A diary of my visit to two cities in the center of the founding of my country: Boston and Philadelphia Oct. 14 - 24, 2005

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

October 24, 2005 – Two more Presidents

It took me almost an hour to go the 5 miles or so to Monticello. I took the “scenic” route…through town….twice. That’s what happens when you don’t ask for help. As soon as I asked someone, I was there in 10 minutes.

Monticello is beautiful. I know I said that Mt. Vernon was beautiful. Monticello is a different view entirely, but just as gorgeous. The house is a lot different. Jefferson spent 40 years building his house. He studied a lot of architecture and implemented both classical designs and some of his own ideas into his home. There are a lot of little inventions that make the house interesting. There is a clock in the main foyer, with a face on the inside of the house in the foyer, and on the outside on the front porch. Both sides tell the same time and are run by the same mechanism, located in the house. The mechanism involves several weights that hang down on either side of the room. The clock is close to the ceiling. The weights start the week at the top of the room, close to the ceiling next to the walls, and end the week under the floor (Jefferson had to cut a hole in the floor to allow them to hang properly). They slowly pull down all week to make the clock run. At the end of the week the clock is wound, bringing the weights back up to the ceiling. It is all over my head, but that is the best explanation I can come up with.

Jefferson’s front room had a collection of Indian artifacts, sent back by Lewis and Clark on their expedition west. He had several animal antlers, and other scientific specimens. His private museum was one of the first two museums in the country.

Jefferson’s house is octagonal in shape. I think this was for space reasons, but I don’t remember. (My mind is quite full of facts.) His bed was built into an opening in between his bedroom and study in order to conserve space. He had daughters, a sister, and their children living with him. They said that he had about 27 people living there most of the time.

Another high-tech aspect of his house is the presence of dumb-waiters in his dining room. These lifts enabled bottles of wine to be brought up from the cellar, directly below the dining room, without leaving the room. He also had two indoor outhouses (inhouses???), which was highly uncommon.

Jefferson chose the location of Monticello because of the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In order to maintain the view, he had many of his outbuildings (kitchen, storage, slave quarters, cellar, etc.) built underground, with a tunnel connecting them to the main house. Jefferson owned four farms in addition to Monticello. He was an avid farmer, involved in the day to day operations of the farm. He wrote a five volume encyclopedia on the state of Virginia, much of which was devoted to the agriculture of the state.

Jefferson and Washington both loved their homes, and preferred to be there instead of in Washington or Philadelphia. There service to our country was just that…service. They served because of their passion for freedom and desire for America to be great. They gave up much personal gain for their service. Jefferson died with $100,000 of debt, extremely high for that time.

Visiting the homes of the first three presidents was fascinating. All three homes were very different, as were the men who lived there. They all knew each other well, even if they did not always like each other. Jefferson and Adams were great friends during the Revolution. They served in France together during the war, negotiating for help. Jefferson was Adams’ Vice President, though not by choice. Adams won the election and Jefferson came in second, making him Vice President. Later, the Constitution was amended to allow for separate elections for President and Vice President. It was during their Presidencies that they represented different political parties and were bitter enemies. After they were both retired to their homes, their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration, tricked them into resuming their letter writing. They remained great friends until their death.

Ironically, Jefferson and Adams died on the same day, within hours of each other. The day was July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

I left Monticello and drove about five miles to Ashlawn, the home of James Monroe, our fifth President and signer of the Constitution. I didn’t have time to drive the 30 miles to Montpelier (James Madison’s home). I only spent an hour or so at the Monroe home, but it was small and that was all the time needed. One of the rooms in the house had its original wall paper! It was actually painted cloth that was hung on the walls. It looked great, especially considering that it is almost 200 years old. Incidentally, James Monroe also died on July 4th, but it was several years after Adams and Jefferson. After the tour, I had visited the homes of five of the first six Presidents in ten days.

I drove the two hours back to Dulles airport and flew home, arriving around 10:00 PM. I was tired and my feet were sore. I had a marvelous trip that exceeded my expectations. I was able to see more than I had planned, and I learned a great deal. On my last day, I walked 10, 164 steps. It is great to be home and in the 21st century.

October 23, 2005 – First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen

Today was another crazy day. I walked 14,112 steps, but I only went to one place!! Well, one attraction, I should say. I covered a lot of miles, mostly driving.

I was picked up by a taxi at 7:00 AM and taken to the AMTRAK station. I’ve never ridden a train anywhere, so that was fun. I had no idea the station was so close to where I was staying, so I ended up getting there an hour and a half before my train. I checked in early, and checked my bag. I had a Dunkin donut and coffee for breakfast. I just have to say, Dunkin Donuts are good, but they don’t hold a candle to Krispy Kreme.

