Tom and Savannah McHale Interview

McHales Screen Shot

Dublin Core


Tom and Savannah McHale Interview


Tacony Creek Park


Tom and Savannah McHale were interviewed on October 27 for the Oral History Project.


Ambrose Liu




Olney Cultural Lab


Copyright of this site is held by Manor College Library under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC which restricts commercial use.


Tookany/ Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc.






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Oral History Item Type Metadata


Ambrose Liu


Tom McHale
Savannah McHale


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Tom and Savannah McHale interview

AMBROSE LIU: OK, I think we’re ready to begin. So first of all, thank you both for participating in this interview for an oral history project we’re doing on behalf of the t-- Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership. Uh, my name is Ambrose Liu. I’m sitting here at the kitchen table on a Sunday evening on November 18th with?
AL: And?
SAVANNAH MCHALE: And Savannah McHale.
AL: And, uh, I am about to talk to them about their relationship with Tookany Creek and Tookany Creek Park. So, uh, let’s start by just asking the question. And -- and -- and let’s say you can each like just take turns alternately, uh, or cue each other somehow. Uh, uh, what -- what is your relationship to Tookany Creek Park?
TM: Well, I guess I should start. Uh, because the story really begins with my parents. Uh, my mother [01:00] was an Irish immigrant. She came over to the States from a rural section of Ireland in 1964. And, uh, her and my father, uh, met out in, you know, Upper Darby. But they came to live on the Roosevelt Boulevard at Gransback Street and the Roosevelt Boulevard just on the other side of the boulevard, right alongside the Tacony Creek Park. And, uh, throughout the years my mother would like to take walks around the neighborhood. And she always noticed these houses even back, you know, throughout the ’80s and ’70s and all of these houses always stood out to her because they reminded her of the little Irish cottages she was familiar with back home, and she loved that it was so close to the park, and she’s a gardener, and loves being outdoors. So she fell in love with the character of the homes. And some years later, uh, in the summer of 1991, when one of these homes was available for an open house and for sale, she told my father, “We have to go, we have to check it out,” and they made an offer, and we came to move in in July of 1991. I was about five years old at the time. And, uh, I grew up here. I lived here with my family until my, you know, [02:00] mid-twenties or so. Then I moved out to Center City for a few years where I met Savannah. And now we’ve come back here now and we plan to spend the rest of our lives here.
SM: Yeah, I, uh, moved to Philadelphia maybe seven years ago to attend college at the, uh, University of the Arts. Eventually moved next door to Tom in Center City. And when I met his parents he brought me here to this gorgeous little house. And, uh, we took our first walks in the park together, took his dog there, and ever since, you know, we’ve been coming back here, you know, sometimes on weekends when we were living in Center City, to, uh, just take walks in the park and take his dog for a walk in the park. And really he introduced me to this whole section of Philadelphia. I never really had ventured this far, moving from Lancaster to Center City. Uh, so when I met Tom he really introduce me to the park.
AL: Uh, and where were you from originally?
SM: Uh, I am from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
AL: Oh, OK.
SM: Yeah.
AL: (inaudible).
SM: From Lancaster, lived in Downingtown for a little while. I’m out in the suburbs.
AL: Mm.
SM: Seven years [03:00] I’ve been here in Philly.
AL: Uh, so can you describe what it was like growing up as a child in the area here and --
TM: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, through my adolescence we always had a dog and what I remember most is always taking my dog for long walks down the park and in the woods. And it seemed like, you know, on the weekends and days home after getting home from school, feel like almost all of my time was often spent going on walks nearly every day, you know, through the woods or through the park. We always had a dog to go and take out and walk. And not only that but when I was a child here there was other people in these houses who at the time also had kids around my age, uh, different times. So we’d all find ourselves playing out in the woods. Our backyard leads right to the border of the woods right here. So we’d always be out there playing and it always gave me an appreciation for the park and taking care of it. Uh, you know, my parents always were picking up trash and cleaning up the neighborhood and wanting to [04:00] see the place be taken care of. And always kind of instilled that in me to appreciate the land and to be upset when I see a piece of trash there, see it polluting the water and making it more difficult for the natural or the native wildlife to thrive here. And, uh, I just always fell in love with the park and nature and animals. And I definitely think that that’s been an influence on me ever since. Uh, even going on beyond adolescence, like early teenage years, all my friends, I would get them to come to the park, you know, every other Saturday