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I have a bit of an unusual blog post this time. Usually, my blog posts are primarily sharing the photos I take. However, this time, I wanted to tell you about a scary and surreal experience I recently had while being close to a shooting while attending fireworks with a friend on the Parkway in Philadelphia, US.
The Philadelphia fireworks are by far the largest in the region. With Philadelphia being the birthplace of America, there tend to be a whole set of events for two weeks with the 4th of July fireworks being the “grand finale”. I had never been to those fireworks and, due to COVID, they had not taken place for the last three years so many, including myself, were looking forward to the event.
The afternoon started normal enough. We arrived in the city early in order to make sure we had a good parking space and to do some sight-seeing before the evening concert and fireworks. With the declaration of independence having been written in Philadelphia and Philadelphia being the original capital until 1800 it seemed very appropriate to see some of the historical sites in the birthplace of America on Independence Day. Below you can see some of the photos from the visit:
After some sight-seeing and grabbing some dinner we went to the actual event site, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Before the actual fireworks, there was a street festival with many activities and a concert. It was a beautiful day and evening and the turnout for the event was great, including many families with young kids. Attendees brought blankets and chairs and made themselves comfortable on the beltway to watch the concert followed by the fireworks.
The fireworks started uneventful. Everyone had gotten up and enjoyed the beautiful fireworks against the backdrop of the Beltway and the Philadelphia museum of Art.
However, minutes after the fireworks started, the atmosphere, which had been great, changed entirely within what seemed like a fraction of a second. People were visibly panicked and started moving away from the fireworks and Parkway, some running, some walking, some stumbling. It was completely unclear what was going on, but clearly everyone wanted to get out of there and things turned into complete chaos. As there had been a 4th of July shooting earlier in the day in Highland Park, many people were likely on edge and immediately feared for their lives. The fireworks did not help either as it sounded like shots being fired. This video, which I took accidentally while trying to get off the Parkway myself, give you an idea about the chaos we were experiencing.
It is hard to describe the feeling of the moment. It was remarkable to go from a relaxing, beautiful, evening with everyone enjoying the fireworks to a sudden panicked crowd trying to get out of the Parkway as quickly as possible while the fireworks were still going. It felt like a surreal, almost out of body, experience. There was visible panic on people’s faces and the main sentiment that overcomes you is a need to “get out NOW!”. You heard people running and screaming and some appeared to have fallen on the ground. Families were bringing their kids to safety. As you can see on the video, some people looked for safe spaces, such as behind cars while trying to figure out what was going on. Many were on the phone letting others know that they were ok or trying to co-ordinate with loved ones.
It was remarkable to see the switch from everyone just enjoying the fireworks on a nice evening to suddenly seeing fear and panic on everyone’s faces and everyone running. The change in mood happened very quickly. I was by a fence and before I realized it the crowd was pushing me into the fence. I was fine, but the fear on people’s faces and the panic that suddenly set in is something that I will not easily forget. One of the things that struck me is that everyone is in fear and trying to get out but nobody really knows what is going on at all. Survival instincts kick in and you are just trying to get out as quick as possible.
Later on, we learned that two officers were shot right after the fireworks had started. You can find a news article about the event, including the panic it created, on NBC Philadelphia. Luckily the officers recovered quickly and nobody else got hurt, but it was a very scary and surreal experience at the time.
We escaped through a side street and ended up by a Target, a local grocery/department chain. To our surprise, we actually had a better view of the fireworks from there than from the Parkway. At that location things appeared calm and safe as people were standing around and there was police calmly standing there. Many people stood around to watch the fireworks.
I have been reflecting on this experience. When you look at the main news sources, this shooting is hardly mentioned. Nobody got killed and in the overall scheme of things, it was a minor incident. However, it felt very different when you were there and you are suddenly in a panicked group of people trying to get away as soon as possible. The switch from everyone enjoying a nice evening with fireworks to being in fear and experiencing chaos was remarkable and something I will never forget. Although nobody got seriously hurt, it still was a very scary and traumatic moment impacting thousands of people. I can only imagine how the experience must have been like for young kids who were attending. Since that evening, I have told a few people about my experience and often get the reaction “I do not go to such big events anymore as I am afraid of getting shot”. It is a stark reminder that mass shootings are impacting people well beyond those who are actually directly impacted.
Grounds for Sculpture is a 42-acre sculpture park near Trenton, NJ. It was founded by John Seward Johnson II, the grandson of Robert Wood Johnson, who in turn was the founder of Johnson & Johnson. The park is a great place to walk around and see sculptures from Seward Johnson and others. It is nicely landscaped and you can spend hours on the grounds looking at different areas and be surprised by hidden sculptures.
Below some of the photos from our visit.
Every year during the winter holiday season, a local farm puts up a large display of holiday lights with over 3 million lights. This year, I had an opportunity to visit the display while volunteering for “Big Brothers, Big Sisters”. Below some of my favorite photos from that trip.
4th of July, American Independence day, is a big summer holiday in the United States commemorating the declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4th, 1776. The holiday is celebrated in many different ways, but fireworks are pretty much always part of the celebrations.
This year, we had an opportunity to celebrate the holiday by visiting the “Living History Day” at Washington Crossing historic park in Pennsylvania. Washington Crossing is a very appropriate location as it is where George Washington crossed the Delaware River on the night of December 25-26, 1776 in the American revolutionary war. This led to victory at the Battle of Trenton and is considered one of the turning points in the war for independence. The “Living History Day” celebrated Independence day at this historic site by reenactments, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, the shooting of a cannon and living historians demonstrating crafts. In the evening, we had an opportunity to go to Quakertown, PA, to see the fireworks.
