Mai Tai Tom’s Magical History Tour
Chapter Five: Philly Finale
Day Five: I’ve Got To Be Free, Rooms of Beauty, Walk Like An Egyptian, How About That Secret Handshake, A Rocky Time To The Top, Tracy Falls In Love with Two Sargents, The Bet, The Big Cheese, No Moe or Curly, We’re Still Closed, Stacked Burial Ground, Rambling Man, Majestic Mosaic and You Can’t Beat City Hall
We hit the pavement early on our final day in Philly. Knowing my lack of balance, that statement could be taken literally, however we safely navigated all of our walks. First, we stopped by City Hall and reserved a 3:30 tour to the top. From every angle, this one of the prettier city halls I’ve ever seen.
Of course, Tracy was able to spot some floral photo opportunities, too.
Located across the street from City Hall is one of the largest Masonic temples in the world (1 Broad Street). We got there about 15 minutes before the 10 a.m. tour ($8 … $5 for seniors). I guess there’s no cost for Freemasons. Before entering we paid our respects to Mr. Franklin and Mr. Washington. The statues depict Ben handing George a Masonic apron. I assume Washington must have cooked that evening.
Our one-hour tour would take us to seven lodge halls; Renaissance, Ionic, Oriental, Corinthian, Gothic, Egyptian and Norman. These rooms take “ornate” to a new level. While waiting for the tour to start we explored the museum for a few minutes. It contains one of the finest collections of Masonic treasures in the world, including the original apron that Franklin handed Washington. There are more than 30,000 items.
Even before entering the aforementioned halls, we could tell this was a special building. Speaking of which, the Masonic Temple was one of the first buildings in Philadelphia powered by electricity.
We entered the Benjamin Franklin Room. It’s a sitting room for members and guests who can sit down and pick up the latest copy of Poor Richard’s Almanack. (Yes, there was a “k” in Almanack)
Oil portraits of past grand masters decorate the walls.
At times during our tour Tracy channeled her inner Kim for some ceiling photos.
We entered the Oriental Hall. It was decorated in the Moorish style and copied from the Alhambra in Granada (check out our Alhambra day and night here). The ceiling is divided into 7,000 panels and is copied from the Alhambra’s Hall of Ambassadors.
The stairway is quite photogenic … and dizzying (at least from Tracy’s vantage point).
The stained glass window on the second floor is topped by a wheel (or rose) displaying Masonic symbols. Moses and the Burning Bush dominate the central panel …
…while the lower panels display the cardinal virtues … Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice (who looked none too pleased).
Those symbols show virtues show up in other places, too throughout the temple.
Ionic Hall takes its architectural style from Ionia in Asia Minor. I started singing Isn’t It Ionic, but the irony was lost on my companions.
The Egyptian Hall was stunningly beautiful.
All the Hieroglyphics are accurate copies from Egypt.
In ancient Egyptian times, the Goddess of Wisdom and Love was sometimes depicted as cow, which is why she has the face of a woman, and ears of a cow. It was udderly unique.
Norman Hall replicates the style of 11th century Rhine River Valley. On the panels are six life-sized figures holding working tools of the masons.
Corinthian Hall holds 400 members and is the Masonic Temple’s largest ceremonial room. It depicts an ancient Greek space.
“Fiat Lux” is not a car brand, but means, “Let There Be Light,”
Renaissance Hall’s ceiling features the symbol of Solomon, which Kim captured perfectly.
In the Grand Ballroom, there are windows of four presidential Freemasons: Washington, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman. “The windows are set before custom LED light boxes that mimic natural daylight.”
And we couldn’t leave without one more Ben Franklin sighting in the room.
I had been told by someone to ask our guide if he could tell me about the Mason’s “secret handshake.” I did, and he answered with a smile, “I can’t tell you.” As I started to walk away, he added with a smile … “but you can Google it.” The Masonic Temple turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. For those of you headed to Philly, it should be on your list.
A short Uber ride away (we’re getting lazy in our old age) loomed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Modeled after a Greek Temple, it was designed by Julian Francis Abele, the first African-American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture.
Before entering we did what every red-blooded American does when they come here … pose with the iconic Rocky statue.
Then, I walked as Kim ran the 99 steps to the top, showing some good form. I guess I better get in shape for our autumn trip to Italy.
