Walking Tour of West Fairmount Park

Memorial Hall and surrounding area (HABS PA,51-PHILA,265B–34, Jack E. Boucher, Photographer, April 24, 2003)

Almost two months ago now I posted my proposal for my Digital History final project and I’ve finally wrapped it up. First of all, here it is!

I was steered toward StoryMap.js as an alternative to my original Omeka concept (for several reasons) and it was a really good decision. The StoryMap format is designed for a linear tour like this and works pretty smoothly on mobile devices. While I wasn’t able to incorporate the original map artwork as I had planned, I was still able to include an image for each stop and some text. One unexpected perk of using StoryMap was that it uses Open Street Map and several enterprising individuals have mapped lots of hidden Fairmount Park stuff (old trolley paths, hiking routes, etc) onto the map. So if you are the urban explorer type, use Open Street Map the next time you’re venturing around Fairmount Park!

I think the power of walking tours is that the act of walking triggers different types of sensory learning and spacial reasoning. For instance, I learned during an Irish Literature course at Goshen College that James Joyce’s Ulysses makes more sense if you’re walking while reading it. We accomplished this by having two walkers flank a reader, guiding them as they read aloud.

By connecting various sites in a linear path, the tour makes some sense of what might otherwise simply be scattered dots on a map.

While the original WPA walking tour is great–and I plan on following a couple of the tours myself–it is woefully out of date,  and includes relatively limited pictures. Plus one of my goals for this project was to get this sort of a tour in the hands of folks whose primary tool is the smartphone. StoryMap achieves that and allows me to draw from public image sources to craft what I think is a pretty good tour.

One of my favorite things about the final product is that there are a whole lot of things included in the 1937 tour that aren’t there anymore, despite their seeming timelessness. The number of sculptures that have been relocated out of Fairmount Park would put many other city parks to shame. We often think of bronze and concrete as permanent, but they aren’t, and this tour is a sharp reminder of that. I hope that people who embark on this tour find themselves mulling how quickly the built landscape (and at this point all of Fairmount Park is built) can change. There used to be a lake that’s no longer there!