It was mid-March, 2022. Winter was drawing to a close and spring was in the air, the days brighter and warmer. I was restive from being cooped up too long. Cabin fever can sometimes get to me. So I decided to use an unusually warm day for a trip to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I had missed seeing it during my trip last year to Independence Hall and I was raring to make up.
I boarded the SEPTA train to Philadelphia. The parking fee was waived as a gesture of welcome to the passengers after the long COVID-19 pandemic when very few were traveling. That was good. In an hour I got off at Jefferson Station and from there it was a short walk to the Constitution Center at the north end of Independence National Historical Park.
I walked in and bought the entrance ticket. I had called ahead and inquired if this was possible. It was. This fact is not mentioned on the website. They want you to buy the tickets online, understandably, but you can also buy it on-site. That done, I put the ticket-wristband on and was ready for the tour.
There was a 17 minute theatrical performance titled “Freedom Rising” that occurs at a quarter past every hour. I skipped that in favor of going through the exhibits at my own pace. I headed for the Signers’ Hall housing forty two, bronze, life-size statues of the Founding Fathers talking in small groups. Surely they had weighty matters on their minds—framing and signing the Constitution of the United States. They all had very serious expressions, no levity here. I took a few photos and posed for one myself. I had to. How could I miss being in the company of these August Personages!
I then strolled through the Richard and Helen DeVos exhibition Hall highlighting the story of We the People. There were many interactive displays which were revealing. I wish I had more time to digest all the information. There was a carpetbag on display from which the term “carpetbaggers” had come into vogue. After the American Civil War, northern adventures would pack their belongings in such a bag and head south to seek their fortunes by exploiting the locals. The southerners naturally did not find this appealing hence it turned into a derogatory term. When I was in school a long time back, I had read a book titled “The Carpetbaggers” by Harold Robbins which was later made into a movie. It was pleasing to see the origin of the word.
It was March of 2022, Women’s History Month. Consequently, there were a lot of displays on Women Suffragists, the 19th Amendment and how women won the vote. Other exhibits highlighted the Civil War and Reconstruction: the Battle for Freedom and Equality.
There was a replica of the Capitol building in Washington DC. It was enormous. Seeing it in pictures or on TV does not do justice especially of the two wings on either side of the classic, central dome housing the Senate and House and the many, broad steps leading up to them. Overall, it is a grand and imposing edifice. I made a mental note for a trip to DC to see it again. I remembered it being constantly in the news in January 2021.
I headed down the imposing flight of stairs and took a look around the Grand Hall Lobby. It was spacious and well lighted. This area is often used for large gatherings. In 2012, the American Diabetes Association Conference was held in the Philadelphia Convention Center. I had attended and given a presentation. The reception was held at the Constitution Center. It was a fitting place to welcome the thousands of national and international delegates. And it was Ben Franklin himself (rather, someone dressed as Ben Franklin) who stood at the bottom of the stairs and with a stately flourish welcomed us to the city of Brotherly Love. That scene flashed before my eyes.
I looked around once more, took a few photos and left the building heading east towards Elfreth’s Alley, a quaint row of thirty two, 18th century, period-piece buildings on both sides of a small cobblestone alley. They were well preserved; some with fresh paint, flower boxes in the windows and devices to keep the shutters open. These are hot properties.
I saw one with a sign that it is on the market. Unfortunately, present day Philadelphia is all around; tall buildings, hotels and the I-95 expressway have boxed it in. It felt like a tiny, beautiful but lonely relic from the past, lost in modern vastness, something to treasure while we can.
On the way back I stopped at the Betsy Ross House. She is well-known as the maker of the first American flag. There is some dispute as to story’s authenticity but it is a great story that has endured. She was also a woman ahead of her time, a strong, independent-minded business woman. What surprised me was how small the house was. On the side of the building there is a large copy of the historic flag with thirteen stars representing the then thirteen colonies. The entrance is through a gift shop at the back of the small courtyard beside the house.
I started walking towards Jefferson Station to catch my train. Arch Street conveniently passes by Philadelphia’s Chinatown, well known for its cuisine. And I was pretty famished from my long walk. I stepped into a restaurant for a quick, delicious lunch. I brought what I could not finish (which was a lot) home. With my wife’s creative additions, I got two more lunches out of it.
With the daily travails of modern life, bad news of wars and insurrections on TV, we tend to lose sight of what our forefathers had to endure to build this great nation of ours. Visits to museums like the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall bring this to a focus. School children should definitely visit these museums. It is a great, fun-filled, interactive way to learn civics and history which if not taught right, can be downright boring. I know. I have been through it, which is why I enjoy these trips so much.
Visit the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall. You will be impressed and may even learn a few new things.