Archive for March, 2004

Cooperstown, N.Y.
Visited: March 28, 2004
NPS Site Visited: There’s no baseball in the NPS
Local Website

Why the Baseball Hall Melancholia?
Click Here
for Gab’s Further Feelings on Cooperstown.

Mythical site of baseball’s founding. Place of enshrinement for the baseball’s greatest players and museum dedicated to the history of the game.

These ratings carry an asterisk (like Roger Maris)

Similar to the Interstates, the Baseball Hall of Fame always seems to be under repair. Our visit was no exception. They claim that the construction will be done in 2005. With our entrance ticket we received a promise that we would receive through the mail a free pass for a post-construction visit.

So in our ratings, the museum sort of gets a free pass. Sadly though, like baseball itself, we do not have the confidence that the redesign will help the Hall’s dated, short-sighted and boring approach.

Update: We never received our free 2005 tickets in the mail.

BEAUTY (1/10)
The building is ugly from the outside and a disaster zone on the inside. Cooperstown itself is a charming small town with a gorgeous view of Lake Otsego. This rating isn’t for Cooperstown; it’s for the museum.

Baseball began here. We know this, but if we hadn’t, nothing in the museum would have told us. Frustration reigns in Cooperstown. You have so many historically significant items but nothing to put them into perspective, nothing explaining them at all.

At the Basketball Hall of Fame, for example, there are three simple graphic and interactive timelines next to each other. One shows basketball rule changes, one shows the significant happenings in basketball’s history and the other shows what was happening in the United States (and world) at the same time. These timelines are a simple, common and helpful museum device.

Nothing of the sort here, except in the nearly hidden and out of the way Negro Leagues exhibit. Let’s hope this changes.

CROWDS (3/10)
Very few people travel to Cooperstown during the off-season. Even so, we still felt crowded. A school tour was going on in the History of Baseball area. The group of 15 kids were seated on the floor effectively blocking all tourists from the 1960’s to 1990’s display cases. Couldn’t they have found another place to do this? In addition, we had to wait for the Hall’s few interactive displays.

Jeter CleatsEASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The museum is in the middle of nowhere. Once you get to Cooperstown the museum is easy to find. The construction made a great deal of the museum inaccessible by wheelchair.

A disturbingly restricted array of books. The Hall has two bookstores but neither include the classic baseball books: Ball Four, by Jim Bouton; Bill James Baseball Abstract (and its many descendents); The Great American Novel, by Philip Roth, etc… we could keep going.

There are no books that do not fit into the Hall’s narrow description of what baseball is. No books like Roth’s that use baseball secondarily as a reflection of America. The personal library owned by most baseball-loving Americans is probably more comprehensive and vibrant than what you can buy at the Hall.

COSTS (3/5)
Compared to most pay museums, the Hall of Fame is cheap. And they gave us a voucher to revisit once the construction is done. At the same time most of the National Park Historical Sites are free and it is hard to imagine that they have a lower endowment than the Baseball Hall of Fame.

There were not any Guides per se. The museum’s aim is to be self-guided. We asked the museum workers a few questions about what the Hall will look like when done. They were gregarious but did not answer anything. In contrast to the Basketball Hall of Fame’s rampant youthfulness, every Cooperstown worker seemed to be both retired and over the age of 60. They all acted as if they knew everything about baseball and that their way was the right way. Sometimes youth is refreshing.

We’ve given this ranking a 2 instead of a 1 because of the most impressive section of the Hall: the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center. The Research Center is a vast archival library of the Hall’s collection. Anybody can access these materials and there are Hall employees to help. Impressive. The Research Center, however, is the closest the Hall gets to inclusiveness.

The self-guided tour is confusing, uninformative and disappointing. Paradoxically the actual artifacts included in the tour are anything but substandard. The Hall’s collection is amazing. But you need to know what you are looking at, as well as its significance, because the Hall’s explanations are not going to help.

The Research Center boasts 12,000 hours of moving image and sound recordings. The self-guided tour utilizes almost none of these invaluable resources. We hate to compare, but at the Basketball Hall of Fame there was a large scoreboard screen that showed constant basketball highlights. In the four plus hours we were there the highlights never repeated. In the few places at Cooperstown where there was a video monitor, the highlights were on a five minute loop.

