Philadelphia Freedom

The caretaker at Independence Hall unfurls the Stars and Stripes so I can have my photo taken in front of it but only after guilt-tripping me that she had a train to catch. She is right to.

After all, the war has been won and the Constitution signed and Philadelphians have homes to go to, inns to frequent, just as in 1787.

I am in Philadelphia, the cradle of the Revolution and America’s first capital, and am walking in the footsteps of the founding fathers, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Philadelphia’s favourite adopted son, Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin was here at the Pennysylvania State House, now Independence Hall, to sing the Declaration of Independence, he was also next door in the City Tavern where like most revolutions in history strong beer played a part in emboldening the plotters.

Franklin understood that more than most. A famous wit, his saying resonate with us today.

He credits beer as being God’s greatest gift to us although that might run counter to his most famous musing: ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’

Franklin was all three, he made his fortune through printing and the bar (the legal bar that is) before applying his great mind to politics all the time trying to push the boundaries of science. He is credited with inventing electricity.

That, of course, earned Franklin hug renown, both in the New and Old Worlds.. he was lauded eat the French court as Monsieur Electricity. He also lived to 84, a grand old age in the days when the average life expectancy was half that.

You can learn more at the Benjamin Franklin Museum and also walk through the rubble of what was once his home on the street.

Historic Philadelphia is beautifully preserved and restored, this city and its citizens a testimony to embracing history and reimagining it… when I visit it the interactive Museum of the American Revolution is not long opened.

They also acknowledge the part played by the immigrants who have only enhanced the city, and no visit to Philly should be taken without a trip to the Irish Memorial Park where there is a memorial to an Irish Famine Ship and Scottish Highlands ex-pats.

While Philadelphia is constantly updating, honouring and modernising its history, some things need no dressing up though not, heaven forbid, restoring.

The Liberty Bell is as iconic a symbol of American independence as any, Old Glory, the flag which you can also see here in Philadelphia at Betsy Ross’s house, or the Declaration of Independence or Constitution.

Which is why I stood in a queue in Union Station, Washington DC, for an hour banging at my watch imploring the Peter Pan bus driver to make up the time lost.

Liberty Bell rings out to all of us through the ages.

‘Proclaimed Liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof. it bellows on its inscription.

The Liberty Bell rang out at the Declaration of Independence and then again wa a rallying call to the abolitionists during the Civil War and a symbol of freedom during the Cold War.

Its crack serves as a reminder of the fragility of Freedom, and justifies the airport-type security around this and other historic sites and public places in America now, a little inconvenience a price well worth paying.

Philadelphians have always been willing to fight for higher ideals and wrap themselves in the American flag and it is no coincidence that that other great icon of the city is a fighter, Rocky Balboa.

It is obligatory when in Philly to run up the Rocky steps and throw your arms around him. I am saved though from dragging my 51-year-old legs up the museum steps because the statue there of the former World Heavyweight champion is getting some running repairs.

Well, he is 72 and has taken some almighty punishment. I do get my picture, though, sparring with Rocky in the Independence Visitors Center.

There is a Rocky tour too around town to locations in the films and I’ll do that next time. You know when he aims to become the first 70-year-old Heavyweight champion of the world. Which, of course, would not seem unusual to Philadelphians.

Philly is a sports-mad city. I learn about the lengths they will go to win win when I scale the One Liberty Tower which boasts the most spectacular viewer the city and the Delaware River.

And exhibition is on when I visit on the top floor celebrating the successes of the Big Four teams, the Flyers (ice hockey), the Phillies (baseball), the Eagles (American football) and the 76ers, named for Independence Year.

I learn of the custom here in Philly where no building should be built higher than the peak of Billy Penn’s hat, Penn being the Quaker who founded the city in 1628.

When One Liberty Tower was erected in 1987 it challenged that as it was higher than City Hall and its highest point, William Penn’s statue. And Billy wasn’t too pleased.

Twenty years of failing teams followed until two workers and Philly fans stuck a statue of Penn atop the Comcast Center which had replaced One Liberty Hall as the city’s tallest building.

Within a year the Phillies had won the World Series.

I spend my final hours in Philly, fraternising with the locals in the Craftsman Saloon in Jewellers’ Row, eating Philly cheesesteaks, drinking beer and talking sport with Pedro and Bubbles the barman.

Chinatown. Photo by O-seop Sim on Pexels.com

I toast Franklin and delve in my wallet for a tip… a Benjamin? Mmm, this may be the City of Brotherly Love, but $1000? A $10, or a Hamilton it is (the Americans out their Presidents on their nots and Franklin and Hamilton are the only non-Presidents thus honoured).

Franklin we know and Hamilton I’ll get to know better where he is the toast of Broadway and where I’m headed now.

TRAVEL FACTS:

How to get there:I flew with Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com) to Washington DC, although of course it also flies to Philadelphia. I took the Peter Pan bus to Philadelphia (four hours there, four hours back). See www.peterpanbus.com.

Where to stay: Kimpton has two boutique hotels Downtown. The Kimpton Hotel Monaco and the Kimpton Hotel Palomar. Visit www.kimptonhotels.com for best rates.

*Next stop Hamilton and Old New York City

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail.

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