I’d get all of my high school friends. We were all obsessed with at the time, you know, professional wrestling. So we had dumb little backyard wrestling organizations in people’s front yards and whatnot. Well, I said, “Hey, there’s this park r-- just a couple blocks away, I go down there all the time. Why don’t we do this thing there? We could bring more people; our parents won’t be so upset you’re tearing up their garden.” So even in high school I was always trying to get people out and come to the park. It was, you know, silly, just playing around, fantasy pro wrestling kind of stuff. [05:00] But we were in the park, and we were enjoying being outside, getting some fresh air, and doing something different, and enjoying that landscape and nature, and being a part of my entire youth all the way through, and wanting it to be shared with people. Uh, eventually I moved down to Center City. I’ve, you know, been a bartender for 13 years. So it just made sense to move to Center City, be close to work, where I could give up the car and be able to live a lifestyle where I’m not as carbon-dependent and walk around. And these are all things I wanted to do because I want to see land like what we have here preserved. After a few years, uh, I always would keep up with the parks through social media. Uh, because of the TTF account Instagram and Twitter pages, I, uh, was able to follow along with some of the progress being made on the park, even while I was living in Center City.
AL: Mm.
TM: You know, I would hear from my parents still living here about oh, it’s great, you know, there’s fewer dirt bikes, they’re putting gates up, or they’re cleaning up the park. And they’d always keep me updated. And then I got to follow along [06:00] after finding the TTF project through the Internet. And I get to see their social media posts with different pictures and follow along. And then this spring when we moved back here it was so easy to jump right in and get to finally meet some of these people that we’ve been following along with.
AL: Mm.
TM: And show that we’re in the neighborhood again now too, and we want to get involved and be involved in nature walks and give back to the community and just get to know more about the people who share an interest in these parks.
AL: And your background, uh, growing up in Lancaster, uh, what was your relationship to like environment and nature out there? And how does that compare to where you are now?
SM: So I always grew up around, uh, wildlife. And actually huge influences for me when I was a kid were people like Steve Irwin. And I would just watch Animal Planet on Saturday morning instead of watching those cartoons that kids would watch. I would look forward to watching Animal Planet. Uh, as a result, uh, I got my first camera, uh, when I was in third grade and, uh, [07:00] it was for a field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. Uh, and then I found a love for all kinds of different animals. So out there I would go, you know, searching for salamanders and toads and things like that. And then I moved to Center City and I saw a lot less wildlife. You know, I was attending the University of the Arts on South Broad Street, uh, attended the school for photography. And then after I met Tom, uh, he brought me here to the park, and after a few years in Center City I was reintroduced to this. There’s wildlife in the city. You know, I’ve never seen anything like it. I didn’t know that there was this much wildlife and open space here in Philadelphia. I was amazed when I saw this park. So then, you know, when we moved in here I got my camera back out and rediscovered my love for photography and started photographing all the wildlife in the park. And I’m just blown away by how much more wildlife there is here in such a small space [08:00] compared to even out in Lancaster. You know, here the entire summer I spent photographing hummingbirds. When I was a kid it was, you know, so rare and so fleeting to see a hummingbird. But here I was seeing, you know, seven a day. It was incredible. I couldn’t believe that there was this much wildlife here in Philadelphia.
AL: Uh, while we’re on the question of cool and interesting creatures that you see and so what -- what are some of your highlights for both of you in terms of, uh, wildlife?
TM: Well, if we sit here long enough we might hear the fox out tonight --
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: -- who’s been an elusive creature for us because all of our neighbors have seen the fox and even have video of the fox. My parents have seen the fox. Savannah’s favorite animal in the world are foxes. She calls it her spirit animal. She --
SM: And I hear this thing every (inaudible).
TM: -- has fox tattoos. We’ve not yet actually laid eyes on the fox. We’ve been hearing it for months. And smell its scent and can see the food that it eats and its paw prints and everyone else has seen it. [09:00] But for months we’ve been trying to see the fox. And as of yet it’s escaped us.
AL: Mm.
TM: But we always hear it at night out back and --
SM: Yeah.
TM: -- we’re hoping that now with the leaves falling and the view being a bit easier looking through the bare trees and being able to see more with the brush and the woods from our vantage here that we’ll be able to see the fox. But so far that’s been like the mythical creature that we’re hoping --
AL: Mm.
TM: -- to see but haven’t yet. Uh, as far as ones that we have seen, uh.
