Can I just start by saying that this photo should have been the poster child for this page- beautiful cobblestone in all its elegant glory!
Just a few notes- I have placed links within the text and as captions to photos when appropriate. Make sure you don’t miss them as they are links to restaurant menus, ticket prices and purchase links, further reading, and virtual tours of historic sites. My goal in producing these travel guides is to provide you with as much information as possible and to introduce you to the history of the areas discussed- take advantage of it and view the links provided. Also, just a friendly reminder, all photos/content on this blog are my personal creative property. If you use them, you MUST cite them properly.
That being said- let’s jump in.
By far, one of the prettiest places I have ever been during the fall was Philadelphia, PA. Not only are the Philly cheesesteaks an incentive to go in themselves, but the history, like all of the places featured in this blog, is endless. My boyfriend, Ben and I took a trip to Philly while on a research trip in Washington D.C. last year. Some of our incentives were to visit Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Eastern State Penitentiary, which minoring in Criminology at Drury University at the time, prisons were of interest to me, and arguably, still are.
Nothing, however, will ever stick in my mind like the image of my boyfriend rushing through the sea of people from the very back of the entranceway in Independence Hall to the double doors leading into the Assembly room, after the tour guide asked who wanted to be the one to open the legendary doors. The smile on his face and the slow grace by which he then opened the doors is a picture that I will never forget (and often tease him about).
Unfortunately, we took a day trip to Philly rather than spending the night, therefore, this post will consist of only the places we visited while there, Eastern State Penn, Independence Hall, Joe’s Steaks, the Liberty Bell, and the grave of Benjamin Franklin. We also took a trolly tour around the city and were able to see the site of one of the United States Sanitary Commission’s Sanitation Fairs used to raise money for medical supplies during the Civil War- which was directly tied to the research I was doing in D.C.
- Sidenote- you will find that once you start researching and traveling, that there are pieces of individual’s stories just about everywhere you go- especially on the West coast for those who study American history; and that makes traveling that much more fun. Further, instead of reading about historic places or individuals, you can physically trace little pieces of their lives- where your subject lived during their childhood, where they worked, how the environment around them affected their lives, where they died, etc. All of those little pieces add up to a lot when all is said and done, so pay attention to them.
When we arrived, we drove around a bit trying to find parking. The best parking is at the Independence Hall welcome center in their parking garage. There was a parking fee of around $15. From there, we bought our tickets for the trolly, Independence Hall, and Eastern State Penn at the upper-level welcome center. They have various stations and attendants who will help you pick out the best tours or tour packages for you and your family. From the welcome center, we were able to walk around Philly, including to lunch but opted for the trolly for further destinations such as Eastern State Penn.
The first stop we made in Philly was, of course, food. Upon advice from a local, we headed to Joe’s Steaks on W. Grand St. (click the link in the photo caption to browse the
menu and find a location near you). Although I was a little disappointed by the lack of “cheese” on my Philly CHEESEsteak, it was very good- I would just suggest asking for cheese. There were several people in line before us who ordered cheese whip on their sandwich as well, we, on the other hand, struggled trying to order in the roughly 2 seconds we had to decide based on the rapid speed of the order line (I suggest you look over the menu first and know exactly what you want before you go. That way, you won’t have to A- stick out like a sore thumb as a tourist, and B- actually get what you want instead of making a rushed decision). The restaurant was very small with seating upstairs, so if anyone in your party needs wheelchair assistance or accessibility, this would not be the place to dine. All in all, it was not a bad experience, just one I wish we had been more prepared for so we could have gotten a real taste of Philly outside of the lunchtime rush at Joe’s- partly our fault but hey, how would we have known?
After Lunch, we headed back to Independence Hall. Admission to Independence Hall is free BUT arrive early or if you arrive late, don’t plan on getting into the building for a few hours or possibly not until the next day. We arrived early in the morning and all the tickets were claimed up until the late afternoon and the lines were extremely long. Because of this, we were not able to get into the museum which houses the Liberty Bell.
However, we were able to walk by the window and view it through the glass- so we still got to see it. Once you get your tickets for Independence Hall, walk across the street to the historic building and wait in line until your tour time. Upon your designated time, a tour guide will lead you through the hall and explain the history. You will first be taken into the part of the building that served as the first Supreme Court of the United States from 1791-1800. It also served as Philadelphia city hall for some time.
