Tonight, I sit in my great-grandfather’s adopted hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The lights below me shimmer from city center out into New Jersey. From my window, I can see the part of the world my great-grandfather lived most of his adult life.
Earlier this week I walked along the streets my great-grandfather named in his autobiography. I was cognizant of occupying the same space more than 100 years later. I observed young homeless men preparing to sleep on the sidewalks. Many were the age of my great-grandfather when he, too, was homeless, trying his best to survive on the very same streets.
I visited the site where the Northern Home for Friendless Children once stood. This was the orphanage that took in my great-uncle when my great-grandfather abandoned him. Since that time, the building has been raised and replaced, but I contemplated on my great-uncle growing up in that neighborhood—in the shadow of Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the most visually oppressive and notorious prisons of all time.
I also thought of my great-grandfather changing his name from von Meurers to de Meurers, breaking away from his German birthplace, uncomfortable with his own name as an American immigrant.
Life has changed a great deal over the past 100-plus years. In other ways, it certainly has not changed enough.
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My Family Tree:
- Emilie Therese Nahrath (See Part Two)
- Bernard Paul Hubert von Meurers (See Part Two)
- Paul deMeurers
- Weldon Paul deMeurers
- Me (Alan deMeurers)