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Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

I. Specimen Days

173. Exposition Building—New City Hall—River Trip

PHILADELPHIA,Aug. 26.—LAST night and to-night of unsurpass’d clearness, after two days’ rain; moon splendor and star splendor. Being out toward the great Exposition building, West Philadelphia, I saw it lit up, and thought I would go in. There was a ball, democratic but nice; plenty of young couples waltzing and quadrilling—music by a good string-band. To the sight and hearing of these—to moderate strolls up and down the roomy spaces—to getting off aside, resting in an arm-chair and looking up a long while at the grand high roof with its graceful and multitudinous work of iron rods, angles, gray colors, plays of light and shade, receding into dim outlines—to absorbing (in the intervals of the string band,) some capital voluntaries and rolling caprices from the big organ at the other end of the building—to sighting a shadow’d figure or group or couple of lovers every now and then passing some near or farther aisle—I abandon’d myself for over an hour.

Returning home, riding down Market street in an open summer car, something detain’d us between Fifteenth and Broad, and I got out to view better the new, three-fifths-built marble edifice, the City Hall, of magnificent proportions—a majestic and lovely show there in the moonlight—flooded all over, façades, myriad silver-white lines and carv’d heads and mouldings, with the soft dazzle—silent, weird, beautiful—well, I know that never when finish’d will that magnificent pile impress one as it impress’d me those fifteen minutes.

To-night, since, I have been long on the river. I watch the C-shaped Northern Crown, (with the star Alshacca that blazed out so suddenly, alarmingly, one night a few years ago.) The moon in her third quarter, and up nearly all night. And there, as I look eastward, my long-absent Pleiades, welcome again to sight. For an hour I enjoy the soothing and vital scene to the low splash of waves—new stars steadily, noiselessly rising in the east.

As I cross the Delaware, one of the deck-hands, F. R., tells me how a woman jump’d overboard and was drown’d a couple of hours since. It happen’d in mid-channel—she leap’d from the forward part of the boat, which went over her. He saw her rise on the other side in the swift running water, throw her arms and closed hands high up, (white hands and bare forearms in the moonlight like a flash,) and then she sank. (I found out afterwards that this young fellow had promptly jump’d in, swam after the poor creature, and made, though unsuccessfully, the bravest efforts to rescue her; but he didn’t mention that part at all in telling me the story.)