(back) (next) (contents)

The Braille Monitor – February, 2001 Edition


The Philadelphia Story: Chapter Two

by Suzanne Waters and Jim Antonacci


A view of a racing scull on the Schuykill River with Boathoise Row visible in the Background.
A view of the racing scull on the
Schuykill River with Boathouse Row
visible in the Background

From the Editor: Here is the second instalment of useful information about Philadelphia. Read about the city where the sixty-first convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place July 1 to 7, 2001. Jim Antonacci, President of the host affiliate, joined Sue Waters in compiling this cornucopia of information for your enjoyment and instruction.

In the January issue we introduced you to Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, and to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and host of the 2001 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We provided a teaspoon of history and a dash of what the future holds for our city. In this issue we will highlight some of Philadelphia's most famous and distinctive sites and let you in on a few secrets we share only with our best friends. Sit back and enjoy another taste of Philadelphia!

Although 400 years have seen a great deal of expansion, there are still places where you can walk on the original cobblestones traversed by Washington and Jefferson and see the places where the seeds of democracy were sown. Even though we have been careful to preserve those areas in which our richest heritage abounds, we have also been able to grow to the fifth largest city in the United States and the second largest city on the East Coast.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
with the old Fairmount Water
Works in the foreground on
the Schuykill River

Philadelphia reigns as the cradle of independence since it was the place where the First and Second Continental Congresses were held, where the Declaration of Independence was first read, and where the Constitution was written. Perhaps the most acclaimed symbol of our country's independence is the Liberty Bell, which rang out for all of the City of Brotherly Love to hear on July 8, 1776, to summon the people to hear John Nixon read the Declaration of Independence aloud for the first time. Much had occurred prior to this date, however, concerning this icon of freedom. The bell was ordered by the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751 to commemorate the fifty-year anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges. This charter, which was Pennsylvania's original Constitution, was very progressive, addressing issues of religious freedom, citizen participation in enacting laws, and Native-American rights. Inscribed on the bell are the following quotations:

"Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,"

"Lev. XXV X"

"By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State House in Philada,"

and, centered on the bell, the words, "Pass and Stow Philada  MDCCLIII."

(Notice the Spelling of Pennsylvania. In those days there was still controversy concerning how the Keystone State's name should be written.)

The bell was ordered from Whitechapel Foundry, arriving on September 1, 1752. It was not hung, however, until March 10, 1753, when the crack was first discovered. Although no one could say with certainty why the crack had appeared, it was thought to have been a result of either a flaw in the bell's casting or the brittleness of the metal. In an attempt to remedy the problem, John Pass and John Stow, two local foundry workers, were commissioned to melt down and recast the bell. The new bell was raised on March 19, 1753, but those who heard its ring were still dissatisfied. A second try at recasting yielded more disappointing results. As a consequence the Whitechapel Foundry cast a new bell, which garnered results that did not please the citizens any more than had the original bell. Therefore the old bell remained in the State House steeple, and the new one was placed in the cupola on the State House Roof and attached to the clock to sound the hour.

The citizens' lukewarm attitude toward the bell's tonal quality did not prevent them from ringing it on many significant occasions. It tolled when Benjamin Franklin went to England to voice Colonial grievances, when King George III ascended to the throne in 1761, and when Philadelphians had to be called together to discuss the Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765. In 1772 residents sent a petition to the State Assembly stating that people in the bell's vicinity were "incommoded and distressed by the constant ringing of the great Bell in the steeple." Yet the bell was rung for the First Continental Congress in 1774; the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775; and, in its finest hour, on July 8, 1776, for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. In the fall of 1777 the bell was transported to Allentown, Pennsylvania, in order to protect it from the danger of being melted down and recast as a cannon by the British.