I arrived at Union Station in DC on time. I don’t remember what time that was. I think around 10:30. Unfortunately, my baggage didn’t. The only thing they could tell me was to come back at 6:10 that night. I told them that I was leaving DC and not coming back, but they told me I had to. Oh well. It’s a beautiful day. No problem. The rental car process worked out well. The attendant gave me detailed instructions on how to get out of downtown and to Mt. Vernon. I appreciate all the direction help I received so much. The only downfall is that I’m not very good at following the directions people give me. It took me a while to get out of downtown. I had to do some backtracking, which is dangerous on one-way roads. Haha. I finally made it out of town onto Mt. Vernon parkway. The drive is so beautiful. The drive is along the Potomac River. There were a few yachts on the river, and people running and biking along the river. It was a sunny day…perfect for a Sunday drive. I think I enjoyed that drive just as much as any part of the trip!

I arrived at Mt. Vernon to crowds! It was harvest day, and I think there was some special for families, because there were kids everywhere. They had a lot of special exhibits going on around the farm, such as soap making, candle making, straw doll making, wheat threshing, etc. The mansion tour was pretty interesting, but really the outdoors is what is impressive about Mt. Vernon. George Washington chose a gorgeous riverside spot to build his home. The view of the Potomac is too beautiful for pictures. I’ve seen so many, but none could have prepared me for that view. I don’t think Americans had anything to worry about when they were wondering if Washington would seek a third Presidential term and more power. I think, if anyone could have seen his home and land, they would have had no worries as to his future plans. I cannot imagine choosing a life of the stresses of President over the beauty of Mt. Vernon.

The Mansion certainly seems small, for a mansion. Don’t get me wrong. It is a big house, but you would think a plantation house would be bigger. It was grand for the period. The graves of Washington and his wife are located on the side of the mountain. The grave was being built when Washington died, so he was temporarily buried in another location and then moved when the burial vault was completed. He and Martha are buried side by side.

Washington loved farming. He had a complex crop rotation plan on his farm, where he had 7 different plots of land. Each plot would grow wheat for a couple years, then some sort of fertilizer plant that would be plowed back into the dirt, then sheep would graze, providing additional fertilizer, and several other things. He was able to maintain a productive farm in this way.

After Mt. Vernon, I drove the beautiful drive back to DC. I love DC. Even though I was just returning to Union Station to hopefully pick up my bags, just driving across the Potomac into the city is exciting to me. I found Union Station without too many difficulties. There was some parking on the street available too, since it was a Sunday evening, so I parked and went inside. I had to wait a while, but when the 6:10 train was unloaded, there was my suitcase!!! Yeah!!!!! I was relieved. Losing ten days worth of clothes, even if they were mostly dirty by now, would not have been good.

By now it is starting to get dusky. I asked a visitor’s guide person at Union Station how to get to Charlottesville, Virginia, where I was staying. He told me to get on I-95 South and look for the Charlottesville signs. Well, that was easy enough, but once I got on I-95 I was a little nervous. What if there weren’t any signs? I didn’t have a map, so I called Mom to have her look it up on the atlas. My Mother is the queen of maps. She can navigate to anywhere from anywhere. She got me there!! There is a little drama though. Her directions included multiple state highways in the middle of nowhere. It was a Sunday night, so even the little gas stations in little towns along the way were closed. And…da, da da, daaaa…my cell phone was almost out of batteries. After a long 2 hour drive on the “scenic route” I arrived in Charlottesville. When they say scenic, they mean it. The last ten miles or so were through mountains, curvy, hilly, tree-ey, etc. It looked beautiful. I wish it had been daylight so I could have seen it. I just had to imagine the leave colors, the rivers, the sky, etc. Of course, I had to ask or directions to my hotel once I finally arrived in Charlottesville. I knew the hotel bordered the University of Virginia, but I had no idea how expansive UVA is. I went to little Campbellsville, remember? I found the University, drove around and around, and finally checked in at the McDonalds. They pointed me in the right direction (I was about a block away), and I checked in around 9:30. Whew, what a day. I took a hot shower and went to bed. I wanted to be at Monticello by 8:00 the next morning.

Despite all of the driving I did, I still managed 18,033 steps. I walked a lot at Mt. Vernon. I wanted to see the views from every angle.

October 22, 2005 – Renoirs, Cézannes and Van Gogh’s, Oh My

Saturday morning was another rainy day, but it takes more than a few showers to dampen my spirits. Saturday morning was a relaxing time. I had a full breakfast at the B&B. I sat with a lady who is a professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She was doing theatre research in Philadelphia. It was nice to have a conversation with someone…it had been a while!

