plastic covers will lead visitors to the second floor, where Poon was pacing around. The room was cluttered with tables, chairs and shelves. Near the staircase, two metal tables were put together to form a long one. On the table were some cutting boards and knives. Further inside was a kitchen. Plates and cans were closely packed and a sink was churning hot foams up to the surface.

Poon wore a white shirt and a dark green sweater, which appeared even darker due to the dim light. He wore a pair of off-white pants and black work shoes. A pair of old-fashioned, shaded eyeglasses with round frames perched on his nose. Poon looked tough and had a weather-beaten face. A little bald, deep wrinkles spread on his forehead when he talked. Now he was talking with his assistant in Hong Kong dialect, in a thundering voice that made their conversations sound like a quarrel.

Suddenly, Poon paused and turned his head towards the staircase. “You are late. I’m gonna to punish that. You can go home, because you are late.” Poon’s voice was hoarse and uncompromising.

A group of young students had just come in the room. They were from Penn. Some were juniors and some were sophomores. They were going to hold a small party at Poon’s kitchen on the night to learn cooking Chinese dishes.

Music was turned on. Here were nine diners, along with Poon and the assistant. Poon stood at one end of the table and made a short greeting speech: “Thanksgiving is almost here. Number one, I didn’t know English. And now I teach students in English. So, if you didn’t know, you can learn it, right?”

Poon spoke English with heavy accent. But he was exuberant.

“And I teach, work and learn English. I didn’t know English. I graduated from college 35 years ago. And now I lead restaurant tours, international restaurant tours. And also I volunteer——300 to 500 hours of community


Poon talked about how different American and Asian cultures are. “The funny guys in China, when they make jokes in New Jersey, no one laughing. When Americans make jokes in China, nobody laugh in China. Different cultures.”

“Good morning, America!” he yelled suddenly.

The group burst into laughter.

“See, you guys know. But Chinese don’t know what I mean by “Good morning, America”. Completely different cultures. If I say “Good morning, America” in China or Hong Kong TV, nobody laughing, because they don’t see the movie ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’.” Continue reading

The Prison Guard

Gary Freeman knows his  historic prison inside out

By David Roza

He stands before the crowd at the prison’s gated entrance, beneath high stone walls and grey cloudy skies.  His feet are spaced shoulder-width apart in black New Balance sneakers.  An Honest Tea bottle sticks out from one of the pouches on his army green cargo pants.  Keys jangle from his belt as he stuffs his hands in the pockets of his grey snow parka and he clears his throat before speaking out through the still, crisp November air from beneath a black watch cap.  “All right folks, let’s get started.”

His name is Gary Freeman, and he is a tour guide at Eastern State Penitentiary.  Before him stands a gaggle of 20 tourists here to explore the centuries-old prison, whose high walls and towers dominate the domestic landscape of Fairmount, Philadelphia.  The tourists come from all over the country.  Some are clad in Oakland Raiders caps, others in red designer jeans and Michael Kors purses.  Two are teenagers, one is a baby held in her mother’s arms.  All are here to visit prison, but not to stay, and Freeman is here to show them the way around for the 2:00 p.m. tour.

“My name is Gary, I’ve worked here forever,” He says to the crowd.  “This is a public tour, and if for any reason you want to wander off on your own, I can understand that.  Just give me a little wave.”

Stopping beneath a guard tower in one corner of the walls, the 49-year-old Freeman introduces himself and the building he serves.  “I first started working here about seven years ago.  When I started I had no idea there was a difference between jails and penitentiaries.  Does anyone know the difference?” The crowd is silent.  “Jails in the 18th century were really just holding pens for criminals, and there wasn’t any effort to try to make them into better people.  Most jails nowadays are penitentiaries.  You can get an education behind bars, job skills, they really they try to help people.  EasternState was the first penitentiary in the world.  Built in 1829, it was in

service for 142 years, during which over 80,000 inmates passed through these walls.  It’s the ultimate, ‘if these walls could talk’ kind of scenario.”

