Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania’


The day before my birthday. And as you know, I am all about extending the celebration for a few days.

This year’s birthday weekend will be spent seeing this band in this city at a venue that just happens to be steps away from this National Historical Park. And in between visits to the Monk’s Cafe and seeing a very loud show, I am guessing I will know where to find Mr. Seed, who can’t resist a National Park site if it is within viewing range.

I wonder how much has changed since our first USA-C2C visit 5 years ago. We’ll be sure to let you know.


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I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they asked a very legitimate question, “where are you?”

liberty bell

liberty bell

Michael and I have been residing in Harrisburg, PA since we ended our trip in December 2005, just a few months ahead of schedule. Bags were unpacked, the ‘Tima got a car wash, items were pulled out of storage and a new home was found (a few blocks away from the old one).

Since then, one of us went back to work, one of us found a new job, we both wrote for a few other places, and in between we’ve gone back to some of our favorite park sites to give them a second look, like Independence Hall National Historical Park, the Liberty Bell and our beloved Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.

New sites were given National Park site designations since we created our original list, like the Carter G. Woodson House National Historic Site in Washington D.C. This was one of our final stops, but our visit was still a little premature. The African Burial Grounds National Memorial in New York is another newbie we have to add to our “still to see” list.

Did we reach our goal of Every. Single. NPS site in the Continental United States?


Did we reach our goal of rediscovering America and answering the question, “what, exactly, does it mean to be American?”

We’re not sure if America ever becomes a static answer, or if the discovery ever ends. We found a lot of different answers, and had the time of our lives trying.

And it ain’t over yet.

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Steadfast SoldierWhen we wrote about Gettysburg National Military Park in 2006, we admitted that it was indeed an “iconic American destination,” but warned you to wait until the new $100M Visitors Center opened in 2007-2008 to visit since the its “current infrastructure matches neither the area’s historical prominence nor its 2M people per year tourist influx.”

Since our review, a decision has been made on the proposed Gettysburg casino (no go), and the closed-for-much-needed renovations Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama is one step closer to opening.

Our local paper announced this week that “A grand opening celebration for the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama painting and the Gettysburg National Military Park visitor center/museum will take place in September.”

We also learned from the paper that a team of Polish experts were flown in from Gab’s former residence Wroclaw to head the cyclorama’s restoration. What do Poles know about cycloramas?

A lot.

Ryszard Wojtowicz, his wife, Danuta Drabik-Wojtowicz, sister, Wiktoria Wojtowicz-Janowska, and Wieslaw Kowalczyk worked on the preservation of Wroclaw’s own cyclorama, just as epic in size and relevance to its companion in Gettysburg, just as dilapidated before Wojtowicz’s team got to it. Wroclaw’s cyclorama, known to many simply as “The Panorama” depicts the Battle of Raclawice, “a famous episode of the Kosciuszko Insurrection, a heroic but in the end fallen attempt to defend Polish independence.”

(You already know how we feel about Kosciuszko.)

So, September’s grand openings will certainly necessitate a new visit and a new review to Gettysburg. In the meantime, click here to read what we wrote in 2006.

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Bishop White House; Carpenters’ Hall; Christ Church; City Tavern; Declaration House; First Bank of the United States; Franklin Court; Free Quaker Meeting House; Independence Living History Center; Merchants’ Exchange Building; New Hall Military Museum; Philosophical Hall; Second Bank of the United States; Todd House; Washington Square
Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 23, 2004
Second Visit: December 1,2005
Third Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 3 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Carpenter's HallWHAT IS IT?
Independence NHP is a collection Old City Philadelphia buildings, museums, cemeteries and parks that commemorate events and people who were integral in the creation of the United States. This review covers the 15 Independence NHP sites whose entry requires no security check and no entry fee. Scroll down for a short synopsis of the sites covered here. There are separate reviews for the Liberty Bell Center, the Independence Hall complex and the National Constitution Center.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The mixture of red-brick Federal, white stone Greek Revival and stately white Federal architectures all set amidst open green park space and cobblestone streets is a perfect enscapsulation of the Founding Fathers’ worldly understandings and lofty aspirations. Their 18th century residences, meeting places and streets speak of English roots but their banks and post-Revolution contructions aim for equality with the Greek and Roman civilizations of antiquity.

