It’s a good thing we have rainy days once in a while so we can catch up on our blog entries. Makes me wonder what will happen when we get to the southwest and it’s one sunny day after another. For now though we are on the coast of Rhode Island and this is our third day out of four that have been rainy. Looks like the sun may be poking through. I’d better type fast and then take Opal out on the beach for a run. Dogs are allowed on city beaches here before May 15 and after September 15. Now back to the first of two days visiting historic Philadelphia. Or first problem to tackle was how to go into the city since our truck with kayaks on top is too tall for most covered parking garages. Our next door neighbors told us about the PATCO train line from New Jersey to Philly. We missed the exit for the closest station and wound up closer to Camden. It was a Sunday and a lot that normally holds 300 commuter cars was 95% empty. We parked away from anyone else but because of the size of the truck and the overhang of the boats we took up two spaces. More about this later. Trying to buy tickets from the machine with a credit card wasn’t working. Then a woman told us “I don’t know why they give you a choice of credit vs cash as it only takes cash”. Finally got the tickets and the train came within ten minutes. The trip in to the Market and 8th Street station took about twenty minutes.
A four block walk brought us to the Independence Visitors Center. We love to walk. While walking in an urban environment may not seem like hiking by the end of the day my legs had something to say about that. I should have worn a pedometer. I must have done my 10,000 steps for at least a week! It was a beautiful spring Sunday and the area was busy but not annoyingly crowded. We picked up our free timed tour tickets for Independence Hall then went into the theatre to watch the orientation movie. The lights were out then a few moments later they came on. No announcement and no movie began. A man came to the door to get his wife and said “They are evacuating the building”. She laughed and he said “No. They really are.” So we all left the theatre. Steve asked a Ranger what was going on but he didn’t know. Since this was just a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing we took it seriously and left. Later we learned that a man had been wandering around in the parking garage below the building talking about people out to get him and blowing him up.
The Independence National Historic Park came under the National Park Service in 1951 and covers three city blocks including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Here were written the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. You must pass through a security check so allow time for it. As we stood in line we heard not only English but Danish, German and Japanese. This site is not only a symbol of freedom to Americans but to people around the world. The Ranger led tour through Independence Hall is given every fifteen minutes and tickets are required. The tour lasted about half an hour. Originally the building was to be the new City Hall for Philadelphia but was used by the Continental Congress and afterward by the US government from 1790-1800 when Philadelphia was our nation’s second capital. We enjoyed the Ranger’s talk given in the original Senate Chamber. Perhaps I didn’t remember my American History as well as I thought but I was surprised when the Ranger mentioned that we did not directly elect Senators until 1913 when the 17th amendment was passed. As I stood there I could visualize Ben Franklin standing there saying to the signers of the Declaration ” We must all hang together or assuredly we will hang alone”. Can you imagine putting your life in jeopardy by signing a document? Can you imagine being thought a traitor for wanting the basic freedoms we take for granted today? Did you know this is the 225th anniversary of our Constitution? While writing this post I found something for us to do “when we come back…”. There is an Independence Archeology Laboratory behind the scenes tour weekdays only by appointment. What more can be said about such a well known place? (Steve) I enjoyed one story that was told about Ben Franklin. After sitting for many hours looking at the back of the chair where the President of the Continental Congress was sitting, Ben Franklin decided that the “fan” carved into the chair looked like a sun. He is quoted as saying “I didn’t know whether it is a rising sun or a setting sun but now I do think it is a rising sun.” (Chari) I enjoyed hearing about the painting The Signing of the Constitution by Louis S. Glanzman that was commissioned in 1987 to celebrate the bicentennial of our Constitution. All of the delegates are facing the viewer except one. Their likenesses were taken from known portraits. The one not pictured (I can’t remember his name) is shown with his back to the viewer because there was no portrait of him. No one knew what he looked like. I was also surprised that a building representing the American Revolution would have portraits of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI. If you have already visited Independence Hall and find yourself back in Philadelphia be sure to check the National Park Service website for special programs and other available guided tours.
