A week before Christmas in windy, 30-some degree temperatures (that’s Fahrenheit, mind you), I decided it would be a good idea to go sightseeing in Philadelphia. I grew up in the area but I’ve never seen the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall for any appreciable amount of time. So I planned a day trip into the city. Maybe it was the cold weather, maybe it was the time of year, or maybe it was because I arrived just after 9 in the morning, but it was empty. There were only a few other people around seeing the sights and it made the experience less stressful and a bit more interesting.
If you’re planning to visit the sights of Colonial Philadelphia, plan in advance. Independence Hall requires timed tickets for a tour from March through December. The tickets are free but you can only get them in person the day of the tour. You can reserve them ahead of time for $1.50 but you have to pick them up 45 minutes in advance of your tour. I reserved my tickets ahead, which ended up being unnecessary, but it offered peace of mind. I arrived about 45 minutes ahead of time, had no lines to deal with and the park ranger at the Independence Visitor Center recommended I go see the Liberty Bell before my tour.
The Liberty Bell was the first of two security checkpoints I had to clear during my trip. Once through, there are a number of exhibits set up with information about the history of the bell: it was cast by England’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry and was originally intended to be the bell in Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) which was, at the time, the tallest building in North America. As the exhibits progress, they explain how the bell became less of just a symbol of Philadelphia’s importance and more a symbol of the American Revolution and then finally a symbol of liberty for all.
Once past the exhibits, you can just about walk right up to the famous bell — it is, of course, cordoned off. The park ranger on duty pointed out the misspelling of Pennsylvania as Pensylvania (note the missing N) and explained that the bell has a protective wax coating. The chips around the bottom of the bell are from trips the bell made before it was decided it couldn’t stand up to travel.
After a quick trip to see the Liberty Bell up close and personal, I traveled across Independence Mall to enter the closed off area for Independence Hall. This was security check point two. It was, again, very quick and I was through into the courtyard area. No sooner had I walked out the door then a park ranger stopped me: would I like to take a tour of Independence Hall? Next thing I knew I was ushered in to join a tour just starting — there were three people there for the tour — and I was more than a half-hour before the tour I’d pre-scheduled. The tour is relatively brief and includes a visit to several rooms, including the Assembly Room, where you can see the rising sun chair that George Washington sat in as well as Thomas Jefferson’s walking stick, as well as upstairs to the Long Gallery where you can admire Revolutionary era maps of the colonies.
Around the Mall
There are a number of other sights to see around Independence Mall, some of which are a part of Independence National Historical Park. In front of the Liberty Bell is a memorial to the President’s House, an open-air wall-less building of the country’s third presidential home. Inside the American Philosophical Society I saw a small but interesting exhibit on Thomas Jefferson. If you’re more into seeing artifacts, then check out the Great Essentials exhibit to see actual surviving copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.
There are also a number of other sites around Philadelphia’s Olde City that are worth a visit if you’re in town. But by this time I was ready for lunch and a visit to Philadelphia’s Christmas Village.
I love me some statues and monuments! I snapped photos of several around the area, including one of Benjamin Franklin that was on the side of the American Philosophical Society, Evangelos Frudakis’ The Signer, and one of Commodore Barry.