Mai Tai Tom’s Magical History Tour
Chapter Three: Philadelphia Freedom
Day Three: Independence Day, Act Of Congress; Tiptoe Through The Tulips, Let Freedom Ring, Phake Philly Phanatic, Skuggs The Squirrel, Go Fly A Kite, Stop/Start The Presses, Take A Ride On The Reading, Akia In A Kia, Not Exactly Hamilton, I’ve Seen This Movie Before, Afternoon Constitutional, Hanging With The Founders, We Need Uber To Give Us A Lift To Lyft and Meeting The Real Philly Phanatics
Our Philadelphia Story (sans Hepburn, Grant and Stewart) started early on this Sunday morning.
We had a date with history at Independence Hall (9:20 tour … must be there 45 minutes early to pick up tickets we got online … free with $1.50 handling fee per ticket). After grabbing a cup of coffee at La Colombe, we headed back over to the building completed in 1753 and where the Second Continental Congress convened in 1775.
After going through security, we stood, shivering a bit on a chilly Philly morning, in what was called The State House Yard (now known as Independence Square).
Philadelphians met here on the eve of the Revolution, and the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place here on July 8, 1776.
Speaking of which, we ducked inside where we saw copies of that document and the Constitution. Also inside we spied the Syng Inkstand (the silver inkstand named for its maker, Philip Syng). It’s the inkstand used in the signing of both documents.
At the appointed time, our tour, starting with a 15-minute spiel from the excellent park ranger Jeff, who dispensed more information than some of the teachers I had growing up. He also led us on our tour, which started in the courtroom, which served as Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court chamber.
On the same date that the reading of the Declaration of Independence took place, a group of Pennsylvania militiamen broke into this room and tore down British King George III’s coat of arms. Jeff’s informative facts brought the courtroom to life.
Across from the courtroom is the Assembly Room where our Founding Fathers appropriately … assembled.
The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both signed in this room, and following his assassination, Lincoln’s body lay in state here for two days.
When the delegates met in 1787 George Washington (president of the convention), kept order from his famous “Rising Sun Chair.” James Madison said that Benjamin Franklin said about the chair, “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I … know that it is a rising … sun.”
During January and February, the tour continues to the second floor. Not today.
Exiting, we made the short walk through the courtyard to another hall … Congress Hall, a two-story brick, Georgian structure where a free tour was about to commence at 10 a.m. The United States Congress met here between 1790 and 1800, when Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the United States. Both Washington and John Adams were inaugurated here. The House chamber is located on the first floor, and Ranger Stewart (not Jimmy) guided us through the building’s history.
He then led us upstairs to the more ornate second floor, with its deep green walls and red drapes.
This is the room where the United States Senate met in the 1790s. Diane Feinstein led the first meeting.
The carpeting includes the seals of the 13 original states.
In adjacent committee rooms are gifts from the French government, huge portraits of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Try as I might, I could not locate any cake.
About a one minute walk from Independence Hall …
… is the Liberty Bell. On the short walk, we passed by more tulips than Tiny Tim could ever have dreamt about.
The yellow and red flowers made for quite a sight.
Yes, people told us not to waste our time, but we were told the wait was only 20 minutes, so we hopped in line to see the bell that was commissioned in 1751 to mark the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s decision to grant colonists the right to govern themselves. The Liberty Bell is ensconced inside a 13,000 square foot glass gazebo. As we walked through the exhibition, we read about its history before finally reaching the bell that’s really all it’s cracked up to be. The bell once called Independence Hall its home. Nobody knows for sure how the crack got there, but they are sure it cracked even further when it was rung for Washington’s birthday in 1846 … the last time it tolled.
I saw someone who I thought I knew. I couldn’t remember his name, but his face rang a bell.
Back at the Visitors Center, there are a few goofy things to keep kids (and adults acting like kids) occupied. I nosed around the Rocky statue (I can really pick my friends)…
… got chummy (more some than others) with the Philly Phanatic …
… and finally said goodbye (briefly) to the ever-present Ben Franklin.
