This written on Friday, May 12. Subject: the latter half of the day in Philly on Wednesday. Alert: strap yourself in. This is a loooong post. And after you get through it, you’ll understand how I couldn’t have written these two posts in one day and that’s why I got so far behind.
So . . . flashing back to Wednesday, on with Part 2. Now as I’m done with the Visitor Center, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Congress Hall, I’m strolling a couple blocks east to the original Benjamin Franklin property. The site is as deep as city block; sitting between Chestnut and Market. Originally his home was here; now it’s a courtyard that features what’s left of it (The Ghost House), as well as a world-class museum that features personal artifacts, computer animations and hands-on displays exploring Franklin’s life. Franklin was an inventor and scientist, a printer, a postmaster, an overseas diplomat and of course one of our founding fathers, among the most famous of them. His stature as a U.S. citizen and countryman is significant.
On entry to the museum there a several plaques. This one is my favorite.
The Ghost House. Kind impressive how they did this. In the middle of the courtyard are two impressive, iconic, standing steel structures that trace the outlines of Franklin’s vanished house and print shop. What’s left of the original home is the below-ground foundation, including the privy.
The second of the above photos shows in the background, the red-brick back of the commercial three-story buildings that were built and rented by Franklin (including his post office). These front on Market Street. Below: a closer view of these, first the back and then the front facades.
In addition to the above distinctions, Franklin was our country’s first postmaster. His image appeared on America’s first postage stamp (I’m thinking that many of these still exist and wonder how much they’d be worth today. There were different versions of the one cent stamp, profile and full-face and in different colors.). The post office as pictured above is the very first U.S. post office in Pennsylvania (the first in this new country is in Boston). This one still functions as a working post office. Here you can mail a postcard that will be, on request, postmarked in a unique fashion, dated and denoted as being mailed from here. Below are images of the original stamp, cancelled and never used.
Now it’s time for the guided, narrated bus tour. A two-block walk west and back at the Visitor Center, I buy tickets to the tour. On the way I bump up with none other than the man himself. In the flesh. Well . . . sort of a live replica. We talk. In no time we’re buddies. Arm in arm, here we are (if you don’t realize, he’s the heftier one, on the left).
And after the pose, I put my camera in video mode and ask him to recite one of his famous quotes. He’s glad to. Here’s what he says. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Nice. After all this, I hand over a couple bucks; not as a gratuity or gift but what I think of as a fee. When I first asked him to pose with me, he asked me for a donation. Well then . . it was Benjamin Franklin who said “A penny saved is a penny earned” Ben Franklin, my kind of man!
I come outside the Visitor Center and look across the street to realize that the entry to the Liberty Bell exhibit is yet another ghost house. Three guesses. Which President lived here in Philly, right at this corner? Remember that Philadelphia was our country’s first seat of government while the White House was being built and before our government physically moved to Washington D.C. If you know, good for you. If you didn’t, well as of now you do. It was our first president, George Washington. And if you said John Adams, you’d also be right. So now you also know, both our first presidents lived here here on this corner, here the first of the Presidential residences, while serving their terms in office.
His home on 6th and Market is no longer there. But the ghost house is. I walked right through it when earlier in the morning, I was at the entry to the Liberty Bell exhibit, and didn’t have a clue. Here’s photos, the first mine and another dramatic nighttime view.
Now to the bus, I’m up the stairs and seated in the open top-level of this double-decker, blessed with a perfect sunny day. Not too cool, not too hot, just right. Now then, you’ll have to wade through some the perhaps mundane comments. Have patience. Part of the reason to document these ventures, besides to share them with you, is to memorialize them for not just me, but for my family. Off we go, with 27 stops and lots of excellent narration by our tour guide nicknamed ‘Zee’.
First is the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Opened in 1926 it was first named the Delaware River Bridge. It spans the river between Philly and Camden. In 1955 it was renamed as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Appropriate. As are many of the institutions and buildings, certainly a tribute to the man, and more of and interesting name as well. My photo (on the left) not as good as the one I lifted off the internet.
Then the Firemen’s Hall Museum and the Betsy Ross house. Betsy Ross made the first American flag, doncha know.
This next one is significant. It’s where Ben Franklin is interred, the Christ Church Burial Ground. We tourists can get out and stroll around looking for his grave (the bus is a hop-off, hop on version). I didn’t; jumping off and on would have taken all day. So I lifted the images rather than seeing the actual.
