From the busy streets of Austin to the congested alleys of Philadelphia, the LEAP Ambassadors found themselves immersed in the Philly spirit of brotherly love as they traveled to Philadelphia to begin their trip towards the Inauguration in Washington, DC. With the day’s itinerary including our items relating to history, cheese steaks, and art, we started the morning off with a quick stop at Edgar Allan Poe’s home. The museum was not open yet, but we reflected on some of our favorite Poe short stories and what life would have been for infant Poe. Additionally, we posed for a quick picture to document our visit.
University of Pennsylvania
Our first self-guided tour led us to the University of Pennsylvania. As an Ivy League School with a well-known reputation, it was interesting to compare “Penn” to Sam Houston State University. Contrary to SHSU’s campus, the University is located directly in downtown Philadelphia. In the “Green,” also known as the mall or center of campus, many well-known artists are displayed. Claes Oldenburg, Alexander Calder, and Robert Indiana stood out to the LEAP Ambassadors because we have seen their work on many previous trips.
Robert Indiana is particularly well-known for his LOVE sculpture which has now become a symbol of Philadelphia. The city is home to three of the fifteen LOVE sculptures in the U.S.
While on campus, we also visited the Fisher Fine Arts Library which provides students a tranquil study place. The Library was architecturally detailed and unique, and included many study areas and books of special interests. “It seemed to be straight out of a Harry Potter movie,” so said LEAP ambassador Ryan Brim.
Next stop, the National Constitution Center, an interactive museum that teaches visitors about the Constitutional Convention and generally, what goes into creating a government. The first exhibit was a replica of the Constitutional Convention with life-sized statues of the delegates, with an exhibit that allowed us to sign our names to the Constitution.
The museum had an early copy of the Articles of Confederation and an original copy of the U.S. Constitution. Fourteen original copies of the Constitution were created (one for each state and one for the US); however, only nine can be definitely accounted for now. Interestingly, we learned that although John Hancock has the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence, Button Gwinnett’s signature is actually more valuable. Gwinnett was the first of the signers to die, which has apparently affected the value of his autograph positively.
When we opened the doors from the Constitution Center the chilly breeze motivated us to quickly continue our short journey to the next block and our next destination, the Liberty Bell. Excited to see one of the most iconic symbols of America, we found the exhibits interesting. We observed how the Bell had not only been the symbol for American Independence, but also for the freedom of slaves, women’s rights, and many more civil liberties. The Bell is fragile, with a crack that runs all the way down its side, a crack caused by the mix of many different metals during its molding process. The exhibit allows visitors to get close, and we could clearly see the deteriorating black wood and the crack in the Bell. Many people took selfies near the Bell, while others just admired its beauty.
Across the street from that now resting Bell is Independence Hall. With great pride we walked down the block to see where freedom was once born and that same Bell had once hung. Independence Hall, once known as the Pennsylvania State House, formerly housed all three branches of Pennsylvania’s government.
The first floor held both the old courtrooms, where our nation’s first Supreme Court once met, and the Assembly Room, also known as the Signing Room, as it was the room in which our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Although the tour was short, it was breathtaking to stand in the same room where fifty-six of America’s most important men once stood to draft the document that would forge the nation’s destiny.
Benjamin Franklin Museum
With an elevated spirit, we trailed through historic streets of Philadelphia to the Benjamin Franklin Museum. Through interactive exhibits we learned about this Founding Father’s great intelligence and versatility. Not only was he a genius with words and democratic philosophy, he was also an avid inventor. Among his notable achievements were the bifocals, the glass harmonica, and the discovery of electricity in lighting. We also learned of his devotion to community by developing the first public library, fire insurance, and fire department. The trip through this museum helped build on what we learned about one of our nation’s most important advocates of democracy after visiting Independence Hall.
A few short blocks from the Ben Franklin Museum we stopped for lunch at Sonny’s Steaks. Sonny’s tries to ensure that every customer tastes an authentic Philly Cheesesteak, or at least knows what they’re getting. To this extent, when Brian ordered the “Classic with American cheese,” the cashier countered with, “It ain’t classic if it’s American, baby!” But, this didn’t move Brian to change his order. We shared an order of “Crazy Fries,” covered in Philly-favorite Cheez Whiz, jalapeños, bacon, and red onion. The Crazy Fries were left mostly uneaten, however, because the cheesesteaks had left us “crazy full.”
