Stumbling Through Philadelphia

Alas, we were not at the grand opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution this past week. But we have been to Philadelphia, where we managed to stumble into some wonderful history.


Almost two years ago, right after the National History Day competition, we turned the old history wagon north for a little stumbling through history. Philadelphia was one of the towns upon which we set our sights. Philadelphia was the epicenter of the struggle for a new nation in the 1770s and 1780s, and it was a capital of the United States before Washington, D. C., became the permanent capital. In the two days we spent in Philadelphia, we just barely scratched the surface. Independence Hall, Christ Church Burial Ground, the Betsy Ross House, Congress Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Franklin’s print shop, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and the American Philosophical Society Museum, were some of the places that we visited.

The AmericaPhilly4n Philosophical Society Museum was Michael’s favorite. Lewis and Clark’s herbarium specimen collection and other scientific specimens and apparatus were on display. Of course, visiting Christ Church Cemetery was also a highlight. There are 1,400 markers in a two-acre plot. Benjamin Franklin is buried there, along with four other signers of the Declaration of Independence.  For those folks back in North Carolina, Col. Edward Buncombe is buried here. He is the namesake of Buncombe County. The Hardys are quite fond of cemeteries in general (watch for an upcoming post on Philadelphia’s large and remarkable Laurel Hill Cemetery), so we loved the historic Christ Church Cemetery. It was especially meaningful for Elizabeth, who teaches the work of Franklin, America’s first rock star, each semester. So, she made sure to bring a cup of tea to toast him over his grave. Other visitors like to leave pennies all over the marker, which is probably a cheaper alternative to leaving the currency that bears his image.

The Franklin sites we visited were all excellent, particularly the print shop, which uses wonderful interpretive history by actually running the press. Elizabeth loved seeing works Franklin himself had printed. Nate and Isabella were both deeply impressed by the marker indicating the location of Franklin’s privy.

Independence Hall was also a favorite for our junior partnePhilly3rs. Though they were disappointed by the lack of Nicholas Cage racing through the halls with stolen National Treasures, Isabella was so taken with George Washington’s Rising Sun chair that, over a year later, visiting Fredericksburg, she stumped a tour guide by asking how that chair’s name was connected to the name of the Rising Sun Tavern which was owned by Washington’s brother.

Our time in Philadelphia was short, but like all of our Stumbling adventures, we packed in as much as we could. On some future date, we would like to go back and visit the Franklin Institute, the Eastern State Penitentiary, and the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Of course, the new Museum of the American Revolution is now high on that list as well

Philly1Michael’s piece of advice? Stay downtown. Parking is about $30 a day, so staying out-of-town and driving in will not really save any money, and will just create frustration and delay. We stayed at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District, and walked everywhere we went. We could see Franklin’s grave from our room, which delighted Elizabeth, and we all enjoyed both the views and the wonderful convenience of being close to everything. Elizabeth’s advice?  Talk to the Rangers and volunteers, especially if you have kids. Ours collected loads of fun trading cards and information from the Rangers we met. Isabella also recommends doing the Junior Ranger Program (as she does at most NPS sites), and she also strongly suggests refraining from stealing the Declaration of Independence.  Nate’s advice? Eat lots of Philly cheese steak!

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