Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia’

Liberty Enshrined

Everyone believes in something. Even agnostics and atheists believe in something. Some put blind faith in money, thinking it will make them happy. Some put blind faith in material possessions, because, well, *sparklies*. Some put blind faith in their political party or right-left-center talking points. Some put blind faith in celebrity, buying Bieber cologne or other ludicrous claptrap. Some put blind faith in themselves, being so arrogant as to think they are infallible and therefore beyond question. Some even put blind faith in science, as odd as that sounds, believing that any and all studies that cross their path must be true (this leads to a lot of fad diets as well as other errors).

Copyright America In Context

Liberty’s Shrine

In my own case, I tend to put blind faith in the American ideal. For folks like me, Independence Park in Philadelphia is the Temple Mount, the Ganges River, the Mecca of our own beliefs. It’s a place of extreme importance, a shrine commemorating the place where the founding principles of this country were put to paper and approved by an assemblage of great minds and strong characters. A place where heretofore un-codified principles were defined and written into law and principle, grandiose notions such as “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”; “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it”; or “[t]he privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it”. Fabulous ideas, amazing ideas, ideas that would inspire nation after nation to rebel against tyrants and kings and establish democracy. It’s the Great American Way that Independence Park symbolizes, the Great American Way that I hold most dear.


Folks are going to worship me someday, aren't they? :sigh:

“Folks are going to worship me someday, aren’t they? :sigh:”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, ideals aren’t real. They don’t exist, and you can’t count on them. If you do, you will be betrayed. Every time. The American Ideal is the same: it’s full of betrayal. The original Constitution says that certain people are only worth 3/5ths of other people, and also said that those in bondage who escape to another state must be returned into bondage. Basically, it protected the vile institution of slavery for nearly 100 years. Even today, long after that particular abomination was wiped out by amendment, there is betrayal. These documents have been subverted, abused and weakened, leaving a system of government so devolved it barely represents the will of the people at all, and our nation is in a fine ruddy mess because of it.

Then again, it’s still important to hold onto ideals. It’s vital, actually. They are the goal, the dream, the vision, and without our goals, dreams and visions, we are a dead species. And to keep goals, dreams and visions alive, it is important that kids be indoctrinated (for lack of a better word) with ideals that are truly valuable, else they, too, will grow up to be tyrants and monsters; and you can’t do any worse than indoctrinating them into the important American ideals of equality, liberty, self-governance, and independence.

And naked statuary, of course

And naked statuary, of course

There is also no better element of that indoctrination than a trip to Independence Park in Philadelphia. I really like Philadelphia for one simple reason: the park is dedicated not to rebellion (like Boston, with it’s homage to the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, and Paul Revere), nor to warfare (like Valley Forge or Yorktown), nor to marble monoliths (like Washington, DC) but to ideas, thought, consideration, and debate. It’s a site that contains meeting rooms, and convention halls, and judicial chambers;  not cannons, trenches, or cemeteries, but desks. It is a truly remarkable place in that aspect, it’s dedicated to ideas, and I find that refreshing.

But he's just sitting there! THINKING!

But he’s just sitting there! THINKING!

Liberty Imprisoned

I first visited Philadelphia in the 90’s. At that time, the Liberty Bell was in a non-descript glass enclosure inside Independence Hall. Anyone could see it. I never bought into Bell lore myself (like most American legends, it’s more tall tale than fact), but I kinda liked the presentation: subdued, no drama, viewable by everyone, kinda like I envision liberty itself. Freedom should not be a big deal, it should not be something we put on a pedestal. It should just “be”. You don’t pay attention to it when it’s there, you just live your life, yet everyone notices when it’s absent.

Then 9/11 happened, our liberties were sacrificed to the Lords of Fear, and The Liberty Bell became a symbol of our shift to madness.

In the grief-stricken days after 9/11, we were all expecting more terrorist attacks. We went bat-shit crazy protecting everything.  We improved airport security, then we “improved” airport security, then we began the systematic groin-groping known as the TSA. We started monitoring financial transactions, then started monitoring foreign communications, and now the NSA has a full-blown domestic spy program best suited for watching cheating spouses and stealing credit card numbers. We placed Jersey barriers in front of government buildings, we put metal detectors at the entry of every government building and landmark, and we built a prison for the Liberty Bell.

Liberty's Prison

Liberty’s Prison

On my second visit to Independence Park, I spotted the Liberty Bell Center, and it saddened me. The Liberty Bell is no longer just “there”, like our liberties should be. It is encased in a steel and glass structure, surrounded by guards and various security devices, reminiscent of a prison. It also, oddly, has the look of a high-end shopping mall, meaning not only is Liberty imprisoned but it’s also commercialized (they should call it Liberty Disney). I was so repulsed by the appearance of the Liberty Bell Center from afar, I didn’t have it in me to go there. Liberty was imprisoned and I didn’t want to be stuck on the outside, pressing my face against the glass in the hopes she’d remember me in her confinement.

I think the NPS has toned down the security in the intervening years, and I’ve heard from others that the Center is actually a pretty nice facility. But for me, the illusion has been shattered. The Liberty Bell, like the very civil liberties it represents, is not just cracked but contained, with an admission fee, groin groping, and gift shop.

[Photos on this blog entry are mine and thusly copyrighted.]



Independence National Historical Park

Founding Fathers Fetish (slate.com)

3D Tour of the Liberty Bell

Google Map of Independence National Historical Park

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Peace & Respect

In this blog, I try to recreate the thoughts, experiences & emotions I felt during a visit to each site in the National Park System.