During the ten years in which Philadelphia was the nation's capital, the Liberty Bell was rung to call the State Legislature into session, to summon citizens to hand in ballots, and to commemorate Washington's Birthday and Independence Day. In the first part of the nineteenth century, the bell was used by the Abolitionist Movement as a symbol of their abhorrence of slavery. It traveled to many cities beginning in the 1880's, and its new permanent home in the Liberty Bell Pavilion was constructed for the bicentennial celebration in 1976.

Each Independence Day the Liberty Bell is symbolically tapped in unison with bells throughout the country in celebration of our freedom. You might want to stop at the visitors' center in Independence National Park at 5th and Chestnut Streets to see a short movie about our heritage and pick up information about the area. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are at the same intersection.

You will find that the Philadelphia of Ben Franklin and the other founding fathers coexists happily with the businesses and shops of today. You can take a carriage ride around town or explore gardens maintained by the Horticultural Society at your own pace. Don't forget the U.S. Mint, which operates around the clock, seven days a week, producing the coins in your pocket, or Old Christ Church, which has held services continuously since colonial times.

Boathouse Row is an area on the east bank of the Schuylkill River just past the Museum of Art. Aside from storing racing sculls for local colleges and racing clubs, these picturesque buildings paint serene images as their lights reflect off the surface of the river. Two major regattas are held on the river every year.

Philadelphia's City Hall is only one block from the Marriott Hotel. It is the largest and most elaborate city hall in the country, featuring a 548-foot tower topped by a 37-foot bronze statue of William Penn. It is open to visitors.

Reading Constitutions, ringing bells, and rubbing shoulders with our nation's history can't be done long without another essential part of Philadelphia: food, of course. And no one does food better than the historic Reading Terminal Market. Located at 12th and Arch Streets, just a block from the Marriott Hotel, the market is a must-see for those who want to pay homage to history or for those who just want a terrific selection of delicious edibles.

For those who fall into the first category, here's a brief history. The market opened on January 29, 1893, and area farmers came by train to sell their produce in the city. It is the only single-span train shed still standing in the U.S. About eighty thousand people visit the market each week to purchase fresh produce, spices, dairy products, flowers, arts and crafts, and many other gift items. The Reading Terminal Market got its name from the railroad which operated trains from this building until 1976. Since the railroad went bankrupt, the building has been renovated, although many of the historic stands are still in evidence. Three of them are operated by direct descendants of the original owners. The market is also a great place to get a taste of the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch foods produced in the more rural parts of our state.

Once you're fortified with a good meal from the market or any of the 200 or so restaurants and shops in the immediate neighborhood of the Marriott, why not visit some of the places which contribute to Philadelphia's reputation as a world-class center of culture? If you or your kids love dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures generally, the Academy of Natural Sciences, located at 19th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, gives you an opportunity to dig for fossils and features many other exhibits focusing on the environment and diverse species. It is the oldest continuously operating institution of its kind in America.

You might visit the home of Betsy Ross at 239 Arch Street, where the woman rumored to have designed and made the first U.S. flag lived. Or how about seeing the home where Edgar Allan Poe, celebrated horror, suspense, and detective-story author, resided from 1843 to 1844? The house is located at 532 N. 7th Street.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, located at 26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is one of the five best in the world and displays decorative art from Europe, Asia, and North America from the past 2000 years. Admission is free before 1:00 p.m. on Sundays. When you're done viewing the paintings, sculpture, drawings, furniture, and glassware, why not have someone snap a photograph of you running up the Art Museum's steps, just like Rocky did in the film of the same name? And if you have a hankering to examine sculpture up close, visit the Rodin Museum at 22nd Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which contains the largest exhibition of Rodin's work outside Paris. Admission is free.

Want to have fun while learning about science at the same time? the Franklin Institute is for you. Included are the Fels Planetarium, a large IMAX theater, and a laser show. It is located at 20th and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The Gallery is a multi-level shopping mall which stretches between 8th and 11th Streets and Market and Filbert Streets. An extensive food court is on the lower level as well as access to Philadelphia's subway and regional rail system.