Even without the inclusion of Independence Hall, the historical significance of these 15 sites is unmatched by any collection of buildings throughout the United States. Nearly every American Age of Enlightenment-era idea originated or first appeared in the western hemisphere within these grounds: the museum, the post office, centralized banking, the fire station, electricity, meteorology, the library, the philosophical society. It is no underestimation to state that American thought and the idea of the United States began here.

With that came the Declaration of Independence and the shattering of the monarchic inevitability, the notion of democracy and self rule. It all happened here. The First Continental Congress took place in Carpenter’s Hall, these revolutionaries walked and discussed violent rebellion in these same streets, lived in these buildings, wrote the Declaration of Independence here, ate in the City Tavern, lounged on these lawns and changed the world in Old City Philadelphia.

CROWDS (7/10)
Less tourist traffic means more Ranger attention for those who venture outside the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Portrait WallEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
I-676 and I-95 both drop you off in the center of Old Town Philly. Independence Hall is located on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Street. Most of these 15 sites are located within six L-shaped blocks of each other beginning in the north at Arch Street, turning eastward at 6th and Chestnut and ending at 2nd and Walnut. Many of the connecting alleyways and sidestreets are cobblestone and could prove difficult to maneuver.

Independence NHP’s biggest deficiency is that it is not as tourist friendly as Boston’s Freedom Trail. Boston NHP strings the visitor to its attractions via a painted path. Independence NHP tells you to first go to its Visitor Center and to sort it out from there. As a result, the visitor goes to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall but forgets about these 15 sites; sites that could rightly claim to be America’s real Freedom Trail. It is also difficult to discern which Old City Philadelphia buildings are part of Independence NHP and which buildings are unaffiliated and privately-run museums. If you do not arrive with a plan, the Park could get confusing and overwhelming.

These 15 buildings also have variant and often vexing operating hours. Many are open only from Wednesday through Sunday with limited hours. Plan your visit accordingly; we would not come here on a Monday or Tuesday.

The Park’s bookstore is a stand-alone entity located in the Georgian brick Pemberton House on Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets. The store sells a good selection of books but nowhere near the definitive choice that the definitive American history site should have.

We enjoyed our City Tavern visit immensely. Our favorite part was the Yards Brewery ales which are brewed only for the City Tavern. These beers (the Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, the George Washington Porter and the Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce) styles are historically accurate and based on the recipes of our Founding Fathers! And they taste good too. If spirit imbibing is not your thing, the Tavern’s lunch and dinner menus are just as historically exacting and just as scrumptious.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry into all of these buildings is free. Carpenter’s Hall, Philosopher’s Hall and Christ Church are still privately owned and all three ask for donations.

There is a series of parking lots and garages in the Independence NHP vicinity. You will end up paying somewhere between $10 and $20 for a full day. Discount parking validation at the Independence Visitor Center or National Constutition Center is a possibility. Metered and free two-hour street parking south of the Sites is possible but could prove difficult.

Dining at the City Tavern is pricey but a fun and historical experience.

During his 2005 visit, Michael spent a wonderful hour plus at Philosophical Hall openly discussing some of his more unorthodox American history theories. The American Philosophical Society guide was more than willing to contribute some of her own left-field ideas. The two jabbered on and on like long lost relatives. Michael only left in order to beat the rush hour traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway…and to find his wife who was seven blocks away at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

We encountered the same engaging historical conversation with a Carpenter’s Hall docent, Independence Living History Center archeologists (on two occasions) and at the Declaration House. We did not take the Ranger-led only tour of the Bishop White House and Todd House but are confident it elicits the same sort of graduate level talk. Who else but history buffs would tour these buildings?