Here’s the Philadelphia U.S. Mint. I regret not taking the time so see this free tour. How they create coinage would be fascinating to me. I’m at the moment making a mental note to see if I can find a video of it. What I quickly looked at just now says the following. “It took coiners in Colonial Philadelphia three years to strike the first 1 million coins, and they worked 11 hours a day, 6 days a week. Today the men and women at the Philadelphia Mint can churn out 1 million coins in 30 minutes, with more than 4 billion coins already produced this year.” Wowser!!
Now the National Constitution Center (The Constitution of the United States was signed here, remember? Do you remember where; which room?) and Chinatown.
Then the Reading Terminal Market. At the time we rode past here I promise myself that I’ll see this up close and personal. It’s just around the corner and is like the West Side Market in Cleveland. More on this later.
City Hall. Now this one is a biggie, literally. This is massive. Old school, this building is made of stone. The architecture is spectacular. I’m taking lots of pictures. William Penn stands atop it; unfortunately it’s being worked on at the moment, scaffolding hides him. I’ll have to lift that image (fact is, I lifted all the next photos as mine are nowhere near as good). As you can see the statue is HUGE.
Who was William Penn? He was an English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, early pacifist Quaker. Wealthy as well. Because of his father being an huge advocate of England, William Penn as family was gifted what is now Pennsylvania and Delaware by King Charles II. He sailed here and landed at Philadelphia after coming up the Delaware River. His significance in forming a union of the new colonies predates the work of our founding fathers in forming our current government by 100 years; he landed at Front Street in Philly in 1862.
Next is the Free Library. Attributed to Franklin’s belief in lending books rather than buying them for personal libraries. And the Barnes Foundation which sports more than 4,000 objects, including over 900 paintings, estimated to be worth about $25 billion. These are primarily works by Impressionis and Modernist masters, Also the Rodin Museum which houses one of the world’s great collections of works by Auguste Rodin—and the only dedicated Rodin Museum outside France.
And now the massive Eastern State Peniteniary. Quoting from the website – “Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cell blocks and empty guard towers. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone. Tours of it would be depressing.
And now the familiar Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rocky Statue. Again unfortunately, the iconic back side (yes the back) is being renovated. We saw it from a distance so I lifted these as well. Seems the locals fell in and out and then back in love with Rocky. He moved from the top of the steps to a local sports arena and now sits at the foot of the steps.
There’s The Franklin Institute. It’s s a science museum and research center, founded in 1824. Historic? You bet.
And finally the Society Hill neighborhood. Pennsylvania Hospital is here at 8th and Spruce Streets in this southeast district of historic inner-city Philadelphia. This is the nation’s first hospital and is currently viable. Many of these very old homes that currently house many of the transient hospital staff are squeezed together into these tiny, almost ancient old streets are for sale or for rent. They go for astronomical $$. Want to live here? You’ll have to have a fat wallet.
The last part of the tour goes quickly through Independence Park, but this really needs to be done on foot which as appropriate, was done in Part 1. So that’s it, the bus tour. Would have liked to have a closer look at the Mint and in fact did see more of the Reading Market.
So one more note on that. As I’m off the bus and back on the walk back to the SEPTA rail terminal, I’m at the Reading. Now for those of you familiar with the Cleveland’s West Side Market, this is similar but the big difference is that this market, all under roof, is HUGE. There’s meat markets here and shops with every sort of food in any number of ethnic versions, raw and cooked. Produce, exotic fruits and herbs. And at the Reading, compared to the West Side Market, there are a much much larger number of shops and kitchens where locals and tourists can sit down at a chair and table to enjoy all the offerings. I’ve got my heart set on a Philly Cheesesteak. Not to be. As I arrive I sit down in a diner with stools squeezed into tiny spaces, shoulder-to-shoulder between patrons. I wait. And wait. Not a greeting or smile from the servers, not even an acknowledgment that I exist. These folks are overwhelmed with business. It is SO crowded here. I give up just before ten minutes elapse. All the dining spaces are jammed so I settle on a very efficient Chinese ten-stool bar with a takeout of hot and spicy garlic shrimp over rice. Back at the motel it was great but I’m disappointed that after making it all the way here to Philly, I’ve not had a taste of their famous Cheesesteak. Oh well . . . maybe next time. Or maybe never. Nuts.
Okay that’s Philadelphia. Parts 1 and 2. Took me one day to do it. One and a half days to write about it. But I must say that I enjoy writing about this stuff as much as doing it. What a day.