Saturday, March 5: In the lobby of our hotel this morning, we see our first destination, Independence Hall, painted in multi-story Technicolor before us.
The hotel doesn’t serve breakfast, so we go in search of food and coffee, passing by colorful bars and buildings. We’ll be exploring much of the Old City Cultural District and the Historic Waterfront District on foot today.
After eating a quick oatmeal breakfast at Cosi, we head to Independence National Historical Park to see the birthplace of the United States Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. At the Visitor’s Center, we pick up our timed tickets for a 9:40 a.m. tour.
We walk to Independence Hall, where we join a crowd of tourists for the tour.
Construction on Independence Hall started in 1732 and originally housed all three branches of Pennsylvania’s colonial government. The Pennsylvania legislature loaned their Assembly Room out for the meetings of the Second Continental Congress and later, the Constitutional Convention. Here, George Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in 1775 and the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781 (National Park Service: Independence Hall).
The building is part of Independence National Historical Park and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Our first stop inside is the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which sat in this room in the 1700s. On July 8, 1776, an act of defiance occurred here when a group of Pennsylvania militiamen stormed in and tore down British King George III’s coat of arms (National Park Service: Independence Hall).
The Park Ranger stands in the prisoner’s dock where the defendant stood during his court proceedings, giving rise to the expression “stand trial.”
The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both signed in the Assembly Room. Later, the room became a shrine to the founding of the nation. When Abraham Lincoln visited the room, which displayed the Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers, he praised the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Following his assassination, Lincoln’s body lay in repose here for two days (National Park Service: Independence Hall).
After the Declaration of Independence was approved in this room on July 4, 1776, it was read aloud to the public in what is now Independence Square. This document unified the colonies in North America who declared themselves independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain and explained their justifications for doing so. These historic events are celebrated annually on Independence Day (Wikipedia: Independence Hall).
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council met in the Governor’s Council Chamber in the 18th century. Later use of the room includes U.S. District Court, the scene of fugitive slave trials in the 1850s (National Park Service: Independence Hall).
The Committee of the Assembly Chamber was used in the 18th century for meetings and as a storeroom for military goods; it also housed the U.S. Marshal’s Office in the 19th century. Accused fugitives from slavery were held for trial here, right above the room where the Declaration of Independence had been signed (National Park Service: Independence Hall).
We have a view of Independence Square from the stairwell of Independence Hall.
Next door to Independence Hall is Congress Hall. It served as the seat of the U.S. Congress from December 6, 1790 to May 14, 1800. During Congress Hall’s duration as the capital of the U.S., the country ratified the Bill of Rights and oversaw George Washington’s second Presidential Inauguration and John Adams’ first (Wikipedia: Congress Hall).
It gave me a small bit of relief when the park ranger told us that the debates and presidential campaigns in the early days of our Republic were just as vitriolic and nasty as they are in this year’s unpalatable presidential campaign.
The guide then takes us upstairs to the Senate Chamber, which is more ornate and adorned with heavy red drapes. By 1796, the room featured 32 secretary desks very similar to the desks that are still used in the current Senate chamber in the U.S. Capitol; 28 of the desks at Congress Hall are original. A fresco of an American bald eagle is painted on the ceiling, holding the traditional olive branch to symbolize peace. Also on the ceiling, a plaster medallion in the form of a sunburst features 13 stars to represent the original colonies (Wikipedia: Congress Hall).
A portrait of Marie Antoinette, presented as a gift from the French monarch following the American Revolution, hangs in one of the adjoining committee rooms.
Back outside, we get the view of Independence Hall from Independence Square.
After our tour is over, we go inside the Federal style Old City Hall to check it out. It was built in 1790-91. Originally intended as Philadelphia’s City Hall, it served as the home of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1791 until 1800, when the national capital was moved to Washington, D.C. Afterward, the building continued to serve as Philadelphia’s City Hall until 1854. Now it is owned by the City of Philadelphia and leased to the National Park Service (Wikipedia: Old City Hall (Philadelphia)).
According to the National Park Service, the State House bell, now known as the Liberty Bell, rang in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, now called Independence Hall. The bell was ordered in 1751 from the Whitechapel Foundry in London. Sadly, that bell cracked on the first test ring. Local metalworkers John Pass and John Stow melted down that bell and cast a new one in Philadelphia. It’s this bell that would ring to call lawmakers to their meetings and the townspeople together to hear the reading of the news. It wasn’t until the 1830s that the old State House bell would begin to take on significance as a symbol of liberty.
The Liberty Bell bears a timeless message from the Bible: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.”
The bell is now housed in Liberty Bell Center so that visitors can read about its history and the myths surrounding it. According to Moon Handbooks: Pennsylvania, the bell eventually suffered a thin crack, which was purposely widened to keep the edges from vibrating against each other. In February 1846, when the bell tolled on the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, the crack widened into a zig-zag multi-directional fracture which left it fatally wounded.
The bell has become a symbol of oppressed groups worldwide.
The bell today is displayed at the south end of the Liberty Bell Center, where Independence Hall serves as a backdrop. Because of the light streaming in from the large window behind it, it’s difficult to get a good picture of it.
Since the last tour of the Masonic Temple is at noon on Saturdays, we make our way on foot back to the temple. It’s quite a long walk but at least the sun is out.
We make it to the Masonic Temple in time to get our tickets about 20 minutes before the tour begins. With time to spare, Mike goes to get a cup of coffee from Starbucks and I walk around the square in front of City Hall to take some pictures of the outside of the temple.