SM: Oh.
TM: There’s, uh, a lot. Uh, probably the -- the great blue heron is like the premier bird in the area.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: You know, it’s huge and eye-grabbing and you don’t see it all the time. But we see it often enough. There’s a few right here along the banks.
SM: Mm-hmm.
AL: Mm.
TM: So those. The hummingbirds. We love the turtles. There are so many different variety of turtles back there.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: Some snapping turtles. Of course the red-eared slider which we know is invasive but there’s plenty of them back there. Uh, so many frogs. And the beaver. We got some great video of a beaver --
SM: We did.
TM: -- swimming right here in the creek just underneath the bridge. So there’s a lot back there. It’s hard to [10:00] pick just one. But I guess probably, you know, the fox is the one that we’re most interested in.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: And the great blue heron would be the one that we actually have seen and documented that’s the most interesting to me. What do you think?
SM: Yeah. For me it was definitely the hummingbirds.
TM: Yeah.
SM: I mean when I was a kid it was just so rare to ever see one. And they’re just so fast. And here I mean all summer long you’re just observing them. They come up so close. And it was the most exciting thing. Like there’s hummingbirds in the middle of a city in Philadelphia? I was never told that there was anything like this going on in Philadelphia, it was just Center City, Philadelphia, Center City, Philadelphia, Eagles, Phillies, and then you go here and you’re just like, “There’s more wildlife here than I’ve ever seen in Lancaster.” And the fox definitely for me. I hear it almost every night and I have yet to see it and I’m out on the third floor with my camera just spying on everything back there as often as I can whenever I get a chance.
AL: You talked about, uh, you know, things s-- seemingly gradually changing. Uh, over time. And your parents keeping you posted on [11:00] the developments. And then you’ve been tracking it via the Internet. Uh, can you describe what it was like back then in terms of maybe the -- the, uh, park and the c-- the condition of it versus how, uh, uh, the changes that you’ve seen?
TM: Yeah (inaudible) yeah. It’s always been, you know, a beautiful piece of geography, I mean, you know, with the -- the creek and everything else. But unfortunately I remember so often as a kid it’s, uh, largely a dumping ground. Uh, so many nights we’d be stirred in the middle of the night hearing a large explosion and hearing the fire trucks not a few minutes later because it was like almost common. Every weekend there’d be a new car driven down there and firebombed basically. Our suspicions were always that it was some, you know, couldn’t make the payments and you have your brother or your cousin drive it down the park and torch it and collect the insurance payment. It would happen every week. And it’s terrible to say that but there’s no other possible explanation, there’s not that many cars that are stolen, not stripped for parts, [12:00] and decided to be firebombed in a park, no cameras or witnesses. But it just seemed to be commonplace that people were dumping cars, dumping old tires, you know, dumping old construction materials and things like that. And, uh, it was always such a shame to -- to see that. And it was so often. And there would be constant disturbances with fire engines going down there. Or if not that, you know, there’d be the occasional, you know, instance where there might be some kind of police activity where they’re looking for a suspect. Uh, oftentimes you’d have people, you know, further up near Rising Sun or Adams Avenue. Things might be going on. They’d try to hide out from police by hiding in the woods. And so we’d have helicopters out my bedroom window. Police choppers scouring the woods. Or cops on bikes going through our backyard to go look for somebody hiding out in our woods behind our house. So it could be scary as a kid sometimes that this place that’s so beautiful could also be so menacing and, you know, worrisome because there’s no safety sometimes. [13:00] And you worry what’s going on in there. Uh, also though the park was always beautiful it didn’t have as much, uh, how should I say, uh, like foliage as it does now in terms of, you know, tall grasses and bushlands that seem to foster more small wildlife like rabbits and things like that. Uh, that’s all things that I believe have consciously been planted and not mowed and things like that. And that’s a change in, uh, policy probably that we’ve seen since, you know, the last 10 years. That back when I was a kid it would just be, you know, mowed all the way down and short grass and looked very nice, but you could see that now more effort is being made not just to have a nice aesthetic but to actually try to foster the wildlife and bring that in. And in so doing I think it also keeps the creek cleaner by having these grasses grow. So seeing the new plants, grasses, how that is protecting the creek from pollutants, how it’s fostering wildlife, that many more gates were put up blocking access to like the ATVs and [14:00] four-wheelers that can tear up the dirt and mud and scare away the animals, and all these community walks that have been hosted, have all been small examples over the last decade of progress that was not there when I was a kid, that’s great to see now. And you can see it actually having an effect and change and that w-- I do see much more wildlife than I ever remember seeing as a kid. And it’s great to have these community walks and get people out and interested in the park so that they too care about it and want to defend it and see it supported. So those sort of things really give me optimism for what’s going on and be inspired to want to try to take part of it and do what we can ourselves as well.