Just a short trip south of the hotel on 9th Street between Wharton and Christian Streets, you can visit the Italian Market, the area made famous in those Rocky movies. Shops and pushcart merchants line the street. Here you can purchase anything necessary for a true Italian feast.

No visit to Philadelphia would be complete without a taste of that South Philly delicacy known as the cheesesteak. At the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, Pat's Steaks opened for business in 1930 and since 1966 has been challenged by Geno's Steaks, across the street. Why not sample both and determine for yourself which is better?

Stretching south from Spring Garden Street along the Delaware River is Penn's Landing, which has hosted many concerts and festivals. The Maritime Museum is located here as well as the Flagship "Olympia" and a World War II submarine you can tour. The Philadelphia Zoo is our nation's first zoo, a forty-two-acre Victorian garden which is home to over 2,000 animals.

Rittenhouse Square runs between 17th and 19th Streets and Walnut and Locust Streets. It is the site of some of the ritziest shops this side of 5th Avenue. There are classic boutiques such as Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Jones of New York, and Urban Outfitters. The area is a shopper's paradise. South Street, Philadelphia's answer to Greenwich Village, really comes alive at night. You will find it just seven blocks south of the Marriott Hotel, between Front and 7th Streets. Browse the many shops or enjoy restaurants, bars, and cafes.

So that you won't feel out of place upon arrival in Philadelphia, here is a list of terms you will want to study so you can understand the local language.

Black and white shake: A milk shake made with chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream.

Downashore: That area of the southern New Jersey coastline which includes Atlantic City. Since these areas are generally south of Philadelphia, one would travel down the shore to get to them.

Hoagie: The name given to a sandwich having its origins in Philadelphia during the early 1900's. During the excavation to build the tunnels for the extensive city subway system, the earth which was removed was transported to Hog Island and dumped. This heavy, physical labor was performed mostly by European immigrants who became known as "hoggies." Their typical lunch was a large piece of bread sliced lengthwise stuffed with many different meats and cheeses. Tomato, lettuce, onions, oil, oregano, and hot peppers could also be added.

Parkway: The short name for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which runs on a diagonal between 15th and 26th Streets. It was modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Phils: The Philadelphia Phillies National League baseball team. It is one of the few teams still playing in the city where they began over 100 years ago. The schedule shows them playing the Florida Marlins on the evening of June 30.

Scrapple: Neck meat and other scraps of pork ground and boiled, to which cornmeal (as thickening) and spices are added. After cooling in a small loaf pan, it is sliced, deep fried, and eaten as a delightful breakfast treat.

Soft pretzel: A piece of dough about a half‑inch in diameter which has been formed into the shape of a pretzel and boiled in salt water and then baked slightly. Coarse salt is usually sprinkled on them after boiling. They are best eaten warm, and gourmets prefer mustard on top.

Steak sandwich: frozen steak sliced thin, fried in oil, and placed in a large Italian roll sliced lengthwise. Additional toppings, some of which are usually fried with the steak, are onions, green peppers, mushrooms, tomato sauce, or cheese. When cheese is added, the sandwich is referred to as a "cheesesteak."

Tastykake: A brand of snack cakes and pies indigenous to Philadelphia. These can also be used as a form of barter when traveling around the country and encountering people from Philadelphia. Relatives who visit Philadelphia natives now residing outside of the local area are always encouraged to bring Tastykakes with them.

Yo: When used to initiate a conversation with a Philadelphian, this greeting can mean "Hello! How are you today?" If used as an initial response, it can mean "I am fine. How are you?"

Whether it's a healthy dose of history, a great meal, terrific cultural spots, or learning to speak the language, we have it all in Philadelphia. The only person we're waiting for is you. Come explore our city, discover America's roots, and be a part of our future. We can't wait to see you in July. Make your reservation today. Consult the first page of this issue for details.

(back) (next) (contents)