Viral South Philly utility pole to be reborn as green fuel

A sentimental goodbye note written from the point of view of an old utility pole in South Philly went viral on Twitter and was read around the world. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A sentimental goodbye note written from the point of view of an old utility pole in South Philly went viral on Twitter and was read around the world. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A South Philly utility pole that’s pulling on the heartstrings of neighbors and social media users from around the world will likely make its final contribution to humanity as “biomass fuel,” according to a PECO spokesperson.

Journalist Brad Pearson, who lives near the pole, on Thursday morning posted a photo on Twitter of a bittersweet farewell letter stapled to the weathered old pole at South 3rd and Federal streets, at the corner of Jefferson Square Park.

The humorous but heartfelt letter, written from the pole’s point of view, had racked up over 37,000 likes and 8,000 retweets as of Friday afternoon. Signed only “Corner Pole” with no human author credited, the typed message begins on a note of gratitude.

“I just wanted to say it’s been my pleasure to be your corner telephone pole for many years now. It looks like I’ll soon be replaced. Probably by the young pole there on the ground.”

Brad Pearson poses with the old utility pole at 3rd and Federal streets in South Philly. Pearson’s tweet of the sentimintal goodbye note, written from the point of view of the pole, went viral and spread around the world. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

What follows is a mix of sly humor and poignant reflections on the passage of time and the inevitability of change as the wooden pillar confronts its own mortality.

“The many staples are a reminder of the garage sales, flea markets and hundreds of lost pets,” the letter continues. “Sox, Cinnamon, Poncho and the rest, I hope you made it home. I hope I do too.”

Pearson, 34, said it was the themes of transience and mortality that were probably responsible for the outpouring of sentiment for the pole. Many tweeted that it brought them to tears.

“There’s something sort of universal about life and death and things changing. Even though it’s an inanimate object, you sort of feel for it,” he said, standing next to the wooden mast on Friday.

At the same time, the letter had a distinctively Philadelphian flavor, Pearson said.

“It has these little glimmers of weirdness that I think are pretty human, that don’t exist in other cities.”

Twitter users are sharing this quirky slice of Philadelphia as far away as India and Australia.

Efforts to determine the identity of the pole’s ghostwriter have so far been unsuccessful. Pearson and other neighbors passing by Friday morning said they didn’t know who was responsible for the flyer.

The letter also serves as a sort of last will and testament. The pole expressed a desire to be turned into wooden furniture or toothpicks.

Postman Ken Anderson walks past the utility pole at 3rd and Federal streets, as he has nearly every day for 25 years. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Fat chance of that, said Ken Andersen, a mail carrier who’s been passing by the pole on his route for the last 25 years.

Sharing a view expressed by Twitter know-it-alls, Andersen said the chemicals that were probably used to preserve the old tree trunk made it unfit for human contact.

“The oils they put in them… it’s poisonous,” Andersen said.

Kristina Pappas, a spokesperson for PECO, which maintains the utility pole, could not immediately confirm what materials the pole had been treated with. But she said the pole would get an afterlife, of sorts.

“We do everything we can to recycle as many poles as possible as they are replaced,” Pappas said.

While Pappas couldn’t give the exact age of the pole, she said wooden poles treated with preservatives have an average lifespan of 70 to 75 years. In fact, South Philly’s “Corner Pole” might have had more life in it yet, having passed its most recent annual inspection.

“The current pole is being replaced with a newer pole because one of the other companies that has equipment and utilizes the pole is upgrading some of that equipment,” Pappas explained. “So that does require a new pole in the current location.”

South Philly resident Hollis Gelber reads the goodbye from a utility pole at 3rd and Federal streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The pole’s successor, bright with the blond glow of youth, laid flat on the sidewalk along Federal Street Friday afternoon, slumbering as it waited to be installed. Pappas said it would take its place as the new corner pole by the end of the month.

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