AL: Uh, tell me about where we are, this house and --
TM: Sure.
AL: My understanding is it’s got some historical, uh, significance in relationship to, uh, the park.
TM: So yeah. Yeah, definitely. We, uh, the Whitaker family, uh, came over from England in the early 1800s [15:00] and set up a wool mill here on the creek. Uh, there were several mills along this stretch of creek but the Whitaker mill was right here, uh, it was just on the creek. There was an actual waterwheel that originally powered, uh, what they would make the threads and textiles with. Uh, I think everything here was done by 1813, some buildings as early as 1809 or 1810. But these houses were all put up by 1813. And, uh, the mill was in constant operation, family-owned, through the 1970s. Uh, so these houses were original stone, just, you know, this floor, upstairs, and the basement. I believe s-- this was added on after the fact. But you can go down to the basement and see the original stone walls and it’s not even concrete, it’s like a mud mix that they used to keep it all together. Excuse me. But these houses were basically for [16:00] the Whitaker family, like their kids, uh, and also like other employees. Uh, they would have several families living in these houses. They would take some money out of their wages but they had a place to stay. And they’d be right here. This was really like its own village community. So the Whitakers originally had the manor house, which is the large house just up the street. And then these four here were for their, you know, kids or in-laws and other people working at the mill. Uh, I believe there was also other sections of homes as well that were later demolished. Uh, there used to be a small chapel just across the creek sitting on the other side of the hill. And the main factory was directly across the road, I don’t know if you’re able to see, it’s nighttime right now, but there’s a large open field there. That was where the main mill stood.
AL: Uh.
TM: Uh, there used to be an old covered bridge, what’s now Tabor Road, before it was expanded. It was a completely different landscape here. What is now the woods that I’ve been describing was all pasture. There’s photographs, [17:00] uh, that we’ve seen probably taken from like the 1890s and early, uh, twentieth century, of the back of our homes but r-- unrecognizable because it’s just roaming pastures with cattle and horses grazing. And now it’s completely wooded. This was before all the trees were planted. They, uh, you know, used to be a small swimming hole right in the backwoods where, you know, I always used to walk my dog, and call it my beach. But that was where a swimming hole was, and there’s photos that we’ve seen in time since that have groups of children swimming in the holes. And basically the -- the whole community here was founded on these mills. And that was a huge part of Philadelphia’s economy at that time. Uh, this was at the same time with the Napoleonic wars, and it was tough to import textiles from Europe so we had to make our own here and it was a lucrative business and the family continued it all through the wars of the twentieth century and I believe their signature was bed ticking, which was a type of, you know, coarse blanket that came in handy during World War II [18:00] and was used for soldiers abroad. Excuse me. And, uh, they ceased operations I believe in 1970. The buildings remained here for a few years. But in 1975 they were a victim of arson. And, uh, someone set fire to some of the buildings. The city came in and knocked most of them. These were left standing, and a few people either had moved in or were already squatting here, you know, taking care of the place so to speak. And the sold them the houses so long as they took care of them and gave it to them for a song. Uh, they kind of had their own little hippie commune here from what I’m told, uh, through the ’70s and the ’80s and it was, uh, yeah, 1991 when my family, uh, purchased the house from one of those original, uh, settlers so to say that came in in the ’70s there. Yeah.
AL: Yeah, I was looking at the map on, uh, in Google or whatever I was looking at. And, uh, looked like it was literally, uh, part of the park.
TM: Mm-hmm.
AL: But it’s, uh, so it’s private property now [19:00] but it’s still obviously connected, uh, to -- to the park.
TM: Yeah, our border is Fairmount Park basically, you know.
AL: Mm-hmm.
TM: Soon as where the bottom of our yard ends the park begins. Yeah.
AL: Mm-hmm. Uh, w-- what’s been the demographics of this area like b-- since -- since your family moved here? And how has it changed? And --
TM: Uh, well, in terms of like ethnicity or age or --
AL: Uh, ethnicity, yeah, yeah.
TM: Uh, I mean since I was a kid it was always a very diverse neighborhood. Uh, I attended Saint Ambrose Grade School at C and the boulevard.
