Whittier’s cane headed to Pennsylvania for exhibit

WhittierCaneBy Dave Rogers – Staff Writer – The Daily News of Newburyport

AMESBURY — A wooden walking cane with ties to Amesbury’s rich abolitionist history and the historic Pennsylvania Hall is visiting the City of Brotherly Love this week and will become part of an exhibit featured at Temple University.

The walking cane, said to have been one of Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier’s favorites, is being loaned to the urban university for a monthlong exhibit highlighting the 175th anniversary of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall at the Temple Contemporary, Temple University’s art gallery.

What makes the cane, now owned by the Whittier Home Association in Amesbury, so desirous to curators of the art gallery is that it was made from wood salvaged from the hall that burned to the ground three days after it was dedicated in May 1838.

Whittier wrote the dedication poem to celebrate the inauguration of Pennsylvania Hall, a large building constructed on Broad Street in Philadelphia to serve as a headquarters for the antislavery movement during the 19th century.

The burning of the building that same weekend was considered one of the most historic of the conflicts between abolitionists and anti-abolitionist mob. The mob called for Whittier, a well-known antislavery editor and writer, to be hung.

Considering Whittier’s role at Pennsylvania Hall and his abolitionist background, the idea of temporarily obtaining the cane made perfect to sense to exhibit organizers.

“As you know, original objects related to this story are few and far between. I was delighted to hear that the John Greenleaf Whittier Home Association owns a cane made from salvaged ruins and doubly delighted to hear that it was being lent for exhibition,” Temple University Distinguished Lecturer Kenneth Finkel recently said in a email.

“This presence of this artifact will drive home the point that the destruction of Pennsylvania Hall was a momentous occasion at the time and in the life of the nation since. I cannot imagine a better time for this loan.”

According to Cynthia Costello, president of the Whittier Home Association, Whittier was inside Pennsylvania Hall when the mob set fire to the building. Whittier was able to escape the blaze and blend in with the protesters who originally chanted “Kill Whittier” by joining in with the chant.

“He made it through, but he was severely set back physically and emotionally. That was really a major blow,” Costello said.

As a token of appreciation for his involvement with the abolitionist movement, Whittier was presented with the cane currently on its way to Philadelphia.

Costello said she expects the cane to be returned to the Whittier Home on Friend Street by the end of the month.

Until then, she said, board members are excited that Whittier is getting more recognition for his abolitionist past.

“We’re so pleased and proud,” Costello said.