Justin’s Cultural Museum Project – Walt Whitman’s Family

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Walt Whitman's Birthplace in Huntington, NY.

Walt Whitman Jr. is inarguably the most famous member of his family. However, certain primary source documents show that the rest of the Whitman clan was as colorful and intriguing as America’s most celebrated poet. Walt Whitman’s immediate family consisted of parents Walter Sr. and Louisa (nee Van Velsor); younger sisters Mary and Hannah, elder brother Jesse; younger brothers Andrew Jackson, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Edward. This post will focus on the relationships between Walt and the three youngest of his four younger brothers.

Walt's younger brother George Washington Whitman

George Washington Whitman was born on November 28, 1829 and died in 1901. The earliest significant fact that exists about him is that in 1838 and the age of eight he worked at Walt’s short-lived newspaper The Long Islander as an assistant. Besides this brief job, not much else is known about George’s early life. However, we do know that George served as a soldier for the Union Army during the American Civil War, and that he was the only Whitman to do so. He enlisted in April 1861 and after only one hundred days into service he was promoted to sergeant major.  On September 30, 1864, George was captured in Virginia and incarcerated in several prisons in the state (About Whitman).

During George’s prison sentence, Walt worked to free his brother in the best way he knew how: writing. He wrote various letters to the press pleading for his younger brother’s release. One such plea was printed in the December 27, 1864 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle, along with an exposé about the treatment of the war captives. The letter was effective, and George was released, returning to his military duties after a brief furlough back home in Brooklyn. He ended his distinguished career as a lieutenant colonel (Gohdes, 144).

Many letters and correspondences from George’s time in the army have survived, most of which he addressed to his mother Louisa, to whom both Walt and he were very close. However, we do know that he wrote at least one letter to his famous brother:

Dear Brother.

I returned to the Regt last night (I have been away on Court Martial you know) and found your letter of July 5th and Mothers, and Hannahs, that you sent me at the same time. Poor Hann I feel quite worried about her and have just written to her saying that Mother and I will come on to see her in the cours of three or four weeks. Walt I suppose you know that we are going to be Mustered out of service, we are making out the Muster Rolls now, and we expect to be in New York in about 10 days. I have been over to Washing ton two or three times since I saw you, but it was always in the afternoon (after C.M. hours) so that I could not get up to your place in time to see you. Walt come over and see us,  the stage leaves Willards twice every day, and brings you right to Camp, so jump in and come over. 4   I have written to Mother to day to let her know that I am coming home, and telling her to get ready for a trip to Vermont. I am sleepy so good night Walt.


Thomas Jefferson Whitman, more commonly called “Jeff”, was born in the summer of 1833 and died in 1890.  Fourteen years Walt’s junior, he was closer to his famous brother than any of their other siblings, fondly referred to by the poet as “a real brother” and “understander” (Pollack, 107). At age fifteen he traveled with Walt to New Orleans to work as an office boy for the Crescent, a newspaper for which his elder brother wrote. It was during the journey to Louisiana that the two brothers would bond. However, their time in New Orleans was short-lived; Jeff was often sick with dysentery, an infectious diarrhea, and it was this illness, along with homesickness as well as a clash between Walt and the editors of the Crescent (particularly over his opposition to slavery) that compelled the two Whitmans to return north (About Whitman).

In 1855, after marrying Martha Mitchell, nicknamed “Mattie”, Jeff and Walt started to grow apart, and the elder brother felt that he was no longer very important to the younger (Pollack, 108). However, Jeff continued to support his brother both financially and emotionally. The former capacity became even more possible in 1867 when he became the chief engineer of a waterworks business in St. Louis. But more importantly, Jeff wrote to Walt frequently and for all his life. Many correspondences between the brothers exist. Their last known exchange occurred via telegram on May 31, 1889, Walt’s seventieth birthday; however, the last known letter is dated July 14, 1888:

My dear Walt

I was very very glad to get a letter from you yesterday. 1   I have been quite worried about you, wondering how things were going  I am more than glad to hear that you are holding your own

I am up here on a question of the disposal of the sewage of the city  Davis and Flad 2   are associated with me and we have been confabing about a week—Yesterday they went away—leaving me here to make surveys etc

I am going down to Chicago in the morning to meet some people—will be back here on Wednesday

I hope dear Walt that you are gaining again—I was very sorry that I could not get back to Camden—but I had to go with my Committee to Louisville

Yours affectionately Jeff

Edward, the youngest Whitman sibling, born in 1835, holds the distinction not having been named after a family member or an esteemed political figure. But what really marked him as an outsider was his mental retardation. Described by historians as “feeble-minded and crippled”, Edward suffered from an early bout of scarlet fever suspected to have impaired his mental and physical capabilities (Gohdes, 183). However, the degree of his retardation still perplexes historians. Letters written by families explain that the adult Edward showed some agency by going to church alone, completing errands, and transmitting messages (Pollack, 200). He and his famous brother were not particularly close, though Walt did help pay for his medical expenses once he started to make money from his writing. He also feared that their father Walter Sr.’s alcoholism might have, in some way, contributed to the disability (Pollack, 22). However, Walt did write to his brother occasionally:

