Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, Rocky and the Philly Cheesesteak. In the summer the weather is generally hot and… and you really don’t care about any of this.
Whether you’ve been to Philadelphia before or not, there are the ‘must see’ places such as Independence Hall (please do NOT break away from the group to look for hidden objects like in ‘National Treasure’ – it will not end well!), the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ House, etc. So, to make those tourist-packed visits a little more interesting here are some interesting tidbits.
Liberty Bell and Independence Hall
The Liberty Bell wasn’t always the Liberty Bell. In fact, the large, cracked bell was actually given to Philadelphia in 1752, twenty-three years before the Revolution started. It was just a bell, a very large bell, back then.
Betsy Ross’ house? Not really her house. It is actually her neighbor’s house but she probably stopped by a few times to ask for some sugar or eggs. Her house burned down in the 1800’s. Another interesting fact, after her death, Betsy Ross was buried and re-buried three different times. Her current resting place is next to the house. During your tour of the house, pay close attention in the cellar. Do you hear anything? It is rumored the cellar is haunted by a whistling ghost.
Betsy Ross House
And Independence Hall? When the Declaration of Independence was signed it was among the hottest summers in Philadelphia – with no A/C!
Not far from the Betsy Ross house is a very small, cobblestone alley called Elfreth’s Alley. It is quaint. It is original. It is the oldest, continually occupied street in the United States! Pretty cool, huh? Not only have the likes of George Washington and Ben Franklin walked down that very street but so have Sylvester Stallone, Nicholas Cage and Cameron Diaz. And just a bit further away is the house that Edgar Allan Poe called home when he lived in Philadelphia.
Aside from Old City, what else is there to do or see in Philly? How many weeks do you have? If museums are your forte, take a stroll along the Franklin Parkway. Museums include the Rodin Museum, Academy of Natural Sciences, the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Barnes Foundation is scheduled to open to the public in 2012. Take note, each of these museums can take all day, especially if you discover the walk-through beating heart of the Franklin Institute. Other notable stops on or near the Parkway include the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the Philadelphia Free Library and Boathouse Row.
Boathouse Row at Night
Two other museums of note worth visiting. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. It sounds stuffy, yes, but it’s actually far from it. Exhibits include some of the best displays of Egyptian artifacts, Meso-America and Asia. Thanks to Penn being a top school in the field of archaeology (and having such graduates as Zahi Hawass), they have obtained some of the most important artifacts to understanding past cultures.
The second museum is a medical museum that is part of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. A word of advice, unless you have a stomach of steel, do not have a big lunch before visiting the Mutter Museum. There are walls of skulls, drawers of objects removed from human stomachs (after people swallowed many of them… including a toothbrush!), and jars upon jars of specimens from two-headed fetuses to tumors. They even have a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland.
Looking for something other than stuffy museums (though a walk-through beating heart is far from stuffy!!), then check out Eastern State Penitentiary.
Interior, deteriorated prison cell of Eastern State
It’s old, it’s a former prison, it’s creepy and it’s supposedly haunted! Inmates included Al Capone and a dog. Yes, a dog. If you’re visiting around October, be sure to check out their Haunted Prison event.
There’s plenty more to do outside the city as well. Take a visit to the Pirate House (aka the Plankhouse) in Marcus Hook. An active archaeology site, it is believed to have been frequented by not only Blackbeard but many other pirates who were known to hang out in Marcus Hook. Sadly no, neither Jack Sparrow nor Johnny Depp have set foot there. On a sidenote, the Plankhouse is also believed to be very haunted.
Valley Forge is filled with historical stuff but it is also a popular recreation park now as well. During the summers, Valley Forge also has archaeology excavations going on so be sure to stop by Washington’s Headquartersto check it out.
Line of canons at Valley Forge. Image © 2011 Traci Law
A fun fact for Valley Forge? We all know how they arrived there in the middle of a cold, snowy winter. We all know they had to build log cabins and find ways to keep warm and fed. But did you know that there was actually a hanging at Valley Forge during that time? Deserters from the Continental Army were caught and at least one is known to have been hung from a tree at Valley Forge. There is also a cave system that runs underneath the vast park but don’t try to find any entrances – they have all been closed off and for a very good reason – these caves were dumps for asbestos years ago!
There are many, many other sites to be seen in and around Philadelphia, including New Jersey and Delaware. From forts dating back to the Revolutionary War to Longwood Gardens to New Hope to Laurel Hill Cemetery, there is something for everyone.
Oh, and the food! How could I forget to mention the food! Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, water ice, soft pretzels, cheese fries and Wawa coffee (no, we do not put cheese in our coffee – not yet anyway), be sure to try the endless amounts of artery-clogging food Philly has to offer.
Philly soft pretzels
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