If the utility pole at the corner of your street could talk, what would it say?
Maybe it’s been there since you started raising a family. Perhaps it stood, strong and proud, as your neighbors fought over the right time to fire Andy Reid, or when your mail carrier delivered the college acceptance letter you were awaiting.
It’s been home to political wheatpaste, concert fliers, and homespun photos of more lost pets than you’d care to think about, just like the special utility pole on the northwest corner of Third and Federal Streets — a pole that this week became larger than itself after a sign stapled on its wooden exterior found a place in a corner of the internet that had never seen something so pure.
Journalist Brad Pearson, who lives near the pole in question, started noticing this week on his twice-daily walks through Jefferson Square that the pole had been marked for replacement while a new, seemingly younger-looking pole lay on the sidewalk next to it. On the old pole, riddled with staples, was a 150-word typed sign topped with “Good-bye." It went on to bid farewell to the neighborhood in a wholesome, yet oddly fatalistic fashion.
Pearson tweeted the photo on Thursday, and since then, more than 35,000 people from South Philly to India have hit the “like” button. Thousands more shared it, some adding personal ruminations like “I love Philly” and “I need a hug" and “omg sobbing."
The sign was still there Friday morning. It reads:
Turns out the appearance of that sign was one of those times when something happened, and everyone just knew it must have happened in Philadelphia. The ethos of this city is such that you can read a headline — about something like greased-up poles meant to deter sports fans or a group of people who made ritual offerings to a sinkhole — and instinctively feel that it happened here.
“Philadelphia has these little glimmers of weirdness that are pretty human,” Pearson, 34, said, “and I don’t think it exists in other places.”
Which Philadelphian penned the cryptic message remains a question. Some neighbors guessed it was a longtime resident with a sentimental connection. Others said it was probably an internety 32-year-old, like the type of guy who attended that Steel Furnace Party thing in Fairmount. One man who lived nearby for decades had no interest in indulging the pole and simply grumbled, “That’s South Philly for ya.”
So here is what we know to be true: The sign was likely posted within the last week, when folks started taking notice of the new, younger pole lying on the ground. “So this pole has been staring at its demise for a long time,” said Hollis Gelber, a 32-year-old teacher who lives on the block.
We know the sign was definitely posted before Monday morning at precisely 10:45 a.m., when Kat Sliclen, a 28-year-old jewelry designer who lives around the corner, snapped a photo, posted it on Instagram, and then fielded two dozen messages about how funny/weird/sad/inspiring it was. That means the sign, which isn’t laminated but was stapled into the pole nine times, has so far survived a thunderstorm, approximately two and a half light rain showers, and internet fame.
We know the sign will be gone by the end of the month at the latest, when PECO plans to take down the old pole and “update” it to the new one, spokesperson Kristina Pappas said. The utility company plans to safely recycle the old pole, so no need to fear smoke filling your lungs and causing cancer.
We also know the sign has made people feel something about the inanimate objects in their own lives. “There’s something universal,” Pearson said, “about life and death and things changing."