Philadelphia: Day 4 {Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, National Constitution Center, Reading Terminal Market, Eastern State Penitentiary, City Tavern}

For our only full day in the Old City, we hit the ground running! We covered so much and had a fantastic day. Being a low point in the tourist season, there were nearly no crowds at any of the sites and the attractions.

Philadelphia Adventure

Days 1-2: Dalessandro’s Steaks, Lacrosse, Valley Forge, Founding Farmers, King of Prussia Mall
Day 3: Kimpton Monaco Philadelphia Hotel, Ralph’s Italian Restaurant
Day 4: Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, National Constitution Center, Reading Terminal Market, Eastern State Penitentiary, City Tavern
Day 5: Museum of the American Revolution, High Street on Market, Betsy Ross House, Elfreth’s Alley

Liberty Bell

Our first stop was to the Independence Visitor Center around 8:50 AM to pick up our reserved tickets for Independence Hall at 9:40 AM. We got our National Passport Book stamped and headed straight for the Liberty Bell when it opened at 9 AM. We were the first guests of the day! No tickets or return times are offered for Liberty Bell and I had read people start queuing up by 8:30 AM.

Inside there is a small museum with the history of the Liberty Bell and artifacts from over the years.

Seeing one of our nation’s most sacred relics up close and personal was surreal. The fact that is has survived these years and the idea that it embodies, LIBERTY, was more moving that I had expected.

Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.

I presume later in the day they will retract the shades behind the Liberty Bell and you would have a powerful view of Independence Hall in the background. The Liberty Bell once hung in the bell tower of Independence Hall and is believed to have rung to celebrate the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776! Staying just across the street from Independence Hall, we enjoyed hearing the toll of its current bell each hour.

When you’re visiting a place like this, do you ever stop to think about the people that walked the ground before you? I do. Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams… (Maybe I’m weird.)

Right at the entrance to the Liberty Bell is an interesting exhibit about the ongoing excavation of the house that once stood on this corner. Washington and Adams created the office of the president while living and working at this site.

Independence Hall

The unanimous highlight of our day, and our entire trip to Philadelphia, was touring Independence Hall. Independence Hall is the birthplace of America, with the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution both having been debated and signed inside this building. 

The building was constructed in 1732 to be the Pennsylvania State House, holding all three branches of the states’s colonial government.

SO much history happened here! George Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781, Benjamin Franklin gazed upon the “Rising Sun” chair in 1787, and Lincoln’s body lay in repose here for two days.

We had a phenomenal ranger guide that honestly kept us rapt with attention. You could have heard a pin drop in our tour group.

After an intro by our guide, the tour started in the courtroom, used by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Our ranger guide gave a great description of “standing trial” and what proceedings would have looked like in this room.

Next we headed into the Assembly Room or, as I called it from that point on, the room where it happened. :-) This is the very room where our Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed. Our ranger recited the intro to the Declaration of Independence and it was just remarkable. We learned that the colonies sat in geographic order and Georgia was in the far right corner of the room. The rising sun chair is original, though Whit got to sit in a reproduction the next day.

Another oddity is that I love looking out old windows.

One of YOU suggested that we bring a $2 bill to compare the room to the image on the back. We were so swept up that we completely forgot until after our tour had ended.

Christ Church Burial Ground

We stopped by our room for a quick break and then were off to Christ Church Burial Ground. We did pay the few dollars to enter, knowing it went to a good cause. It was a gorgeous, crisp fall day and worth a stroll through historic graveyard.

National Constitution Center

Our next stop was the National Constitution Center. Don’t hate me, but if I had to nix one item off of the agenda, this would be it.

There was a very interesting show (about 20 minutes) at the beginning and we loved that part. When we were released into the exhibits, they were absolutely mobbed with a middle school field trip. Students were everywhere and they would stand in large groups in front of the exhibits chatting and having a grand time, but oblivious to the four of us just wanting to take a little self guided tour. (I get it. Middle schoolers get very little free time.) There were parts where you had to stand on a grate in the floor over a speaker to hear the narration but we couldn’t get to the grate. Overall, we had a difficult time navigating around them and really weren’t that engaged anyway.

As a side bar, I have two thoughts on this… 1. I see why John’s middle school doesn’t allow field trips outside of music. LOL. 2. I have chaperoned my fair share of elementary field trips and the museums and places we have been ALL had a good plan for moving us along. They never just left us on our own to hang out. I don’t see that this group was getting anything out of their time either.

