Time travel makes history engaging, especially for kids. Few major cities make it as easy and as interesting to drop-in on the 18th century as does Philadelphia, America’s first capital. At Independence National Historical Park listen to and talk with early patriots and erstwhile colonials as they ponder and plan a break with Britain.
Our founding fathers paced out a new republic in the buildings and along the paths of what is now Independence National Historical Park. The sites include the Liberty Bell Center; Independence Hall, formerly the Pennsylvania State House, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were adopted; Old City Hall, home to the U.S. Supreme Court from 1791 to 1800; and Congress Hall, meeting place for the U.S. Congress from 1790 to 1800.
During the busy summer months it’s wise to reserve your tickets to Independence Hall in advance ( nominal fee). Otherwise arrive early to obtain free, same day tickets at the Independence Visitor Center, 6th and Market streets, a trove of city information.
Once Upon a Nation, part of the Historic Philadelphia organization, makes facts come to life by adding context, plot and personality. When strolling the city’s Historic District, sit down on any of the area’s 11 storytelling benches, indicated by a sign, and get caught up in the free, five minute tales.
For more close encounters with the famous and the ordinary, we especially like Independence After Hours, Once Upon a Nation’s evening tour.
Isaac, clad in breeches, a waistcoat and a tri-cornered hat, escorts our group to dinner at the Colonial themed City Tavern. He instructs us to respond to his toast of “hip, hip” with a rousing “huzzah.” While we munch turkey pot pie, or other Colonial inspired entrée, Thomas Jefferson drops by for a chat.
Following the meal, Isaac rouses Caleb, the sleeping night watchman at the Pennsylvania State House, the name for what later became Independence Hall. Once inside, Caleb relates such anecdotes as how Ben Franklin might appear to be asleep in his chair, but then would startle the debaters with a pithy comment.
In the Hall we encounter Thomas Jefferson, this time as a frustrated author complaining to John Adams about how the delegates’ editing and rewriting was destroying his “document,” a timeless writer’s complaint. On the not-for- kids Tippler’s Tour go tavern hopping and hoist a pint while
welcoming new-found friends with period toasts and songs.
While neither Jefferson nor Franklin ever had a Philly cheesesteak, it’s likely they would have been fond of the iconic sandwich of sautéed beef and melted cheese. Two good bets are Pat’s King of Steaks, 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, and Geno’s, 1219 S. 9th Street. Vendors at Reading Terminal Market, continuously operating since 1892 at 12th and Arch streets, sell their version of the sandwich, along with fresh breads, cheese, vegetables and sweets. After all, revolutionaries and time travelers need good food.