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Independence Hall Philadelphia

America's most historic square mile

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The first city my family took me to visit on the US East Coast was Philadelphia and in particular the L-shaped group of downtown city blocks that make up the Independence National Historic Park and contains many of the key the historical buildings from the time of the American Revolution. Having parked underneath the Independence Visitor Center and made our way past our first Benjamin Franklin look-a-like, I got my first view of Independence Hall ...with a group of Chinese looking people surreally performing Falun Dafa on the lawn out front trying to attract new recruits!

My first view of downtown Philadelphia

My first view of downtown Philadelphia


The Independence Visitor Center and National Constitution Center in Independence Park

The Independence Visitor Center and National Constitution Center in Independence Park


My first view of Independence Hall

My first view of Independence Hall


'Falun Dafa' being performed on the lawn in front of Independence Hall

'Falun Dafa' being performed on the lawn in front of Independence Hall

Our first stop however was to see the famously cracked Liberty Bell which has become an iconic symbol of freedom. The bell was originally made in London and hung in the then State House (now Independence Hall) in 1753 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania's constitution with the inscription from the Bible Leviticus 25:10 "Proclaim Liberty through all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof". The bell was only tolled for important occasions (most notably for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776) but became cracked sometime between 1817 and 1846 and after several attempts to repair it hasn't been rung since.

X-rays of the Liberty Bell showing its famous crack

X-rays of the Liberty Bell showing its famous crack


The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell


Me stood by the Liberty Bell with Independence Hall through the window behind me

Me stood by the Liberty Bell with Independence Hall through the window behind me

The centrepiece of the National Park is Independence Hall itself, a world heritage site and a lovely example of Georgian Quaker architecture. Although free to get in (as are most government owned heritage buildings) we needed timed tickets that had to be booked several days earlier. Our tour began with a talk in the East Wing explaining the historical context (as a Brit I was surprised how the American Revolution was portrayed as something few really wanted and was stumbled into almost as a last resort).

Independence Hall

Independence Hall


Washington's Statue outside Independence Hall

Washington's Statue outside Independence Hall


Plaque commemorating Independence Hall as 'The Birthplace of the United States of America'

Plaque commemorating Independence Hall as 'The Birthplace of the United States of America'


Horse and Carriage passing the front of Independence Hall

Horse and Carriage passing the front of Independence Hall

We were than taken into the main building underneath the white clock tower and shown the Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and then the Assembly Room itself (which is where everything happened - George Washington appointed Commander-in-Chief 1775, Declaration of Independence adopted 1776 and a lot more besides).

Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Courtroom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court


Independence Hall Assembly Room - where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776

Independence Hall Assembly Room - where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776

Behind Independence Hall is Independence Square which is where first public reading of the Declaration of Independence happened in 1776. In the middle of the square is statue of John Barry, born in Wexford (Ireland) in 1745 he was the first captain of a US warship and is credited with being "The Father of the American Navy" (an epithet sometimes also used for John Paul Jones).

The back of Independence Hall from Independence Square

The back of Independence Hall from Independence Square


Replica of Stretch's 1753 Clock on the west end of Independence Hall

Replica of Stretch's 1753 Clock on the west end of Independence Hall


Commodore Barry's Statue and the back of Independence Hall in Independence Square

Commodore Barry's Statue and the back of Independence Hall in Independence Square

We then hoped to visit Congress Hall on the west side of Independence Square (which is where the US Congress met between 1790 and 1800) but there was quite a long wait until the next tour so I decided to cover this off when I was due to visit Philadelphia again a bit later on my trip. Instead we had a look around the West Wing of Independence Hall which is where original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States are on display.

The West Wing of Independence Hall from Independence Square with the Congress Hall just beyond

The West Wing of Independence Hall from Independence Square with the Congress Hall just beyond


Copy of the Declaration of Independence inside the West Wing - no flash allowed!

Copy of the Declaration of Independence inside the West Wing - no flash allowed!


Inkpots used to sign the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution

Inkpots used to sign the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution

The final historic site we passed was Franklin Court which consists of a row of five restored tenement shops, three of which were originally built by Benjamin Franklin in the 1780s. They lead onto a courtyard where Benjamin Franklin's house itself once stood which has an underground museum filled with artifacts associated with him but we didn't have time to go in and see it. Amongst the restored tenement shops is a 18th century printing shop - similar to Franklin's own business, a postal museum and a real US post office - the only one in the country that does not fly the US flag as it didn't yet exist when it first opened in 1775.

Franklin Court Market Street Houses

Franklin Court Market Street Houses


The US Post Office at Franklin Court

The US Post Office at Franklin Court

We then went on an unsuccessful quest to find somewhere I could try the local fast food known as a Philly Cheesesteak before my 2 hour train journey from Trenton into New York to see an exhibition soccer match at the Yankee Stadium. That dubious culinary delight will have to wait for me until another time!