Andrew Jackson Hates MeTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The terrific staff found throughout these buildings is the key to any educational visit. If you don’t engage the docents and Rangers on duty, many of your learning experiences will be underwhelming. The NPS museums at Franklin Court, the New Hall Military Museum and the Declaration House are dated and/or in disrepair.

Thankfully, you don’t have to look hard to find terrific museums.

The small American Philosophical Society museum is stellar and rotates its exhibits yearly. The 2007 exhibit has yet to be revealed but 2005’s amazing display included the only original Declaration of Independence printed on vellum, William Penn’s Charter of Privileges and the first stored and printed computer program. The other treasures on display were just as incredible.

Equally incredible is the newly reopened Portrait Gallery located in the Second Bank of the United States. The nearly 200 portraits on display put a face on the patriots, thinkers, soldiers and historical figures honored at the Park. The skillful Charles Willson Peale characterizations reveal the personalities and thoughts of 18th-century America.

FUN (8/10)
For anyone who loves American history, these 15 sites are paradise. They are a shining American treasure. They don’t have the obligatory feel of the Liberty Bell or the security-addled confusion of Independence Hall. You can experience their wonder at your leisure and either by yourself or with the aid of similarly minded guides. Your time here won’t be force-fed and might be too brainy for the casual tourist.

There is so much to see at this Site. So much history and so much detail. We have been here three times in three years and have not covered everything. Each building offers untold gems and, with your proactive imagination, an adventure that transports you back in time to the American creation.

TOTAL 65/80

Independence NHP’s Less-Famous Sites

Sorted by our order-of-visit priority.

Second Bank of the United States – From 1816-1832 was the most significant bank in the world. Was the center of Andrew Jackson’s attack on the National bank. Currently is a portrait gallery whose collection composed America’s first museum.

Carpenters’ Hall – Site of the First Continental Congress. Site of first American lending library. Original site of the Bank of the United States, the world’s first central bank not owned by a monarch.

Franklin CourtFranklin Court – Site of the only home Benjamin Franklin ever owned, his residence during the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress and his place of death.

Philosophical Hall – Home of Ben Franklin’s American Philosophical Society, America’s most remarkable collective of Age of Enlightenment scientific thinkers.

Independence Living History Center – Working archeology center.

First Bank of the United States – Exemplary example of Greek Revival architecture and perhaps the first American building built with a classical facade. Alexander Hamilton’s highly controversial Bank of the United States moved here from Carpenter’s Hall in 1797 shortly after the Bank’s expensive contruction. The First Bank is not open to the public.

Christ Church – Burial ground for Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush and countless other significant Americans.

Declaration House – House where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

City Tavern – Tavern where the Founding Fathers ate that has been restored to its Revolution-era appearance. The tavern serves authentic period food.

Bishop White House – House restored to show upper-class Philadelphia life during the time of the Revolution.

Todd House – 1791-93 home of future first lady Dolley Madison.

New Hall Military Museum – Site of the first Department of War.

Merchants’ Exchange Building – Important example of Greek Revival architecture.

Free Quaker Meeting House – Meeting House of the fighting Quakers; dissident Friends who broke from their church’s pacifist principles during the Revolution.

Washington Square – Site of the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War soldier.

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 23, 2004
Second Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 3 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Multilingual LibertiesWHAT IS IT?
The one ton, 70% copper, 30% tin and 100% cracked symbol of liberty and freedom.

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

BEAUTY (5/10)
The instantly recognizable Liberty Bell with its creviced exterior and orginial elm tree yoke hangs in perpertuity in a glass-sided gallery that composes the southern extreme of the newly constructed Liberty Bell Center and looks out onto Independence Hall. The Bell’s front faces inward and is spared the constant taunts of its much more beautiful former home. The warehouse-like Liberty Bell Center’s long and narrow shape is more utilitarian than attractive and unworthy of its iconic tenant.

One of Michael’s cheerfully cantankerous University sociology professors once explained that the most powerful ideas are abstractions; concepts that, while somehow real, have no discernable definition and are completely reliant on emotions and individual belief systems. Symbolic icons are often attached to these abstractions in order to allow us a firmer grip on the mysterious. The Liberty Bell is one of America’s most lasting representations of itself and a symbol of the idealized notions of the American Revolution: liberty, freedom and independence.