Philadelphia City Hall
To walk off our lunch, we footed it around for photo ops at the home of Betsy Ross…
…and in Elfreth’s Alley…
…our nation’s oldest continually-inhabited residential street. We did not stay for long at either location, though, because we were on our way to Philadelphia’s City Hall, the largest municipal building in the U.S. The building covers an entire city block and has a 37-foot, 27-ton bronze statue of city founder, William Penn, atop the 509-ft clock tower. (It is reportedly the tallest statue on top of a building in the world.) From the observation deck at the top of the tower, we could see nearly all of the city plus New Jersey across the Delaware River.
Just outside City Hall, in Dilworth Park, we found a second Indiana LOVE statue for some additional photo ops.
Exploring the Philadelphia City Hall courtyard and park was fun, but our bare faces could no longer bear the chilly Northern breeze. We burrowed into our mini-van and made the hectic ride through traffic to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
As we climbed the steps of the building we discussed the styles of art that we most wanted to see and decided to focus on the American, 19th Century European, and Modern and Contemporary galleries.
With a first-time visitor to an art museum among us, we thought it best to see American artists like James Peale, Edward Moran, and Herman Herzog. The American gallery included not only artwork from America’s first celebrated artists but also some of our nation’s oldest silverware, glassware, china, and furniture, some dating back to the 1730s. While these domestic artifacts may not have been great works of art in their own sake, they did demonstrate the creativity of colonists as our nation was formed. (Note: Christina highly enjoyed this section and even picked out a favorite artist, Thomas Eakins.)
We spent a considerable amount of time reading the numerous American gallery exhibits before moving to 19th Century European art. We were delighted to come across Impressionist artworks by Vincent Van Gogh…
…Camille Pissarro, and Claude Monet…
…among others. As one LEAP Ambassador put it, “the exhibits are a nice opportunity to explore new works from artists we have seen on previous trips.”
More interesting was when we viewed the works by Marcel Duchamp, included in the Contemporary and Modern gallery. Duchamp was famous for repurposing everyday objects to turn them into “art,” like in his most famous sculpture Fountain. In short, this sculpture is merely a urinal turned on its side and meant to beg the question, “what is art?” However, this enigma did not stop us from enjoying Duchamp’s paintings, which Brian found especially interesting, as they are not Duchamp’s most common.
And with that trifling question dissipating, we found ourselves back at the beginning, with just enough time to give the gift shop a once-over. Passing through the western exit we met a scene very familiar to us, that scene in the film Rocky which depicts Sylvester Stallone jogging up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In honor of this scene, a commissioned statue of a triumphant Rocky Balboa raising his gloved fists was commissioned stands near the front of the museum.
After a friendly Philly local pointed us in the right direction, we took a quick photo, then left to find some much-needed dinner.
With the Philadelphia skyline at our shoulders, and giving one last gaze at the inspiring Independence Hall, we departed downtown for a Danish dinner at Noord. Candlelit tables and soft background music completed the cozy atmosphere. The menu of Danish dishes, although somewhat hard to pronounce, all looked to be tasty. After consulting our helpful waitress we opted for adventure and began our meal with an appetizing dish of escargot. As the mollusk-filled-dish came into view, we were relieved to see the cooked snails covered in a sauce that made the dish look extra savory. After the first bite, it was agreed that the escargot was definitely a good choice.
The main course filled our table with plates of vinegar-dressed rabbit legs, pork shoulder, mussel curry stew, and Danish brussel sprouts. And even after all that, we had enough appetite left to enjoy some sweets, so we ordered “sharing” samples of the almond cake, berry bread pudding, and vanilla cake. Needless to say, we left the restaurant with a very satisfied belly.
As we prepared to leave, with a nightly chill in the air, we still felt excitement at being on the land where our very nation had once formed its government. The remaining distance ahead of us seemed short compared to usual LEAP cross-country trips, as we’re anticipating with excitement participating in an institution of sorts itself, the installation ceremony of a new President being sworn into office. We still have a few adventures left in our itinerary before then. For now, we have left the bustling streets of Philadelphia and await our new day in Delaware.