Speaking of talking, it appears that the inmates today are a little less obedient than their predecessors under the eyes of this humble prison guard.

“EasternState was founded on a policy of solitary confinement,” Freeman continues. “There really was only one rule; you weren’t allowed to make noise.”  The baby in the group makes a squeaking noise.

Gary Freeman

Gary Freeman

“No talking,” he says.  The baby coos.

“No whistling.”  The baby giggles.

“No singing.” The baby squeals.  Freeman smiles.

Freeman first visited EasternState as a teacher with his high school art students from New Jersey.  “I wasn’t happy as a schoolteacher, I felt confined in a classroom and this was a different kind of classroom.”  It’s surprising that a person who felt confined in his previous job would choose to work at a prison, but Freeman says the building itself motivated him to become a tour guide.  “I didn’t know about modern corrections or any of that stuff, I was inspired by the building.  Just the sheer size and the creepy beauty and grand scale and the amount of work and effort that went into building this place and the amount of taxpayer money they spent building it…I’m really intrigued by ‘the healing powers of God,’ you know, concepts that nowadays people might scoff at, but back then that was the cutting-edge thinking.  Trying to help people.”

Freeman points with a big, meaty hand towards the battlements on the building’s front towers.  “In a real castle, archers would hide behind them for protection, but at Eastern, everything’s fake,” says Freeman.  “If you stood on those battlements, they would come up to about your ankles.  Not good for protection.  It’s just for show, to scare people.”  The crowd chuckles.

As the tour moves into the first cellblock, one visitor named Miguel asks, “How many people died here?”

“I get that question all day every day,” Freeman says.  “The answer is roughly 1,200 inmates died.  Over 50% were because of tuberculosis, contagious diseases swept quickly.” Sickness may have run rampant through the penitentiary then, but sound seems to be the main contaminant of the museum now.  A group of loud teenagers in hoodies and sweatpants come barreling down the cellblock.  Freeman turns immediately towards them and says, respectfully but firmly, “Guys you have to go back that way, there’s a tour going on here.”  The teenagers turn back like a retreating gang of small-time crooks, their noise fading down the corridor with them as Freeman goes right back to his lecture, showing visitors through prisoner cells and the passing years of history. Continue reading

The long van ride

 Haverford’s Cross Country team goes a long way

By Katie Greifeld

It’s 11 a.m. on a Friday. Most HaverfordCollege students are sitting in class, awaiting the weekend. However, for a group of nine Haverford cross country runners, the weekend has already started.

Unlike most of their peers, they won’t be spending it studying and catching up on sleep. Instead, they’ll spend 22 of the next 40 hours crammed in a van, traveling to and from Indiana. Members from the women’s team, known as the Bees, and the men’s team, known as the Goats, are journeying to the midwest this weekend.

A handful of Goats and Bees wait outside the Haverford campus center for the van to arrive, gearing up to battle for the best seats. Sophomore Molly Allen, 19, tightly hugs a stuffed bee as the late November wind picks up, and shifts her weight from foot to foot.

The van pulls into view, carrying Goat seniors Brian Sokas, 21, and Elliot Schwartz, 21. Sokas, wearing a captain’s hat, lays down the trip’s ground rules as his teammates pile into the van.

“You will refer to me as Captain Robocop at all times, and Lampshade (Schwartz) as Commodore Lampshade,” Sokas told his shivering troops. “Also, if you touch this hat, you’re walking there.”

Once everyone is settled and buckled in, the van embarks on the 11 hour journey to Bloomington, Ind. The crew will spend the night at a 2012 Goat alumnus’ house, before driving an addition two hours to Hanover, Ind.

The event that these runners are traveling across the country to see is the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championships. Seven runners from the Haverford men’s and women’s teams respectively will compete against the best Division III runners in the nation, a showdown that they have all been training for since June.

Excited chatter fills the van, while people pass up the mixed CDs that Sokas requested they make.

“Play my mix first!” Allen requested.

“Ugh, I don’t know how much Kesha I can stomach,” Sokas replied, choosing to instead play Bruce Springsteen.