Cheater?Most disappointing was a tour we overheard given by a Hall employee to a group of students. His entire history of baseball was based on rules. What’s right and what’s wrong. He spent five minutes explaining why Sammy Sosa was wrong when he corked his bat. We found it funny that just a short bit away was a Babe Ruth exhibit. One of the Babe’s bats, the one he used to hit his 57th and 58th Home Runs in 1927, was displayed horizontally. The butt end of the bat had a circular filling that was a different color wood than the rest of the bat; a clear sign of a corked bat.

We are not making any accusations, but the Babe was notorious for doing whatever he could to win. And why not? The Babe was also a dynamic personality, similar to Sosa. Why couldn’t the Tour Guide praise Sosa instead of castigating him for five minutes? Or praise the Babe, or praise Satchel Paige or praise Sosa. PRAISE SOMEBODY.

Baseball is a wonderful game. Celebrate it please Mr. Tour Guide. It is no wonder the kids were bored and people say baseball is dying.

FUN (5/10)
As much fun as walking around in a dimly-lit church which, sadly enough, is the intended effect.

The artifacts on display are, by themselves, extraordinary. It is the museum that is lacking. Our heartfelt recommendation is to wait to go until the museum fully reopens in 2005 and hope for the best.

TOTAL 31/80


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A new Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts opened in 2002. A triumph in museum design, interactivity and inclusiveness, the Hall of Fame is a celebration of the game. It is a loving tribute, it is a living tribute. We had a great time.

Every kid and every adult at the Hall had a great time. We were basketball. We participated and learned.

In the course of five hours Gab and I were shooters, dribblers, jumpers, rebounders and ball stealers. We broadcasted game highlights, we learned about the game, we learned coaching strategy, we posed for basketball trading cards, we were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and we were audience members. We will also be traveling to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I do not see how either will be able to match the pure joy of the Hoops Hall.

Center Court I had been to the old Basketball Hall 12 years ago. I had a good time but I remembered little about the place. I was struck then at the smallness of the place and its static design. It was little more than a three story warehouse with memorabilia. Yeah, I was wildly interested in the memorabilia, but the best part of my visit was the rousing pop-a-shot contest against other tourists in the Hall’s exit corridor. Hardly the dramatic busts of football legends I found in Canton, or the heroic induction plaques of Cooperstown.

Things have changed.

The Hall’s design has taken a page from its football brother. The roof in Canton is shaped like a football. Springfield has taken it a step further. From the parking lot you see a huge white ball and a well sponsored one story space. Within this space are a few restaurants, the gift shop and the ticket booth. Through glass adorned with basketball quotes one gets a glimpse of the museum. After purchasing the $16.00 ticket, one of the Hall’s few negatives, one goes into an elevator and is taken up to the third floor, the top floor. Only now do you realize that you are within the ball. The huge basketball is the museum in its entirety.

You leave the elevator and your eyes are drawn upward to the faces of the inductees: players, coaches, referees and contributors to the game. These pictures encircle the upper portion of the basketball. It is an impressive assortment of people. They seem to be looking down at the visitors from their heavenly perch. And they must be ecstatic, as they look down onto a full-sized basketball court two floors below where the museum-goers are constantly playing. Shooting threes, playing one-on-one or a pick up game in the sports Hall of Fame. It’s exhilarating. You are playing in a shrine. It is your game. The pantheon smiles. Their game is in good hands, it is alive.

The museum too is alive. The sound of bouncing basketballs is its pulse. The sound never stops. I love it.

That’s the MuseumUnderneath the pictures, lying slightly-tilted at chest level is a short biography of the inductees accomplishments and a small piece of their memorabilia. You see a ticket from Walt Frazier’s NIT championship game, Tom Gola’s college teams shorts, George Gervin’s Nikes with Iceman printed on the back. This display circles the entire third floor. Above the player info, lying flat against the wall and at eye level is a history of basketball timeline explaining rule changes, important dates, and championship winners. For each decade there is an accompanying short film. What a wealth of information.

Touch screen computers nearby also contain more basketball information. They allow you to see career statistics of every Hall member. For many members there is a short film highlighting a certain aspect of their career. I was amazed to see an interview and highlight footage of my hometown’s own, Bob Davies, the Harrisburg Houdini. If you didn’t know he was the first person to dribble behind his back in a game.

I hadn’t even gotten to 1910 on the timeline when the lights went dim and a modest light show started. I moved to the edge of the third floor ring and looked down onto the court over the rail. Then the scoreboard came on. Yes, there is a scoreboard hanging from the ceiling over the court. The scoreboard showed a short video, fully captioned, about buzzer beating shots. The lights came back on and everybody started playing basketball again. The scoreboard stayed on, showing a constant video stream of highlights.