On the flip side, there was a fantastic view of Independence Hall from the upper patio area! :-)

Reading Terminal Market

Moving right along, we had a lovely stroll to lunch at Reading Terminal Market!!

We LOVE a good food hall and had heard fantastic things about Reading Terminal Market. It didn’t disappoint. I love the energy, sights and scents of places like this. We did our due diligence and knew what things we were each interested in. Cheesesteaks, pork sandwiches and cannolis. :-) We got a smorgasbord of things to try and all shared.

Eastern State Penitentiary

After lunch we took a longer break in the room before taking an Uber to a guided small group tour of Eastern State Penitentiary! This was one I was dying to add to our agenda, having watched and listened to so many documentaries, ghost hunter shows and podcasts about it over the years.

The fortress like structure was imposing and intimidating. It sits right smack dab in the middle of a bustling residential neighborhood, but was originally two miles outside of the city of Philadelphia and sat atop a hill where the people of the Old City could see it looming in the distance.

A peek inside the massive iron gate.

Our tour started in the East Garden. We met our guide and group and she grounded us on how and why Eastern State Penitentiary came to exist.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious lawbreakers, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.

We continued inside to Cell Block 2, one of the original structures when ESP opened. It was blocked off for just our group.

Our guide was great – personable, knowledgeable, well spoken, etc. BUT, the whole tour was a bit of a conundrum for me. It was unquestionably eerie, in this state of ruin and abandonment. However, the narrative and conversations she facilitated didn’t add up to everything I had read and learned coming it. She conveyed to the group that live at ESP was as pleasant as prison could be. She said that there was no abuse and that it is not haunted. I suppose the truth lies somewhere in between….

The foundation of ESP was anonymity and solitary confinement. Prisoners were brought in wearing hoods so that nobody, inside or our, would know who they were. They stayed in solitary cell blocks outfitted with heat and flushing toilets, something that even the President didn’t have at that time. There were no doors to the corridor originally, just small slots to push in a meal. Doors inside the cells opened to private gardens, where inmates were allowed to spend 30 minutes each morning and evening. Silence was required at all times and they had no interaction or communication with another human whatsoever.

As ESP grew, the added on double decker cell blocks. These did have doors to the corridor and lacked private gardens. At this point, they started adding mess halls, prison work detail and exercise yards.

The place really did not feel malicious or overly creepy. I was mostly in awe of the beautiful architecture.

Al Capone’s cell was recreated. Apparently inmates with means could furnish their cells.

Overall, we all thought our time here was well worth it. They boys were not at all creeped out, nor did we see or hear anything inappropriate. It was particularly interesting because we’ve never done anything like it!

City Tavern

We ended our night with a wonderful, memorable dinner at City Tavern. It was the dining highlight of our trip! It was a nice walk from our hotel, located in the Old City.

When City Tavern opened in 1773, Philadelphia was the largest, most cosmopolitan city in British North America. The original structure housed a business which John Adams called the “most genteel tavern in America”, and it was a favorite meeting place of some of the Founding Fathers and members of the First Continental Congress. Men like Washington, Adams, Jefferson and others enjoyed the hospitality of City Tavern. The original five story structure was demolished after fire in 1854. In 1975, after painstaking research, the National Park Service rebuilt the City Tavern. Today, the tavern appears essentially as it did two hundred years ago, even down to the front awning which shielded the tavern from the summer sun.

Our reservation was on the later side, and there were very few guests. We had one whole side of a dining room to ourselves. I loved the plates, cups and dining by candlelight!

Honey and I shared the Ales of the Revolution flight. There were some great ones! We were disappointed to learn they are not sold or available to be shipped to Georgia. The boys started with hot apple ciders.

Chef Staib has recreated colonial cuisine and everything was phenomenal! In 1996 he was also appointed the First Culinary Ambassador to the City of Philadelphia. In July 2006, he was named and remains the Culinary Ambassador to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We have on our “list” over the holidays to watch some of his “A Taste of History” shows.

The bread service was lovely and we added a bbq shrimp appetizer. The winner for me was the turkey pot pie – it was every bit as good as my favorite homemade recipe and a treat to enjoy without having to do all that work myself! Every one of us thoroughly devoured our meals.

We dined in the Long Room, originally the scene of elegant balls and brilliant entertainments. It was in the Long Room that Congress held the first Fourth of July celebration in 1777.

TIP: If you pick up the “newspaper” at Independence Hall Visitor Center, there is a coupon for two entrees at the price of one inside. It is not valid on Saturdays and does have some date exclusions but is a nice savings if it will work for you!

I’ll put a bow on Philly tomorrow!

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