Peter Prusinowski, an award-winning photographer and history buff who immigrated to Philadelphia from Poland in 1976, has long been moved by the story of William Penn and Chief Tamanend’s 1692 Treaty of Friendship. Under an elm in what is now Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania forged an alliance of peaceful coexistence with the Leni Lenape tribal chief that lasted almost 70 years. That spirit of friendship as well as the tragic end of that arrangement—forced migration of the Leni Lenape to Oklahoma—is at the heart of Prusinowski’s trek, which will retrace their journey.
The first leg of his trip took him from the Park to campus, an 11-mile walk. From here he headed west, and plans to cross Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, on what he’s calling the Trail of Hope, so-named because he hopes to spread Penn’s message about peace, justice and brotherly love while following in the footsteps of the Leni Lenape. “It’s about all humankind, not just about the Indians,” he says of his trek. “It’s an Indian trail, but it is about all of us. It’s not about the skin color, it’s about the spirit.”
Prusinowski is traveling with just a small backpack containing a few necessities and the modern technology—cell phone, camera, video camera, iPad—that will keep him connected to the rest of the world during his more-than-six-month-long walk and help him update his blog daily and document his travels.
He was in good spirits when he arrived on campus at the Penn Treaty Elm. The longest-surviving direct descendant of the original tree under which Penn and Tamanend signed their 17th century declaration of friendship, this ‘grandchild’ tree was planted here in 1840. Not even the cold rain of an early spring day could dampen his spirits. “It’s like a blessing of the walk from Mother Nature,” he said. He was also happy to discuss the months of training that he did in order to prepare for the long journey. “My first test was how far can I jog?” he laughs. “And I did it for a whole 15 seconds, then I said, ‘Call 911!’” But as of last summer, he was training for a full eight hours a day.
Over lunch with the College’s Arboretum staff, Prusinowski said he needs to walk 75 miles a week in order to make it to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, by October. He hasn’t engaged any corporate sponsors, and hadn’t established any concrete sleeping arrangements beyond spending the night in a hotel in Frazer after leaving Haverford’s campus. For safety reasons, he plans to avoid big cities during any late-night portions of his walk. He is “counting on good people” to help him along the way. But he’s up for the challenge, he says, because his Trail of Hope walk was an inevitability.
“The idea for this walk came not from my head,” he says. “It came from inside me. Two and a half years ago something told me that this is what I need to do.”
We wish him luck. You can follow Prusinowski’s walk, tracking his progress daily, on his blog.