Saturday, July 11, 2009

Independence Hall

Randy: Today was the second day of our Philadelphia adventure. This morning we arrived early so we could get tickets for an Independence Hall tour. Even though we arrived at the Visitor Center shortly after it opened at 8:30, our tickets were for the 9:30 tour. That gave us a little time for the boys to work on their Junior Ranger badges and to explore a bit. One of the highlights while waiting was to see the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I learned something new. The originals were both printed on a press, not the fancy calligraphy that you see in DC at the National Archives.

Soon it was time for the tour. Independence Hall was known as the Pennsylvania State House in 1776. As such it was home to all three branches of the state government. We started by visiting the Supreme Court room, which was also briefly used for the US Supreme Court in 1789-1790. Then we went to the Assembly Room, the highlight of the tour. This is where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and approved -- truly the birthplace of our nation. I felt overwhelmed and awed in this room as I thought about the vast array of talent that came together to form our Republic. The rest of the tour was anticlimactic -- we walked upstairs to see the Governor's offices.

Next up was the Liberty Bell. It disappointed me. I understand its value as a symbol, but I was much more impressed by the original Constitution, modified by George Washington. The room with the Liberty Bell was crowded with people taking pictures, while the room with the Constitution was almost empty -- in fact part of the time we were there it was only us and the Ranger in the room.

After lunch we visited several of the minor sites in the area (all part if the Independence National Historic Site). The sites included the Second Bank of the United States with a gallery of many portraits, the original home of the War Department, a printing shop, the Carpenter's House (the location of the 1st Continental Congress), and Franklin's courtyard.

Next we visited the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Historic Site, just a few blocks from Independence Hall. The boys both got their second Junior Ranger award of the day. We visited an old soda fountain [Franklin's Fountain, over 100 years old] for a snack, rode a ferry across the Delaware river (more comfortably than George Washington did) and then headed back to the hotel.

It was a very enjoyable and satisfying day.

Bryn: I remembered seeing some of these things on my family's big trip in 1975, although the Liberty Bell is now in a new place. This place was very crowded, there was no high place to stand to get a better view, and you couldn't touch it as in the past. Touch it, you gasp? Yes, because of the importance of the artifact and how it symbolizes freedom, it was thought that it was an important thing for people to be allowed to touch it. Yes, that will degrade the artifact and eventually destroy it, something called 'consumptive use' by the NPS. Sometime between 1975 and now it was apparently decided that preservation should come first, so no more touching.

My favorite stop was the Second Bank, which is now primarily a gallery featuring Charles Willson Peale's portraits of his contemporaries. He invited the luminaries of the time to sit for portraits, then displayed all of them salon style along with other natural wonders liked taxidermied turkeys and mammoth skeletons. His display was in the Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall. Many minor politicians were painted as well as big guys like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, explorers Lewis and Clark, inventor Robert Fulton, etc. Peale displayed the portraits with short commentaries on the subjects. He hoped the viewer would be impressed with the greatness of those who built our country and therefore be personally inspired to become a better citizen.

Bret: I wanted big pretzels and I got some before we went on the ferry. I liked Thaddeus K. because I liked learning about the battles and how he made a lot of designs for Revolutionary War bases. We saw the Liberty Bell and I thought about my friend Cade.

Reed: I liked Thaddeus K. because he was an engineer who fortified Saratoga so America could win the battle. Philly cheese steak sandwiches for lunch!

Bryn: Bret won $10 in the Arete patriotic poster contest in June. He drew the Liberty Bell, so he decided to buy a little Liberty Bell souvenir and also a copy of the Declaration of Independence which was printed by park rangers on the press in Benjamin Franklin's Printing Shop.

After we took the ferry back to NJ, we had trouble getting a cab. Reed spotted one and managed to memorize the number and punch it into his cellphone. Hooray for Reed!

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