TM: And my brother went there as well. My brother Chris is 14 years older than I am. Uh, so he was attending school there in the late ’70s early ’80s whereas I was there during the ’90s. And from what I understand during his time it was a predominantly white neighborhood, uh, blue-collar, but by the time I was around it was really no majority ethnicity or group. [20:00] When I attended Saint Ambrose, uh, the class size was much smaller than it was in the ’80s or ’90s, it was down to, you know, 30 kids in a class. We only had one graduating class, uh, the year I graduated, 2000. But in that class there was maybe, you know, six white kids, six black kids, three or four Asian kids, three or four like Indian kids. It was such a perfect like Crayola box of backgrounds that I think it gave me a unique outlook, having so many friends from so many backgrounds. And then myself also attending Central High School, which is another huge school with people from all over the city. But I’ve really known it to have one identity. But it’s always been a melting pot of different people from different backgrounds.
AL: And do you find that culturally different people use the park for different occasions or reasons or recreational, uh, anything --
TM: Uh, uh, yeah, uh, uh, absolutely. Uh, but at the same time [21:00] everyone’s really doing the same thing. You know, it’s not all that different.
AL: Yeah.
TM: It’s just different times of the year and calling it a different reason. But --
AL: Mm-hmm.
TM: Yeah, I mean throughout the -- the years we’d often see people from just the neighborhood or from different, uh, I don’t want to say churches but from different religious, uh, places of worship that would come and hold different events or festivals. People would use it for different reasons. Uh, always been plenty of people just strolling through or you see lots of people bicycling. Uh, when I was very young there would be like horseback riding. You hardly see any of that anymore. But things like that. Uh, and there was always people who were, you know, also interested in the ecology and in studying the animals. Uh, before this TTF group, uh, came around I always, you know, as a kid would hear about the -- the Friends of Tookany Creek or the Fairmount Park Commission that would hold different things. Different neighbors who lived here on the street were interested in bird-watching. There was a fellow who lived up in what was the [22:00] manor house up here. His name was Doug. But he was always out going on walks and bird walks and have his binoculars. He lived here because he, you know, felt so connected and wanting to observe nature and be close to it. So between people going on bird walks or just riding their bikes or just kids cutting through on their way home from school, people were using it for all sorts of different reasons. But the fact that they’re using it ties us all together. The appreciation of liking a peaceful place to walk through that’s a little different from the traffic jam sidewalks and intersections.
AL: I see you have, uh, artifact.
SM: Yes.
AL: Uh, in front of you. Uh, I’d love for you to share that and maybe, you know, talk about that (inaudible).
SM: Sure. So, uh, God, was it two years ago now? Uh, October 29th, 2016, uh, Tom and I got married back here. Uh, we did the whole thing ourselves. We set everything up. We took care of everything back there. You know, [23:00] pulled weeds and made it a really nice area. And, uh, we held our wedding back here. And it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. October 29th, you know, it was 75 degrees, uh, gorgeous.
TM: We got very lucky for late October.
SM: Yeah.
TM: Could have been a disaster.
SM: And, uh, it’s just, you know, a gathering of people appreciating, you know, the park and the area. If you wanted to look through.
AL: Mm-hmm.
SM: But it’s just a full documentation of that entire day and what basically right behind the house looks like here.
AL: So this is, uh, so the -- the area you used was part of the park?
SM: Yes.
TM: Yeah.
SM: Yeah.
TM: Yeah, this side of the creek it’s all I guess I should say unmanicured park.
AL: Mm-hmm.
TM: There’s no walkways or anything like that. So it’s almost like a private section. There’s no real access aside from through the backyards of these houses. Uh, or up the back of the playground that sits up on, uh, Bingham Street or, uh, Garland rather. So it’s always kind of been like a private woods [24:00] for us. So, you know, there’s always the occasional straggler walking through. But as a kid that’s why I always felt so safe walking back there. But it is a part of the park. But because of its situation not having any easy access it’s like a private little sanctuary back there. So, uh, I guess it was one day in May of 2016 we happened to be back there, uh, after a funeral. And we were already engaged and planning to be married and weren’t sure exactly what venue we would choose or if it would be a destination wedding, uh, what we were going to do. But after the -- the somber occasion of a funeral we decided that we wanted to do it sooner rather than later. We wanted the people who were important to us to be there, to be able to make it. So we just wanted to do it close to home. Uh, accessible for everyone. But we wanted to do it low-cost and our style, our way. We really just wanted to be outside under the stars. And, uh, we decided to do exactly that. It meant that we had to have a small guest list because you got to factor in w-- w-- how’s everyone going to use the restrooms, everyone’s going to have to come back to the house. Things like that. [25:00] So we kept a small guest list. And, uh, everything was done by our friends and family. Uh, decorations were all done basically by Savannah’s family. Uh, obviously my family here did their best to tidy up the house and be good hosts. Uh, our good friend [Trish Palin?], uh, became a ordained minister so that she --
