The headline in The New York Times read: “After Centuries of Obscurity, Wilmington is Having a Moment.”
It was written by Neil MacFarquhar, who certainly has strong credentials. He was formerly The New York Times’ Moscow Bureau Chief and in 2017 was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. Impressive bona fides.
The essence of the piece: Now that Wilmington’s Joe Biden has been elected president, this small-time, famous-for-nothing city is on the map. Our Dark Ages are over. Enough of us stumbling around in the abyss.
While many locals gushed on social media about the publicity—Hey, The New York Times knows who we are!—I found the piece condescending. Don’t get me wrong, I love that our city got a feature piece in one of the world’s most-respected newspapers. And it is exciting seeing media representatives from Japan to Jacksonville flood into our town. Great stuff…on so many fronts.
However, I’m annoyed by another myopic take on our city that insinuates we’re little more than “a convenient pit stop along the Northeast Corridor.” That we have no claims to fame. “Ask residents to name a unique feature and the universal response is a long pause,” MacFarquhar stated.
Just how many residents did you ask, Mr. MacFarquhar? Here’s a quick one off the top of my head: “Corporate Capital of the World.” Ring a bell?
I get it—the Biden election brought you to a city that wasn’t on your personal radar. That does not mean, however, that we’ve been toiling away in obscurity. And by the way, we’re a little used to Secret Service and the national political spotlight. Biden was the vice president for eight years.
Not to mention, virtually every presidential candidate since I’ve been publishing this magazine (32 years) has paid a visit to this “backwater” (note accompanying photos).
But enough about presidential candidates. Here are 10 other “unique features” about Wilmington. And I didn’t even use Google. Since your article mentioned Chancery Court, the DuPont Co., and the Swedes landing (though you missed the date by half a century), I’ll refrain from noting them.
- Wilmington was the home to Thomas Garrett, who teamed with Harriet Tubman to help hundreds escape slavery. Stops of the Underground Railroad are easily found in our city and our Tubman-Garrett Park was built on a key crossing point of the Railroad into Wilmington. Our critical role in the Underground Railroad has been widely recognized, most recently in the hit movie Harriet.
- Judge Collins Seitz and attorney Louis Redding were both from Wilmington. Each played pivotal roles in the desegregation of U.S. schools as well as the Supreme Court decision many studied in history class: Brown v. Board of Education
- The Hotel du Pont enjoys a worldwide reputation. By playing host to the annual Commonwealth Awards—not to mention sharing a building with The Playhouse on Rodney Square—it has hosted hundreds of internationally known celebrities as disparate as Morgan Freeman to Mr. Rogers (photos next page).
- Judy Johnson, one of the greatest players of Negro Leagues Baseball, is from here. He’s also in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and his statue greets visitors entering our own Frawley Stadium. His Wilmington home is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Though he was just 25 at the time of his death in a car accident, Wilmington’s Clifford Brown is a jazz legend and considered one of the greatest trumpeters of all time. Brown is in the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame and each year Wilmington keeps his name alive by hosting the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, one of the country’s largest free jazz events.
- Five-time Tony Award-winner Susan Strohman is from here. She actually attended the University of Delaware, just like Joe Biden.
- One of the biggest names in professional women’s basketball, Elena Delle Donne, is from Wilmington. She starred at our Ursuline Academy, then University of Delaware, and is the only player in WNBA history to win its MVP award twice.
- George “Bad to the Bone” Thorogood was born in Wilmington. He spent much of his early years here, played all our clubs, then formed the Delaware Destroyers in the mid-1970s and became an international blues-rock sensation. He regularly returns to perform at our community treasure, The Grand Opera House.
- Actors Aubrey Plaza, Elisabeth Shue, Judge Reinhold, Valerie Bertinelli, John Gallagher, Jr., Keith Powell, Sean Patrick Thomas, and Teri Polo as well as Academy Award-winning actor/director Luke Matheny are from Wilmington. (And I’m sure I missed a few.)
- Finally, another unique feature to Wilmington, and Delaware, for that matter: Our political leaders are personally accessible. It’s commonplace to see President-elect Biden at Janssen’s Market; U.S. Sen. Chris Coons strolling our Riverfront; U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester walking along Market Street; U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and Delaware Gov. John Carney working out at the Central YMCA.
The reason so many Wilmingtonians have selfies with Biden? He’s that accessible. It’s how we roll. And that’s a good thing.
It’s also a good thing to be in the national spotlight, so thank you for that. But our first time on the big stage after “centuries of obscurity”?
— Jerry duPhily