There is SO much to see in Philadelphia, where do I start?
Our daughter, Elisabeth, drove up from Raleigh to join us. We had done some research while we were still in Raleigh so we were pretty prepared. We had made a short visit to Philadelphia back in 1996, but so much had changed! One of our early decisions was to purchase the Philadelphia Pass. This gave us free admission to many sites around town for three days and two days on the Big Bus jump on and off tour bus.
Our first stop was the National Park Service Visitor Center. This was new for us and is a great facility. We picked up free passes for Independence Hall. These timed passes are handed out on the day you want to visit the Hall and we got passes for the 9:15 tour. What a feeling to walk into the room where the delegates to the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution! We could see where they sat and debated. What went through their minds when they signed the Declaration? They were committing treason against the British Crown and could be hung for this crime. Independence Hall was originally Pennsylvania State House, but was used as the meeting place for the Continental Congress and later the U.S. Congress from 1775 until the government moved to Washington DC.
From Independence Hall we went next door to Congress Hall and saw where the House of Representatives and the Senate met before the move to Washington.
Just a few blocks up the street from Independence Hall is the Christ Church burial ground. Here are the graves of Benjamin Franklin and several other signers of the Declaration of Independence. While checking out all of the markers we discovered that there were other graves not quite as distinguished as the signers.
The newest addition to historical sites is the Museum of the American Revolution. We purchased our tickets online and had no problem getting the time slot we wanted. There were several school groups touring at the same time and I would suggest trying to do this museum as early as possible in the day to avoid them. The kids were all well behaved, but the increased volume of people going through the displays did make the experience less enjoyable. The displays are very well done and often highlighted events that we were not aware of.
You can’t go to Philadelphia without having a Philly Cheesesteak. We had ours at Sonny’s and I recommend it to anyone who wants plenty of food. The place is small, but they managed the crowd well and have outdoor seating on the sidewalk.
Betsy Ross is a famous figure in Revolutionary War History and her house is available for tours. In addition to making the first Stars and Stripes American Flag, Betsy Ross was a self-employed business woman, was married and widowed three times. During the tour we met Betsy Ross (role player) who told us about her business, her expulsion from the Quakers when she married her first husband, and how she showed George Washington that it was more practical to have a five-pointed star on the flag instead of a six-pointed one.
From there we toured the Philadelphia Mint which produces coins, but also Congressional Gold Medals. Here we learned about the history of money over the ages, and were able to see the actual production of coins.
We had not stopped to see the Liberty Bell earlier in the day because the lines were so long. When we walked back from the Mint we saw the lines were a lot shorter and went for it. We thought we had plenty of time because, according to Google, the exhibit closed at 7:00. However, we were only partly through when the Rangers started encouraging visitors to go straight to the Bell as they were closing shortly. I guess you can’t trust everything you see online! But we had enough time and were able to see the Liberty Bell up close as well as being able to see the rest of the exhibit.
We were still pretty full from lunch, but opted to have desert for dinner. We went to eat at the Happily Ever After Dessert Cafe, right next to Sonny’s. We all chose the Belgian Waffles and they were delicious – another great place to eat in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
That evening we took advantage of our Philadelphia Pass and booked a Ghost Tour of Philadelphia. We met our guide at Signers Park and she led us around to several locations that had ghost sightings. Yeah, I thought her tales were sort of “hokey,” but the tour gave us a chance to see parts of Philadelphia that we might not have seen and learned some additional history.
The next morning found us at the National Constitution Center. We started with an interesting presentation on the development of the Constitution in the Sidney Kimmel Theater. It reinforced what we had learned in Independence Hall. As we wandered through the Exhibition Gallery we saw many examples of the application of the Constitution in action. I was struck by how the Constitution is so specific in some areas and vague in others. The special exhibit on Prohibition, the 18th Amendment, and its repeal was excellent. It’s too bad I was picked up in a raid!
With our Philadelphia Pass we had a two-day pass for the Big Bus jump on and off tour bus. Our tour guide had plenty of information about the city as we drove through the streets (I was glad I wasn’t the one driving!). Our first stop was the Eastern State Penitentiary. Eastern State was originally a true penitentiary, in that it was designed to encourage penitence, true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Every prisoner was in a solitary cell and by themselves for 23 hours a day. The goal was to cause the prisoner to reflect of their crimes and repent. The prison is now operated as a museum and, while it is in very poor physical shape, we were able to get a true sense of what a prisoner’s life was like.
We took the Big Bus to the Reading Terminal Market. It’s like a farmers market only indoors. We wandered through the stalls and shops and decided to stay for dinner at the Chinatown Diner. As we were eating we discovered that President Obama had chatted with the owner during the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.
On our last day in town I visited Carpenters Hall where the First Continental Congress met to begin the process of winning our freedom from England. The first meeting to coordinate the first Congress was in secret with the delegates all arriving at different times, using different routes. It was during one of these initial meetings that a French emissary met with them and reported back to France to recommend support for the Colonials in their revolution.
We also visited the One Liberty Observation Deck. From here we were able to see all across the City of Philadelphia. It was an amazing sight! We could literally see for miles and miles with unobstructed views on all points of the compass.
Our last stop was Franklin Court. This is the site of the house that Ben Franklin had built while he was in France. While the original building has been destroyed, the outline of the building is shown and you can see where the foundation still exists.
On Wednesday, May 17th, we left for Seaport RV Park in Mystic, CT.