Sunday, June 7, 2009

Once Upon Philadelphia

Our first day in Philadelphia did not wow the kids. We rolled in later than I had hoped, with not much of a plan. Everything was going to be closing soon.

So we did the closest thing: the Liberty Bell.

The kids were thrilled and moved by this symbol of freedom in America.
Mm hmm. Sure they were.

Being pesky little inquisitive things they kept asking why it was a symbol of liberty. The entire brand spanking new hall the bell is in is an elaborate self-justification, and yet even I came away thinking the bell story was cracked.

It was brought to Philadelphia in 1752 long before revolution was contemplated.

It is thought that it was rung (though no one knows for sure), along with all the other bells in Philadelphia, on July 8 when the Declaration of Independence was first read publicly.

Sure, it does say:
Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.

But really, its chief claim to being a symbol of liberty is that it has been used as a symbol of liberty. The only thing I like about the whole liberty bell thing is the crack.

The idea that freedom is fragile and we have to work to preserve it. The metaphor gets a little stretched here because really, wouldn't it have been better to just make the thing right in the first place?

Unimpressed, we hurried on to see Ben Franklin's house.
It is gone.

The white steel frame shows where the house stood.
Engraved stone circles mark his ice pit.
And privy pit.
Ok, I thought these were cool.

No one had complaints about dinner at City Tavern--one of those places where they serve you period food in period dress.
Ok, my mom was not thrilled with her pewter water cup.
But she was fine with her George Washington recipe porter.
Despite the good dinner, enthusiasm was low for our second day in Philadelphia. Clementine professed outright hatred for Philadelphia.

My mom had hopped a plane early in the morning so I'd be on my own with the dragging feet.
But there were too many things I wanted to see to cancel and go to the beach.

So we went. First stop, the Visitor's Center. You have to get there early to get tickets for Constitution Hall. We got there at 9:30am and got tickets for 1:30pm.

Then we dragged along to Ben Franklin's grave site. They were a bit interested in the graves.

Benjamin and Deborah Franklin's

As was I.
Imagine living to 74 and having 11 of your children die before you. That is a real nostalgia-for-colonial-days stopper.

But it was at Betsy Ross's house that the magic that brought the past to life really began.
Betsy was sitting out front, a stone's throw from her grave site. She was telling the kids about how she showed General Washington how easy it was to make the 5-pointed stars she thought would look good on the American flag. He'd had six-pointed stars in mind for the flag.

But with a few folds and one snip she made a perfect 5-pointed star.
Try it yourself. Betsy cut and handed out paper stars to all the children who wanted one. Greta wowed her with her Williamsburg curtsy and was rewarded with a small piece of Betsy's knitting that we hope to work into our quilt.

Inside Betsy's house we took the audio tour. Greta kept disappearing. I'd ask her to wait and she'd shout (because of the headphones), "But it told me to go down the stairs!"

Did you know Betsy Ross, when her upholstery business was suffering during the war, made musketballs in her basement?

But it was back out in the courtyard that we discovered something that would send us gleefully running back and forth across town all day.
A circular bench and this sign mark magic.
You just sit down and a fabulous actor tells you a story.
Don't get too comfortable because you'll be joining in.

You might steal stones from a construction site with Ben Franklin to construct a wharf at your favorite fishing pond.

Or you might be British navymen firing cannonballs at Captain Barry's ship (see the legs of his statue in the background). In that case you'll have to shout, "God save the king. KABOOM!"

Each kid gets a Betsy Ross flag. There are 13 story booths scattered around historic Philadelphia at various sights and monuments. After each story you get a foil star to put on your flag.
If you visit all 13 you get a free ice cream and carousel ride.
We only made it to ten.

But who cares? The real prize was the stories themselves, so well told, that instead of dragging feet, we had running feet all day.

They ran gleefully, knowing at the end there'd be a familiar circular bench waiting to rest on and a wonderful story to hear and participate in. These stories carried us to all the major sights and then helped us travel back in time to relive snippets of the lives of Patriots, Pirates, Heroes and Spies.


The Stone Age Techie said...

Oh, just WOW - thanks for sharing so much of your trip!

A product of our public schools myself, I never wondered about the Liberty bell before. But now I am wondering, what's the big deal?

I do not know how you manage to blog during the road trip, but I am so, so glad that you are!

Thanks -

Kristin said...

I can't believe how much you are doing and how much more time you still have to do more. You have a lot of energy and patience to travel with all three, now without the help of your hubby or your Mom. How are getting to all of these places? Are you in a rental car? Is your eldest reading the map or are you using a navigational system? I admire your effort and I enjoyed this post.

Susan said...

Karen, thanks! After all the running all day I crash the same time the kids do but I've been waking up at 5:30. So I sneak off with my laptop to the hotel bathroom or, if I am staying with relatives, to a quiet kitchen, make some coffee and blog. I appreciate that hotels often keep the coffee makers in the bathroom.

Kristin, We rented a van and have put over 2000 miles on it. Thank goodness for our navigator. We started off with my mom's and we chose the Australian accent option to work on my fake Australian accent. Still horrible. We called her Sheila.

After my mom took Sheila with her we went back to ours which I named Evangeline. Greta asked me if Sheila and Evangeline have fun together when we turn them off.

I am getting tired and starting to count the days! We are still having fun, but my mind drifts to home often.

Stefaneener said...

Oh, how fun!
You're going to feel tired by the time you get home, I bet, when all of the jollying and cajoling catches up.

Still, it makes me want to get back there, conveniently located near my in-laws, soon.