Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where history was made - Nov. 5th, 2010

Yes, ambitious we were.  Too ambitious.  We did leave the 'house' bright and early since we were driving to Philly and that was going to take at least 2.5 hours, if not more with traffic.  But, alas, there were not going to be enough hours in the day to get to Philly, see the sights, drive to Valley Forge, see the sights, and drive back to DC.  We quickly realized this once we got started in Philly.  You might be asking yourself at this point why didn't we just head up to Philly with the RV and spend a few days.  The short answer is we just didn't have the days to spare.  We were due in FL by a certain date and were working backwards at this point making sure we at least hit the high points everywhere.  We had one day in PA and that was that.  Not to mention we were going backwards as well, north instead of south.

Anyway, what we did accomplish in PA was plenty, even it if was 'only' Philadelphia.  We definitely hit all the high points.

We began of course at the very large visitor center in the heart of historical Philadelphia.  That is where we picked up our Jr. Ranger projects and got straight to work.  We had until closing at 4PM to hand them in.  We also had to pick up our free timed passes to enter the main event in town, Independence Hall.


The visitor center had several large displays about important figures, structures and events.  We watched one of two movies about said events and had a chance to chat with 'the locals' who were dressed in period costumes, playing period instruments and doing period chores, such as sewing.

Here the kids were having a hands on demonstration about what clothes of the period were made of.


First stop out of the visitor center was this -


The Liberty Bell.  It is a symbol of course of the American Revolution, but it is also a symbol of freedoms and liberties gained and lost, in modern America and all over the world.  Many world wide causes have taken up the Liberty Bell as their symbol, including the fight against slavery in this country.

While waiting in line to get past security and be allowed in, we snapped this picture of State House/Independence Hall, sans the bell tower.  I didn't even notice the tower, or lack thereof, since it's currently encased in metal due to preservation efforts!  But that's really it, the building it all happened in. We also observed the excavation and reconstruction efforts of the original President's House site.  This is relatively new so there's not much to see, but it was cool to see the site where Washington and Adams lived and worked before the President's House, with the President of course, moved to DC.


Once inside we, front and center, listened to a ranger make a brief presentation about the bell and its significance.  There was plenty to accomplish in the Jr. Ranger packets about it as well of course.  The kids utilized the ranger and asked plenty of questions.


Before the American revolution the bell was already an important symbol for the residents of Philadelphia. The State House bell, the most prominent building in British North America, reminded everyone of the significance of Philadelphia as the capital of the Pennsylvania colony.  Inscribed with the words "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof." (Leviticus 25:10, in case you're wondering), it was a source of pride.  Pride in the political and religious freedom afforded to them by the founder of this city,


William Penn.

William Penn was the founder of what is now Philadelphia.  Being himself a persecuted Quaker, he was determined to found a city based on religious liberty, "traditional Englishmen rights" for all, with an ethical open society deriving its power from the people, not its leaders.  He also openly declared that he would not exploit the natives or future immigrants.  Overall quite progressive for the time.

The famous crack, or gap really, was caused by an attempt to fix a thin crack in the bell that occurred sometime after the revolution.  Once repaired, the bell was rung in honor of Washington's birthday and the thin crack reappeared, this time lengthening and zigzagging upward, silencing the bell forever.  At least physically, as the display notes.

Meandering a few blocks down the street we arrived at the location of Ben Franklin's home. Unfortunately, his house no longer stands but its location is noted quite creatively.  In 1812 his grandchildren decided they didn't want to maintain the house, so they tore it down in favor of building rental houses!  Oh my goodness, what a loss.....

Below you see the outline of his house,


Inside these concrete viewing areas one can see the physical remains of the actual house.  Some brick flooring, part of the plumbing system, etc.  'Modern' archeology.


The area is also covered with Ben Franklin quotes, some famous and some from private correspondences to his wife.


Beneath all this, quite literally, is a wonderful museum commemorating the man himself.


His numerous and varied inventions, his axioms, writings and political accomplishments are all highlighted. Here, you can pick up the phone, dial a number and hear what people from around the world at the time, and later, had to say about him.


Of course there was the working printing press to check out.  The original one btw is in DC.


Onward to our prescheduled appointment with Independence Hall!

Old City Hall, the Pennsylvania State House/Independence Hall and Congress Hall/Court House are lined up one next to the other on Chestnut street and Independence Square.

Old CIty Hall, here, housed the Supreme Court for 9 years before it moved permanently to what is now Independence Hall.


On the right side of the Pennsylvania State House/Independence Hall is where the Supreme Court convened.


Turning around to the left we finally laid our eyes on THE room.  The room in which the Declaration of Independence was argued about and signed, the Articles of Confederation were drafted and ratified (the document uniting all 13 colonies) and where the Constitution was drafted.


Below you see the location of Ben Franklin's table, with a replica of his glasses :-).  The items in the room are mostly period pieces, though not the originals.  The exceptions are a few artifacts including the silver ink stand used to sign the documents and the president's chair at the head table in the picture above.  The first to use it was John Hancock, President of the 2nd Continental Congress.  The second to use it was George Washington, as President of the United States of America.  You can't really tell in the photo, but that semicircle on the top is half a sun.  The guide told us that Ben Franklin used to half joke and wonder if it represented the rising or the setting of this new nation.....guess we know now!


We have to remember that this whole revolution and government by the people for the people thing was really one huge experiment.  Those who sat in this room had *no* idea if they could A. Even win a revolution against the British Empire and B. Successfully run an entirely new country with a system and ideas that have really never been used in this manner before.  The whole notion of inalienable rights was completely foreign to the world as it was.  Of course they left out two key groups of people whose lives these rights didn't touch, but still, it was pretty progressive at the time.

From Independence Hall we moved on to Congress Hall, also used as a court house.  Photography was not allowed inside so no pics.  The room was set up with long benches in a semi circle with an elongated 'podium' in the front.  This is the room, obviously, where the new Congress sat.  They now were state representatives instead of colonial representatives.  This is also the room where the first peaceful transition of power took place, from George Washington to John Adams.

Leaving these most important buildings here in Philly we headed over to the portrait gallery. In addition to the Jr. Ranger program, the Independence National Historical Park had yet another clever idea to successfully reel in the kids, trading cards!  Basically that's what they are, but instead of baseball or Pokemon figures they're historical ones.  One card is given out at each location one can visit in historical Philadelphia. In order to collect all of them though you have to explore the portrait gallery with its 185 portraits, and do it well.  In other words, a scavenger hunt was on to find and identify various figures of the American Revolution, and not the obvious ones.  Though this one of course was pretty obvious.


Wrapping up the Portrait Gallery with all 15 of our 'trading cards' in hand, we headed over to visit the final resting spot of Ben Franklin and his family.  His grave is located right by the cemetery fence so one can get a good close look at it from the outside, without paying the small fee to actually go in.  On our way to the cemetery we stopped in to see the Free Quaker meeting house.


Philadelphia was the only city in the colonies to not only tolerate diverse religions but welcomed them from the very start. Quakers, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and free blacks (mostly from the Caribbean) all made up this heterogenous city. The Free Quakers, as opposed to the Quakers, were disowned by the original group due to their desire to participate in the fight against the British.  Today, they are basically a philanthropic organization.

A very old building this meeting house was indeed, as evidenced by this humorous sign:


Our day in Philly had come to an end.  Of course there is lots more to see and do here, but once again, we just couldn't do it all.  I guess you never can really do it *all*.

We did however have one more stop to make it official:


Badges in hand, we had one last chance to race across the field and get a good last view of the main reason we came....


History is awesome.

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