Meanwhile Tracy snapped a photo of a piece of public art in front called The Lion Fighter.
The $20 ticket ($18 for old people) is good for two days and also includes the Rodin Museum and Perelman Building, an annex of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Unfortunately, we only had time for this one. This is a spectacular museum and in our nearly two hours we saw a lot, but is definitely a place I would return to explore further. Tracy and I put this in our Top Five of art museums.
Walking inside, at the top of the staircase, there was Diana. The sculpture once sat atop the tower at New York City’s old Madison Square Garden, serving as a weather vane.
Madison Square garden was torn down in 1925, and seven years later the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired the Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ piece, where it gracefully stands above the museum’s Great Stair Hall. Paul Anka would be proud of this Diana.
It wasn’t long before Tracy ran into her favorite artist, John Singer Sargent and his portrait of I Dream of Jeannie’s long lost aunt, Lady of Eden. Sargent’s In The Luxembourg Garden was nearby, as well.
Just in case we hadn’t seen enough Renoirs yesterday at the Barnes, here was his Portrait of Mademoiselle Legrand. Renoir would frequently paint portraits for money when his impressionistic paintings were selling poorly.
As it often is with us at at art galleries, it was time to belt out Monet, Monet. One reminded me we have to get to Giverny before I die.
I was impressed with Pissarro’s Apple Tree In The Meadow.
No Frankie Valli or Vivaldi could be found in The Four Seasons by Léon Frédéric. The series of paintings almost made Tracy weep, but I told her, “Big girl’s don’t cry.”
We got our Van Gogh fix.
A few of our other favorites included Giuseppe De Nittis’s Return From The Races, and The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, depicting William Penn’s treaty with the Lenape Indians.
Thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, the Philadelphia Museum of Art won the bet and received John Singleton Copley’s painting Mrs. James Warren from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (it’s only on a three-month loan). The entire ordeal deflated Tom Brady.
Tracy added Henri Rousseau to her list of favorite artists and was quite enamored with his Merry Jesters.
Perhaps one of the big disappointments on our 2015 trip to Spain was our visit to the Joan Miró Museum (although I did learn that Joan was actually a guy), so we were pretty shocked that we liked this painting, L’Ornière (The Rut) by Miró.
Speaking of Joan.
In another part of the museum lies ancient …
…and religious artifacts …
… along with religious paintings.
One painting that stood out came from old friend, the Netherlands’ fantastic artist Rogier van der Weyden. We first got acquainted with him at the Prado in Madrid (story here), and then again at the Hospices de Beaune (Hôtel-Dieu) in Beaune, France (story here).
Although we could have spent another couple of hours admiring art, it was time to finally taste the City of Brotherly Love’s favorite food, a Philadelphia Cheese Steak.
We knew that Geno’s and Pat’s were the most famous, but just about every local we talked to gave the big thumbs up to another name, Jim’s.
Jim’s has been around since 1939, and its location on South Street has been open since 1976. We ordered our cheesesteak “Provolone wit” and headed upstairs.
Anyway you looked at it, this was a good sandwich.
A half hour and 10,000 calories later we were back on the street heading to the birthplace of one of America’s greatest entertainers, and I’m not being a wise guy. As a child (and adult) I have always been a fan of the Three Stooges. On South Street stands Jon’s Bar & Grille, the “Birthplace of Larry Fine.” Not only was he a member of the Three Stooges, but Larry was also a Fine violinist.
Here’s how the story goes: “Larry’s ability as a violinist was the result of a terrible accident that scarred the youngster for many years. One night, while his mother was out at the movies, his father babysat him. In close proximity to the crib, his dad ( a jeweler) was testing the gold qualities of jewelry with a chemical called oxalic acid, a powerful mixture that turns phony gold green and can eat through skin. Larry awoke, reached through the crib, and grabbed the bottle and spilled some on his arm. The acid had eaten away part of his arm. It was so serious that the hospital wanted to amputate. His father would have none of it and found a doctor who grafted skin from his child’s leg over the wound. As part of his therapy, Larry was given violin lessons to strengthen his arm and he became an accomplished musician. He also took up boxing during his formative years, primarily to strengthen his arm.”
We decided to walk toward Old Saint Mary’s Church so we could see what we had missed on our first full day. Once again, the doors were locked. On we went.