What is Liberty? What is Freedom? We are sure everyone has different answers. What object symbolizes freedom and liberty to you? We’re guessing the Liberty Bell comes to mind.

The actual history and importance of the Liberty Bell’s role in American independence is tricky. It is impossible to separate the facts from the legends. What is known, however, is that the bell first became known as the Liberty Bell in the 1830’s, over 50 years after the American Revolution. Its name not bestowed by patriotic veterans or romantic poets but by New England abolitionists intent on connecting the abstract 1776 beliefs of freedom and liberty with their anti-slavery cause. Just as in the 1830’s, the Liberty Bell means more today as a symbol and a pop culture icon than it does as an historic entity.

CROWDS (5/10)
The Center’s narrow design does not handle tourists particularly well. All the exhibits are stuffed along the Center’s eastern wall while the western half of the building appears unused. The design crowds people together and, as a result, every exhibit panel we wanted to read already had someone in front of it.

I-676 and I-95 both drop you off in the center of Old Town Philly. The Liberty Bell Center is located at the corner of Chestnut and 6th Streets. The Center’s north-south length stretches almost an entire city block.

There is a series of parking lots and garages in the Liberty Bell Center vicinity. You will end up paying somewhere between $10 and $20 for a full day. Discount parking validation at the Independence Visitor Center or National Constutition Center is a possibility. Metered and free two-hour street parking is possible but could prove difficult.

During our 2004 visit, we waited almost 15 minutes in the Liberty Bell Center’s security line while a Chinese tourist was searched thoroughly. Our 2006 stop saw a great improvement. The lines moved rapidly and the number of outsourced Wackenhut security guards seemed to be cut in half.

The Independence Visitor Center’s ample square footage hosts a good array of Liberty Bell and American Independence-themed trinkets.

COSTS (4/5)
Seeing the Liberty Bell is free, free, free.

There is one Ranger steadfastly posted next to the Liberty Bell, presumably answering “No, the Bell will never be rung again” and “Yes, this is the original Liberty Bell” twenty times every hour. We are also guessing that same Ranger takes a lot of photos and stops countless people from touching the Bell. The Ranger’s presence encourages questions that can be easily overheard by other visitors. Given the Bell’s popularity, however, more on-site Rangers would be nice.

We enjoyed the collages of the Liberty Bell as symbol throughout the ages. The panels make it clear that the Liberty Bell as icon and legend are, and always have been, much bigger than the actual object or the functions it carried out.

FUN (5/10)
We are always underwhelmed by the Liberty Bell especially when we compare it to the other Old City Philadelphia attractions. It’s just a bell. The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence formed the physical, philosophical and administrative basis for United States. They were written across the street. They are not theories or abstractions. They are events. The story about the Liberty Bell ringing after the Declaration’s ratification isn’t even true! We have also never understood why an oversized, occupationally deficient and permanently flawed bell has come to symbolize America and its freedoms. Shouldn’t those things be represented by something that works?

If you come to Philly, you have to see the Liberty Bell. It is your obligation. The security hassles have been improved and you should be in and out in no time flat.

TOTAL 50/80

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Philadelphia, Pa.
Visited: March 24, 2004
Second Visit: December 7, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 5 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website

Want More? Read About Our Phun-Philled 2004 Philadelphia Phoray.
Click Here for the In-Depth Recount of that Day.

Small townhouse where Kosciuszko (pronounced kosh-CHOOSH-koh) lived in the winter of 1797-98 after his exile from Poland.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The Kosciuszko House is one of many quaint Federal-style redbrick houses in Philadelphia’s charming Society Hill neighborhood. Its corner lot, well-maintained exterior and adjoining cobblestone streets scream “I am worth a ridiculously high price per square foot.”

During Gab’s first days as an English teacher in Poland, her students asked for her thoughts on Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Gab’s sheepish reply was “Who?”