I had 10:00 AM tickets to the Barnes Foundation, an art museum just outside of Philadelphia. I had no idea where it was, so I took a taxi. Of course, the driver had no idea where it was either. He called someone though, and found out. It’s a good think I had the address! Anyway, it was in Marion, a suburb of Philly. Entering the museum was a breathtaking experience. It is not a typical art museum. Dr. Barnes was a collector of art for educational purposes, and built a house in a residential neighborhood to house his collection. He had a small living space, the majority of the building being reserved for art. The art was hung on the walls in a seemingly random matter. Each wall had many pieces, from floor to ceiling. On one wall, I counted 27 paintings! That particular wall had smaller paintings. Most of the walls had about 10 – 15 works of varying sizes.

The most incredible part of the experience was the collection itself. The Barnes Foundation has 180 Renoirs and 60 Cezanne’s!! There are more Renoir and Cezanne paintings than in all of the museums in Paris combined. It is amazing. Just imagine being in a room surrounded by Renoir paintings. Everywhere you look, there are rows and rows of Renior’s works, along with many Cezanne’s, some Van Gogh and Picasso, add a Matisse here and there, and a couple Cassatt’s, and Titian’s. I was in art heaven. I stayed for about 3 hours and tore myself away. My eyes can only handle about 3 hours of art. There were no plaques on the walls describing the painting and listing artist, date, etc. There was a tiny nameplate on the bottom of each painting with the artist’s last name, but that was it. They had a few “maps” in each room to help you figure out what the paintings were, but there were usually being used by someone else. Anyway, it was a strain trying to read all of those nameplates.

I walked around Marion looking for the train station in the rain. I found it, after about a half mile walk. Not too bad. I took the train back to Philadelphia and finished up my schedule.

I wanted to visit Library Hall, where, according to my guidebook they have an exhibit including William Penn’s original charter of Pennsylvania, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin Franklin’s will (along with other things). I found Library Hall and it was locked. Across the street was Philosophical Hall, with a sign saying that the exhibit is there. Unfortunately, that door was locked as well. The only way to get to the exhibit was to go back through the Independence Hall security and enter through the park. Getting through security takes about 20 minutes, but I had the time and really wanted to see the exhibit so I did it. It was pretty good, except Benjamin Franklin’s will wasn’t there. I don’t know where it was. Maybe whomever called in the bomb threat a couple days before stole it. Hmmmm…I think I’m on to something!!

The exhibit was small, so it didn’t take too long. When I was finished I walked down to Betsy Ross’s house to buy a couple souvenirs that were heavy. I didn’t want to carry them around the day before. Just for the record, the Betsy Ross house has one of the best gift shops I saw.

I walked down the street from Betsy Ross’s house to Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in America. It is a cute little alley of row houses, one of which is a museum house, showing how they were lived in in the 1700’s. The rest of the houses are privately owned. I took the tour of the museum house. It wasn’t that big of a deal. I had been through so many house tours over the past 8 days that I think I can pretty much conduct a 1700 house tour even if I’ve never been in the house before. Seriously. I know what a brick of tea looks like, a cone of sugar, a fire bucket, a toaster, a fireplace shield, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

With that, I had finished everything on my list for Philadelphia except the Old St. Joseph church, the oldest Catholic Church in Philadelphia. One of William Penn’s unique ideas in his charter is the freedom of religion. He allowed any religious domination to build churches and meet in Philadelphia. It is still evident as you walk around and see the variety of churches. There is much more variety than in Boston. Since it was a Saturday, I decided to go to their service at 5:30. It was only 3:30, so I went back to my room for a little rest and relaxation. I started packing for the next morning, and then went to church. Old St. Joseph’s was a simple Jesuit church. The mass was rather short and simple, but it was good.

After church on my way back to my room I stopped by a nice little Italian restaurant called Pizzicata. I was starving since I hadn’t had anything since breakfast. They had lentil soup. Yum. It was nice and hot…perfect for a cold rainy day. Of course, since I was starving, the soup wasn’t nearly enough. So, I had a four cheese pizza. That was delicious as well. Top it off with a cup of coffee and I was ready for a good night’s sleep. I needed one, since I was leaving at 7:00 the next morning.

Last day in Philadelphia: 13,698 steps, 5.62 miles My feet aren’t hurting anymore, they are numb.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

October 21, 2005 – I made it through the day with no evacuations!