With only nine people fit into the 12 person van, this ride will be luxurious compared to the vans departing in the afternoon. Two more full-capacity vans will depart from campus at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., each containing a mixture of current and alumni Goats and Bees.

 * * *


For the Bees, this year’s Nationals trip is particularly important – the opportunity to run at this race did not come easily. This year, the Bees did not place high enough at Regionals, held the previous weekend, to guarantee them a spot at Nationals. Instead, the Bees had to rely on an at-large bid to secure them a place on the starting line.

It was the luck of the draw that got them here, and every member of the team knows it. It has been a long, hard season.

The Bees’ problems started in June, when top returner Fiona Hendry, class of 2016, announced that she was transferring to SyracuseUniversity. To make matters worse, the Bees’ second top runner, Katie Balmer, class of 2015, told the team that she was going abroad to Germany during the fall semester.

Including the seniors who had graduated in 2013, the Bees had lost four of their top runners, making Nationals prospects look bleak.

Despite the rocky road that got them there, the Bees were in Indiana and ready to run. The varsity squad had flown to Indiana on Thursday, to make sure that they knew every inch of the championship course.

 * * *

 It’s moments before 11 a.m. on Saturday, and the frigid Hanover air is completely still. Suddenly, the starting gun fires, and the crowd of cross country die-hards erupts as 280 sprint away from the starting line. Hundreds of

Haverford Girls Cross Country Team

Haverford Girls Cross Country Team

screaming fans decked out in their teams’ colors already line the 6,000 meter course, paying little mind to the blue-jacketed race officials trying to push them back.

Among the numbers are the Haverford Bees, spread out along the course in a pre-planned cheering strategy. The girls are wearing bumble bee costumes over thick winter jackets, necessary for the bite of the 35°F Indiana morning. Continue reading

Behind the Scenes

All is calm on the surface of this fashion show.  But is it really?

By Sila Ogidi

“Stop! Go back! I left so many things in the common room, I couldn’t carry it all by myself.”

 The Rehearsal

Despite the cold weather outside, Getrude Makurumidze, a Zimbabwean sophomore, had on a classy white blazer with a black knit maxi dress meant for summers under the sun with a good book and big sunglasses. With one hand lifting her dress just high enough for her to run, she makes her way to the Pembroke East dorm common room at Bryn Mawr College to retrieve her suitcase and large bag containing everything from shoes to fabric and woven baskets. It was Saturday and Getrude, 20, was on her way to the Bryn Mawr African and Caribbean Student’s Organization (BACaSO) Annual Fashion Show dress rehearsal.

Behind the stage and grand room of Thomas Great Hall stood rows of chairs with names taped to the seat where she began to rearrange them. First alternating, then single file.

-“Getrude what are you doing?”

-“I don’t know if I should alternate them or have them in a single file. What do you think?”


“I’ll just make it single rows.”

She stood alone backstage at 4:20p.m. for the rehearsal that should have started 20 minutes ago. There wasn’t a single sign of frustration or anxiety in her face. Her smooth skin did not wrinkle even with time against her. In the absence of her BACaSO public relations partner, she took charge of the suitcases, unpacking and sorting the clothes for each model before they arrived. No one would think the show was only two and a half hours away.

“We’re here!” yelled Rosemont College model, Vimbai, over the phone. “Where should we meet you?”

Getrude walked out the building to meet the first of her models.  Her calm demeanor is replaced with a vibrant upbeat smile and laugh that can only be mastered by someone used to putting on a show. 

Back in the hallway behind the stage more models started to arrive and Getrude amps up the take-charge attitude she had when she was alone. The set quickly turns into a lively party as models catwalk to Afro-Caribbean beats of their choice. Everyone is laughing and smiling except Getrude. She is arranging chairs around the stage and if you weren’t watching her, you’d never know she was there. She was a silent force with a desire for perfection.

-“I have to go to the train station.”

– “Ok.”

Continue reading

One drop at a time

Why do so few college students donate blood?

