Apparitions are usually pretty tough to explain to those around you, but in the case of the Ghost Ship, it’s something everyone looking at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Bridge can witness. The temporary art installation is stationed there for public viewing from now until the first week in November.
Aligning perfectly with the month associated with all things ghastly, the Ghost Ship sits in the river between Race Street Pier and Pier 12 and is visible every Wednesday through Sunday night. The illusion is created with the help of mist fountains anchored beneath the surface of the water. The hazy sails are brought to life using lighting projected from a nearby platform.
Designers of the art installation intentionally set it up so that the ship’s port side would be visible from Race Street Pier, while its bow can be seen from the nearby Columbus Boulevard. For added folly, a pop-up Ghost Ship beer garden sits on the waterfront on evenings when the ship appears.
It’s not a hallucination caused by beer goggles, though. Instead, a lot of planning and preparation went into bringing the piece to the river. It’s the first result of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.’s new Waterfront Arts Program, which aims to explore the history and diversity of the area through works of art. With this in mind, organizers opened up a call for exhibitions that represented that goal.
“We’ve always had cultural events like fireworks displays at the waterfront,” says DRWC President Joe Forkin. “So we started to think about how art complements the waterfront and how it can bring new audiences here.” The council debated, scrutinized, and brainstormed ideas until they agreed to focus on past and present communities affected by the Delaware River as a theme for the works.
The exhibition call was answered by Ryan Strand Greenberg, a public art curator and photographer from the area. Having visited an inspirational light display in Amsterdam with a similar theme, Greenberg reached out to Biangle Studio (based in Estonia), who agreed to modify their original work to represent the history of migration in the area during the 18th century — when the river was used to carry products like cocoa beans and crude oil, as well as both free and enslaved people.
“This particular time period was really important to the city’s development,” Greenberg explains. “It contributed to the social fabric of Philadelphia.”
The team studied ships from the target era until they decided on the final model. They then hired local engineering firm Pennoni to obtain permits, anchor the lighting, install a submersible power cable in the river itself, and mount lights on nearby properties.
“It was a pretty neat project for us, because this is the kind of project that our guys don’t get to work on every day,” says David DeLizza, President and CEO of Pennoni.
The installation will be visible from 7 to 10 PM on all the aforementioned evenings, and onlookers can even enjoy a self-guided tour via smartphone on SoundCloud, as accessed through the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s official website.