Philadelphia Day 7
Philadelphia Day 6
How have I been in Philly this long and not done a blog post on Ben Franklin? I mean the guy is everywhere. There’s a larger than life bust of him beside the fire station outside my hotel. I found a bronze life-size statue of Ben lounging on a random bench at U. Penn. I walk past his much visited grave every morning on my way to class – for some reason it is traditional to drop pennies on Franklin’s grave and there are often lots of pennies on it. And that isn’t even 1/50th of the spots honoring the man, who is clearly Philadelphia’s favorite son (even though he was originally from Boston). You’d never know that he was sort of sketchy character in some ways who had very loose morals, particularly by 18th century standards.
Today I visited Franklin Court, which is where the Franklin post office and print shop are. Franklin Court is also the former site of Ben’s house. For a city so Franklin obsessed you’d have thought they would have kept the structures their hero built, lived in for several years, and died in; but no, they were torn down. Now all you can see of the actual structures are the brick foundations and two “ghost houses” which give you an idea of the shape. I was disappointed to see no actual ghosts however.
The recreated printing office, which you can see in the background above was much more interesting. They’ve done an excellent job of restoring and refurnishing Franklin’s printing rooms and two National Park employees give wonderful demonstrations using a replica of Franklin’s original printing press. While I was there they printed a couple of copies of the Declaration of Independence right in front of me. I was really quite impressed, and I kind of want to find a printing press to mess with.
As I was leaving I found that another room had been recreated. Perhaps one of the most infamous rooms in American history.
I know, the picture isn’t great but I was trying to take it through very thick glass with and old (and much abused iphone) so give me some slack, alright. This is the newspaper office of the Aurora, a paper owned and run by Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache. Bache was vehemently opposed to the presidential administrations of Washington and Adams and printed some pretty harsh accusations in his paper. Our old friend Alexander Hamilton was one of Bache’s favorite targets. This was the no holds barred era of American journalism and Bache claimed without much evidence at all that Adams was trying to become king of America, Hamilton was stealing money from the treasury, and George Washington was an old senile fool letting them do it. Sometimes he complained about real injustices like the Alien and Sedition acts, but most often printed attacks on political enemies or in favor of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he collaborated. Many of the Aurora’s articles are so blisteringly hateful I can’t really quote them here.
Some people (Jefferson and his party) loved Bache, but railing against Washington was sure to make some enemies and man did it ever. Bache was attacked in the street several times by angry citizens, this very office (or the original at least) was attacked and smashed, his family was terrorized. He eventually was arrested by the government for the printed attacks he made in the Aurora and was awaiting trial when he died of yellow fever, as disease that ran rampant in Philadelphia throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Some people treat Bache as a hero standing up for freedom of speech while other view him as a hyper-partisan who contributed to the ugly political and societal atmosphere of his day. He certainly was one of the first purveyors of ‘fake news’ in our country, so it seemed appropriate that I took a minute to soak up the historical feeling of this very well created room and try to steep myself in a time when news was just as political and sharp-edged as it is now, maybe more so. Then I shivered, hunched my shoulders, and went back to my hotel for a very hot shower.
Philadelphia Day 5
I’m not sure why I’d never gone to Betsy Ross’ House before. I’ve walked past it several times on previous trips to Philly, but somehow never went in. The house itself is a semi-reconstruction. Lots of the walls and support beams and such are original but lots of the rest, including nearly all the furnishings, are reconstructions. This does nothing to diminish the experience of touring the house although it is a little annoying that you have to walk through the ridiculously over priced gift-shop on your way in. The house had no tour guides but plenty of signs and two very nice actors playing the part of Betsy and one of her servants. The two young women were very eager to talk to my daughter as we went thought the rooms and to tell us all things we couldn’t immediately see relating to the way the household operated and how Betsy came to sew the now famous thirteen-star flag for Gen. Washington.
Apart from the kitschy gift shop I had only one issue with Betsy Ross’s house; there were too many people in it. All of them were trying to nonsensically manuver up and down the house’s narrow spiral staircases simultaeously with their audio tour microphones pressed up against one ear. They irritated me to no end as the repetatively ignored the actors, shuffled into each other (and my family), and asked overly loud questions that they could have learned the answers to by reading the informational signs. As with most places my problem is the people.