BloodBy Alyssa Kayden 

 Some people find blood drives disgusting.  The invasive questions they ask.  The thought of sitting in the same place where some else had just given blood thirty minutes before.  The possibility of fainting, vomiting, and dizziness.  As if the free cookies and juice will make up for the fact that they have just taken a pint of blood out of your body.   And of course, the needle.  

 Others welcome the blood drive.  They see the invasive questions as fail safes for the recipients of the blood.  The thought of sitting in the same place where some else had just given blood thirty minutes before fills them with hope for the number of people donating.  The possibility of fainting, vomiting, and dizziness is a possible, yet overcome-able obstacle.  And to think — the Red Cross offers free cookies!

 According to the Red Cross website, the two most commonly cited reasons for not donating blood are “I don’t like needles” and “I’ve never thought about it.”

 At Haverford, “I’ve never thought about it” doesn’t come into the question.  For weeks leading up to the blood drive, signs plaster the dining center, the doors to dorms, and the bathroom stalls.  Emails are sent out in order to make appointments in advance.  And on the day of the blood drive, chalk messages and signs are posted all around campus giving directions to Founder’s Hall, where the blood drive takes place. 

 About 38% of the population is eligible to donate blood, however only less than 10% actually donate, according to the Red Cross.  At a school of 1,198 students, only 152 students made appointments for blood donation.  College-aged adults are often cited as the healthiest adults.  They are also known for being the most outspoken and most community-service driven of adults.  Yet, 12.6% of the student body signed up to donate blood. 

The donation process has three steps.  First, one must complete an oral medical history.  Then, the donor has a mini-physical — in which his/her temperature, blood pressure, iron level, and pulse is taken.  Lastly, the donor donates. 

At Haverford 152 people signed up to donate.  Only 137 of those students showed up to their appointment.  And a mere 103 people donated, giving Haverford college an 8.5% donation participation, as 34 people getting turned away to donate. 

 Students get turned away from donating for many reasons. 

As Sadie Resnick, 19, says, “For my height [5’ 1’’], you have to be legally obese to make the weight requirement.”  Continue reading

The Haverford student behind Vandablog

RJ Rushmore’s obsession with street art

By Sam Fox                                                                                                    

 Michael “RJ” Rushmore is obsessed with street art. “I just fell down a rabbit hole,” he says.

Originally from Chicago, Rushmore found his passion when he was living in London five years ago. One day, his father brought home a piece by the Faile street art collective and asked Rushmore if he knew anything about the artist. Rushmore was curious, so he sat down at his computer.

“I was like: I could research this thing or I could do homework.”

 That weekend, he started going into East London, which has a lively street art scene. His Saturday trips soon turned into

Portrait of RJ Rushmore by Elbow-Toe

Portrait of RJ Rushmore by Elbow-Toe

a “ritual.” 

 Before his introduction to Faile, Rushmore had not had good experiences with art. He had gone to galleries and gotten sneered at. He was frustrated by the pretension of much modern art.

“I tried to stare at Duchamp’s urinal, and I just didn’t really understand why I was staring at a urinal,” he says. “Street art, to me, is just way more accessible.”

Rushmore believes that the best works of street art make the most of their location and age gracefully.

He remains unimpressed with the “yarn bombing” trend of recent years, which involves knitting projects that cover public spaces. These pieces might look good at first. But then it rains. And they are ruined. And they don’t wash away.

In contrast, Rushmore prefers an artfully placed “wheatpaste”–or a type of glued-on poster–which can become part of its surroundings with time. As it fades, gets written over, and becomes a host to moss, the work manages to gain character and beauty.

Since his transformation in London, Rushmore has fostered his obsession through a variety of solo and collaborative projects.

His critically acclaimed “Vandalog” blog, which chronicles street art around the globe, celebrated its fifth birthday last week.

During his gap year before coming to Haverford College, he curated an exhibit and published a book about it.

Last summer, he interned at Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, which asked him to curate an exhibit at their gallery in October. Rushmore also works remotely as a co-curator and liaison for the LISA project, a street art organization in New York City’s Little Italy.