Her students vociferously responded, “You do not know Kosciuszko!?! He saved your country!” Their fantastic conclusion holds much merit in romanticized legend-making Revolutionary War retellings. Kosciuszko was one of a handful of young, brilliant Age of Enlightenment values-driven Europeans who aided the American Revolution through military, intellectual and spiritual means. Both he and the Marquis de La Fayette returned to their respective countries post-American Revolution with the aim of spreading our new nation’s liberal democratic ideas to their homelands.

Kosciuszko arrived in the Colonies in August of 1776, a 30-year-old military engineer who had been living in Paris. The Park Brochure states that he traveled across the Atlantic on his own spontaneous accord, wrapped up in the fever of the colonial uprising. Other reports say that Benjamin Franklin recruited his services while in Paris. In October 1776 Kosciuszko was named head engineer of the Continental Army.

From there the legend grows. Kosciuszko’s engineering genius allowed for a successful retreat at Fort Ticonderoga, an historically monumental victory at Saratoga and the successful creation of a Hudson River fortress stronghold at West Point. More of Kosciuszko’s handiwork can be seen at the Ninety Six Battlefield in South Carolina.

Kosciuszko returned to Poland in 1784 where he helped write the Polish Constitution, modern Europe’s first, and was named Commander in Chief of the Polish Army. From 1792-94, Kosciuszko successfully defended Poland against a 100,000-soldier strong Russian Invasion, winning every battle. The Polish King, however, surrendered to the Russians. Intrigue, treaties and confusion abounded. In late 1794, the Kosciuszko Uprising, a last-ditch attempt to expel the Russian influence, failed and Tadeusz was imprisoned in Siberia.

KosciuszkoIn 1797, Tadeusz was freed and exiled to the United States. Where did he live? Right here in Philadelphia at Pine and 3rd, just blocks from Independence Hall. He lived here for less than a year before returning to Europe with plans to free Poland.

If you are of Polish decent this rating could be higher. In fact, we think we may have upped it a little bit already.

CROWDS (6/10)
No one. While it would have been nice to have seen someone else, more people would have made the Site’s four tiny rooms unbearably cramped. At approximately 900 square feet, this Site is the NPS’s smallest. In 2005, the Kosciuszko House averaged 16 visitors per day so all Revolutionary War buffs of Polish descent suffering from claustrophobia can be sure of a fear-free visit.

In 2004, we scratched our brave Altima’s left front while parallel parking into a too-small space.

In 2006, there were at least a half-dozen open spaces in a one-block radius. “We’ve got two hours of free parking, Gab. Want to go to Independence NHP? It’s only a few blocks away.” “Uh, no. That wasn’t in the plan.” “Well then, it’s settled. Let’s see the Liberty Bell.” And we did. And we had fun, says Michael.

The Kosciuszko House has shortened its operating hours in the last year. Its door is now open from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Even so, pull hard. We found the door defiantly locked at 12:30 p.m. until a Ranger unlatched it and let us in.

The few Kosciuszko-related knickknacks for sale were wholly unmemorable.

Sadly, the wonderful six Kosciuszko lithographs designed by Art Institute of Philadelphia students and on display inside the House are not for sale. We got some good pictures, however, and they might soon adorn our apartment walls despite the Park’s shortsightedness.

COSTS (4/5)
Totally free.

Ranger to Tourist Ratio: High.

Ranger Interest to Tourist Interest Ratio: Very Low.

Both our 2004 and 2006 visits revealed a less-than-enthusiastic on-duty Ranger with minimal Kosciuszko knowledge and an I’ve-just-been-sent-to-National-Park-purgatory look on their face. Perhaps they’re just lonely from only seeing 16 visitors per day.

KosciuszkoTOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
Little effort has gone into the educational offerings at this tiny Site. The 1970’s-produced cartoon film is action-filled campy fun but begins and ends with Kosciuszko’s Revolutionary War exploits. We wanted more information on the Polish Constitution, the Kosciuszko Uprising and Tadeusz’s dealings with Napoleon. Since the Park brochure and other handouts are printed in both English and Polish, we are guessing other visitors want more background info too.

