PrologueWhat we are doing, and why we're doing it!
Philadelphia was another city that had no near campgrounds or downtown RV parking so we ended up camping across the river in New Jersey once again. This worked out fine and we rented a car to get us back and forth between our daily excursions. We had some maintenance on the coach done so we were in the area for quite a bit of time and explored the outlying areas. The Ben Franklin bridge between New Jersey and Philly is bright blue and one of three bridges within sight of each other. Traffic seemed to generally flow all right, even in rush hour. After passing through more recreational-oriented coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, etc., the Philadelphia shoreline was a sharp contrast because it appeared to be predominantly industrial. The weather throughout our stay was clear, but a bit on the cool side.
We were so impressed with the walking tour of Boston, we wanted to take another walking tour as soon as we arrived at the Freedom Hall Center in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, we had arrived on a weekday after the summer tourist season. Walking tours were only available on weekends. No to be denied, we approached one of the costumed docents to ask if he was one of the folks that usually led walking tours, and find out if he was interested in leading a private tour later in the day. Sure enough, he was and he did!
Our 'private' walking tour had an unusual flavor to it. Our guide was a chap named Jack who had moved to Philly from Britain several years ago to work as a Shakespearian actor. Apparently it's not a viable occupation in England. He supplements his income working as a costumed docent (his character is a Constable On Patrol, a COP). There was something fitting about hearing about colonial Philadelphia from a Brit.
Before starting the walking tour, we visited the 'Freedom Hall' and Liberty Bell. Freedom Hall is actually the old Pennsylvania State House where the Second Continental Congress met to draft the Constitution. The room where the framers of the Constitution met is set up the same way that is was when Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and a host of others met to address the shortcomings of the governing document of the day, the Articles of Confederation.
History has seemingly forgotten that we had a national government prior to the drafting of the Constitution. So thorough was this erasure that is seems heresy to point out that George Washington was not the first President of the United States! That honor goes to John Hanson. Among other accomplishments involved with the creation of a government, Hanson created the US Treasury department and established the Presidential Seal. There were, in fact, eight men who held the title of President of the United States before George Washington. While the office of the President was not as significant under the Articles of Confederation as is was under the Constitution, it was substantial enough for it's Presidents to have created a real foundation for George Washington to build on.
Our walking tour led us past a large, almost imposing Quaker meeting hall. It seems that the Quakers, while eschewing worldly trappings, were hardly humble folk. They were, as a group, quite wealthy and used their economic clout to influence the politics of the day. The Quaker pacifist community faced an agonizing moral dilemma in their renunciation of violence and the struggle to rid themselves of an unjust imperial government. The quandary actually provoked a split in the community. One group supported the revolutionary efforts by operating hospitals, etc while the other group remained as uninvolved as was possible in those tumultuous days.
We visited several buildings from the city's early days such as the Custom's House. The building now houses a wonderful exhibit of paintings of the signers of the Constitution the majority of which were done by the same artist (including a painting of the scribe who penned the final document).
Betsy Ross' house was also on the tour. There appears to be some controversy over the claim that she actually made the first flag herself. While the informality of the day left little in the way of solid documentation, it seems that the controversy is just another conspiracy theory.
We also went in the Carpenter's Union Hall where the First Continental Congress met. The First Continental Congress, among other things, drafted the Declaration of Independence. At the time, they could hardly use the State House because it was the property of the King! Only a small corner of the main hall is set up as it was when treason was in the air.
The wonderful and recently built Constitution Hall had terrific interactive displays including a room that had life sized statues of all the signers of the Constitution set in poses as conversational groups as might have been likely during the First and Second Continental Congresses. Yes, you could rub Ben Franklin's bald forehead or pose between George Washington's 6'2" frame and James (Little Jimmy) Madison's 5' statue.
The best glimpse of what Philadelphia was like at the time of the Revolution was an area known as Elfreth's Alley. It's a very narrow street lined with row houses that have survived the centuries. While a few of the homes have been converted to museums, most of the houses and courtyards are still in use today. The 'trinity' style of architecture was very common. We think of them today as 'tall and skinny' but they were even skinnier than is the rigueur today - only one or two smaller rooms per each of the three floors. They were easier to keep heated this way. Most of the houses still had their ingenious reflecting mirror system for checking who was at the front door.
Ben Franklin's legacy can still be seen in the creation of very first post office, which is still in operation. His contributions to our society ranged far and wide. From printer to publisher to being the first Postmaster General to scientist to Ambassador, he was a true Renaissance man.
While his houses no longer stand, the National Parks Service maintains a print shop in much the same state as it would have been in Ben Franklin's day. We saw a demonstration of the creation of a single page newsletter and it was easy to imagine how placing each and every letter and punctuation mark, backwards, could make someone end up wearing glasses for assistance. Speaking of which, Franklin was quite the innovator for spectacles too. But then, if you've seen the recent movie 'National Treasure', much of this information is familiar.
It all underscores so triumphantly that there is nothing that replaces walking among the echoes of our past, seeing and when possible touching, history. History lives again through us when we immerse ourselves in these settings. This has truly been the trip of a lifetime.