We headed to the nearby National Constitution Center only to find out it doesn’t open until noon on Sundays. The trees were pretty, however.
I’m sure many people don’t know these two people helped frame the Constitution.
Since it was only 11:30, we decided it was time for even more Ben, so it was off to the Benjamin Franklin Museum ($5). The courtyard provided Tracy with even more floral opportunities.
The museum is located underground at the site of Franklin’s home and print shop.
Many of you might know I have a strange infatuation with squirrels, and while at the Franklin Museum, I got my “Squirrel Fix.” Yes, I know I’m nuts. It seems gentle Ben was fond of squirrels (also called Skuggs back then and the squirrel who lived with him was named Skuggs). Franklin sent another “fine large grey squirrel” to London as a gift for a friend, but the squirrel got loose and was eaten by his friend’s dog. Undeterred, he had his wife Deborah send a second one, who grew to be “fat and lively.”
The museums contains a number of artifacts and interactive exhibits.
As fond as he was of squirrels, Franklin was also an avid wine consumer as judged by this chart of daily wine consumption. Yes, life was a cabernet old chum.
I used my spare time to write a book (ok, I just played around on a printing press). Franklin had a local glassworks company make him this apparatus to help generate electricity.
Not only did Franklin’s kites help invent electricity, it was also used as a precursor to wind surfing.
This marble bust was a recreation of the one made in 1779. Franklin was an old man in 1787 (oldest member of the Continental Congress) and suffering from pain and illness, so occasionally he would be transported in this Sedan Chair by prisoners from the nearby Walnut Street jail.
There was also a reproduction of the top section of Washington’s “Rising Sun” chair. Franklin’s design for paper money became the basis for the penny. It displayed the chain of 13 states and on the reverse side Franklin displayed his wit with “Mind Your Business.”
We tiptoed past some more tulips to the printing office … where a woman was getting quite a workout.
She cranked out a Declaration of Independence (sold at the gift store) every two – three minutes.
All of her hard work made us hungry, so we got a Lyft to the Reading Terminal Market. Whatever food you’re in the mood for, this place has it.
Located under the 1891 Reading Railroad Train Shed (they must have had a Monopoly), more than 75 booths serve food to the masses …
… and today (just like every other day we were told) the masses were there.
We thought about getting our first Philly Cheese Steak here, but the lines were way too long.
Finding a place (Hershel’s Deli) that sold turkey sandwiches and a really good brisket sandwich, we sat admiring the throngs of people milling about.
We thought about getting some ice cream at this famous place …
… but passed, just like we did at other places serving some delicious looking sweet treats.
It was now time to get back to the National Constitution Center, which turned out to be more problematic than it should have been. We were looking for our Uber driver, a woman named Akia who happened to be driving a Kia. That should have been our first hint of trouble. It got more confusing from there. Looking at my Uber map on the phone and talking with Akia, she would get to within a couple of blocks from where were standing, and then go in the opposite direction. It must have been easier drafting the Constitution than Akia finding us, but finally she did and off to the museum we traveled.
The National Constitution Museum ($14.50 … $13 for oldsters) is Philadelphia’s newest addition to Independence Park. As we would find out, it is a cool museum. First we had a choice … see a lobby show on the early life of Alexander Hamilton or witness a live presentation called Freedom Rising in a state-of-the-art theater. Kim and Mary opted for Hamilton, and according to their review Hamilton the musical has nothing to worry about. When we caught up with Kim and Mary, they said it was mostly geared for children.
Our one man show was fantastic except for one thing, the presentation was very similar to what Ranger Jeff had told us at Independence Hall in the morning, only much more technologically advanced. If you do not go to Independence Hall, this is a very worthy presentation (the person performing it played his part perfectly). If you go to independence Hall, I think you could skip it.
My advanced reading about this museum stated, “This 160,000-square-foot museum brings the U.S. Constitution alive through a series of highly interactive exhibits” and “The Story of We the People, takes you from the American Revolution through the Constitution’s ratification to major events in the nation’s constitutional history, including present-day events like the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Hurricane Katrina, and the recent economic crisis.”