Next, you will enter the Assembly Room where our founding fathers signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States- both of which can be viewed at the National Archives Museum in Washington D.C. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out where each signer sat and told a bit of history and background of many of the men who helped write the Constitution. He also pointed out Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick, John Adam’s pipe, and George Washington’s chair, all still present in the room.
Trust me- this will be a life-changing experience. I know it was for Ben- he still talks about getting to open those doors at all our social gatherings, ha!
There are three levels to the building but only two are able to be toured. There are a collection of artifacts including a surveying tool and map in a room on the upper level and a large banquet table dressed to resemble the one the founding fathers dined at. I have not even begun to scratch the surface of all the cool history at Independence Hall, but I suppose you will just have to Plan Your Visit for more information because let’s face it, nothing is like actually standing in the Assembly room.
From Independence Hall, we caught our trolly and headed to Eastern State Penn. For all of my believers out there- Eastern State is said to be one of the most haunted places in the United States. Famous paranormal groups like TAPS and Ghost Adventures have investigated there. This may have been one of my motivations for visiting- BUT I also like abnormal history and being a Criminology minor at the time, I had already read a lot of source material regarding Eastern State. It was built in 1829 and was the most expansive building in the United States at the time. It was also the first of its kind and had luxuries such as running water and central heat that not even the White House had obtained at that time. Construction continued for seven years after the prison initially opened and eventually, it was shut down in the early 1970s. Read more about the history of prison reform and the construction of Eastern State, here.
Once we arrived, we opted to take the audio tour which was somewhat eerie as you are at the mercy of the tape recorder as far as sounds and the frequent slamming of cell doors on the recording can get a bit creepy- just a fair warning. If you cannot venture to the prison, you can listen to much of the same audio tour online by clicking this link. You can also take a virtual tour and view an interactive map of the
prison here. One of the wings that I found most interesting was, of course, the medical wing. Although I was having flashbacks to Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story Asylum, it was truly a neat experience. Once inside the Penn, you pretty well have free reign to look around as you please. Follow the directions on the audio tour and it will lead you to the exact places within the prison where the stories it explains to you, actually happened- where certain inmates lived/died, etc. There are also different kinds of cells, solitary confinement obviously, primitive cells from the original block built in 1829, and newer innovations such as the surgical block. Most of the cells are missing doors and some areas of the roof have collapsed. However, inanimate objects such as shelves, beds, dentists chairs, etc. have been left behind giving the building a strange, dead but alive, feel. However, that is the kind of thing I live for, so naturally, I was in awe the entire time. The whole building, although undoubtedly not a pleasant place to live out your life, was strangely beautiful and eclectic.
At the end of the audio tour, you will end up in a room, crumbling lead paint and all, with fifty pictures illustrated by Cindy Stockton Moore, hanging from the ceiling. It is in this room where you realize the heaviness and reality of the penitentiary. It was hard not to get emotional- first, because it was so beautifully done and second, because hanging from the ceiling were the pictures of 50 victims murdered by some of the inmates who were detained at Eastern State Penitentiary, some of them children. The audio tour introduces you to some of them, tells you about their lives and eventually, how they were killed. On the tour, the criminals are featured. Criminals such as Al Capone, and to most of us, that’s exciting. But once you stand in this room, you really do feel bad for enjoying the audio tour which caters to the inmates and rarely mentions those affected by their crimes. Read about other Notorious Eastern State Inmates, here.
All in all, visiting Eastern State Penn tops my list of things to do in Philly- even over Independence Hall and Ben Franklin’s grave who are tied for a close second. The most impactful moment at Eastern State being the Cindy Stockton Moore room.
Following the Eastern State tour, we headed to view Benjamin Franklin’s grave located in the Christ Church burial ground in Old City Philadephia. The cemetery is one of the most unique in the city and houses over 1400 graves, most from the Colonial period. Ben Franklin’s grave is right next to the cast iron fence so even if the cemetery is closed, it is viewable from the fence, which is how we opted to view it. We threw ol’ Ben a penny and
headed back to the Independence Hall welcome center to see if we could catch a glimpse of the Liberty Bell which we were able to view through the museum window before heading back to D.C. for the evening. Learn more about Ben Franklin’s grave- map the location.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our travels in Philadelphia, PA. Stay tuned for our next adventure and happy hunting, my fellow historians.