Then on to the Liberty Bell. On this beautiful Spring Sunday the line stretched around the side of the building. Leading up to the bell which is set so you see both Independence Hall and the Bell is an excellent exhibit. Interesting facts such as the term Liberty Bell first being used not during the celebration of our country’s birth but when Stephen Douglas spoke there in denouncing slavery. The Bell was also used as a symbol of freedom during the Women’s Suffrage movement.
The newest building in the park is the National Constitution Center. It was already mid afternoon. Should we do the museum or the special exhibit about Prohibition? We didn’t have time for both today. Then we heard that the special exhibits are free on Sundays. Other days there is a nominal charge in addition to the museum ticket. We decided on the Prohibition exhibit as it would end the following week. The National Constitution Center has rotating exhibits each featuring an era of history and how the Constitution played a role. The Prohibition exhibit was excellent. We think it is a traveling exhibit so if it should come to your area, do go see it. We planned to return and tour the main museum but there was so much to do we never did get back. Another place for “When we come back …”
The exhibit began with the use of alcohol by early settlers and how it became an industry. Then it highlighted persons involved with the Temperance movement like Justice Wm. Jennings Bryan, Rev. Billy Sunday and Carrie Nation. Carrie Nation was an imposing woman at six feet tall. When you see the axe she wielded no wonder the bar owners didn’t try to stop her! (To read the text on the pictures click on the picture and then click again to zoom in).
The exhibit continued with descriptions of how the political party platforms dealt with the issue. One of the most calculating and forceful politicians of the time was Wayne Wheeler. If you’d like to read more about him, we’ll refer you to a Smithsonian Magazine article called Wayne Wheeler, The Man Who Turned Off The Taps in the May 2010 issue or online at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Wayne-B-Wheeler-The-Man-Who-Turned-Off-the-Taps.html. The passage of the 16th amendment authorizing an income tax was pushed through by the pro Temperance politicians before the 18th amendment (Prohibition) to thwart any opposition based on loss of Treasury revenue from stopping liquor sales. From there the exhibit moved on to popular culture during the 20s. My mother was a teen during the late 1920s and I remember her telling me about sneaking out to dance the Charleston and later when she and my father were dating they went to a Speakeasy. The exhibit had a mock nightclub with footprints on the floor for anyone who wished to learn the Charleston. I know how to Charleston and if there had been anyone else out there I might have cut loose. My feet were dancing away for the next several days. Of course the rise of organized crime and bootlegging was also a part of the exhibit. You could pose with cardboard cutouts and have your picture taken with “The Guys” and e-mailed to you. So if you ever see our pictures in post office you’ll know why. This experiment with legislating social behavior was a failure and ended with the passage of the 21st amendment. Prohibition remains the only time the Constitution was used to limit our freedom.
By the time we were finished it was after 5 0’clock. We were hungry and decided to walk the eight blocks or so to a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives local eatery called Good Dog Bar and Restaurant. It was filled with 20-30s age folks who probably wondered how we managed to find the place. As with most bar eateries it was a bit noisy but the food was great. When we left we saw that right next door was Chocolate By The Bald Man. Time for dessert. We walked back to the train passed the City Hall which is undergoing renovation. A local man walking his dog talked to us while we waited for a crossing signal. He told us we definitely should take the elevator up to the top for a view of the city, go to the Art Museum and visit the market. No time this trip but when we come back…
We took the train back and were glad to get back to the truck. On the way home, Steve noticed something on the windshield. Yup, it was a parking ticket. We couldn’t read the handwritten explanation but it was obviously related to us having taken two spaces. Because we had an out of state tag the Delaware River Authority Officer had marked it for us to appear in court late in May. The next day we attempted to call the phone number on the back only to get a recording “Please call back when there is someone here to speak to you”. And just when might that be? So we wrote a letter saying we’d pay the fine but also explaining why we’d parked that way and that the lot was 90% vacant. We haven’t heard anything back. This isn’t the type of souvenir we were looking to collect.