This morning I slept in a little. I left the B&B at walked to a few places on my schedule. None of them opened until 10:00, and it was only 9:30, so I kept walking. I ended up at the United States Mint. This is proof I love my brother David. You can’t tour the mint without a tour set up by your Representative, so I knew I couldn’t take a tour. I wanted to go to the gift shop though, to see if they had anything worth buying. The security guide said that they don’t allow cameras or cell phones, so I couldn’t get in. I was about as far as I could be from where I was staying without leaving the historic area, so I didn’t have time to go back, drop off my stuff, return to the min, and then go back to pick up my stuff. So, I was out of luck. Except, I have a nice smile and am not afraid to ask for help. (I learned that in Boston.) I walked around the corner to a hotel, smiled at the lady behind the desk, and asked if there was any way they could keep my cameras and cell phone. She said sure, so I left everything and went back to the mint. The security guard let me in this time, only to tell me that the computers were down in the gift shop so I couldn’t buy anything! I must have looked pretty disappointed, because he told me to go on in and try anyway. I did, and was successful.

By then, it was 10:00, so I started walking back toward the Betsy Ross house. I passed the Arch Street Meeting House and stopped there. A very nice lady gave me a tour and explained all about the Quaker religion. I must admit, I learned a lot. I didn’t know much about Quakers. Apparently there are Quakers in Nashville.

After the Meeting House, I finally made it to Betsy Ross’s House. I did the audio tour, which was excellent. A lot of audio tours just read what is already written on plaques, but this one added a lot. And, as always, the people in the house were full of interesting information. I didn’t realize that Betsy Ross sewed flags secretly during the Revolutionary War. She had to do it in her bedroom on the second floor of the house so that the English soldiers wouldn’t see. She would be convicted of treason and likely hanged if they ever found out. It is even likely that soldiers were quartered in her house at various points during the Revolution. She continued making flags until she went blind several years before she died. I believe she lived to be in her 80’s.

Next on the schedule was Franklin Court. It was pouring rain, and I needed to use an ATM machine, so I stopped at a little diner called Old City Pizza. I used the ATM, and decided that it would be polite to buy something. Plus, they had cherry cheesecake. Mmmmm. I love cheesecake, especially cherry. So, I had a piece and cup of coffee. It was one of the best pieces of cheesecakes I have ever had in my life. Seriously. It was melt in your mouth good. It was even better than MY cheesecake…but I’m sure it was a lot more fattening.

Ok, enough with the food breaks. On to Franklin Court!! Franklin’s Court is an interesting tribute to such a multi-talented person. His house was destroyed without any detailed descriptions recorded. So, when they were going to rebuild it, they would have had to make many assumptions. Instead, they built a “ghost” structure where the house would have been. There are no walls, just a frame where the house and print shop would have been. There are pieces of the foundation that had been unearthed. They are displayed on the ground under glass. Underground there is a museum. They have many of his inventions on display. My favorite was a chair that transforms into library steps. Very useful. They have a sunken state with little figures that act out various political debates that Franklin had. He really was a incredible man, with multiple inventions, a print shop that utilized many of his inventions, he started the first fire insurance agency in Philadelphia, a writer, postmaster general, writer, and of course, politician and diplomat. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

The fire insurance was interesting. Back then fire was a common occurrence. Every house was required to have two fire buckets with the family name painted on them hanging by their front door. If there was a fire, everyone had to grab their buckets and run to help put out the fire. After the fire was out, they took roll to make sure every family helped. If someone was missing, they would get a “strike.” If a family missed three fires, then they would not be helped if their house caught on fire. For families that had fire insurance, the company would pay all of the families that helped put out the fire.

I spent quite a while at Franklin Court. It was hard to hear for a while because some obnoxious school groups came through. Seriously, I don’t know why these chaperones don’t seem to care how their kids behave. They don’t even ask then to stop screaming in a museum. It is a totally accepted behavior. There weren’t any school groups in Boston, but they are all over Philadelphia.

After Franklin Court I walked over to Society Hill, a neighborhood with upper class houses. There are two houses to tour there. The first one is the Powell House. Mr. Powell was the first mayor of Philadelphia after the Revolution. The Washingtons lived next door for a couple years, while George Washington was President. The Powell House was an example of one of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia. Mr. Powell inherited 90 houses and rented them. Their house is an example of Georgian architecture, another symmetrical style. They had fake doors in their house to preserve symmetry.

The second house was the Physick House. Mr. Physick was a doctor, one of the more prominent surgeons in Philadelphia. He operated on Chief Justice John Marshall twice. The Chief Justice needed a third surgery, but Mr. Physick wasn’t able to perform it. John Marshall died in the Physick House during that illness. On the day of Marshall’s death, the Liberty Bell rung and cracked.