You can find some photos of the Washington crossing celebrations and the fireworks below:
Experience the shooting of the cannon by visiting this 360 panorama here:
You can also look at the wide version of the panorama here:
We also took a few videos of some of the activities, including the music, the shooting of the cannon and the reading of the declaration of independence. Have a look at the video to experience attending the event:
October has arrived, which is beautiful time of the year in Pennsylvania. The trees change color resulting in some of the most beautiful displays of color in the USA. I have previously posted fall pictures. I wanted to complement this with a number of 360s I have taken over the last year in October.
The first one is of Lumberville footbridge. Lumberville is a small town along the Delaware in Pennsylvania. There is footbridge connecting Lumberville with Bull’s island, a beautiful park along the Delaware in New Jersey. This picture was taken from relatively high above the bridge and gives you a good view of the bridge, the river and the trees changing colors.
You can explore the panorama interactively here:
The second panorama is along the Delaware canal path, a beautiful hiking path between the Delaware and a disused canal. On this specific panorama you can see a ruin, the canal as well as the trees changing colors.
Again, you can explore the panorama interactively here:
Finally, this panorama is taken in the woods along the Delaware and gives you a good sense for some of the color display in the trees.
You can explore the panorama interactively here:
The weather got a bit cooler and we had an opportunity to make a walk from Stockton to New Hope along the Delaware river, up on the New Jersey site and back on the Pennsylvania site, a walk of about 7.2 miles/11.6 km. It was beautiful walk and below some of the photos.
One of our highlights when we lived in South Africa, now more than 10 years ago, was to attend the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, which has now been renamed to Makhanda. The arts festival is an 11 day celebration of performing and visual arts with some amazing music, theater, comedy and dance. As South Africa is such a diverse country with many different cultures and attracts international talent, there were always many amazing performances to see. We attended the festival for five days in 2006 and attended the full 11 days the following year.
Although we love attending the festival, we have not been able to return since we moved away from South Africa as it was a very long trip. This year however, the world around us has changed significantly due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and South Africa is no exception. Due to the pandemic, for the first time in its 46-year history, the National Arts Festival was held entirely online from 25 June to 5 July 2020.
Although it is not the same as attending in person, we did take the opportunity to attend the festival virtually this year from our home in the US. We saw some great music (especially Jazz), a variety of different African dances, some interesting plays and participated in some great virtual digital experiences.
For example, Digital Rise brought a performance called Mechanical Souls which involved all the participants being onboarded in a fictitious human droid company. As part of our “onboarding” , we were invited to watch a VR movie of a wedding including some droids the company made. However there is a twist in that every participant sees a different version of the movie. We then jointly discovered the full story by discussing what we saw as a group. It was a great, interactive, performance and a great use of different digital media.
Another example of a digital experience was “Human Study #1 from a distance” which was brought by a Belgian Artist, Patrick Tresset who built a performative installation using robotic agents drawing participants, similar to an artist looking at their subject and drawing it. The experience involved posing for 20 minutes in a Zoom session while the robots made their drawings using different algorthims. You can find some of the photos of the experience as well as the final drawings below.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience and it was great to be able to attend this unique arts festival virtually. Attending in person is obviously a much better experience, but it was impressive what the festival managed to achieve in a virtual environment and we appreciated being able to attend this amazing event in these unprecedented times
We had an opportunity to visit New Orleans over the New Years break, including celebrating the 2019 New Year celebrations in the city. The weather wasn’t great with rain and grey weather every day, but regardless we enjoyed our stay at this very unique city. New Orleans is a great place to walk around and experience the atmosphere. It also has a great music scene with live Jazz, and other styles of music, in many bars and restaurants across the city. People are friendly and accessible regardless of race or background and there is a great tram system with historical trams across the city.
In 2018, New Orleans existed 300 years. Amongst others, the occasion was celebrated with four different fireworks across the city on December 31st.
We also visited a nearby swamp, which was another great experience. Due to the colder weather, there was less wildlife than usual, but we did manage to see an alligator, wild pigs, raccoons, snakes and birds.
As usual, we took a bunch of photos, which you can find by clicking on the album below:
The closest city to where we live is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is an important city in the context of American history as it is where the United States was founded. The city also served as capital before it was moved to Washington, DC. Recently, we had the opportunity to visit the historic district, society hill and Penn’s landing during the fall which provided the opportunity to take some beautiful photographs.
The historic district is where the deceleration of independence, constitution and bill of rights were negotiated and drafted between the founding states. It is also where the first US parliament met for a few years. Society Hill is next to these historic buildings and is a beautiful area with old historic streets and buildings. Penn’s landing is a harbor area along the Delaware river with some great walking opportunities, some historic ships, museums and just a pleasant place to hang out along the water.
First off, we came to the realization that we have not updated our blog for way too long. To catch you up quickly on the last couple of years: we did move from Switzerland to the US, where we live in a rural area in Pennsylvania. As usual when moving, time ran a bit away from us and we did therefore not find the time to do much photography let alone update our blog. We do hope to post more in the future.
A good place to start is to share some photos of fall foliage in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has one of the longest and most varied fall foliage seams in the world. Fall is a spectacular time to be here as the diversity of trees show a beautiful display of different colors. It is like an explosion of natural fireworks. The difficulty is to catch fall at the right moment. The weather heavily impacts when and how long the fall colors are stunning.
This year we had the longest and most beautiful fall we have seen yet. Coincidentally, a good friend from Belgium visited just as the fall colors were at it’s peak and with beautiful weather. We therefore had a awesome experience exploring the area and capturing the colors at their peak. Click on the album for a selection of photos, which also include some photo’s from the inside of Fonthill castle in Doylestown.