At Haverford, he is a student comanager of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery. He also commissions murals at James House, a student art space. Thanks to Rushmore, three of the building’s walls are covered with striking images: a giant black crow, a crowd of colorful people, and a pair of fantastical beasts.

This coming December, he plans to release his second book, which covers street art, graffiti, and the Internet. He argues that the Internet is a kind of “public space” that is changing the way street art is practiced and understood.

It is quite a lot of output for a self-described “twenty-something.” Continue reading

Preserving Quakerism’s past

Ann Upton oversees one of the nation’s largest collections of Quaker material

By Katie Greifeld                                                                                                                 

Magill Library’s Special Collections, home to Haverford College’s prized Quaker Collections, is as quiet and reverent as a Quaker meetinghouse itself. In a library that hums with the academic pursuits and activities of hundreds of elite liberal arts students, Haverford’s Special Collections library is a place of silence and scholarship.


Records of the Fallsington, Pa. Quaker meeting

Records of the Fallsington, Pa. Quaker meeting

It is fitting that Haverford College, a Quaker institution whose history is rooted in the area’s early days of Quakerism, houses these Collections. One can catch a glimpse of it as they make their way to the main tier bathrooms, which are located right next to the Special Collections’ heavy wooden doors.

 In this serene place is the office of Ann Upton, Haverford’s Quaker Bibliographer and Special Collections Librarian. Upton, 60, does not look the part of the dowdy librarian portrayed in books and movies. Her handsome green, suede blazer matches her eyes too well to be a coincidence, and contrasts well with her light gray hair and the black sweater she’s wearing underneath. Gold studs line her jacket collar, a bold look that does not match her personality.

 “I’m a little anxious,” Upton warned. “It’s good though – you’ll edit all this out and only take the good stuff!”

Though nervous about being interviewed, Upton was eager to speak about the Special Collections, which is home is “materials that are too fragile or rare to be in the main collections.” Special Collections materials include manuscripts, college archives, rare books, photographs, artifacts, and other primary source materials.

 There are over 4,000 rare books, maps, and manuscripts in the Collections today. Notable items include the Morley family papers, an important family in the College’s foundational years, and the William Pyle Phillips collection, which contains four folios of William Shakespeare’s plays.

The Special Collections also houses the Quaker Collection, which Upton proudly describes as “the third best in the world.”

 The Collection consists primarily of Quaker writings in the form of publications, manuscripts, letters, and diaries. It boasts approximately 35,000 printed volumes, including the journal of Margaret Hill Morris during the Revolutionary War, and personal letters between members  of the Cope family.

 The Haverford Quaker Collection also helps care for records of meetings in the Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Yearly meeting, a responsibility it shares with the Swarthmore College Friends Historical Library.

 However, when asked if the Haverford Quaker Collection could be considered a ‘Quaker Museum’ of sorts, Upton responded with a laugh.

“It would not be an interesting one, as we have very few Quaker artifacts,” Upton explained. “With our Quaker Collection, you mostly have to interact in a different way than just looking at things.”

 While this may be true for some, many scholars approach the Special Collections and Quaker Collection with delight. Roughly half of the people who visit the Collections are not affiliated with the College at all. This is especially true in the summertime – many scholars who frequent the Collections are professors themselves, pursuing their own research. In addition, the Collections also receives “an amazing number” of email requests for help. Continue reading

Life in Prison

Isn’t bad at all for Annie Anderson, who works at Eastern State Penitentiary

By David Roza

The room looks like a set from a horror movie.  Walls of fractured tile, chipped plaster and exposed brick surround a grimy floor and a ceiling of broken glass, sepia-toned with dust after decades of disuse.  A surgery lamp the size of a car tire with four enormous light bulbs hangs precariously from a rusty fixture like a macabre chandelier in the middle of the gritty room.  The chilly air blowing in from the October wind outside gives the room an eerie, spooky mood. 