It was fascinating to say the least.
Had we had more time I could have spent hours there. There are 100-plus exhibits.
It was quite a stroll through American history …
… and interesting throughout.
After helping to impeach Trump, I took the oath as the 46th president, only to be immediately impeached by Tracy.
Kim took a trivia test of Hamilton facts, and nearly aced it. The boy knows his history.
I thought one of the coolest exhibits was “Election Central,” where mock-up voting booths give you a random match-up of presidential candidates from the past seven decades. Anonymous quotes and different policy matters pop up and you have to agree with one of the candidates (you don’t know which one is saying what). In a tighter than expected battle, Jimmy Carter edged out George Herbert Walker Bush in my contest.
A large exhibit displays photos of famous and not-so-famous. Click on a specific photo, and a screen highlights that persons life and accomplishments. I could have spent an hour just there.
Now you know why lawyers are ready to help you when the law throws the book at you.
After a few more displays …
… we headed back downstairs to the Signers Hall, where bronze life-like statues stand in a redone Assembly Room from Independence Hall.
After performing a duet with the diminutive Hamilton …
… I tried to help the remaining Founding Fathers form a more perfect Union.
Washington and Franklin appreciated my efforts.
Because you really cannot have too much Hamilton, the museum also features an exhibition that highlights the “competing ideas of Alexander Hamilton and his legendary rivals,” including himself.
Of course, his big (and last) rival was Aaron Burr. We stepped into the “Dueling Grounds,” which told the story of that fateful day, including letters from the two men, and the details of the duel. The only thing missing was music. I thought Dueling Banjos and Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot would be appropriate.
Finally we read some facts: “Myth-Busting The Musical” about Hamilton. I was stunned to learn Aaron Burr did not star in Ironside.
Outside, while Tracy and Kim took dueling flower shots (there seemed to be a theme going on), Mary called Lyft. In a semi-repeat of our friend Akia, the driver couldn’t quite find where we were. He told us where he was located (a few blocks away) and for us to walk to him. Kim quipped, “We need Uber to take us to Lyft.”
Back at our home, there would be no napping. In 45 minutes we were to meet a bunch of people from the Fodor’s Travel Forum. KarenPhilly (not her real name) had bribed some other board members to show up and have dinner with us at the nearby Parc restaurant. (photo stolen off internet)
At 5:30 four weary travelers entered the restaurant and Karen greeted us with a gift bag of Philly favorites, Hershey Bars, Tastykakes and Herr’s Potato Chips to name just a few.
Those would have to wait, however. For the third straight night we had a wonderful dinner at this restaurant that Tracy called, “quintessentially French.” It was just like Paris except no one was speaking French.
I was damned hungry after walking around Philly searching for our cars to transport us places. My steak tartare with quail egg and Beef Bourguignon (one of the best I’ve had) were both terrific.
Everything was good.
It was fun chatting with everyone (I think there were about 13 of us), and the evening went by fast … as did my wine. It was a great group all filled with fun stories.
Afterward, we walked across the street into Rittenhouse Square for a quick photo.
It was cold, but considering it had snowed recently and Philadelphia would soon be hit with epic rain deluges, the night was perfect … as was the dinner and company.
We all bid “Au revoir,” and the four of us barely had the energy to walk those two blocks back to our home.
Tomorrow we’d duck inside a cool office building, take a quick tour of a famed church, visit a funky (and controversial) art museum and end up at a museum full of dead bodies and skulls (my kind of place). We’d also hit another Irish Pub (there are never enough), a cool Mexican restaurant and end our evening with some incredible Italian gelato on a gorgeous night in Philly.
Next – Chapter Four: Basilica, Barnes & Bones
Day Four: Girder Guys, Peter Paul and Kathy, A Contentious Move, Rampant Renoir, Where Did Van Gogh Toulouse-Lautrec, An Artful Lunch, Disturbingly Informative, Skeletal Remains, I’ll Take Manhattan, The Streets of Philadelphia, Biking Bar, Marvelous Mexican and National Geographic’s “#1 Gelato In The World”