Visit: 23rd October 2016
The day after the Statue of Liberty, Jeffrey and I got up early and caught a Megabus from New York to Philadelphia. The journey took about two hours, which I mostly passed by looking out of the window at the New Jersey scenery and then at the vast suburbs on the outskirts of Philadelphia. I was amazed at the sheer number of drive-through restaurants clustered either side of Route 30 as we passed through what might now be termed ‘Trump territory’.
We were dropped off right in by the Independence Hall visitor centre, but rather than head straight for the sights we walked in the direction of the city’s modern centre, stopping off for a Dunkin’ Donut on the way. One of my objectives for the day was to try a ‘Philly Cheesesteak’ – which is a sub-sandwich filled with steak and cheese (spray cheese for some, provolone for others). We found ours in what my phone’s photo app tells me is the ‘Gayborhood’ area. The cheesesteak didn’t wow me. It’s really just a sub with steak and cheese, but not a quality steak (at least not where we ate) and not a particularly exciting cheese.
Our tour of Independence Hall was booked for 3pm, so when the time came we joined the queue for security screening (obligatory at major US sights now, unfortunately). It costs nothing to go on the tours, which are conducted by official Park Rangers from the US Parks Service. Our guide, Larry, showed us the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, as well as the former home of the US Senate and House of Representatives (they were based in Philadelphia after moving from New York but before Washington, D.C. was ready to receive them).
Independence Hall is inscribed as a World Heritage Site because of the remarkable documents that originated there. The US Constitution was agreed in the building 11 years after the Declaration of Independence. Key to events were the so-called Founding Fathers:
- George Washington – America’s first president
- John Adams – its second president
- Thomas Jefferson – the third president, and the Declaration’s principal author
- James Madison – fourth president
- Benjamin Franklin – polymath and inventor, the oldest of the group
- John Jay – first Chief Justice
- Alexander Hamilton – subject of a hit Broadway musical, killed in a duel
The concepts of freedom and democracy these men espoused (though they cared less about slavery) have since spread around much of the world and changed it largely for the better. The USA was the first democracy in modern times, standing in contrast to the monarchies that would still control most of the rest of the world decades or centuries later.
Later that week I travelled to the home of Jefferson in Virginia, which, like Independence Hall, features on US currency.
After finishing the tour of Independence Hall, Jeffrey and I had a few hours spare to walk around the old town of Philadelphia. The lane in the picture, Elfreth’s Alley, lays claim to being America’s oldest residential street. Since Jeffrey hasn’t been back to Britain in three years, being here made him a little homesick.
We finished up with a some craft beers in the mild evening light before boarding the Megabus back to New York. Crossing out over the Walt Whitman Bridge we departed America’s fifth largest city to head back to its first.