Sunday, April 18, 2010

Public History: The Constitution

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall (a.k.a. the Pennsylvania State House), from the NPS Independence website.

My family visited this past weekend; it was great to see them, even though it was a total whirlwind (much of my life these days is a total whirlwind...). On Saturday, we hightailed it to Philadelphia. Admission to Independence Hall is by ticket (you might be able to squeeze in without one, but it's a long shot). Tickets are free, but don't wait... on this cold April day, we got 4 of the last 9 tickets at noon. I've not spent much time in Philly, most of it work related, so I haven't seen the sights. Particularly as a Freshly Minted American Citizen, I wanted to see Independence Hall, so was pretty jazzed to get some of the last tickets of the day. It's a super-fast, half hour tour, which I guess makes sense, given the numbers of people they must wrangle through there a day.

What struck me during the tour was the part in the Assembly Room, where our guide, a big tall fellow with a BOOMING voice, explained that, when written, the Constitution only expressed the rights and responsibilities of citizens: 21-year old white males who owned property. But that the framers included the ability for the Constitution to change,and as the times and the country have changed, the rights granted by the Constitution have been extended to other groups, including African Americans and women.

I found this official, National Park Service description of the Constitution and it's original limitations and later expansions, refreshing. It was especially poignant in conjunction with the Tea Party Protest going on just next door.

The Tea Partiers had tables and a band, and know how to work their symbolism (a protest, at Independence National Park? Very symbolic!). They were also having people approach you to sign petitions, and were giving out flags. It was more like a festival than a protest; and for the TV cameras? All the people who are just hanging out listening to the music look like they're protesting. Other factions (hello, Democrats!) could take a few lessons in media manipulation.

Philly Notes:
  • The trolly/Big Bus tour was totally worth the time and $$. We got an overview of LOTS of the city over the 90 minute tour, with narrative, and you can use your ticket all day for transportation. Our driver also went out of his way to arrange van transportation for us, for free, to get us to dinner.
  • Your jackets and bags will be searched going into Independence Hall. You CAN, however, take pictures inside.
  • The Park Service public bathrooms across from Independence Hall are very convenient, and were even relatively, mostly clean at the end of the day. They were -actually- clean before lunch.
  • Plan to spend more than 1 day, even in Independence National Park.
  • They had a hammered dulcimer player in the Visitors' Center! I love hammered dulcimer.
  • The ghost building they are constructing between the Liberty Bell building and the Visitors' Center, on top of the Presidents' House, is going to be very cool.
  • I will have to spend more time bumming around Philly; I really like it!

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