Saturday, March 5: After visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, we hightail it back to the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia for their last Saturday tour at noon. We arrive a bit early and buy our tickets. Mike runs to get a coffee at Starbucks and I explore the park in front of the temple as well as the front facade.
Modern-day downtown Philadelphia looms over us. Sadly, our blue skies have disappeared and the gray skies so typical of early March are creeping in. Winter is still with us, I’m afraid.
The square in front of City Hall and the Masonic Temple is dominated by Jacques Lipchitz’s sculpture, “Government of the People.” It symbolizes “family life, ‘the wellspring of society, the hope of the future,’ and the concept of government being of, by, and for the people.'”
Looking from the square to the Masonic Temple, City Hall stands formidably to the right.
Topped with turrets and spires, the Masonic Temple, which serves as the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, is often mistaken for a church. The ornate structure includes seven lodge rooms, where today a number of Philadelphia lodges and the Grand Lodge conduct their meetings.
James H. Windrim, who was 27 years old when he won the design competition, designed the structure in the medieval Norman style. The massive granite cornerstone, weighing ten tons, was leveled on St. John the Baptist’s Day, June 24, 1868, and was completed five years later, in 1873. The ceremonial gavel used on that day by the Grand Master was the same gavel used by President George Washington in leveling the cornerstone of the nation’s Capitol building in 1793. (Wikipedia: Masonic Temple (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)).
The interior, designed by George Herzog, was begun in 1887 and took another fifteen years to finish.
John F. Kennedy Plaza is known as Love Park because of the sculpture by Robert Indiana that stands at its center. The tilted “O” is a reminder that nothing, not even love, is perfect. Installed in 1976, it quickly became an iconic image for the City of Brotherly Love (Moon Handbooks: Pennsylvania).
Back inside the Masonic Temple, we wait in the Museum for the tour to begin.
I’m not really sure of why this Arabic mosque-like replica in the museum is significant; though Masonry’s origins are obscure, there is obviously some link to Islamic culture. There is also an Egyptian room in the Temple, as well as an Oriental Room, sadly closed today, which is modeled on the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
Our tour begins and we are bowled over by the extravagance in every square inch of this place. I don’t take notes, so if you’d like to read more about the Temple, you can find information here:
The Egyptian Hall is quite ornate and shares the second floor with the Grecian-themed Corinthian Hall, the Ionic Hall, and other rooms decorated in the Italian Renaissance and Rhenish Romanesque styles.
I’m using my new Canon Rebel today for the first time since I got it for Christmas. I’m not entirely pleased with the results, especially compared to my old Olympus.
Lodge rooms are based on themes from the ancient architectural world. Easily identifiable is the Grecian-themed Corinthian Hall.
Our tour comes to an end and we exit near a grand staircase. I have to say I feel eerily uncomfortable in this meeting place of a secret society whose practices are the subject of many conspiracy theories. Our guide assures us that any of the Mason’s practices can be found in libraries and in the museum, but of course I have no way to determine if this is true.
After our tour, we trek back across the city to search for a Philly cheese steak for lunch. We find Sonny’s Famous Cheesesteaks just blocks away from Independence Hall in the Historic District.
An icon of Philadelphia, a cheese steak is a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced sautéed rib eye beef and melted cheese. Generally, the cheese of choice is Cheez Whiz, but American and provolone are common substitutions, according to Visit Philadelphia: Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks.
I order mine with Provolone, and we also order Crazy Fries with Cheez Whiz, bacon, jalapeños and red onions. Our lunch is delicious, and I’m not even a beef fan. 🙂
I love the t-shirt worn by the server at Sonny’s.
After lunch, we’re back on our feet again and heading to the Old City Cultural District. First stop, the Betsy Ross house.