“So, this is where Al Capone got his tonsils taken out!” says the red-nosed, blonde-haired woman who lights up the gloomy room with her warm disposition and kind smile.  Her name is Annie Anderson, and she is the Historic Site Researcher at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia’s infamous prison-turned-museum where the notorious Chicago crime-boss Al Capone did indeed have his tonsils removed during his brief stay at Eastern State in 1929.

Like Capone, Anderson hails from Chicago.  The young historian majored in English at Calvin College before working as a journalist for various publications and earning a Masters degree in American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston.  Unlike Capone, Anderson hopes to stay at Eastern State for quite some time.

            “It is really fun to be employed as a historian…it’s sometimes hard to imagine all of the people who Eastern Statelived here because right now it’s so empty and quiet and abandoned,” says Anderson amidst the still sobriety of the tomb-like ruin.  “I love that I can imagine it being populated by the inmates.”

It is indeed difficult to picture that this half-dilapidated building—whose historical exhibits are interspersed with heaps of rubbish and piles of broken masonry—was once a bustling penitentiary that housed 1,700 inmates.  The 184-year-old building was shut down in 1971 because its aging infrastructure could not support a rising inmate population.

 The abandoned building quickly deteriorated into an overgrown urban forest that housed little more than a colony of stray cats.  Efforts to restore the building for historic preservation began in the late 1980s, and the penitentiary was opened for tours in 1994.  According to Eastern State’s website, easternstate.org, early visitors had to sign liability waivers and wear hard hats to avoid the risks of walking through a building that had nearly crumbled into collapse. 

When asked about the wreckage, Anderson said, “Eastern State is trying to pursue this interesting way of being a stabilized ruin.  We try to stabilize the spaces that are here without necessarily altering the landscape or doing massive improvement projects, so that the building looks like what it did when it closed in 1971.”

 Anderson’s role as Historic Site Researcher is to uncover through archival research the details of the penitentiary’s living past, hidden somewhere beneath the debris. Continue reading

Tired but happy

Ellen Polsky’s job is to help immigrants learn English. It’s a her life’s work and she loves it.

By Saira Kitagawa

     Ellen Polsky’s office in Central Philadelphia was a mess. There were papers, books and files everywhere. Her business cards were all over the floor and posters were half hanging off the walls. Her desk was also a mess except that a photo of her daughters, Samantha and Lia, who strongly resemble their mother, was somehow visible between the piled up papers and files.  Behind her seat, there was a calendar, but number of days was completely hidden underneath the crazy scribbles of schedules.

     “It’s ridiculous, it’s ridiculous!” Polsky said as she swung her head to keep her grey-brown shoulder length hair out of her face and took a bite of her cold hoagie with tomato, cheese and lettuce from Wawa.

     Polsky is the Director of Education in National Service Center for Immigrants and Refugees. Since she lost her Nationalities Service Centerassistant recently and NSC is looking for a new Executive Director, schedules had been pretty hectic for her.

     She explained this was one of the reasons why the new ESL program for Muslim women at Al-Rashadeen Mosque in Northeast Philadelphia had been on hold for the last month. The last class was held after the Ramadan in September. Polsky had found two women to teach at the mosque, but because of a lack of staff and funding, she was not able to get back onto the program.

    She hoped that NSC could reopen the class before December when everything is more settled. She explained this all in a rush as she finished eating her hoagie, rolled the Wawa wrappers in a ball and threw it in the rubbish bin 3 meters away from her. She missed.

     Polsky, 56 was wearing a white-and-black shirt with flowers and neat black pants. She recalled that she used to look similar to the young Patty Hearst. When she was 20 and near the Ecuador border, she was captured by the local police who thought that she was Hearst who had been kidnapped by terrorists. Since she did not have an ID card or a passport, she had trouble explaining that she was not the kidnap victim.  She laughed and her brown eyes twinkled behind her grey glasses as she told the story.

     “I love my job, Polsky said. “I always come in with a smile and leave with a smile.  I may be tired but I will be happy.”

     At the NSC, Polsky is in charge of the English as the Second Language program for new immigrants and refugees. Although the non-profit world is tough with less money and long work hours, she has always enjoyed creating the “comfortable environment”. Continue reading