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged museums city chinese philadelphia us_east_coast constitutions Comments (0)

USS New Jersey

Exploring a WWII Iowa Class Battleship in Camden New Jersey

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I'd seen the WWII Battleship USS Idaho (BB-61) moored up at Long Beach in California during our visit to the Queen Mary but she was closed by the time we got to her so I was hoping there would be a chance to look around one of her sister ships when I got to the US East Coast. Sure enough there was and we went to see the USS New Jersey (BB-62) moored at Camden opposite Philadelphia on the Delaware River.

USS New Jersey (BB-62) at Camden

USS New Jersey (BB-62) at Camden


Philadelphia and the Ben Franklin Bridge as seen from the USS New Jersey moored at Camden

Philadelphia and the Ben Franklin Bridge as seen from the USS New Jersey moored at Camden


Close up of the Philadelphia skyline from the USS New Jersey across the Delaware River at Camden

Close up of the Philadelphia skyline from the USS New Jersey across the Delaware River at Camden


The USS Olympia and Moshulu moored across the Delaware River at Penns Landing in Philadelphia

The USS Olympia and Moshulu moored across the Delaware River at Penns Landing in Philadelphia

The USS New Jersey was the second (of four) Iowa Class Battleships built for the US Navy during World War II and served in the Pacific 1944-1945, much of it as flagship for Fleet Admiral William Halsey. She went on to serve in Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1967-1969) and the Lebanese Civil War (1983-1984) before finally being decommissioned in 1991 and becoming a museum ship at Camden in 2000. With the award of a total of 19 battle and campaign stars during her career the USS New Jersey is the most decorated battleship ever in the US Navy.

Inside one of the forward gun turrets aboard the USS New Jersey

Inside one of the forward gun turrets aboard the USS New Jersey


The captain's in-port cabin aboard the USS New Jersey

The captain's in-port cabin aboard the USS New Jersey


A corridor of bulkhead doors below deck aboard the USS New Jersey

A corridor of bulkhead doors below deck aboard the USS New Jersey


Helsey-era Chief of Staff Stateroom aboard the USS New Jersey

Helsey-era Chief of Staff Stateroom aboard the USS New Jersey

After a brief look inside of one of the main forward gun turrets and various officer cabins (complete with dummies) we entered the dimly lit Operations Room full of TV screens, computer consoles and sonar/radar displays as well as several grease-pencil annotated transparent plotting boards - just like something out of a film such as the USS Missouri in Steven Seagal's 1992 film "Under Siege".

Inside the Operations Room aboard the USS New Jersey

Inside the Operations Room aboard the USS New Jersey


The Operations Room in more usual dimly lit mode (i.e. without the camera flash!)

The Operations Room in more usual dimly lit mode (i.e. without the camera flash!)

From the Operations Room the red and yellow lines on the floor we were asked to follow next took us outside onto the Bridge where I was able to sit in the chair used by Admiral Halsey when he commanded the US Third Fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.

Me sat in Admiral Helsey's chair on the Navigation Bridge aboard the USS New Jersey

Me sat in Admiral Helsey's chair on the Navigation Bridge aboard the USS New Jersey


The view from the Bridge of the USS New Jersey moored in Camden

The view from the Bridge of the USS New Jersey moored in Camden

The view over the forward gun turrets in the bright sunshine was particularly good from the upper deck of the Bridge. The day we visited there was also an Admiral's retirement ceremony with lots of naval personnel in white dress uniforms taking place on the Forward Deck in front of the forward guns. An unusual event to witness but unfortunately it did mean we were not able to go out and look around the Forward Deck.

Looking down on the forward gun turrets from the Bridge

Looking down on the forward gun turrets from the Bridge


A Retirement Ceremony underway on the forward deck of the USS New Jersey

A Retirement Ceremony underway on the forward deck of the USS New Jersey

The USS New Jersey was de-commissioned and re-activated twice during her career with her armaments upgraded each time; her first decommission was in 1957 with reactivation for the Vietnam War in 1967; her second decommission was in 1969 with reactivation in 1982. As we made our way back along the ship the first of these new armaments we saw was a Phalanx Battery (often nicknamed by crews as "R2-D2" or "Daleks" because of their shape) used against anti-ship missiles. We then passed a 5 inch gun battery and chaff launchers before reaching the armoured box launchers used to launch Tomahawk long-distance cruise missiles.