SM: (inaudible).
TM: -- could, uh, see over the ceremonies.
AL: Mm-hmm.
TM: Uh, our friend [Jess Pinkus?] was our photographer.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: Uh, everyone kind of just chipped in to do what they could so that we didn’t have to have anyone outside of our group of family and friends be a part of this. So we did it all right here. Uh, had Nick’s Roast Beef cater it. They brought the food down, loaded some tables out there. We set some chairs up. And really I’m partial but I think it was the coolest wedding I’ve ever been to.
SM: Oh yeah. And, you know, our friends who were there say the same thing. That it was just the most chill and cool wedding they’ve ever been to, you know, considering the fact that we did everything ourselves and it was right here in the home that we’re now living in. [26:00] It was a perfect day.
TM: Yeah, to have that union of the park and the -- the creek being so important to me in my life and being able to share that with Savannah and for it to bring together our love of nature and animals and the outdoors and doing things our own way. That’s my dog [Huck?], who was, uh, actually our chief usher for the wedding.
AL: Mm-hmm.
TM: He, uh, was up at the, uh, uh, altar so to speak there with us. And, uh, he was also leading all of our guests from our backyard here to the back of the woods so they could find their way. But that’s him drinking water there for the oral history. Yeah. Yeah.
AL: (inaudible) get the sound effect in the audio, that’s awesome.
SM: Mm-hmm.
AL: And so it looks like it’s sand there. What -- is -- is that the little beach, so-called beach that you --
TM: So, uh, yeah, let me see what we’re looking at. So what w-- h-- that’s all hay actually.
SM: Mm-hmm.
AL: Right (inaudible) on the sand.
TM: We laid down, uh, hay so yeah, uh, so it’s not really the beach there, uh, we’re on soil that’s been covered with --
AL: Oh, OK, oh.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: -- hay. [27:00] The beach would be four feet below that, uh, the bank of the creek. Uh, so we’re elevated off the creek about, you know, four, five feet there.
AL: Mm-hmm.
TM: But it basically just drops off into the water right next to that. Yeah, uh, the decorations. Everything was biodegradable and natural.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: We laid down, uh, bales of hay, uh, to make a floor. Uh, all the decorations were, you know, natural --
SM: There were pumpkins, yeah.
TM: Pumpkins and gourds and cornstalks.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: Uh, Savannah’s, uh, mother did great with, you know, helping us with decorations and making sure it was things that would be ecofriendly and the kind of things we would enjoy, there would be --
SM: Right, and she even said herself that like, you know, she made the pumpkins with the flowers in it to make the like flowerpot. She was like, “Oh, the deer would like this. And the squirrels would like this.”
AL: (inaudible).
SM: So she really thought about, you know, how some of these decorations could bring that wildlife back into, you know, circulation here after a big event.
TM: Yeah. Even like hanging different wreaths that had --
AL: (inaudible).
TM: -- berries that could be eaten by the native birds and things that -- we had to set this thing up. There’s no one [28:00] to break it down. No one wants to have to do a whole lot of cleanup afterwards. So let’s put things up that can stay up and can actually be used by the wildlife back there.
AL: That’s sweet.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: Yeah, even like a biodegradable Astroturf and like --
SM: Yeah.
TM: -- burlap and things like that for, you know, the runner of the, you know, carpet so to speak, yeah, yeah.
SM: The aisle. Yeah.
AL: Sounds like you guys could go into business or something (inaudible) biodeg-- biodegradable wedding.
TM: Yeah. Yeah.
SM: Oh yeah.
AL: Yeah. Uh, what’s it like, uh, you know, I mean obviously you got married, uh, really close to home.
TM: Yeah.
AL: What’s it like to just be able to look outside or go f-- walk out and all of a sudden you’re there and --
SM: Oh my God, uh, it’s the best way to spend an anniversary. I mean how many people get to go to the exact spot that they got married every anniversary? Let alone every day.
TM: Yeah (inaudible).
SM: I mean this summer when we were moving in every day we made sure to take Huck back to that exact same spot and take him for a little hike and observe some of the wildlife. [29:00] And that’s really when we got a taste for all the stuff that really lived out here. But living here now is, uh, really surreal. You know, we live up on the third floor. So it’s really like this observatory for all of the wildlife that’s back there. Just, you know, uh, the last couple weeks as the leaves have been coming down I’ve seen deer walking back here and all the different winter birds, you know, coming into our backyards --
AL: (inaudible).
