When walking the streets of Philadelphia it’s tough not to notice all the abandoned lots. A passerby may not take notice of the contents of the lots, many of which are filled with broken bottles and high grass covering the once beautiful landscape.
One such lot, on Fifth Street and Hunting Park Avenue boasts many of the same characteristics. As you pass by there are broken bottles littered across the fenced in lot. At first glance the lot appears to be nothing more than overgrown wild shrubs after a rainy season. Time has beaten the uneven foundation.
But to the center stand 10 large stuffed animals, a rare sight for any piece of land. Many people walk by, look, and continue to their destination without even the slightest bit of expression or confusion.
The stuffed animals seem out of place to those new to the neighborhood. However, long time residents know the reason the animals adorn the solemn plot of land.
“It was a tragedy, those kids was so young and were so polite,” recalled Abigail Smith of the 3900 block of North Fifth Street. “They were friends with my babies and to think it could happen so close to home is scary.”
Smith is referring to the electrical fire and explosion that occurred a few years ago that claimed the lives of 10 children. According to Smith and her friend Maurice Roberts, also of North Fifth street, the incident happened approximately five years ago around this time.
The fire involved a cluster of four houses. Like the other homes on the block, those involved were three story high brick buildings with beautiful attic windows near the top. The unaffected homes that once stretched the length of the block now cover only two-thirds. There has been no new construction on the lot where the accident happened.
Roberts explained that a Vietnamese couple recently purchased the corner lot and built a check cashing business. The corner store has been the only construction on the block since the tragedy.
“I remember the popping,” said Roberts, “I remember it sounded like fireworks and I thought it was just kids being kids. Then I saw people run to the corner and there was fire.”
There is one large stuffed animal for every child who lost his or her life that spring. So, the abandoned lot you pass without any second thought, may have more than rocks and broken glass engrained within its soil. Such is the case for the lot on North Fifth Street and Hunting Park Avenue.