Walk at liberty through Philadelphia history
PHILADELPHIA — If you’ve ever had a yen to visit this historic city, now’s the time. Next Sunday
Philadelphia’s Old City is a walker’s delight; at its center is Independence National Historical Park, a verdant urban space offering 22 historic and new sites dedicated to the revolutionary era — most of them free. Here’s a sampling:
After 200 years and multiple restorations, in 1950 the National Park Service restored the structure to its 1776 appearance, said Frank Eidmann Jr., special events coordinator for the park service. This summer, restoration work on the tower and cupola will begin after July 4.
Of the 4 million yearly visitors to the park, between Memorial Day and Labor Day some 11,000 to 18,000 visitors a day (about 80 people every 15 minutes) come through Independence Hall. No tickets are required on July 4. The rest of the year, free tickets must be obtained in advance at the park visitors center at Sixth and Market streets. For a service charge of $1.50 each, you can reserve online (go to www.recreation.gov and click “tours’’). Independence Square, Chestnut Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm
In 1751, the speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the bell from the White Chapel Foundry in London, asking that it be inscribed with a verse from Leviticus in the Bible: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.’’ The inscription probably referred to the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania founder William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, which proclaimed religious liberty, Eidmann said.
The State House Bell, as it was called before the Revolutionary War, cracked some time after it was delivered to Philadelphia in 1752. Two local metalsmiths — John Dock Pass and John Stow — agreed to recast it from the original. It took two tries. The third and final casting of the bell first rang out from the State House tower in 1753.
In 1776, the bell rang to announce the Colonies’ independence. “And in the 1830s, an abolition group was attracted to the inscription and adopted the bell as a physical symbol of human liberty,’’ Eidmann said. The bell was retired after 1846, when a new crack began to distort the sound. Independence Mall, between Fifth and Sixth streets, www.nps.gov/inde/liberty-bell-center.htm
On a recent visit, the lobby display included one of the four original final drafts of the Declaration of Independence, dating from June 1776. Thomas Jefferson sent this particular version to Richard Henry Lee, the Virginia statesman who first called for the Colonies to break free of Britain.
The library also holds 700 original letters of Charles Darwin and five surviving pages of the draft of his 1859 book, “On the Origin of Species.’’ It also has the original 1804-06 Lewis and Clark expedition journals. “Jefferson had them and gave them to us,’’ noted Charles Greifenstein, the society’s manuscripts librarian. President Jefferson appointed his private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead the famous expedition across the newly purchased Louisiana Territory to the Pacific; Lewis’s friend William Clark accompanied him. Fifth Street between Chestnut and Walnut streets, www.amphilsoc.org
Nine slaves came with the Washingtons from Mount Vernon, including the family chef Hercules, and Oney Judge, a young seamstress and Martha Washington’s personal servant. Both later escaped.
An exhibit to commemorate the President’s House and the enslaved Africans who lived and worked there is scheduled to open in the fall. Independence Mall between Fifth and Sixth streets, www.phila.gov/presidentshouse
Church records indicate that 4,000 people are buried in this 2-acre plot, some in coffins piled on top of each other to a depth of 40 feet, Harper said. In 1719, the church acquired the land because there was no more room in the churchyard and nearby land was too marshy. Time and the effects of acid rain have worn away many of the headstone inscriptions, but the location of at least 1,400 of the interred are known thanks to the efforts of a church warden who started writing down many of the inscriptions during the Civil War.
Among the prominent Colonial and Revolutionary War church members buried here are the silversmith Philip Syng, who designed the silver inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence; the physician Benjamin Rush, a great friend of Adams and one of the few doctors who stayed in Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793; and Commodore William Bainbridge of Boston, the captain of the USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides.’’ Arch Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, www.christchurchphila.org/Historic_Christ_Church/Burial_Ground/59
Aubin Tyler can be reached at email@example.com.