The Past, the Future, Ghosts, and Drag in the City of Brotherly Love

Monday Morning Musings:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

“This play is so American. . .[it] shows us that transformation can only happen when we break apart our fears, our suspicions and our judgments. Because the America I know is not the one that is portrayed by only a few, isn’t the one that discriminates against its citizens for their differences. NO. The America I know and cherish and honor is one that all these characters are creating.”

— Emmanuelle Delpech, From her Director’s Notes, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Arden Theatre, Philadelphia


When was the last time the four of us had spent a day together at a museum?

We all wondered, but couldn’t remember,

somewhere amidst childhood’s ghosts

left behind with dolls and story books,

ghosts of Halloweens past

when little girls dressed in costumes

that they slept in,

a princess and a clown

(not a creepy one at all).


And so we went,

a family outing,

our girls married women now,

but still crazy sisters, having fun,

interpreting the works of art



And since the big new exhibit is on Mexican revolutionary art

and it’s close to Halloween

there are Day of the Dead displays


We eat Wawa hoagies*

(My daughter misses them in Boston.)



I score Super Momma points

by making hot fudge sauce,

totally spur of the moment

(in record time)

so we can have it with our coffee ice cream

as we watch Grey’s Anatomy

It’s another ghost from the past.


It is Halloween weekend,

my husband and I go to the theater

(which, I guess fits, when you think about it)

In the play,

a man discovers his inner femininity—

becoming a drag queen,

with the help of a real drag queen.

After a slow start,

the play picks up

struts its stuff,

so to speak,

along with the actors,

a feel good show

about finding your passion

and not giving up,

accepting those who are different from you.

A good lesson, don’t you think?


After the show, we drink coffee

sitting on a bench outside of Christ Church in Philadelphia.


a beautiful October day,

we watch the people in the present

learning about the people of the past,

as they walk in and about the beautiful eighteenth-century church

where George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others attended services.

We walk the streets, some still cobbled,

where founding fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers

once walked,

where free and bound lived and worked.


None of them was perfect,

neither are we.

But the past is a foreign country.

people then did not know all we know now

(perhaps we have lost some of their knowledge, too)

Progress and human rights come slowly

as babies crawl tentatively before they walk and then run eagerly

to explore the world.

So are there stages

of nations

that rise and fall.

And of discoveries that humans uncover and embrace with hesitation

or delight.

Thirteen colonies came together,

representatives walked the streets we now walk,

worked together to fight for independence,

and later, to form a more perfect union,

evolving over centuries

with greatness from the start,

along with evils,

slavery, racism, sexism, xenophobia.

We should not move backwards

to the foreign country of the past,

not regress, but rather progress,

build upon the great to make greater.


We travel to another part of Philadelphia,

Fairmount Park,

one of the largest urban parks in the world.

We are there for a Lupus Run/Walk

my younger daughter and her husband run,

my husband and I walk,

some people drag their heels,

some are in drag,

well, costumes.

There is a team of Star Wars characters,

others in purple tutus,

a sea of purple t-shirts.


We begin at Memorial Hall

(now the Please Touch Children’s Museum)

with its figure of Columbia at the top,

it was an art museum,

constructed for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876,

a huge exhibition with many buildings

and many visitors.

A Women’s Pavilion gave women a chance to display and demonstrate

the new opportunities available to them in professions and business

there were displays of dress reforms, too.

But women were segregated in their own pavilion,

and still denied the vote.

And so we run/walk through

beautiful Fairmount Park

passing statues of Civil War generals

and the Japanese Tea house

I imagine women in suffragist white,

ghosts flitting among the statues

I think they would echo

“When they go low, we go high,”

standing calm amidst storms of hate.

Women have always had to fend off and fight

the gropers and grabbers,

and some of them loved other women

though not out in the open.

I amuse myself by imaging Susan B. Anthony

reading grievances while drag queens in the audience cheer.

(This did not happen.)


But the past is a foreign country

we can’t impose our views on it.

Our own pasts, well, perhaps they change

with, in, our memories

which are imperfect.

merging and shifting,

taking on new tones and meanings.

On this Halloween

my memories of Halloween past

merge with the present.

I think about the future,

We are at the crossroads,

there are ghosts all around.

We must push back the hate and fear.

We dream.

A wise man once had a dream

of freedom for all

freedom for those of every color, of any religion.

He was killed by hate.

But still we dream.

I think about the future

with dread

with longing

with hope

with dreams.


*Hoagie is the Philadelphia name for a sandwich served on a long, tapered roll. Wawa is a convenience store chain that is much beloved in parts of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

We saw The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez at the Arden Theatre.

Christ Church, Philadelphia

The Please Touch Museum/Memorial Hall

On suffragists on Independence Day 1876, see this.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream speech.