As we walked by St. Peter’s Church Cemetery, a guy started chatting me up. He was my Ritalin brother from another mother, but during his rambling he stated that we must go see a mosaic at the nearby Curtis Building. In fact, he was adamant. I said we would.
First, however, we checked out another nearby cemetery, the Old Pine Street Cemetery at the 3rd Presbyterian Church.
It doesn’t look that large, so we were surprised that at least 4,000 people are buried here.
That’s because, as we learned, coffins were “stacked at 9, 6 and 3 foot depths.” Tracy exclaimed, “Now that’s a Trinity!”
The property was deeded to to the Presbyterians by William Penn’s two sons, Thomas and Richard. This cemetery is much prettier and better taken care of than the famed Old Christ Church Cemetery. It is in a beautiful setting, and the flowering cherry and dogwood trees added to the tranquil experience.
We wandered around here more than we did at any other cemetery.
Old John got himself a primo spot.
All the trees made this a great area to stroll around, but we needed to get to that mosaic before my new friend tracked me down.
We made our way past Independence Hall …
… and found ourselves at the Curtis Publishing Building. Founded in 1883, it’s home to the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Jack and Jill, Holiday, American Home and a mosaic I’d never heard about until about 25 minutes previously. We entered and asked a woman, “Do you know something about a mosaic located here?” This must also the City of Sisterly Love, because she took us to the room where the mosaic resided … and oh what a mosaic it is.
A Tiffany Studios production, The Dream Garden was commissioned by the Curtis Publishing Company as a mural to adorn its lobby. The “images are rendered in ‘favrile glass,‘ following a complex hand-firing process developed by Tiffany to produce over 100,000 pieces of glass in 260 colors. Thirty artisans worked for a year on the mosaic, and the installation of the (24) panels took six months.”
It is the creation of artist Maxfield Parrish, and it was inspired by his gardens at his summer home. After the first three artists chosen to paint the mural all died, Parrish was asked to develop the design, and the mural would be executed by Tiffany. Here’s a big thanks to the guy I met at the cemetery who insisted we not miss it.
We walked back through Washington Square, caught our Uber, and we were at City Hall about 25 minutes before our tour. After passing through security, we went to our allotted spot, and our guide said we were the only ones on the tour, so we could go up early to the observation deck located 500 feet above.
The views from the world’s tallest masonry building were gorgeous on this increasingly hot day. I think the entire city of Philadelphia took the day off, since our Uber driver said, “The last couple of days have been our first days of spring.”
Hey, there’s our art museum!
Our guide took our photo, and we had a couple of more things to see at City Hall.
Before heading down, we got to look up at the 37-foot tall statue of William Penn, who some of the locals call Billy Penn. It was designed by Alexander Calder and took him nearly two years to complete. Our guide told us that for years there was an understanding that no building in Philly could be taller than Penn’s statue. The agreement lasted until 1985.
Finally, Kim and Tracy had to take some dueling vertiginous photos.
Back outside, a statue reminded us that we needed to go pack because tomorrow we’d be departing at the crack of dawn.
Since we had to be up so early, we decided to eat at a place around the corner. La Viola had a very nice staff, and the food was good, if not memorable.
Our time in Philly was up and it was everything (and more) that I had wanted. I could have stayed for a few more days to see some of the sights missed (not to mention another dinner at Ristorante Pesto). There’s not a doubt in my mind, we’ll return here some day to finish our exploration of this gritty, delightful and historic city. Plus, I was already missing Ben Franklin.
Tomorrow would be a long day. We had a 9 a.m. appointment with a licensed guide at America’s most famous battlefield who would lead us on a tour through that hallowed ground. It would turn out to be a fascinating trip through a terrible war.
We’d then hop back in the car and head down to spend the night in Staunton. Along the way, we’d check out the views near another battle site and end the day at one of the prettiest bed and breakfast places we have ever stayed.
Unfortunately, I would also receive some bad news about my sister, who had been fighting Ovarian cancer for the past four years.
Next: Chapter Six – The Battle of Gettysburg
Day Six – Trying To Keep My Eyes Open, Gettysburg By George, History Comes Alive, Home State Advantage, Francis Scott Key’s Son & The General, A Massive Screw-Up (Or Was It), Uni-Sickles, Warren Stands Tall, Four Score, 1776, What State Are We In, Harper’s Bizarre, B&B Heaven and Getting Stonewalled