The reason for our November road trip was to attend the wedding of our friends’ son in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We left DC and headed for Bethlehem. Unfortunately the November hurricane was moving up the East Coast so we had heavy rain and fog on our drive to Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful wedding and we had a great time.
The next day we headed to Philadelphia for a day of sightseeing. First stop was Independence Visitor Center where we saw a film and looked at the exhibits. We had booked a tour of Independence Hall online which was a good thing because it was pretty crowded. Much more so than in DC. I overheard a park ranger tell someone that all tickets had been given out for the day.
We had an excellent tour guide who obviously loves his job. Independence Hall, the birthplace of our nation, is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were debated and adopted by the Founding Fathers. The Assembly Room is where they met.
This is the desk and chair where George Washington sat.
The building was completed in 1753 and was the principal meeting place of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1781 and the Continental Convention in 1787.
Jefferson is the tall man standing holding the Declaration of Independence with Franklin seated in front to Jefferson’s right.
The most recognizable part of Independence Hall is the 168 foot tall bell tower and steeple.
The Centennial Bell rings every hour. When Lincoln’s body was being taken back for burial in Illinois, the train stopped here and Lincoln’s body was placed in the east wing of Independence Hall overnight. Over 300,000 mourners passed through to pay their respects, some waiting five hours. Our tour guide was so entertaining we could easily imagine our Founding Fathers debating in that historic building.
Next we visited the West Wing to see the Great Essentials Exhibit which included original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. A special exhibit on view was the Declaration of Common Aims, signed in Independence Hall and modeled on the U.S. Declaration of Independence. This document proclaimed independence for the nations of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania, Albania, Armenia and Ukraine and autonomy for all the peoples of Europe. One of the guides mentioned this is not a document Russia would want to see.
We waited in line for about 30 minutes to get into the Liberty Bell Center. There was no timed entry here and this was the longest line of the day. The Bell summoned members to colonial meetings and rang during important events like the coronation of George III. As discontent increased before the American Revolution, it rang to call citizens to protest Parliamentary oppression. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that it rang on July 4, 1776 to proclaim independence, probably because by this point the steeple was rotted and the swinging and vibrating of the Bell was feared would topple the steeple. The Bell weighed 2,080 pounds. In 1777, the Bell and other valuables were taken to safety just before the British captured Philadelphia.
As a side note, the patriots also took anything that could have been of use to the British army, including blankets, carpets, clothing, anything made of lead including pipes, 4,000 head of cattle and most of the horses they could get. This left the city and remaining inhabitants destitute and in poor shape. Basically they did everything but burn the city.
The Bell, made in London, England in 1751, was composed of a mix of metals that made it brittle. The inscription on the Bell, “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all its inhabitants thereof” came from the Bible (Leviticus 25:10).
It first cracked soon after arriving in Philadelphia in 1752. Twice local craftsmen were hired to recast it. The crack in the Liberty Bell we see today was the result of an attempt to fix a thin crack that destroyed the Bell’s tone at some point after the Revolution. There is no record of when the crack developed. It was repaired some time before 1846. The Bell was so popular that metal filings produced during the repair were made into souvenirs and given to public officials and sold to the public. When the Bell rang for George Washington’s birthday anniversary, the original crack reappeared and lengthened, silencing the Bell forever.
Today the Bell is well protected, they even monitor the temperature and humidity at the Bell. This area was the most crowded and there was a really obnoxious park ranger constantly barking at people to “take your pictures and move on”. I can understand there is a line of people waiting outside, but after waiting 30 minutes plus to get in, I didn’t appreciate being told to move on in a loud, obnoxious voice.
After a lunch of snacks in the car (thank you Aunt Barbara) we walked down to the Benjamin Franklin Museum. We had originally planned on visiting the Betsy Ross House until I was told that Betsy Ross did not make the first flag. That was just a story made up by her grandson and passed down in the history books. Contrary to what we were taught in school, there is no evidence that Ross made the first flag. It is now considered a myth. And, there is no evidence that Washington cut down his father’s cherry tree and said “Father, I cannot tell a lie”. One of my favorite stories from history.
So we skipped Betsy Ross and went to see Benjamin Franklin. We stopped by his burial site at Chris Church Burial Ground. Buried next to him is his wife Deborah. There are tens of thousands of coins thrown on Franklin’s marker every year because of his famous adage, “a penny saved, is a penny earned”. In fact the marble marker developed a crack because of the weight of all the coins and a fundraising campaign was started in 2016 to repair the damaged gravestone. Do you see the crack?
From there it was a brief walk to the Benjamin Franklin Museum. This museum had many artifacts and interactive displays on Franklin’s life. Franklin was one of 17 children in a family of Boston tradesmen. His father was a chandler: a candle and soap maker. Franklin wanted to go to sea and threatened to run away. Because of his love of reading, at the age of twelve his father apprenticed him to his older brother James in a print shop. He was a quick study and learned all aspects of the trade, but because of his brother’s harsh treatment, he ran away from home but kept in touch with his family, frequently writing to them with news of his life.
Arriving almost penniless in Philadelphia in 1723, Benjamin worked in a print shop and eventually opened his own printing shop in Philadelphia, printing all kinds of things including currency, his own newspaper and Poor Richard’s Almanac. He communicated his ideas and expanded his network of friends and political connections both in the colonies and England. He was rewarded with government printing contracts and the position of deputy postmaster for the Colonies in 1753. Sedan chairs were used by Franklin the oldest member of the Constitution Convention, who was ill and in pain.
He improved the postal system by introducing home delivery, printed forms and customer credit. For the first time the Colonial Postal Service turned a profit. He saved enough money to retire from printing at the age of 42.
I will say that Bill was more interested in visiting this museum than I was, but I certainly left with a greater understanding and appreciation for this brilliant man.
Some thoughts on Philadelphia. We were apprehensive about visiting Philadelphia. We had heard from several people, including former residents, as well as what we had seen on TV, that Philadelphia was not a safe city to visit. Research before we left home showed that there was a secure, underground parking garage right under the Independence Hall Visitors Center. It wasn’t cheap to park there, but no parking in a large city is cheap or reasonable. But it provided safe parking and was just an elevator ride up to the Visitors Center. We did stay in the safe cocoon of the tourist area, but we did have to walk several blocks to the Benjamin Franklin Museum. We felt safe and didn’t wander further mainly because we ran out of time and we were tired. We did see some homeless, but not many and no panhandling. Granted we were not in the downtown area or neighborhoods, but we were pleased with our experience there.
We drove by the Philadelphia Eagles stadium on the way to our hotel on the outskirts of the city. Another great day with lots of walking.
Next up: Valley Forge