Afterwards I tried to go to the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial but it was closed. Kosciuszko was one of the unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War. He was a Polish immigrant who, with his training in military engineering, helped win the battle of Saratoga for the Americans. He also redesigned the fortifications of West Point. After the war he returned to Poland and led a failed revolution against the Russians. After his release from prison he returned to the U.S. and received a hero’s welcome. Sadly nearly no one in the U.S. knows his name now.
Philadelphia Day 4
I’m stuck by the number of historic places within spitting distance of my hotel here in the old city. Sometimes they’re in the oddest places as if whatever commission puts these things up without any thought about weather anyone will be able to see them. I’ve found them in the center median of four lanes of traffic; in tiny niches between buildings where I’m sure no one has found them since they were erected. some of the sign pole heights vary wildly some are about stop sign height while others are something over 12 feet. At any rate some of these marker do provide insight into the architecture, landscape, politics, and local (even national) history.
Here are a few of the markers I found most interesting. In the caption is a note on what is in that location now.
Philadelphia Day 3
Today I spend nearly all day at the University of Pennsylvania; specifically at the Annenberg Center for Public Policy. We spent the time working through cases that will be coming to the Supreme Court in the next year. We tried to reason out the laws and precedents (preceding case decisions) which will inform how the court decides on issues like religious liberty relating to homosexual marriage, marijuana legalization, and the president’s travel ban. Mentally this was an exhausting day. There also wasn’t anything to take pictures of.
Later this evening, however, we had dinner at City Tavern. Its a great mostly historically accurate recreation of an eating a drinking establishment of the 1700’s. Although we were very talkative and had a lot of fun I get the idea it used to be a lot rowdier. Check out the bill from one night when a troop of cavalry gave a dinner for George Washington after the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Day 2 in Philadelphia
Today I spent all afternoon inside a federal courthouse. I hope you all get to go in one someday… either as tourists, lawyers, or judges not as someone appealing a conviction, but who knows.
After some talking we were given a hypothetical case to try before the court. Our case was made up but quite realistic about the confiscation and searching of a student’s cell phone. (You all might be surprised to know I took the side of the student although some of the arguments on the other side were very persuasive) Our ‘supreme court’ was made up of eight people chosen from our class along with one real judge, Marjorie Rendell, who is a federal appeals court judge working in the courthouse here in Philadelphia. She in particular was hard on the teams of teachers arguing both sides of the case.
The courtroom is very impressive as is the security entailed in getting inside, but what i was most impressed with was the people (lawyers, judges, law clerks) who talked to us there and expressed a very heartfelt desire for students like you all to understand the legal system better. They seemed to be good people who didn’t always agree about the law but respected each other immensely. They appeared to be trying to live out the message I saw when I looked up to the courtroom’s ceiling.
Day 1 in Philadelphia
Guess who I found.
The National Constitution Center , where my classes are has a who hall full of life size bronze replicas of the signers of the Constitution. And there’s Hamilton in the middle of the room, walking up to George Washington, looking like he owns the place.
Later that evening the center staff took us all (30 of us) to dinner at this place.
Guess what the name of the restaurant’s name references. Go ahead guess.
“Hamilton earned the affectionate nickname the “Little Lion” because of his lean stature and intelligence, and Washington himself grew fond of the young lieutenant- colonel, who he came to rely on heavily.”
Then I discovered this building just across the street.
For anyone who isn’t aware…
After the Revolutionary War, the United States faced overwhelming debt and an uncertain commercial future. As a response, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton stepped forward with a plan to establish a national bank, which would give the federal government more authority to handle the fiscal situation. His proposal incited a heated debate that tested the U.S. Constitution’s boundaries and laid the foundation for the country’s financial system. Located on 3rd Street between Walnut and Chestnut, the First Bank of the United States is currently closed to the public, but its compelling history and stunning exterior continually draw observers from all over the world.
Here’s the link to the National Park site for the First Bank of the US
So…yes its been a Hamilton heavy trip so far. But that’s not really what I’ve been hearing about in class. More non-Hamilton stuff next time.