20 mm/76 cal. Phalanx Battery aboard the USS New Jersey

20 mm/76 cal. Phalanx Battery aboard the USS New Jersey


5 inch gun battery with Chaff Launchers on the deck above aboard the USS New Jersey

5 inch gun battery with Chaff Launchers on the deck above aboard the USS New Jersey


Tomahawk Cruise Missile Armoured Box Launcher aboard the USS New Jersey

Tomahawk Cruise Missile Armoured Box Launcher aboard the USS New Jersey

Back inside we had a brief look around a museum area containing dummies wearing sailor and marine uniforms and comparing the US Iowa Class Battleships with their contemporaries in other navies such as the Japanese Yamato, German Bismark and British King George V. We then entered more mundane areas of the ship such as the famed "Chow-Line" and "Mess Deck" where food was served to enlisted men from the Ship's Galley.

The 'Chow-Line' aboard the USS New Jersey

The 'Chow-Line' aboard the USS New Jersey


A 'Mess Deck' for enlisted men aboard the USS New Jersey

A 'Mess Deck' for enlisted men aboard the USS New Jersey

From the Mess Deck our tour took us past the multi-faith Chapel, the Barber Shop and the Dry Cleaners. Our final stop was the "Brig" (the navy's term for their on-board jail/prison) where misbehaving sailors were sent and guarded by members of the USS New Jersey's marine detachment (MARDET).

A multi-faith Chapel aboard the USS New Jersey

A multi-faith Chapel aboard the USS New Jersey


Time for a haircut? - Barber Shop aboard the USS New Jersey

Time for a haircut? - Barber Shop aboard the USS New Jersey


Smartly pressed uniforms at the Dry Cleaners aboard the USS New Jersey

Smartly pressed uniforms at the Dry Cleaners aboard the USS New Jersey


The 'Brig' aboard the USS New Jersey

The 'Brig' aboard the USS New Jersey

We emerged back into daylight on the rear deck of the ship and took pictures of the impressive rear main battery with each of its three guns sealed by a black cap with a white star before leaving the USS New Jersey and returning to shore.

The Rear Main Battery and Seasprite Helicopter aboard the USS New Jersey

The Rear Main Battery and Seasprite Helicopter aboard the USS New Jersey


Close up of the starboard side of the USS New Jersey moored at Camden

Close up of the starboard side of the USS New Jersey moored at Camden


Another view of the Admiral's retirement ceremony being held on the USS New Jersey's forward deck

Another view of the Admiral's retirement ceremony being held on the USS New Jersey's forward deck

Before finally leaving Camden there was one last sight to see, namely the former headquarters (now renovated and converted into apartments and a conference centre) of the RCA Victor Company built 1909-1916 with its stained glass images on its 200 foot high tower of the "His Master's Voice" logo of a dog called "Nipper" listening to a gramophone record. I must admit to being a bit confused as to what the HMV record company logo was doing on top of a RCA building but it turns out there were two separate companies (one in the USA and the other in Britain) that had purchased the rights to use "Nipper" as their logo.

The RCA 'Nipper' Building in Camden

The RCA 'Nipper' Building in Camden


Close up of the stained glass window on top of the RCA 'Nipper' Building

Close up of the stained glass window on top of the RCA 'Nipper' Building

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged philadelphia warships war_memorials us_east_coast Comments (0)

Following in Rocky's Steps

A morning sightseeing in Philadelphia

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Before going to watch the Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Team play the Milwaukee Brewers in the afternoon there was just enough time to get a bit more sightseeing done in Philadelphia, I had to see where Rocky was filmed!

But first we did a bit more history by going to see Congress Hall, the only building around Independence Square I didn't manage to see on my previous visit. Philadelphia was the original capital of the USA when there were just 13 states with Congress Hall being used as the Capital Building from 1790 until US government moved to Washington DC in 1800. During this time 3 new states - Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee - were admitted.

The House Chamber on the ground floor of Congress Hall

The House Chamber on the ground floor of Congress Hall


The Senate Chamber on the upper floor of Congress Hall

The Senate Chamber on the upper floor of Congress Hall


The Senate Chamber at Congress Hall including the carpet with the shields of the original 13 states

The Senate Chamber at Congress Hall including the carpet with the shields of the original 13 states

The House Chamber has mahogany desks and eventually accommodated 106 representatives from the 16 states; the Senate Chamber is more ornate with red drapes and 32 secretary desks (28 of which are original) very similar to the desks that are still used in the current Senate chamber in Washington DC. There are portraits of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, gifts from the French monarchy following the American Revolution, hanging in the adjoining committee rooms.

Portrait of Louis XVI (a gift from the French Monarchy) in a committee room next to the Senate Chamber

Portrait of Louis XVI (a gift from the French Monarchy) in a committee room next to the Senate Chamber


Portrait of Marie Antoinette (a gift from the French Monarchy) in the other committee room next to the Senate Chamber

Portrait of Marie Antoinette (a gift from the French Monarchy) in the other committee room next to the Senate Chamber

On the far side of Independence Square with their corners just touching is Washington Square, the south-east quadrant of the five original planned squares laid out on the city grid for William Penn, the founder of the city. Originally used as a burial ground for citizens and troops from the Colonial army and then as pasture, it is now the site of the tomb and eternal flame of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution in Washington Square

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution in Washington Square


The central fountain and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square

The central fountain and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square

The oldest residential street in the USA is believed to be the cobblestoned Elfreth's Alley in Philadelphia. Its 33 brick houses were originally built circa 1702 and despite being registered as a historic landmark are still privately owned; a few of them had 'for sale' notices which did somewhat spoilt the historical effect!

