Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Philadelphia in one day

Independence Hall
When you only have one day, it's tough to decide what to do in a large and famous city. I'd been to Philly in 1986 for a couple of days, saw the art museum and the Rodin museum, plus the Liberty Bell. So this time the focus was on Ben Franklin and eating a Philly Steak Sandwich at a real Philly restaurant: Sonny's

What a trip to walk into Sonny's, a narrow strip restaurant with cooking along one wall, seating around the edges, and bathrooms in the back. The employees wear shirts that say 'Sonny's" on the front and "Bite Me" on the back. They whirl around so fast you hardly wait 5 minutes between placing your order and snarfing down that first delicious bite of smooth cheese whiz, caramelized onions, and beef. Cheese Whiz? OMG, that's just gross. Or so I thought. The sign said that was the original and authentic sandwich, so in the interest of historical research I bought that version of it. Actually it was juicy, rich, sweet (the onions), and perfect. I didn't add a thing, not even a shake of salt.

Waddling down the sidewalks later.......

Actors were everywhere. Men and a few women dressed up as colonial people telling about their place. A man was in the Free Quaker's Meeting house discoursed on the Quaker religion in a high-brow tone, another fellow in a tri-cornered hat played music on a hammered dulcimer in the visitor's center, a "Signer" of the Declaration of Independence was on hand to answer questions at Independence hall.

The little boy sat fascinated for the longest time.

Washington's home
Other new developments are the "ghost" buildings. Rather than attempt to reconstruct a homesite or a workshop, the Park Service built ghost buildings, with the hint of structure, maybe some viewing portals down into the ground at old foundations or secret passages, and lots of drawings showing what the home looked like. There are ghost structures for Washington's house, where he lived during the revolution and for Franklin's print shop and home, in Franklin Square.

Philly is full of art, as might be expected. The Rodin was closed for renovations, so I was glad to have seen it when I did. There are murals everywhere, and works of art abound. On the corner of Market and 5th street there was a wonderful new sculpture that reminded me of The Bean in Chicago, the surface is so reflective.

Almost a butterfly
Carpenter's Hall, where the actual Declaration of Independence was signed featured many exhibits on the colonies and the people involved in the Revolutionary War. The very furniture used to sign the Declaration is there, along with a large model of the hall being built, and other artifacts from that historic event.

The furniture upon which the Declaration of
Independence was signed.

Franklin, several other signers, and Betsy Ross are buried in a graveyard across the street from the Free Quaker's Meeting house. Betsy Ross and her husband were members there, and supported the war, which forced them to break away from the traditional Quaker's who didn't support any kind of violence, hence the Free Quakers. People throw pennies onto Franklin's grave, acknowledging his admonition: A penny saved is a penny earned. A sign said those pennies amount to several hundred dollars used to support the maintenance of the graveyard every year. Many of the headstones are silent now, eroded beyond recognition by acid rain.

Silent stones

What a sad statement about life long ago. Eleven
children preceded these parents in death.
I decided to take a bus tour in a double decker bus, open at the top. It was a fine idea, and it took us all over the city. The tour guide was chatty, diplomatic when some obnoxious drunk women boarded and proceeded to yell at each other, and pretty knowledgeable. I hadn't known for instance that the Monopoly Game was based on Philadelphia, nor that Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven there. She pointed out that one of the newer buildings was built to resemble a USB drive, and when we got to a good vantage point, it was clear that was the intention. At the end of the tour, twilight was upon us and the city put on its evening gown.

Late afternoon.

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