Bear with me. As you all know, I had a visitor over the weekend, and we did a lot of things. It’s going to take me a few posts to catch up.
Saturday, May 19, 2007: A History Lesson
Today SM and I wandered around Old City Philadelphia and all it’s historical landmarks. Given my experience trying to park downtown when my friend L visited, SM and I took the bus. Fortunately, one of the bus routes near my home goes right by the Independence National Historical Park. We started at the Independence Visitor Center. To see Independence Hall, you have to have a timed entrance ticket (free), which are available at the Visitor Center. In addition, SM has one of those National Parks passport books and wanted to get her stamp for the Park.
Something very very important to note. We arrived at the Visitor Center by 10AM. The first available time for Independence Hall that day was 3:45PM. So if you want an early time, you have to get there EARLY. Or reserve your tickets online ahead of time. In addition, they recommend that you show up to go through security (metal detectors and x-ray machines for your gear) at least 30 minutes before the time on your ticket so you are inside the Independence Hall area and ready to queue up on time.
Now that we knew what time we needed to be at Independence Hall to get through security (3:15pm), we could plan the rest of the day. My bank is doing a special deal in May, partnering with certain museums across the country for free admission for you and a guest with your ATM card. On that list is the National Constitution Center. Normally, admission to the exhibit and multimedia show is $12. The show is a good overview of the history of our nation from just prior to the Declaration of Independence through the signing of the Constitution and even gives brief information about the Bill of Rights and each Amendment. The exhibit itself has more interactive activities regarding the Constitution, and gives historical context to each Amendment.
Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed in the exhibit, only in the hall with all the statutes of the signers of the Constitution. Also in the room with the statues is a book for you to sign the Constitution yourself. It’s pretty amazing to look at all those signatures.
From the National Constitution Center, we made our way to the Christ Church Burial Ground, where Benjamin Franklin, among other famous people in our history, is buried. It, like most cemeteries, is peaceful and has a beauty to it. The headstones are largely unreadable, but markers highlight some of our country’s founding fathers and mothers. You can see pictures of Franklin’s grave as well as the burial ground in general here. Immediately outside of the entrance, SM and I found some money. A ten dollar bill to be exact. There is a small fee to enter the Burial Ground ($2 a person), so we thought it would be fitting to use the money for that and to help fund the Burial Ground maintenance and preservation.
Not quite filled with information about Benjamin Franklin, the next stop on the history tour was Franklin Court. This is where Franklin lived, but his house no longer remains. Instead, there’s an eerie ghost structure of the house, a metal frame based on the foundation. It’s kind of creepy, yet fascinating at the same time. Just outside the entrance to the Court is a still functioning U.S. Post Office. It was founded in 1775, and there’s no U.S. flag flying out front because at the time it opened, there was no U.S. flag. You can still mail a letter from it, and it gets a unique postmark: B. Free Franklin. Cool.
Next stop was some lunch at Cosi, a chain, but it has excellent sandwiches. After taking a much needed rest from walking and refueling, we made our way back over to the Liberty Bell Center. When I visited last time with L, it was late in the day and there were very few visitors. This time we weren’t so lucky. The weather was gorgeous, so every tour group known to man was visiting the Independence Mall area. Each tour group has it’s own marker, carried by a tour leader so people have something to follow. Usually it’s an umbrella or something simple like that, but not always. Our favorite tour group marker of the day: Elmo on a stick! A group had taken an Elmo doll and using a bungee cord, strapped him to a stick. It looked like they had hung him. Slightly twisted and macabre, but effective: it was certainly noticeable! We laughed about “Elmo on a stick” the rest of the walk to the entrance to the Liberty Bell Center.
The Center was busy, but we did manage to get a few pictures. Since I took so many during my last visit of the Bell itself, I did limit myself to just one this time: a neat artistic interpretation of the Liberty Bell.
From the Center, we wandered over to Washington Square, home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. By this point, it had clouded over, and was starting to sprinkle, so we decided to head to Independence Hall, where we could visit a few other buildings inside the security gates before our timed tour of the Hall began.
We visited Old City Hall, the location of the Supreme Court Chamber, and would have visited Congress Hall but didn’t have time. Congress Hall has timed tours every 20 minutes, and our timing was off so we missed it. Instead, we contented ourselves with walking around and reading all the signs and taking some pictures of the building exterior. After a brief spell of rain, it cleared up, and we had a nice rest on a bench before getting in line for our tour.
Each tour begins with an introduction of what we are going to see in the Hall west wing before moving into the Hall itself. Our ranger was very knowledgeable, and quite entertaining, making the tour that much better. We moved from the west wing to the Court room, which was used for much more than just court. The last stop on our tour of Independence Hall is the famous Assembly Room, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution was drafted. The chair at the front of the room is the actual chair that George Washington sat in, apparently called the rising sun chair by Franklin.
By now, our brains had reached their capacity for history. SM and I both know most of it, but the details you learn when touring the actual sites are fantastic. There is, however, only so much you can absorb. Our brains full, we caught the bus and headed home to let the dog out. It had been a full day.
After a brief rest at home, we got in the car and headed back into the city for dinner. SM had told me that she wanted to have a Philly cheesesteak, figuring if she’s ever going to have one, it should be here. So I took her to Gianna’s Grille. The vegetarian cheesesteak L and I had during her visit was fantastic, and I was eager to try their carnivore version. It didn’t disappoint. We went for cheesesteaks and fries, as well as vegan cannolis for a little treat. Check out the spread here. Our bellies more than full, we decided a short walk was in order before meeting my colleague and friend A and her husband D. So we wandered a few blocks up and down South Street, a colorful and eclectic blend of shops and people.
We wound our way down South Street and then north to the Naked Chocolate Cafe. SM is a hot chocolate connoisseur, and A and D had been wanting to try it, so this was an ideal excuse. Each of us got a different variety of hot chocolate: Classic, Bittersweet, Aztec, and Spicy. OMG chocolate heaven. A and D also split a Black Forest cupcake. It was huge, definitely a two person cupcake, and they still didn’t finish it. No one was disappointed, and we will all be back.
Worn out, SM and I headed back home (once we remembered where we had parked the car), and crashed. We had plans for Sunday, but agreed that it wouldn’t be nearly as packed as Saturday was with history.