On the day I visited Gloria Dei, the old Swedish church in Philadelphia, there were services going on. Therefore, I unobtrusively snapped a couple of pictures and moved on my way, as quiet as I could be. This post will reflect that visit: a few pics and a few  unobtrusive sentences.

Peaceful people practicing their faith in a peaceful manner need to be respected. Give them that respect, whether it’s in the NPS or not.


[This post is dedicated to the memory of David Ericson, formerly of Naugatuck, Connecticut. He was a church choir singer, Boy Scout leader, proud father, devoted husband, strong UCONN Women’s Basketball fan, the nicest guy I have ever worked with in a professional setting anywhere anytime, and a true-blue Swede. Rest in peace, Dave.

Photos on this post are mine and thusly copyrighted.]



Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site

The Old Swede’s Church

Swedish Immigration in North America

Google map to Gloria Dei

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American Classics

Edgar Allen Poe is a true American classic. I suspect that Poe is the second most recognized 19th Century American author (behind perennial favorite Mark Twain). Most everyone has heard of Poe through his well-known works like “The Raven”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Masque of the Red Death”, and that grade-school reader staple, “The Tell-tale Heart”. Some folks may have read one book by Herman Melville or Louisa May Alcott, and only college-level literature students have read anything by Emerson, Longfellow, or Thoreau, but most of us are familiar with Poe’s work and his influence on mystery and the macabre. I suppose it’s sad that he’s better known than his contemporaries (critically speaking Poe’s works pale in comparison to Emerson, Longfellow and Thoreau), but his visceral take on humanity made a huge impact on popular culture. You can trace so many mystery-thrillers directly back to Poe. It’s hard to imagine Hitchcock or Stephen King or even CSI would be here today without his influence.

But a visit to Poe’s old homestead in Philadelphia evokes a different sort of American classic.

The Window © 2009 America In ContextPhiladelphia wasn’t the only city Edgar Allan Poe called “home”.  Never a wealthy man, Poe and his family led a fairly hardscrabble life. They travelled a lot, always trying to find a new opportunity in another city. Consequently, they lived in many places, from Boston to Richmond to New York. The only Poe home that has been preserved is an old, faltering row house north of Independence Park, on the bad side of I-676. Yes, that’s right: the former home of Edgar Allan Poe, one of the premier poets and authors of his time, is a shitty house in a shitty part of town. And I find that terrific.

I visited Poe NHS on a crappy, drizzly day. I spent the prior gorgeous, sunny day strolling Independence NHS, the well-manicured core of touristy Philadelphia, with its horse-drawn carriages and Ben Franklin impersonators. But the day I visited Poe’s House was sodden and sopping. Rain doesn’t bother me, I threw on a raincoat and headed out. Of course, I didn’t realize I’d be walking about a mile into the slums of Philadelphia. Honestly, that part of town isn’t that bad, but I clearly stood out like a sore thumb. I have to admit I was pretty nervous, but I didn’t run into any trouble. In hindsight, I think it was a very appropriate walk. Too many of us, myself included, stick to the “good” parts of America, and daren’t venture into the rougher sections. A brilliant thing about my National Park Site collection is you see virtually all of America, including some slums. You get a pretty complete picture that way, in my opinion.

The Cupboard © 2009 America In ContextBy the time I got to the Poe house I was pretty soaked. I entered and took off my coat, leaving puddles in my wake. A retired couple were there, their Lincoln parked in the lot, water beaded from a fresh waxing. We were just in time for a tour. Our guide (a really sharp and well-versed lady, a credit to the NPS) took us through the outwardly rickety building, and told us of Poe. A troubled man, a restless man, a man who struggled with success (both commercial and in life). A man who always tried to find his way, a man who seemingly lost his mind and eventually died a very mysterious death, yet a man who left us with some of the most beloved works in American literary history.

Poe’s story was intriguing, but what I found more intriguing was the relationship the Poe site and the NPS has with the local residents. Obviously that part of Philadelphia has a typical, urban, African-American population: undereducated, underemployed, living their own hardscrabble lives built on single-parent households, gang warfare, drug abuse, and a collage of government entities that don’t give a crap about them. But the folks at Poe NHS have worked really hard to get in touch with the community. They are constantly hosting children from local schools for tours and storytelling and events, and that ranger clearly loved to do it. There was no pretension or hypocrisy in her voice when she told those stories, even when she was talking to three Whiteys from the ‘Burbs. Her love of her job and the locals was pretty evident, and appreciated. She also pointed out the brilliant mural of Poe on a nearby building, and the fact that it has never been defaced by graffiti in all the years it’s existed. That is a telling factoid and really shows that either Poe’s works unites us on a fundamental level, or that if you respect people, they will respect you back.

The Raven © 2009 America In Context

Poe NHS doesn’t just tell the story of a famous American author, it tells the story of a rough life, a life led by many millions of Americans before and many more millions who came after. Rough living in a rough house in a rough neighborhood, a life lived by more of us than we care to think about. I doubt my tour companions really got the point of Poe NHS. The retired gentleman, who was supposedly making a coffee table book about “homes of great Americans”, clearly missed it when he said “I doubt this house will make my book.” We all didn’t grow up in marble mansions, doofus.

If you want to experience America, you need to experience all of it, including tilting houses in seedy neighborhoods. That is an idea worthy of a coffee table book.

The Mural

[Pics on this post are mine and copyrighted thusly, except for the mural. I didn’t get a good picture of it (crappy photog that I am), so I had to pirate one.]



Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Poe Museum (Richmond, Virginia)

Tabula Rasa’s History of Horror

Google map to Poe NHS

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