The Site’s marquee (or is it marquis) attraction is Kosciuszko’s recreated boarding house bedroom, stuffed with period furniture, symbolic items and sequestered behind bullet-proof glass. A push-button tape recording dispenses a general recap of the bedroom’s contents. A Ranger-led recap would have been nice; it’s not like they are overwhelmed with visitors or a sprawling mansion.

FUN (5/10)
Kosciuszko is our favorite Revolutionary War hero. He is dashing, he is a military genius and he is Polish. Every Kosciuszko statue, every Kosciuszko-named town and every Kosciuszko-related Park Site makes us giddy. We love you dear Tadeusz. You saved our country.

This Site is only for fellow Kosciuszko enthusiasts. His exploits are better understood at the battle sites. Saratoga NHP shows his unparalleled strategic genius while Ninety Six reveals his subtle artistic eye and unorthodox creativity.

After reading this review, has your passion for Kosciuszko reached an uncontrollable ecstasy? If yes, then get to Philly soon! The Ranger told us that the House will soon undergo renovations and, perhaps, a multi-year closure.

TOTAL 36/80

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Gettysburg, Pa.
Visited: April 9, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 283 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Steadfast SoldierSite of the most famous battle fought on United States soil. The dramatic Civil War fight occurred from July 1-3, 1863 and took more than 50,000 casualties.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Over the last fifteen years, groups like the Friends of the National Park at Gettysburg in accordance with the NPS have slowly but surely worked to bring the battlefield back to its 1863 appearance and feel. The most famous two removals were the Stuckey’s Restaurant that once sat in the middle of Pickett’s Charge’s route and the 307-foot monstrosity known as the Gettysburg National Tower that disturbed horizons in all directions.

Currently, there is nothing to upset the views of the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside other than 1,300 granite monuments and 400+ cannons. The biggest and the best Civil War memorials are here at Gettysburg. Do not let the Chickamauga or Vicksburg people tell you otherwise. The best of the best is, of course, the towering ivory white Pennsylvania Memorial, which sort of looks like the arc de triomphe topped with a dome upon which stands Nike, the winged goddess of victory.

Throughout his schooling, Michael never understood the oft-quoted metaphor of Gettysburg being the high tide of the Confederacy. His teachers would point to the ground where Pickett’s charge ended and say, “Look, right here is the high tide.” He gets it now, sees the powerful imagery but only grudgingly agrees with this eastern-theater-centric vision of the Civil War.

The historical strength of Gettysburg lies in metaphor and symbolic imagery. The ebbs and flows of the battle itself encapsulate the tidal patterns of the war as a whole. The battle was fought over three scorching hot days and saw the most casualties of any fight in American history. Once battle ended, the skies emptied and it rained a deluge. It was July 4th, the day of American Independence.

Four months later, on November 19, Abraham Lincoln came to the former battleground to dedicate the National Cemetery. His speech, the Gettysburg Address, is known to all Americans and memorized by most middle school students.

Virginia MonumentCROWDS (3/10)
An early April Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m. to be exact. We thought we would elude the crowds. No siree Bob. Busload after busload of people were being dropped off and parking spaces around the Visitor Center were hard to find. What summer must bring!

The battlefield auto tour was thick with bumper-to-bumper traffic. We should have walked.

The current Gettysburg NMP Visitor Center is located just south of downtown Gettysburg along Pa. Route 134 (Taneytown Road), a few miles from U.S. Route 15. If you do not have a map, the easiest entry is from the south. The Pa. Route 134 exit will take you directly north for about 2 miles. The VC is on your left.

Gettysburg, Pa. is located along U.S. Route 15, a pleasant 90 minute drive north of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The nearest beautiful metropolis is Harrisburg, a quick 40 mile jaunt to the northeast. So if your coming to Gettysburg, also make the trip to Harrisburg. Give us a call and we will show you the ins and outs of our fair city.