Elfreth's Alley - the oldest residential street in the USA

Elfreth's Alley - the oldest residential street in the USA


Water pump in Bladen's Court just off Elfreth's Alley

Water pump in Bladen's Court just off Elfreth's Alley

A short distance away was the Betsy Ross House built about 1740. Betsy Ross is credited with sewing the original Stars and Stripes US Flag in her bedchamber while under risk of being arrested by the British for treason. The house is furnished to look like it would have done at the time of the American Revolution; complete with a very enthusiastic actor pretending to be Betsy Ross who was offering to take on new sewing commissions!

The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia

The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia


Betsy Ross' bedchamber where she sewed the first Stars and Stripes

Betsy Ross' bedchamber where she sewed the first Stars and Stripes


The actor playing Betsy Ross offering to take on new sewing commissions

The actor playing Betsy Ross offering to take on new sewing commissions

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the USA containing over 227,000 objects of which probably the most famous is Van Gogh's painting of a Vase with twelve Sunflowers. However what I really wanted to see were the iconic 72 stone steps out front that featured in the 1976 film Rocky and four of its sequels! A bronze statue of Rocky now stands near the bottom of the steps, both of which were popular locations for tourists such as myself to jump around with fists raised above their heads doing Rocky impressions!

The Washington Monument with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rocky Steps behind

The Washington Monument with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rocky Steps behind


The grand stairway leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The grand stairway leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art


Me doing my Rocky impression by the Rocky Balboa Statue outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Me doing my Rocky impression by the Rocky Balboa Statue outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art


The view down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The view down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The mile long Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the Rocky Steps back into the city centre is a very scenic boulevard lined with museums and bedecked with the flags of 109 countries modelled after the Champs Elysees in Paris. Amongst the museums is the Rodin Museum which contains the largest collection of Auguste Rodin's sculptures outside Paris. This includes one of the 28 original castings of his famous statue The Thinker which sits outside in the museum's entry courtyard.

The view along the flag lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The view along the flag lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art


The statue of 'The Thinker' outside the Rodin Museum

The statue of 'The Thinker' outside the Rodin Museum


The UK Flag lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Logan Circle

The UK Flag lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Logan Circle

Midway along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Swann Memorial Fountain in the Logan Circle with 3 sculptures of native American figures representing the local Wissahickon, Schaylkill and Delaware rivers spurting out water at its base. Even closer to the city centre is the John F Kennedy Plaza aka Love Square; so called because of the iconic fountain-side 'LOVE' sculpture by Robert Indiana placed there in 1976 which I somehow managed to totally miss despite being evidently having stood directly beneath it taking photographs!

The Swann Memorial Fountain midway along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The Swann Memorial Fountain midway along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway


Philadelphia City Hall behind the Love Park Fountain

Philadelphia City Hall behind the Love Park Fountain


View back along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art... from beside the iconic LOVE statue which I somehow managed to totally miss!

View back along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art... from beside the iconic LOVE statue which I somehow managed to totally miss!

At the city end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the middle of Penn Square is the majestic 548 feet (167 metre) tall City Hall completed in 1901. It's the tallest masonry structure in the world without a steel frame and is topped by a 37 feet (11.2 metre) high bronze statue of William Penn.

Philadelphia City Hall in the middle of Penn Square

Philadelphia City Hall in the middle of Penn Square

For many years there had been a gentleman's agreement in Philadelphia that no building taller than this statue would EVER be erected. Then in 1987 One Liberty Place (945 feet - 288 metres) was built breaching this rule and the idea of "the Curse of Billy Penn" took hold as all the professional sports teams based in Philadelphia (baseball, ice hockey, basketball and American football) failed to win any championships. Then in 2007 the Comcast Building (974 feet - 297 metre) was built with a small statue of William Penn amid much ridicule placed on top, the following year the Philadelphia Phillies won Baseball's 2008 World Series - was the superstition of the curse true after all?

Close up of William Penn's Statue on top of Philadelphia City Hall - was the 'Curse of Billy Penn' true?

Close up of William Penn's Statue on top of Philadelphia City Hall - was the 'Curse of Billy Penn' true?

Time go and see, in the afternoon we had tickets to watch the Philadelphia Phillies play against the Milwaukee Brewers :)

Posted by FrancisRTW 02:00 Archived in USA Tagged museums city philadelphia us_east_coast film_locations external_links Comments (0)

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