SM: -- and observing all of them. And just the circulation of wildlife coming in for the winter and the birds that leave for the winter, and seeing certain animals that are hibernating and disappearing. Just watching the landscape change and everything here is amazing. Let alone just this house. I always, uh, the second I got here and saw his mom, she’s this perfect adorable little Irishwoman. And I was like, “I absolutely love everything about this.” The park, you know, the house, there’s so much character, it’s just such an amazing place to be.
AL: Uh, you’ve already mentioned, uh, a lot about TTF [30:00] and some of the amazing work that you’ve been following and p-- participating in. Uh, uh, is there anything else you’d like to say as far as, uh, uh, TTF and their work or, yeah, uh, any -- anything comes to mind that --
SM: Honestly, uh, Tom had told me about TTF when he was following them on Instagram.
AL: Mm.
SM: So I ended up following them for a little while. And then he showed me this app called iNaturalist, uh, and he said, “Oh, you do the wildlife photography and we go on hikes. This would be a really helpful app for us to have.” So I downloaded that and started posting immediately. Uh, and that’s where Robin actually found us. He saw my iNaturalist account, that it was linked to Tom, and looked through some of our stuff, and immediately was like, “You guys have to come out for walks in the park.” Uh, and meeting them and seeing the work that they’ve done and just how much he knows [31:00] about the local wildlife and plants and everything like that has really in-- inspired me to get more involved. It really sparked that inspiration that like someone like Steve Irwin gave to me, you know, seeing Robin walk through the parks and being able to hear birdcalls and just say, “Oh, this is a warbler, this is a cardinal.” He inspired me to even be better in photography. You know, I was never really interested in birds as much until I met Robin and realized oh, you could hear a bird before you see it. So I started memorizing birdcalls and everything like that. But just his passion for keeping the parks clean and getting people into the parks and just asking the community for ideas on how to get the rest of the community involved in the parks is really remarkable to me. And though I haven’t been here very long, you know, just listening to Tom talk about all the improvements that have been made in the park, it’s really clear to me how much this has changed and how beautiful it is now compared to, you know, f-- 5, 10 years ago. And the work that they’ve done has [32:00] brought wildlife back and has really inspired me to get more involved in the park as well.
TM: And Savannah mentioned how much she enjoyed, uh, shooting the hummingbirds as far as photography. She came to the city to study film and photography at the University of the Arts. And it was here, uh, on our deck shooting hummingbirds over the summer she got such fantastic shots, uh, that through TTF we were referred to, uh, the local, uh, magazine on sustainability, Grid, Grid Philly, if you’re familiar. Uh, so they reached out to us and we did a small interview with them about the, uh, iNaturalist app and getting people engaged and going out. And through that they asked to use one of Savannah’s photos for the piece. So that was her first time really getting one of her nature photos published.
SM: Mm.
TM: So hitting a milestone like that where she’s published in a magazine, talking about birds, talking about the wildlife, and engaging with that through social media and through the apps is an opportunity that only came [33:00] through our connection to TTF and their community outreach and putting people together with other like-minded people who want to share their passion and care about the park and the community and want to get other people out there who care too. It’s more than just the physical changes to the park as far as putting up gates and organizing cleanups and growing certain plants that may foster wildlife. It’s about getting the community themselves interconnected and realizing that we have so much in common through the park, and what it means to each of us, and getting people involved with the community and putting people in touch with each other through things like this, that I think is really the best thing that I’ve seen them do. Not just for us but for other people. We go to these events and jazz festivals and concerts and see people from all over the community getting to engage with their community leaders, having representatives like Cherelle Parker, Councilwoman Cherelle Parker rather, being at an event like this, and being there w-- to talk to people about what’s going on in their community is a great opportunity. [34:00] And I think that is the thing that I really have to give them credit for the most.
AL: Did you attend the, uh, the Latin jazz concert we did in July I think? It was right on the big field. Yeah.
TM: Uh, uh, yeah, yes, we were there. Yeah, yeah, right here at Olney Ave. and Clarkson, yes. Yeah. Yeah.
SM: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
AL: Oh, OK, yes. Yeah. Cool. Uh, are you aware of any other like-minded photo n-- naturalists n-- naturalist photo -- photographers in the area doing k-- kind of the creek and --
SM: W-- what was his name? There was someone who attended a walk.
TM: [Pete?].
AL: Mm.
SM: Pete.
TM: Yeah.