Dear Ed:

It is pretty sad days just now for me here—our dear brother Jeff has died last Tuesday at St Louis, Missouri of typhoid pneumonia. Jessie went on first train soon as she heard he was sick, but poor Jeff was dead when she arrived—George has gone on—(must have got there this morning)—Hannah is poorly at Burlington, Vermont, but gets about the house. Very cold here. I am still about (not much about for I can only move by help) but have the grip badly, & bladder trouble. I often think of you and hope you have comfortable times—I have heard you have a good kind attendant who has been there some time in the asylum—I wish he would stop here at 328 Mickle & see me a few minutes when he is in Camden. My best respects to Mr and Mrs. Currie—My love to you—

Walt Whitman

Edward died in the asylum in 1902.

Works Cited

Gohdes, Clarence and Rollo G. Silver, eds. Faint clews & indirections; manuscripts of Walt Whitman and his family. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1949.

Pollak, Vivian R. The Erotic Whitman. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Price, Kenneth M. and Ed Folsom. “About Walt Whitman”. Modern American Poetry. December 8, 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/whitman/bio.htm>.

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Justin’s Final Project – Mashup

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Hope you like Van Morrison. Enjoy!


Where Justin Found Whitman

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I found Whitman in front of the Paul Robeson library because he’s a master of American letters who broke the literary/poetic mold.

Video will be posted very shortly. In the meantime:

Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand
by Walt Whitman

Whoever you are, holding me now in hand,
Without one thing, all will be useless,
I give you fair warning, before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.

Who is he that would become my follower?
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?

The way is suspicious—the result uncertain, perhaps destructive;
You would have to give up all else—I alone would expect to be your God, sole and exclusive,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life, and all conformity to the lives around you, would have to be abandon’d;
Therefore release me now, before troubling yourself any further—Let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down, and depart on your way.

Or else, by stealth, in some wood, for trial,
Or back of a rock, in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not—nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill—first watching lest any person, for miles around, approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea, or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss, or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband, and I am the comrade.

Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart, or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus, merely touching you, is enough—is best,
And thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.

But these leaves conning, you con at peril,
For these leaves, and me, you will not understand,
They will elude you at first, and still more afterward—I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.

For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me, and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love, (unless at most a very few,) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only—they will do just as much evil, perhaps more;
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit—that which I hinted at;
Therefore release me, and depart on your way.

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Justin’s Cultural Museum Piece: the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Company

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Nearly 150 years after its inception, The Campbell’s Soup Company remains one of the most successful food corporations in the world. It dates back to 1860 when Abraham Anderson, an icebox manufacturer, opened a canning factory in Camden. In 1869, Joseph A. Campbell, a Philadelphia produce vendor, went into partnership with Anderson and together, the two began canning and selling vegetables, condiments and other goods. By 1876, three years after Walt Whitman arrived in Camden, Anderson was out of the picture, and Campbell had taken full control of the business and renamed it the Joseph Campbell & Company.


In 1882, after realizing the difficulties that come with manning an entire company alone, Campbell enlisted support from his nephew Joseph S. Campbell, his son-in-law Walter Spackman, and Spackman’s close friend Arthur Dorrance, who brought much-needed financial help to the partnership. After building itself up as a solid business, the company—now called the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company—could afford to construct a large factory in the heart of Camden, and in 1896, Campbell and company broadened its production line and started packaging and selling ketchup, plum pudding, and other in-demand condiments and foods. It wasn’t until 1899, however, that the company began producing what it would it eventually be best known for: soup.

Campbell’s Soup production began when Arthur Dorrance’s nephew, John Thompson Dorrance, introduced a new and effective way of canning condensed soup. This innovative method gave Campbell’s and advantage over its soup-canning rivals: while other companies wasted money shipping uncondensed soup, Campbell’s was able to package its products for a fraction of the price. By this time, the prepared foods industry was on the rise; by 1904, Campbell’s boasted annual sales of sixteen million cans of soup, had added Pork and Beans to their inventory of products, and increased the number of varieties of soup from the original five to twenty-one. Also introduced in 1904 were the Campbell Kids:


Very creepy, now that I think about it; but they are recognizable icons nonetheless.

By 1911, Campbell’s had expanded all the way to the opposite coast, selling its products in California. It was one of the very first companies to gain nationwide success. In 1914, John Thompson Dorrance became president of the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company. One of his first orders of business was to concentrate on the production of soup and eliminate the company’s less important products like condiments and jellies. He was also able to increase Campbell’s already impressive sales by advertising that in addition to being eaten alone, their soups could be used to flavor and enhance other foods.