33 thoughts on “The Past, the Future, Ghosts, and Drag in the City of Brotherly Love

  1. Merril, what a wonderful post. I enjoyed it like a smooth long drive down a scenic country road; it just got better and better. Let them go low while you go high. (Funny photo of your girls in front of the museum displays. They both captured the scene so well.)

  2. One of your lines prompted me to think of the Faulkner quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Something like that . . . (?)

    Your girls are a delightful duo. Thanks for another edition of the writer’s digest.

  3. My grandchildren were in a “sidewalk parade” as they trick or treated last night. Each unique and yet united. I loved your post with rich details of personal past, two precious costumed girls, then the present day details emerged. I loved your daughters, (joined by your husband in one case), re-enacting the works of art!
    This was special and reminded me of my own three grown kids touring a Cleveland Art Museum display, Spain the subject matter. This happened before grandkids came along… Some posing and pointing went on in amusement and awe.

    Funny, but the section on Philadelphia old Christ Church and the play were such great parts of your poem, leading me to Philadelphia memories, too.
    I liked the way you reminded us, during this final week before voting, of the reasons we should wish to support a candidate with as much as possible the values of our Founding fathers, Merril.
    The play reminded me of a combination of “Cabaret” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but more intimately centered on a singular character finding herself. (Strutting and acceptance of differences underlying themes.)

    My “family parade” ended and in the final photograph of my grandies there were seven children: a skeleton, Joker, Suicide Squad guy, a princess, a My Little Pony girl, with oldest girl in the letter people “L” and baby Hendrix in letter people “M.” Homemade costumes for all but two and hand painted faces on three! 🙂

    • Thank you for your comments, Robin. I hope your eye is better.Your family Halloween parade sounds special. I’m sure you have several photos to document the occasion. The photos will be fun for the grands to see when they are older. 🙂
      I chuckled at the combination of Cabaret and Rocky Horror. That would be something! 🙂 (The”Tomorrow Belongs with Me” scene in Cabaret always gives me creepy chills. It would fit the mindset of too many today.) The play we saw was much simpler–more like the old “the show must go on” musicals, but you know, with drag queens. Hahaha

      • Oh, sorry I liked the fun parts of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” musical and accidentally included, “Cabaret” which does have a serious tone, I agree.
        I thought the musical you saw was more serious in soul searching and identity. This was an assumption (guess?! 🙂 ) without basis. Sometimes, I try to connect things which may not be well thought out. I am glad you laughed except for the very sad song from Cabaret, which does change the tone of the play. I equate “The Sound of Music” with “Cabaret,” too. They have the German evil factor covered up with songs to lighten the actual historical implications. I loved the book about the (von Trapp) “Trapp Family Singers.”
        Thank you for helping me out sometimes, Merril. Keeping me on the right path and correct interpretation is appreciated. Really! 🙂

      • I wasn’t really trying to correct you, Robin. Obviously, you didn’t see the play I saw, and I didn’t go into detail describing it. 🙂 And you know how MY mind goes off in weird directions all the time! Hahaha.
        I think Cabaret and The Sound of Music are kind of like opposites, set in the same time period. Cabaret is the seedy Berlin, where anything goes, and The Sound of Music is the pastoral Austria–but both destroyed by the Nazis. But I totally understand how you equate them because there is that lurking horror in both of them.

      • Merril, when I said this, I was glad you chuckled! I didn’t mean anything by this. I sometimes straighten people out in their quick interpretation of my posts. I mean the artist is my brother, the kid is my grandchild. . . etc.
        I try to read and analyze more, so may end up not getting it right but at least I try. 🙂 Blogging doesn’t really mean much if on WordPress people give only short sentence responses, at least to me it seems they do this, to cover hundreds of blogs with, “that’s nice!” Instead of reading; they like the photo.

        I can see how the scenes are different in tone and setting in both of those Nazi Germany movies. I liked that the real Trapp Family Singers came to America which was the path my German grandmother and her mother chose to go, rather than stay in neutral Austria.
        Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli captured my attention when it came out and I haven’t seen it in years. It seemed like the musical, “Chicago,” which also has a serious theme of mobsters and corruption, wrapped in a glitzy package. 🙂

      • I appreciate your comments, Robin. There are some blogs and posts that I comment on in more detail than others. Sometimes I just don’t have that much to say, or if someone never comments on my posts, I tend to give up commenting on their posts.
        I think the musical theater version of Cabaret is darker than the movie version, but I remember when I first saw the movie, and the love triangle was considered shocking at the time. 🙂

      • Oh, no problem, Merril. I tend to get a little too detailed like taking notes in class, when I comment. I think that my idea of comparing something I really don’t know about with things I do, doesn’t always work out. It took more words than necessary to say this better summation. I appreciate your thoughtfulness always.

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