The Delaware River is getting extra spooky for Halloween this month.
A 90-foot-long Ghost Ship art installation, complete with translucent sails and misty masts, is taking up residence underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge between Race Street Pier and Pier 12. Viewing starts Friday night and continues through the first week of November.
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The Ghost Ship uses mist fountains anchored underwater and lighting projections from a platform on the surface of the river. It was created by Biangle Studio, based in Estonia, which specializes in large, avant-garde works.
The ship’s port side will be visible from Race Street Pier, its bow from Columbus Boulevard. A pop-up Ghost Ship beer garden will be at Race Street Pier on evenings when the ship appears (nightly, except Mondays and Tuesdays).
The Ghost Ship is the first exhibit curated by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.’s new Waterfront Arts Program, which intends to explore the city’s diversity and culture in a series of public art installations. This first one is supposed to represent the history of migration on the river and is not related to the tragic Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif.
“We’ve always had cultural events like fireworks displays at the waterfront,” said DRWC President Joe Forkin. “So we started to think about how art complements the waterfront and how it can bring new audiences here.”
Over the last 18 months, Forkin said, staff members met with consultants to think hard about what waterfront art means. They decided that a focal point of the program should be communities that have existed, and continue to exist, along the Delaware. When the program was ready to launch, Forkin and his staff put out a call for exhibits.
“We wanted something that involved the water in different ways because it’s a unique asset,” Forkin said.
The waterfront staff invited Ryan Strand Greenberg, a public art curator and photographer to submit a proposal for an exhibit.
Greenberg had seen a version of the Ghost Ship exhibit in Amsterdam at a light-installation festival a few years earlier. He thought that with a few tweaks, it might fit the art program’s vision.
“I reached out to the studio and asked if it was possible to reflect a specific ship or a specific time period with the exhibit,” Greenberg said. “And they said yes.”
Biangle Studio has also done a Ghost Ship in Singapore. Philadelphia’s is its first in North America, and Greenberg is the project’s curator here
Greenberg and the artists visited the Independence Seaport Museum’s library to view archival documents and decided Philadelphia’s Ghost Ship would be an 18th-century one, although it borrows details from ships that sailed the Delaware River as early as the 17th-century, carrying cocoa beans and crude oil, as well as free and enslaved people.
“This particular time period was really important to the city’s development,” Greenberg said. “It contributed to the social fabric of Philadelphia.” The city’s maritime trade would go on to influence important industries, like textiles and rail transportation, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
After the Waterfront Corp. accepted Greenberg’s pitch, they enlisted Pennoni, a local engineering firm, to make the installation happen. The firm obtained permits, anchored the lighting rig to the river floor, and put in a submersible cable to power the whole thing with electricity. They also worked closely with some nearby property owners to install lights on buildings.
“It was a pretty neat project for us, because this is the kind of project that our guys don’t get to work on every day,” said David DeLizza, the president and CEO of Pennoni.
Forkin said that he can’t wait for the project to be unveiled to the public.
“I know that we’ll get great crowds within the art world, but I hope that we get regular folks who are interested in seeing something like that,” he said. “I would love it if it was packed every single night.”