Dorrance was a genius whose sharp mind and innovative ways of thinking were responsible for Campbell’s early success. Knowing that self-reliance was the smartest way to do business, Campbell’s began growing its own produce, namely tomatoes. The company devoted most of the summer months to producing tomato juice and tomato soup. This gamble paid off, because during World War I, nearly half the company’s sales were from these two products alone. In 1915, Campbell’s added another jewel to its crown when it bought the Franco-American Food Company, the first American soup-producing company.

So, what is the connection to Walt Whitman? Well, I’ve searched high and low and haven’t been able to find any interaction between him and any of the Campbell’s Soup forefathers. However, there are obvious parallels between Mr. Whitman and the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Company. The most apparent one is that they are both American icons that are forever linked with the city of Camden. The Campbell’s Soup can is an instantly-recognizable image thanks to its prominence and long history:


Love Andy Warhol.

Another is that they had ambitions to reach a wide national audience at a time when work was generally confined to one’s local area. A passage from “Drum Taps” comes to mind:

“From Paumanok starting, I fly like a bird,

Around and around to soar, to sing the idea of all;

To the north betaking myself, to sing there arctic songs,

To Kanada, ’till I absorb Kanada in myself—to Michigan then,

To Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, to sing their songs (they are inimitable);

Then to Ohio and Indiana, to sing theirs—to Missouri and Kansas and Arkansas to sing theirs,

To Tennessee and Kentucky—to the Carolinas and Georgia, to sing theirs,

To Texas, and so along up toward California, to roam accepted everywhere;

To sing first (to the tap of the war-drum, if need be)

The idea of all—of the western world, one and inseparable,

And then the song of each member of these States.”

Walt Whitman wants national fame (international, technically, if you include Canada). He’s not the first American poet to achieve legendary status, but many do consider him the greatest (he is given the honor of being “America’s poet” very frequently). It may seem odd to compare a poet to a soup company, but Campbell’s is definitely the same way. Thanks to innovation and ingenuity, Campbell’s managed to outperform its predecessors and competitors and forge a reputation as the most successful soup company in the nation, if not the world. Just as Whitman has managed to overshadow both his contemporaries and his predecessor, Campbell’s manages to maintain its reputation as the greatest name in the soup industry, despite not having been the first.

The city of Camden has garnered a really negative reputation in recent years thanks to crime and poverty. It also has the misfortune of being nestled in the overwhelming shadows of both Philadelphia and New York City. But Walt Whitman and Campbell’s Soup (and let’s not forget RCA) can make a Camdenite swell with town pride.

Works Cited

Salamie, David A. “Campbell Soup Company — Company History” Web – <http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Campbell-Soup-Company-Company-History.html>

Whitman, Walt. “Drum Taps”. Whitman Poetry & Prose. Library of America, 1996.

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Song of Justin

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Through me forbidden voices,

Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil’d and I remove the veil,

Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d.

~ “Song of Myself” p. 211

I chose this passage because I like to consider myself a free spirit. Most people claim to be one, but so few actually practice what they preach. Whitman seems to be the real deal when it comes to removing whatever veils society likes to keep over things, and talking about taboo subjects frankly. He explores issues of race and sexuality in a way that was shocking for the time (even shocking to some people now) and does it so unapologetically that I have to give him props. I also like to think of this passage as his way of saying he’ll give a voice to those who aren’t allowed to speak for themselves (slaves being one example). For all of Whitman’s talk about egotism and whatnot, I find his writing to be quite altruistic.

Hello world!

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Haha, wow, did this site generate a first post for me automatically? That is so sci-fi.

Image Gloss: Stevedore

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“The judge with hand tight to the desk, his shaky lips pronouncing a death-sentence,

The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves

…the refrain of the anchor-lifters…”

~ Leaves of Grass, page 54

This portion of the poem, in which Whitman describes various sounds, is probably my favorite in the entire piece. Even though these particular sounds would be jarring (alarm bells, workpeople laughing, steam-whistles, etc.) there is something incredibly soothing about the way he writes about them. I’m sure it’s Whitman’s finesse with words that is responsible for what seems to be a contradiction, because the language and composition is as beautiful as the actual sounds are ugly.

But anyway, stevedores. The word is both a noun and verb, and relates to the process of loading/unloading cargo onto/from a ship. Below is a picture of a stevedore, hard at work:

I was drawn to the word because it was one I had never heard before, and I thought it looked and sounded cool. It sounds like a rich person’s yacht or something, so when I researched it, I was surprised to learn that stevedores are just blue collar workers. Whitman seems to exalt the working class not just in this section, but throughout the whole poem. If find that refreshing after reading so much poetry and literature that focuses so much on the lives of the aristocracy/privileged classes. I like that Whitman lauds the common man by writing about him in such elevated language.

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