The last couple of days of my trip around the world
10.06.2013 - 11.06.2013 28 °C
My final full day on my trip around the world had arrived . It was tempting to have a day of rest but instead I decided to get the train to Philadelphia to finally visit the US Mint. It was my third attempt (!) as it had been closed last time I had been in town and I had been unable to book a tour of the mint's facility in Denver.
The US Mint in Philadelphia was established in 1792 and describes itself as "the largest coin factory in the world". Inside there was a small museum on the mezzanine before a self-guided tour above the vast shop floor where I saw machines blank, anneal and strike strips of copper and nickel turning them into coins. Unfortunately as with the Federal Bureau of Printing and Engraving I saw in Washington (who are responsible for printing US bank notes) photography was not allowed inside the Mint itself for security reasons.
My next stop was the National Constitution Center, a state-of-the-art museum devoted to the US Constitution and about the only place left I hadn't visited in Independence Park in downtown Philadelphia after my previous two visits. The tour started with a 17 minute multi-media theatre-in-the-round show called "Freedom Rising" before moving on to a ring of interactive exhibits explaining different facets of it and its history. Unfortunately photography was again forbidden apart from for the final exhibit called Signers' Hall which contained 42 bronze statues of the original signatories of the Constitution - the seated statue of Benjamin Franklin stole the show!
It was now time to brave the rather wet weather and make my way down to Penn's Landing on the River Delaware waterfront which is where Philadelphia's founder William Penn originally docked in 1682. Today it's a pretty bland area of concrete and car parks cut off from the city by the I-95 Freeway but it did include Philadelphia's Irish Memorial, a 30 foot long bronze opened to the public in 2003 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine. The Scottish Immigrant Memorial was unveiled close by in 2011.
However what I really wanted to see at Penn's Landing was the historic ships at the Independence Seaport Museum. First up was the USS Becuna, an American World War II Balao-class submarine original built in 1944. She did 5 combat patrols before the end of the war during which she sank 2 Japanese tankers before being serving in the Atlantic during the Cold War and eventually being decommissioned in 1969.
In total there were 122 Balao-class submarines built, the largest class of submarines ever built for the US Navy. The USS Becuna is one of 8 Balao-class submarines distributed around the USA as museum ships and the third submarine I had been aboard during my trip; the others were the HMAS Ovens in Freemantle, Western Australia and the Soviet b-427 'Scorpion' in Long Beach, California, both of which were of Cold War vintage.
However pride of place at the Independence Seaport Museum goes to the USS Olympia which I could see across the River Delaware when I visited the USS New Jersey in Camden a fortnight before. Built in San Francisco and launched in 1892, the USS Olympia was famously Commodore George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War of 1892 and is the oldest steel US warship still afloat.
The USS Olympia is painted in the US Navy's catchy pre-dreadnought peacetime colour scheme of a white hull with ochre superstructure. As a result of their colour scheme the US fleet of the time was often referred to as the 'Great White Fleet'; during wartime US warships were re-painted medium sea grey. The late 19th century was a time of rapid evolution in warship design and the small wooden wheelhouse with the majority of the guns being in casements below deck rather than rotating turrets above deck feels very antiquated when compared with only slightly later warships.
Below deck the USS Olympia was equally dated with the rear of the ship consisting of a wooden panelled central salon surrounded by 16 staterooms and ward room collectively known as 'Officer's Country'. Rank and file crew members slept in hammocks slung up amongst the working areas at the front of the ship with the big copper cooking pots used for cooking in the galley echoing a bygone age.
Docked in front of the USS Olympia is the Moshulu, a four-masted steel barque built on the River Clyde in Scotland in 1904. It's not part of the Independence Seaport Museum and is currently used as a floating restaurant.
Close by is Welcome Park, a concrete plaza opened in 1982 on the 300th anniversary of the founding of Pennsylvania by William Penn. The park sits on the site of William Penn's house between 1699-1701 and is named after the ship that brought him to America. In the centre of the plaza is a bronze scale model of his statue on top of Philadelphia's impressive Town Hall.
It was now time to catch the train back from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. However this time instead of waiting in the impressive central waiting room used for AMTRAK trains (such as the one I caught to Washington the week before) I was catching the local SEPTA train to Trenton.
Back in Trenton we had time for one last excursion to Princeton to look around its famous university. Princeton University was founded in 1746 and is one of the eight members of the renowned 'Ivy League' along with Harvard and Yale. Although not as old, strolling amongst the old buildings on the campus reminded me of walking around the colleges of Oxford University back home. The centrepiece and oldest building on the campus is Nassau Hall built in 1756 which was briefly used by the US Congress and therefore served as the country's capitol for 4 months in 1783. Further buildings such as Chancellor Green and East Pyne Hall were added from the early 1800s.
The following day we visited Princeton again on the way to the airport for my final flight home hoping to get some more photographs but the campus was closed off because of a bomb scare!