Happy Birthday, Walt

Five South Jersey high school students read their prize-winning poems in the garden of Camden's Walt Whitman House  Wednesday to celebrate the poet's 194th birthday.

Whitman was born May 31, 1819 on Long Island and died March 26, 1892 in Camden, where his home at 328 Mickle Boulevard is a state museum. The party drew about 40 people, including Darrel Blaine Ford, a professional performer who makes a thoroughly convincing Whitman, as well as a certain Inquirer columnist who spoke (briefly, bless him) about the poet's journalism.

The Walt Whitman Association sponsored the party as well as the poetry contest, which drew entries from more than 100 students at high schools in Philadelphia and South Jersey. A jury of graduate students at Rutgers University in Camden chose the winners, Professor Carol J. Singley said.

Emmy Jaros, of Haddonfield Memorial High School, won the first prize. It is given in memory of Bernadette Stridick, a winner of what was then an essay contest in the 1970s; her family is a longtime supporter of the Association.

This year's other contest winners were Caroline Fleming, Haddonfield Memorial High School; Lexy Porrini, Cinnaminson; Kyra Smiley, Timber Creek; Jasmine Brown, Moorestown Friends; and Sarah Barner, Highland.