There are so many places for your eyes to wander at the Hall of Fame. Information panels, memorabilia, live basketball games and contests, touch screens, interactive displays. But at no time to you feel overwhelmed. You meander around and are allowed to focus on whatever is in front of you. Soon after the scoreboard video show, hip hop beats came on, and a museum worker called everybody to the court who wanted to participate in a three point shootout. A line of at least 75 kids and adults gathered and competed while the museum staff emceed the contest. The museum-goers turned into a basketball crowd, oohing, aahing, booing and cheering.

The second floor is another open-air ring, except it is at the widest portion of the ball and is further back from the court. This floor is the main exhibit area. The exhibits cover basketball. High school basketball, college basketball, pro basketball, women’s basketball, international basketball. They are all given equal share. I found this inclusiveness remarkable. If you played the game, you played.

Also on the second floor are interactive displays. In my sandals, I had a 30 inch vertical leap, although I was accused of cheating. Gab’s wingspan is 3 inches longer than she is tall. Leandrinho Barbosa and Andrei Kirilenko watch out. Despite her wingspan advantage, Gab and I were equally quick trying to steal a virtual ball. We posed for basketball cards and Gab did a Sports Center-type broadcast. In an aside, we were in a Bristol, Connecticut, home of ESPN, Dunkin Donuts earlier today. It was a very strange and crowded place. Two types of easily distinguishable clientele, ESPN workers and town members. Superb people watching time.

Who’s the Toughie?
When we finally made it to the first floor, it was time to ball. Adjacent to the court are eight different types of basketball hoop and backboard combinations ready for shooting. They are shown evolving. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to make a shot in a narrow peach basket without a backboard. Well, it was hard for me. But once I got onto the court and got some practice, I was just raining the jumpers. I must have been possessed by Dale Ellis. It was wonderful. My handle was pretty weak, though. I am most definitely not the second Harrisburg Houdini.

Also near the court is a sort of a mega pop-a-shot game. You have four targets. Pass a ball to Dawn Staley (I think). Alley oop to Dominique Wilkins, make a shot, make a shot using the backboard. Once you get one you have to clear the other three before you can do it again. You have 15 seconds. The line was long but I was going to beat the kids around me. 9 was the high score for the day. The kid right before me got 4. I was up. Boom, good pass. Boom, alley oop. Then I ran into some shooting troubles. 9 seconds, 8 seconds… Made shot. Made shot. I have 4. 5 seconds left. Now whenever a ball went awry for the people in line around me, I would gather it and put it back on the rack. 2 seconds left. I reach for a ball nothing there. I’m searching fruitlessly. And my time runs out. Score of 4 and no help from the 10 year olds. Arghh.

I went back onto the court, the centerpiece of the game’s Hall of Fame, and just shot the ball for another 30 minutes. I love this game.

PS – To top off our great basketball day, when we left the Hall, we sat in the parking lot and listened to my beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defeat Kansas in overtime to make the Final Four and while we were there, checked the internet to find that Gab had a stellar fantasy basketball week, soundly defeating our friend Bill Caffrey (9 to 1) to advance to the fantasy final four.

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Springfield, Mass.
Visited: March 28, 2004
NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site
Local Website

We Loved the Hoops Hall and Wrote More!
Click Here for Our In-Depth Tour of Basketball’s Beginnings.

Hoops All-Star Super GWHAT IS IT?
Enshrinement hall for basketball’s greatest players as well as a museum dedicated to the history of the game.

BEAUTY (7/10)
No doubt about it, this bright open building is a triumph in museum design and this design contributed greatly to our experience. The shape and layout encouraged you to run, jump, play – everything you’re not supposed to do in a museum.

Besides, it looks cool. The museum is a basketball!

Basketball started in a YMCA here in Springfield, Massachusetts.

CROWDS (9/10)
Crowded, but fun. The background noise of bouncing basketballs and squeaking sneakers is perfect. There are so many exhibits that waiting is never a problem. The exuberance of the crowd is contagious and creates a friendly atmosphere. Michael lamented the Knicks drafting of Fredric Weis (over Ron Artest) with a stranger and was needled by a lady for slouching a bit when his height was being measured pre-vertical jump. Yes, Michael was cheating.

