Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Philadelphia Freedom

So, what have we got today? Wizards recap? Nope. Nice win and pretty impressive how they've been playing since Agent Zero went down, but last night was dedicated to Christmas tree trimming, so I don't have much to say about the Wiz. Two-day old Ravens rehash? Ugh, no thank you. After a shining turn in the spotlight against the Patriots, Baltimore returned to its hideous ways against the Colts. Not sure which is of greater concern, Kyle Boller's miserable performance or Ray Lewis looking really, really old trying to cover Jospeh Addai on pass routes.

No, today, we are going to talk American history. Really.

See, I went to Philadelphia yesterday, and, for once, my destination was not the Palestra. Nor the Spectrum, McGonigle Hall, St. Joe's Memorial Field House, nor the Liacouras Center. I had seen about 30 or 40 college basketball games in the City of Brotherly Love, but the closest I had come to experiencing any of its cultural treasures was doing the Rocky Balboa Shuffle after jogging up the Art Museum steps (something every good American should do at least once).

But I made up for all that ignorance in five-hour fell swoop, touring the city's Revolutionary War sites with about two-dozen fifth graders and nearly as many parents and teachers. Liberty Bell? Check. Very cool, lots of historical information there, if you care to stop and read, which most fifth-graders do not. Independence Hall and Congress Hall? Yes, indeed. Excellent tours from United States Park Rangers pointing out various distinctions regarding the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which were written here.

For instance, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the 56 members of the Continental Congress July 4, 1776, and 200 copies were printed and distributed, but the signed copy that sits in the National Archives is dated August 2, 1776. Only about 25 of those printed copies are accounted for to date, and the most recently discovered copy fetched $8.5 million at auction a few years ago. The actual writing was inscribed by Timothy Matlack (Thomas Jefferson had lousy penmanship), and it was read aloud for the first time in public by John Nixon on July 8, 1776. I knew none of this before yesterday.

All that learning made us quite hungry so we chowed on bag lunches at an historic food court nearby and browsed the gift shops for some patriotic Chinese-made souvenirs. We then proceeded to the site of Ben Franklin's original home, where naturally the big hit for the kids was the privy pit ("Ben Franklin pooped here."). We also saw a demonstration of a period printing press and learned about the archaelogical dig that preceeded the construction of the National Constitution Center (more discussion of privy pits). Finally we stopped in at Christ Church for a brief but informative and surprisingly inspiring tour/sermon about its history. Then it was back on the bus where everything was put into appropriate context with a screening of "National Treasure" on the ride home.

A few asides. As I said, all the tour guides were excellent. We were escorted around to the various sites by a woman in period dress (except for sensible walking shoes) who was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and about as entertaining as a person in that role can be. Over the course of the day, we walked several miles all told, but there was plenty to keep us occupied and I am sure we could have seen more, had time permitted. Not surpisingly, historic Philadelphia loves Ben Franklin. Much like visiting Mount Vernon and getting the George Washington spin on American history, a trip to Philly takes on a very Franklin feel, just as I would imagine visiting Monticello gives you the Jeffersonian view. Nothing wrong with it, but these localized cults of personality can be amusing.

All in all, this was a great experience and proof that the occasional foray outside the world of sports, movies and what I watched on TV last night can be quite rewarding. Now, about that Terp hoop game against Ohio tonight ...

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