This is the not the first time my family has crossed paths with Walt Whitman.
In my family’s lore, my grandfather would tell a story about how his grandfather (a judge in Camden prior to the turn of the century) once sent the famous and highly debated poet to jail for public intoxication. His grandmother and her friends would cross the street if they saw ole Walt stumbling their way, drunk as a skunk, for they did not want to be on the same side of the road as he passed. Their recollections, as retold by my grandfather, were singularly unimpressed with the man who has been called “America’s poet”.
Even in death, my mother’s family cannot escape some sort of proximity to the poet. Harleigh Cemetery, where my maternal grandparents, their siblings, and both sides of my grandfather’s family have family plots, is also the resting place for Walt Whitman. When I visit the family gravesite, I can see the Whitman mausoleum about one hundred and fifty yard away hidden in the trees that have grown over it. The only way out is to go past it. You can see the slots of the Whitman family behind a heavy barred gate with little knickknacks, flowers, and other minutiae left outside.