Easy to get to. The way to the Hall of Fame is clearly marked and only a short distance from the Interstate 91. Big parking lot. The museum is completely accessible.

A number of restaurants on site, including McDonalds. Points off for the Golden Arches. The bookstore is expensive. There is a lot of stuff in the store but nothing that we wanted. Very few books. Why not Terry Pluto’s oral history of the American Basketball Association, Loose Balls or Bill Bradley’s autobiography? Why no basketball jerseys? Especially the Mitchell and Ness throwbacks that sell like hot cakes. Mitchell and Ness reproduced a few jerseys on display. Why none for sale?

COSTS (1/5)
The Site’s biggest negative at $16 per adult

No guides. Not sure anyone working at the Hall of Fame is over 21. Has anyone here ever seen Dr. J play live or on TV?

Basketball HallTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
Again, no guides but the interactive displays, panels and videos more than make up for this shortcoming.

FUN (10/10)
We had a great time. Every kid and every adult at the Hall had a great time. We were basketball. We participated and learned. In the course of five hours we were shooters, dribblers, jumpers, rebounders, and ball stealers. We broadcasted game highlights, we learned about the game, we learned coaching strategy, we posed for basketball trading cards, we were (mythically) inducted into the Hall of Fame, and we were audience members.

The HOF is a triumph in museum design, interactivity and inclusiveness. The site is a celebration of the basketball. It is a loving tribute, it is a living tribute. We had a great time. If you have any interest in basketball we recommend it wholeheartedly. The only shortcoming is its high cost.

TOTAL 59/80

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Hyde Park, N.Y.
Visited: March 27, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 7 of 353
Presidential Library Visted: 1 of 12
NPS Website, Local Website

FDR’s WheelchairWHAT IS IT?
Family estate, birthplace and lifetime home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president. Includes the first Presidential Library and the gravesites of Franklin and first lady Eleanor.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Gorgeous view of the Hudson River. Although still under construction, the Visitor Center is one of the nicest we’ve seen. The grounds have a calming effect and the rose garden must be beautiful in season.

Home of the first Presidential Library. Interior of the home offers an evocative glimpse of FDR the man, his family and their relationships. Most articles are originals and still where FDR left them. FDR had always intended for this home to become a museum once his family tired of it as a residence.

CROWDS (8/10)
We toured the house with a few older couples. Most tour groups we saw today numbered around ten – a perfect number for the size of the house. Our group was knowledgeable and inquisitive. We enjoyed their questions.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the FDR home, Visitor Center and Presidential Library is that it is fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. The group that toured the house after us included a father with his two sons, one using a motorized wheelchair and assistive technology. The fact that the family was able to enjoy the same experience as us is a fitting tribute to the man who was acutely aware of the narrow hallways and multiple floors in his family’s house.

The FDR National Historic Site is located directly off a main road. Drive towards Hyde Park on route 9 and you can’t miss it. A perfect score.

Wonderful bookstore. The most comprehensive selection of site specific books we have seen. Shelves contained the obligatory biographies but also books related to the time period and cultural history of Roosevelt’s Administrations. We picked up a magnet and a Works Project Administration Guide to New York City, still one of the most comprehensive guides to the city 70 years later.

COSTS (2/5)
A bit pricey. $18 for a combination ticket which also gets you admission to the Eleanor Roosevelt NHS and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Since the Presidential Library is not under the purview of the Parks Service, entrance to that will cost you an additional $7 for adults.

Rangers at the Visitor Centers and Grounds were available and accessible. The Library is staffed with Secret Service.

The Ranger who took us through the house was wonderful. We were never left wanting for information and each question from the group revealed new and interesting anecdotes. However, Secret Service at the Presidential Museum weren’t very helpful.

The Visitor Center houses a brand new theatre with comfortable seating and a mega sound system. We enjoyed the 20-minute film.

The Site earns less than a perfect score since some exhibits in the Museum were closed for unspecified reasons.

FUN (8/10)
Every aspect of the Site was well designed and well executed. The Visitor Center is one floor filled with open space and light. The atmosphere is serene. Visitors are welcome to go anywhere on the grounds, from the stables to the rose garden as they please. The tour was not rushed and just long enough. Everything about the Site and its staff enhanced our experience on one of the first sunny warm days of the season. Happy days are here again indeed.

ExteriorWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
Yes. But get there early to have time to see all the Sites in Hyde Park. Four hours flew by at FDR and we would have had just enough time to visit all 3 before the 5 o’clock closing had the Vanderbilt Mansion NHS been fully operational.

TOTAL 64/80

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Hyde Park, N.Y.
Visited: March 27, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 8 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Imagine the Talks HereWHAT IS IT?
Dutch-style cottage used by Eleanor Roosevelt as her home from 1937 to 1962.

BEAUTY (6/10)
It’s easy to see why Val-Kill cottage was the First Lady’s favorite place on the Roosevelt Estate. Surrounded by woods and streams flowing into a man-made pond, it offers a casual beauty that contrasts with the much larger and formal FDR Home. However, because of its location 2 miles east of FDR, it is lacking a view of the dramatic Hudson River.

The Dutch cottages that make up the site are very typical of the type built in the 1930’s. We were immediately reminded of the wood-paneled cabin retreats in Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania.

Eleanor entertained guests from local schoolchildren to kings and diplomats here, all in the same informal and inviting atmosphere. Every room is cluttered with photos and portraits of her guests. Eleanor’s Dining Room table placed disparate viewpoints and political agendas elbow to elbow and gave leaders opportunities to discuss their differences and work through issues while passing the butter. How much work in the name of human rights was accomplished here, outside of formal settings and confrontational public forums?

The CottageCROWDS (6/10)
Sparse, but if there were many more people, the tour of the cottage would have been tight.

A little harder to reach than the Home of FDR and didn’t look to be as accessible. Narrow hallways could present a problem for some folks. It’s clear that FDR didn’t spend much time here.

Small, but nearly anything you’d want to read on Eleanor and her accomplishments is available just down the road at the FDR Visitor Center.

COSTS (2/5)
Included in the $18 Hyde Park multi-site pass.

Fine since there weren’t many visitors.

The film is the same as the Eleanor Roosevelt film we watched at the FDR Presidential Library. The tour of her cottage was informative and full of interesting anecdotes.

FUN (5/10)
Fun, no. Interesting and compelling, yes.

TogetherWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10)
Like the Home of FDR, this site offers remarkable insight into who Eleanor Roosevelt was as a person. Our admiration for this amazing woman grew even more after realizing how she worked, entertained and learned.

TOTAL 47/80

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 4 of 353
NPS Website, Local Website

Want More? Read About Our Phun Philled Philadelphia Phoray.Click Here for the In-Depth Recount of Our Day.

Poe’s Basement (Blurry for Spooky Intent)WHAT IS IT?
Brick building lived in by American author Edgar Allan Poe in 1843 and 1844.

BEAUTY (2/10)
How nice can an unfurnished house that was rented over 150 years ago by a broke writer be? The house is also situated in a light industrial zone amidst many a factory, union office and warehouse.

Edgar Allan Poe only lived here for a year and a half. And how historically interesting is Poe anyway? But he did live here and the site is evocative of his spirit. The basement in particular seems to have been the setting for his story, The Black Cat.

CROWDS (8/10)
We happened onto a group of 13 or so giddy 5th graders. A park volunteer indicated that the site’s most common constituency is school children. The kids were ecstatic to see the house as they had just read many of Poe’s stories. They were well-behaved, asked superb questions and elicited a few shrieks and eeeews when the Ranger’s story got spooky. This group of kids enhanced our trip.

Parking is free on the streets but not particularly reassuring. Lots of broken glass everywhere. The site off of a major road and clearly marked, but every street is one way and not that easy to navigate. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

No food or drink. The bookstore has a great deal of Poe’s works as well as books by other 19th-century authors.

COSTS (4/5)

There were two Rangers and an extremely helpful volunteer. Our experience was enhanced a tremendous amount by the generosity and knowledge of the staff.

Poe Has Damned Me!TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The intro film on Poe’s life was interesting, but it opened up just as many questions as it answered. A bland recreation of Poe’s life and works. But, we piggy-backed onto a Ranger-led tour of a 5th Grade class and it was wonderful. The Ranger told a ghost story in each room that mixed Poe’s stories with a little bit of history and background of both Poe’s life and the room itself. A spooky joy.

FUN (8/10)
We had a lot of fun. And if we had had more time (as well as an inclination to re-read Poe’s works) there was a lovely quiet reading room with all of Poe’s works.

