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Having worked in Camden, New Jersey, for 16 years, the 19th-century poet Walt Whitman is ubiquitous. Whitman’s final Camden home – the only one he ever owned – is a National Historic Landmark. Murals honoring or including Whitman are found throughout town. He’s also buried in Camden’s Harleigh Cemetery in an impressive mausoleum. The two leading bridges that connect Camden and Philadelphia are named after Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman.
Inscribed over City Hall are the words from a Whitman poem: “In a dream, I saw a city invincible.” Camden’s invincibility has been challenged for much of the last 50 years, which is still recovering from an exodus of people and manufacturing jobs. For a while, it had the nation’s highest murder rate. It continues to suffer high unemployment rates. But it is making an impressive comeback, thanks to a new medical school, its largest employer, Cooper University Hospital, and new corporate investments such as Subaru’s new North American headquarters and a new hotel on the waterfront. Police reforms of nearly a decade ago are a model for the nation.
And through it all, Camden has clung to Whitman and his brilliant career and contributions to American literature.