The Gettysburg Battlefield is comparatively easy to maneuver. The fighting took place over three days, but much of it was isolated within a three-mile radius. You will not be driving to the ends of the earth like at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Richmond and Petersburg.

What if they built a bookstore, stocked it with every imaginable Civil War book and frequently brought in authors to sign and discuss their works. Doesn’t that sound great? Now, what if they stuffed said bookstore with triple the room’s capacity making it impossible to walk around the store and browse the collection. Well, that is Gettysburg.

Existentially, do the books even exist if you can’t get to them?

Explosive BeautyCOSTS (2/5)
The website boasts that entry into the Gettysburg NMP is “free of charge”. True, but the electric map costs $4 per person. The Gettysburg NMP is the only battlefield in the NPS that charges for its electric map presentation, which is easily the worst electric map we have ever seen. Couldn’t they have replaced the burnt-out bulbs?

“Licensed Battlefield Guide” tours run anywhere from $45-$135 depending on the number of people in your party. We did not begin to research this option. There are no free guided Ranger tours at Gettysburg. Guided auto-tour cassette tapes cost between $10 and $15. If you intend to learn anything at the Park, it could get expensive.

The day after our visit, April 9, 2006, the local newspaper, the Gettysburg Times, wrote that federal budget cuts to the National Park Service would mean probable job losses for at least three Park Rangers. In the past ten years, federal budget cuts have forced Gettysburg NMP to fire 12 full-time staff members and 24 part-timers. In those same ten years, the Park has seen nearly 20 million visitors. The visitation rate has not declined. These stories regarding Gettysburg NMP has become so commonplace that the Harrisburg paper does not cover them any longer.

While federal NPS jobs are being cut, a much needed new $100M Museum and Visitor Center is being built less than a half-mile from the current location. “How could this be?” we wondered. Like Mount Rushmore N MEM’s new VC construction, the building is being built entirely through private funds. Private funding, private building initiatives and self-guided learning are the future of the National Park Service. Educational Park Rangers are a thing of the past.

Luckily, we did find one Ranger lurking among the help desk with dozens of volunteers. He answered a few of our questions about the new Museum before having to stop because of a barrage of other tourists’ questions. They all wanted to know where they could get something to eat.

Admittedly, one person per every group touring the Battlefield carries himself like an expert. Hands pointing, pompous posture and a know-it-all gleam. It is almost like being at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. So if you do have a Civil War question, just cozy on up to the tourists next to you and ask them. There is a high probability that one of them is dressed as a Civil War soldier. We are sure they would be pleased to answer your question.

The best part about the tours/classes at Gettysburg NMP is that a new Museum will be opening up in the near future.

In the mean time, buy one of the 18 million books written about July 1-3, 1863.

What Are You Looking At?FUN (6/10)

The great thing about Gettysburg NMP is that it is possible to walk much of the battlefield in one day’s time. About three years ago, we walked down the third day Union line, across the field where Pickett’s charge occurred, down the Confederate line, through the Peach Orchard, Devils Den and the Wheatfield, up Big Round Top and Little Round Top and back to the Visitor Center. That is everything right there.

This year we drove the same area; felt rushed, crowded and did not enjoy our trip nearly as much. If you have the time and the stamina, we suggest walking. You won’t shed the crowds physically but you may be able to separate yourself from them mentally. Your concentration can focus on the battle, the troop movements and the historical impact rather than worrying about finding a parking space and the slow driver in front of you.

The Gettysburg NMP is an iconic American destination and the crowds are commensurately large. Sadly, the current infrastructure matches neither the area’s historical prominence nor its 2M people per year tourist influx. The new $100M VC set to open in 2007-08 should fix the situation. We say wait until then to come.

Right now, the museum is bad, the cyclorama is closed for renovations, the crowds are thick and the Ranger help is small. And who knows, perhaps by 2008 there will have been a decision made regarding the proposed Gettysburg casino. Video poker, slot machines, old town Gettysburg, Abe Lincoln, brother fighting brother and the turning point in the Civil War = fun for all.

TOTAL 48/80

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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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