I can’t imagine a museum about an author that could be more fun. And we’re not even big fans of Poe. Still, he only lived here for a year and none of the rooms have any furnishings, just stripped down walls. It is only a short bit north of the Independence NHP site and if you are able to get a Ranger-led tour your stay will be worth the trip to an industrial part of Philly.

TOTAL 49/80

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
NPS Park Site: Not an NPS Site
Local Website

The Pennsy CrewWHAT IS IT?
Brand new museum (opened July 4, 2003) dedicated to an explanation and education of the United States through its founding document, the Constitution.

BEAUTY (5/10)
A sleek white modern building, with part of the Constitution’s Preamble etched on the outside, the Center itself is more aesthetically appealing than the boxy brick Visitor Center across the street, but not appealing enough to merit much more than a five.

One could argue that the Constitution of the United States is the piece of paper that has held our country together for over 200 years. It deserves the honor and recognition bestowed upon it by this Center, which is independent of the National Parks Service.

CROWDS (7/10)
When we arrived late in the afternoon, we were the youngest people in the audience but I’m sure school groups and student tours packed the place before 3 p.m. There was ample room in the amphitheater, but we did have to wait our turn to get to some of the popular interactive displays.

Located right behind the ugly Visitor Center and lacking the security hassle, the Constitution Center by comparison, is quite accessible. The building is new so it is accessible to individuals with disabilities, more so than other sites in the area. Parking could be a problem.

The First Lady bobble head dolls on prominent display get a big thumbs up. Also a large selection of books and other Constitution memorabilia. What better way to celebrate our nation’s core document than with a shot glass?

Center ExteriorCOSTS (3/5)
The multimedia presentation which is the showcase of the Center cost $6.00 for adults. If you purchased over $100 at the Bookstore, you were given a free admission to the show. Since we took the bus, we don’t know what costs were involved for parking.

The site is independent of the National Parks Service so there are no NPS Rangers. When we entered early in the morning to get a basic idea about times and costs, there were several helpful staff at the Information Desk who supplied us with the maps we used for the rest of the day and gave us suggestions for other area attractions we might like to see while we waited for our turn to see Independence Hall. However, when we went later in the afternoon, few staff were present, other than the large gentleman who ushered us out of the amphitheater and pointed us in the direction of the interactive displays.

No doubt about it, the multimedia presentation with an actor delivering a monologue surrounded by images and film projected on the walls, floor and later a hexagonal screen which drops from the ceiling and engulfs him is impressive. It is Hollywood. We can’t stop thinking about how much it must have cost to put together this sleek production. That being said, it was effective and we were moved.

The interactive displays were not lacking in historical content and often went deeper than a surface summary. The Constitution Center does not shy away from the subject of slavery and its omission in the founding fathers’ document and contains displays where visitors can voice their opinions about current Constitutional questions, such as gay marriage and whether a foreign citizen should be able to become president of the United States, by way of Post It-notes.

Ben Franklin. What a Guy.FUN (8/10)
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Like we said, we were the youngest two people in the building when we went and everyone was having a good time – pressing buttons and touch sensitive computer screens, voting for the best president of all time, trying on Supreme Court Justice Robes and swearing themselves in as president of the United States. Kids will have a blast. We did.

Every person we met this week, when told we were going to Philadelphia, strongly recommended the Constitution Center to us. Above and beyond all other attractions and sites, this was the first place that came to their minds. The Constitution Center lived up to our expectations and kept us entertained and informed even after a very long and tiring morning.

TOTAL 59/80

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 23, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 3 of 353
Local Website

Why Such an Appalingly Low Score? Want More? Click Here for our In-Depth Independence NHP Story.

Security measure have changed since our 2004 visit. Ergo, New Review Coming Soon! Hopefully, the changes have brought a great improvement.

Long Wait at Independence HallWHAT IS IT?
Cordoned-off area of Independence Hall NHP that includes Independence Hall (site where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed); and Congress Hall (where the U.S. Legislature met from 1790 to 1800).

There are separate reviews for the Liberty Bell Center, the non-cordoned off buildings of Independence NHP and the National Constitution Center.

BEAUTY (2/10)
Nearly every view and sightline of the Federalist-style Independence Hall and Congress Hall is despoiled by security gates. The new home of the Liberty Bell is ugly and amounts to nothing more than a dressed up brick and glass warehouse.

Independence Hall is the most historically important site in the United States.

CROWDS (1/10)
Tons of people, even on a Tuesday. Crying babies and shrieking kids a plenty. Perhaps because they are bored. The crowds are so large that it gives the Rangers license to dumb down every lecture to the point of maddening condescension.

