A spot to sell discards; a Revolutionary site

Posted: June 28, 2007

If you listen to radio traffic reports, you know the weekend announcements: "Schuylkill backed up due to zoo volume. . . . Kelly Drive closed for a regatta. . . .

"And in New Jersey, both north and southbound 206 are slow, with folks headed to a flea market in Columbus . . ."

So as I approach the Columbus Farmers Market on a Friday morning, it is with the anticipation of seeing hundreds of bargain hunters.

Instead, I see rows of empty 12-foot-wide spaces with empty wood tables, and in the middle of it all - two trucks.

Beside one, Art Weyman is tossing boxes into the back of a stake bed truck. Behind the garbage truck is George Faber. They're cleaning up the grounds after a busy Thursday, getting it ready for Saturday and Sunday when the market is also open.

But it's closed Fridays.

Weyman opens the flea market gate at 5 a.m. to vendors who often arrive at 3 a.m. "I'll line them up like horseshoes, like a big S," he explains.

Faber asks me whether I want a copy of On Photography by Susan Sontag, unsold and discarded by a Thursday vendor. Her classic 1977 collection of essays makes this argument:

"Essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality. . . .

"To photograph people is to violate them," she continues, "by seeing them as they never see themselves. . . ."

I let Faber toss the book into his trucks, along with old clothes, a broken lamp and a framed still life.

Near Shamong, I pass a bunch of gas stations with signs declaring themselves "American Owned," punctuated with rows of American flags.

Up 206, past the Red Lion Circle, there's another row of flags set on tall poles: Acme/Lingo Flagpoles.

Jeff Lingo is a fifth-generation flagpole maker. John C. Lingo, his great-great-grandfather and a tugboat captain on the Delaware River, started making wooden spars in 1897 to repair masts, booms and gaffs on sailing ships.

Soon he was making flagpoles, as well. Eventually switching to steel, the Camden firm in the 1930s made a flagpole for the White House.

Jeff Lingo, who spun off the flagpole work from Lingo Inc. and opened his own factory and retail shop, tells me his tale of photo serendipity.

A few years ago, he was on his boat when he passed the Camden aquarium. The flagpoles he'd made for the building looked great against the blue sky filled with puffy clouds, so he took a picture and posted it on his Web site.

The next day, he got a call from a Home Depot architect. After 9/11, each store has an American flag.

Now, each new store has a 28-foot Acme/Lingo flagpole, right in the middle of the Home Depot sign on the roof.

Between talking with people I meet, and trying to get the photos just right, I'm averaging around 7.5 miles per hour, but I finally reach Trenton.

Passing the Statehouse, I head up the hill toward the "Five Points" neighborhood. There, a towering Doric column of granite, the Trenton Battle Monument, rises over a small traffic-circle-like park.

Atop the memorial, George Washington is pointing toward the site of his victory at the Christmas 1776 Battle of Trenton. But I'm focused on photographing the flag below, as a cloud darkens the sky.

Waiting for the sun, I run into Henry Williams. He is 75 and works as the site's guide/elevator operator every Thursday through Sunday. "It's my place," he tells me. "I'm here, it's open. I'm not here, it's closed."

I'd noticed the railing at the base of George's feet, but it had never occurred to me that I could go to the top.

"It's a small elevator, probably the oldest in the state," Williams says of my pleasant surprise. The monument, dedicated in 1893, originally had steps. The elevator was installed in 1920.

Inside the four-passenger elevator, Williams promises me that we won't get stuck. But if we do, he says, it won't be for long. "You can go underneath and crank the cables by hand." That's why he just got a city cell phone, he says.

"I just call, and the police, fire department and everyone will be here in minutes."

On my second trip to the top, Paul Gianakon of Hockessin, Del. - touring with his Princeton-bound daughter - asks Williams whether you can see where Washington crossed the Delaware.

(You can't.)

He also asks about the house where Hessian commander Johann Rall was taken after he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Trenton (where, the state says, 22 of Rall's men died, 92 were wounded, and 948 were captured while only four of Washington's men were wounded in this first American victory of the war).

We can see for miles, but none of us knows where the house is.

As we all leave, I ask Gianakon's recommendation for a Delaware road trip. He suggests two-lane Route 9. That's where I'll be for Week 3.

Contact Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish at 215-854-2950 or tgralish@phillynews.com.

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