SM: Yeah, OK, uh, he attended a walk once and expressed to me that he was also a photographer. And I was super excited to hear that there were other photographers walking around in the park and attending the exact same walks, you know, that Robin really is conducting here. And, you know, to see people come out like that. I’m really hoping to see more people come out into the parks just to take photos or --
AL: Mm.
SM: You know, even to, you know, [35:00] use those photos to get people out into the parks. Like look what’s here in Philadelphia, come see it for yourself, it’s right in your backyard, you know.
TM: Yeah.
SM: Getting people out in the parks through photography I think is really important too. You know, you see something like that posted on social media and you’re like, “I never knew that was here in Philadelphia.” For someone like me --
TM: Yeah.
SM: You know, I never knew this stuff was here.
TM: And even though we’ve only maybe met a few people in the flesh --
SM: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
TM: -- I feel like through the interconnectivity of social media and apps like iNaturalist there’s other people that we see regularly posting in the community.
AL: Mm.
TM: And it’s like, you know, building a, you know, cyber connection with them through, you know, helping identify animals or answering questions.
SM: Mm-hmm.
TM: And so we hope to get to meet more people in the flesh, you know, coming up soon. But it’s great to already kind of have that ice broken by interacting with them online beforehand. And again that’s through apps that otherwise we would be completely ignorant to it and know about if not for TTF.
SM: And that number of people is constantly growing. I mean if you see on iNaturalist, you know, it goes from 900 observers to, you know, 1,010. And it’s like oh, [36:00] that’s great, more people are getting involved here in Philadelphia. It’s really cool.
TM: Sorry about that. The cats knocked over the trash can.
AL: Uh, uh, no, no worries, no worries. Uh, you know, I -- I think we’ve covered a lot. I guess my last question which you may know is, uh, h-- uh, what do you envision for this creek, uh, this park, let’s say 10 years out.
SM: Oh.
AL: And it sounds like you guys are going to be here a while so you’ll --
SM: Yes.
AL: -- hopefully be here, uh, to see that happen.
SM: Hmm.
TM: Uh, I mean personally I -- there’s so much that is great about the park. Like in terms of the wildlife that is available. Uh, I don’t want to advocate for too much change. I think we’re on the right path. I think the right things are being done. And my hope is just to get more people interested in the parks, getting out on walks, so that it’s safer for everybody to enjoy and feel comfortable with. [37:00] And if more people care about the parks it’s more likely that that will be something that they support more funding for or, you know, increased, you know, lights. Or, you know, uh, gates and things like that. Ten years from now, uh, I -- I hope that, in the world we live in with the threat of climate change and everything else, if the park is exactly the way it is 10 years from now, that’d be a success. If it can improve in any way that’s amazing. I just hope that people are still enjoying the park, getting out, taking care of it. And if kids or anyone can take a walk in the park and that somehow inspires them or informs them to care about conservation and to care about the environment and the world we live in in ways different from just the grind of our daily lives but the bigger picture, then that’s what I would hope is the purpose of the park today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now, is inspiring people to care about the bigger picture.
SM: And less dirt bikes. (laughs)
TM: (laughs)
SM: Less dirt bikes. [38:00] More animals. Uh, I d-- I think it has a lot of potential. I think, you know, clearly what they’ve been doing with the watershed and everything is working. There’s no cars, no trash. I mean it’s just such a clean and beautiful park.
TM: There’s some trash but we’re getting there.
SM: Yeah.
TM: Yeah.
SM: I mean you’ve got people like, you know, Mary McHale who are out there every morning, you know, picking up trash to make sure that this place stays clean and if we had more people like that, you know, just pick up trash or, you know, more aware of what littering does to the environment. Uh, the water, you know, you see some of the trash collected in there. Just the clean water would bring more fish which would bring more turtles which would bring more birds. And, you know, 10 years from now I think there’s going to be more wildlife because we are on the right track, and you can see that, you know. Like Tom said in the last 10 years just the improvement to the park. I think, you know, 10 more years it’s going to be absolutely gorgeous. I think we’re all on the right path here.
AL: All right, well, I’m going to end on that note because I think that’s a hopeful one and it’s [39:00] Sunday night, it’s late. P-- uh, I don’t know if you guys getting up to go to work tomorrow but, you know --
SM: Yes.
TM: (inaudible) at like 4:30, it’s OK.
SM: Oh yeah, I work with dogs.
AL: Yeah. Yeah. All right. I will send you the link to the Manor College Web site.
SM: Great.




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Ambrose Liu, “Tom and Savannah McHale Interview,” Hands On History- Oral Histories of the Northeast Philadelphia area, accessed June 15, 2024,