Parking difficult and expensive. We spent more time waiting in security lines than we did at the actual Liberty Bell and Independence Hall combined. Despite getting there at 9:30 a.m., we had to wait until Noon to get a tour. It was a good thing, too, because it required most of this time to a) figure out how to get around amidst all the security barriers; and b) make our way through the security lines.

A shockingly poor selection of books. The new Visitor Center is also ugly in the glass-brick warehouse sort of way.

COSTS (1/5)
Parking costs high. The sites were free but, unless you packed aspirin, the stress level and subsequent headache was unbearable.

Innumerable Rangers everywhere. None could answer a question. None were eager to help. Most were on security detail, and a disturbing number of those were either reading books or organizing their backpacks while dozens of tourists begged for help in their patrol area. Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.

We didn’t go to the movie that was provided at the Visitor Center because the prompter did not read its title, only “History Channel Presents”. Michael does not like History Channel presentations and finds it outrageous that millions were spent on the building of a new Visitor Center while the task of filming an explanatory video was outsourced. It is a good thing that we skipped the showing. If we had watched the film we would not have made it through the security checkpoints in time.

Much of the basic “factual information” recited by the Rangers at Independence Hall was historically wrong.

The Independence Hall tour was abysmal. 18 of the tour’s 30 minutes were spent in a small pseudo classroom. Yes. More time there than in the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. And the tour itself was horrible. Incorrect facts, dated theory, reprimands for looking at things not immediately discussed by the Ranger. Just horrible.

FUN (1/10)
Between the poor job by the Rangers, the long security lines, and the near strip search in 40 degree and windy weather, we had no fun at all.

Despite the negatives, it is still the most historically important site in the United States.

TOTAL 23/80

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Mark Twain House

Hartford, Conn.
Visited: March 28, 2004
NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site
Local Website

Mark Twain HomeWHAT IS IT?
Ornately and expensively decorated and designed 19-room house lived in by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and his family from 1874 to 1891.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Samuel Clemens married into money and contracted with a controversial architect to design the house in well-to-do Hartford, Conn. Unique features like twin chimneys for each of the 9 fireplaces inside, numerous porches, painted bricks and servants quarters which face the main street (to tick off the neighbors) add to the home’s eclectic charm. The interior is lovingly restored, with several original items. Stenciling and painted inlay on all of the walls and ceilings have been restored by a father and son team who have been working with the Twain house for over 30 years.

Samuel and his wife Olivia built this house to be their dream home. Is there a voice more American than Twain? As he told his admirers in Europe, “I am not an American. I am the American.”

The house itself has little historical value other than it perfectly reflects the irascible whimsy personified by Mark Twain.

CROWDS (6/10)
We were among a group of about 10 people.

Relatively easy to find from the highway. Individuals who have trouble walking will find it difficult to climb the three flights of stairs in the Twain house.

Expansive collection of Twain’s books available in paperback or more costly hardbound editions. Postcards were a little pricey.

COSTS (1/5)
Quite expensive. $16 per adult. If you’re a AAA member, you’ll receive a $1 discount from each ticket.

Fine. The interior of the house can only be seen as part of a tour.

Our tour guide clearly enjoyed talking about Samuel Clemens, his life and his work. All questions were held until the end of the tour, which made it difficult to remember the ones you wanted to ask. Nonetheless, every question that we had was answered within the tour monologue. Although the tour took over an hour, it did feel a bit rushed.

FUN (8/10)
Mark Twain is probably Michael’s favorite American author, but his preferences are known to change without much notice. He was going to be harsher in his critique than an open-minded tourist. Twain’s home most definitely delivers the goods. Twain’s literary personality is quite similar to the personality reflected in his house. This insightful window into Twain was more than fun for Michael. The stories told by the guide could have been much funnier, but we blame that on the guide’s timing not the stories themselves.

If you love Twain, you probably going to find a way to visit the site regardless. We sure did. If you’re not familiar with our nation’s greatest writer perhaps the personality of the house will motivate you to give him a read. Visiting the house is pricey, but Michael would not have missed it. We only wish that the smell of the house during Twain’s residency could be restored. Between Twain’s 25 cigars a day, 12 cats, 4 collies, 3 daughters, numerous visitors and all their night billiards binges, one can only imagine the glorious stench of exuberant life everywhere.

TOTAL 49/80

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