I got a taxi after seeing the Physick House and went to the Philadelphia Art Museum. (No, I didn’t run up and down the steps like Rocky, so don’t ask.) I was tired, so I decided to just check out the Impressionist section and leave afterward. They had a pretty good collection. They have one of Monet’s water lily paintings, which is beautiful. They had many Cassatt paintings as well. After the Impressionists, I decided to walk through the older sections. They had some beautiful old pieces, specifically some illuminated paintings from the 1400’s. I ended up staying later than I thought. I stopped by Old City Pizza on the way back for dinner (I was famished) and had another Cheesesteak. I had this one with mushrooms. I made it back to my room by 9:30 and went to bed.

18,033 steps

Thursday, October 20, 2005

October 20 - The Signings

This morning started with a delicious little breakfast. In Boston, I always left the Inn before breakfast, since I wanted to be downtown by 8:00. Here, since I’m already in the middle of everything, I have time to eat a little. I had a nice fresh muffin, yogurt, and a great cup of coffee. I was ready for the day!

I started by walking to the Independence Hall Visitor’s Center. I had to buy tickets for a tour to Independence Hall. You have to get there early, because they sell out for the day by noon, usually. I wanted to make sure to get afternoon tickets, for schedule purposes, so I was in line at 8:30 when they opened. The closest time I could get to my 1:30 schedule was 1:45, which was pretty good. So, I picked up the tickets and went for a walk. First stop was Benjamin Franklin’s grave in Christ Church burial ground. The cemetery wasn’t open yet, but his grave is right by the sidewalk, so you don’t need to enter. After the cemetery, I walked the three blocks to Christ Church. Christ Church was the first Episcopalian Church in America, but it was still Anglican during the Revolution. Many of the signers attended church here. George Washington’s pew is marked (I sat in it!), as well as the pews of Benjamin Franklin and several others. The font where William Penn was baptized in London was brought to this church. Bishop White was the first Bishop of this church.

After the church, I walked a few more blocks to a street with several colonial homes, including the Todd House, where Dolly Madison lived when she was Dolly Todd, and the house of Bishop White. I took a tour of the Todd and White houses. The Todd house was first. It was actually a recreation of the house, not the original building. It was decorated as it had been, with furniture from the period. Dolly’s first husband died of yellow fever. It was after that that she met James Madison in this house. They were married a year later. She served as first lady when James Madison was President, but she also served as First Lady during Jefferson’s presidency, since Jefferson’s wife had already died.

The Bishop house is still the original building and rooms, with much of the original furniture. The Bishop house is an example of one of the more wealthy houses of Philadelphia. My favorite part of the house was the library (surprise, surprise). They also have a real indoor bathroom!

After the two houses, I walked across the street to the Polish Heritage Museum to check out my ancestor’s role in history. They had information on Poland’s constitution which was put into place a few years after ours. They also had tributes to various Polish citizens who impacted history, such as Marie Curie, Gen. Kosciuszko, and Pope John Paul II.

I still had some time to kill before my 1:45 tickets for Independence Hall, so I went by Carpenter’s Hall. That was fitting, since the first Continental Congress met there for a few months before they moved to Independence Hall. They have several chairs there that were used during the first Continental Congress, including the President’s chair in which Alexander Hamilton sat.

By the time I finished with Carpenter’s Hall, I was pretty hungry. Since I still had about a half hour before I needed to get in line for Independence Hall, I stopped for a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Mmmmm. It was pretty cold today, so it was a good time for chicken noodle. I think I’m over the whole “skip lunch” plan. I think I may need a little food energy. Haha.

Believe it or not, the line to get through security for Independence Hall was the first real line I’ve had to stand in this whole trip!!! It was a doozy. There were at last three school groups in front of me. It took about a half hour to get through. After you get through security, you walk through the pavilion that houses the Liberty Bell. They have a long walkway with exhibits on the history of the bell and its repairs, and the bell is at the end of the hall. There were so many kids that I didn’t stop at the bell for very long. You can see it from the street, so I decided to wait until later.

I walked over to Independence Hall and the ranger asked me if I was on the 1:30 tour. I told him I was on the 1:45. He said that they had an opening on the 1:30, so I was able to go on that one. It is a good thing too, as you will read in a minute. The tour of Independence Hall was great. It wasn’t very long, but it included the room where the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution were debated and signed. It is incredible to be in the place where so much was decided. After the tour of the central portion of Hall, I went to the West Wing of the Hall where original copies of all three documents (Declaration, Articles of Confederation and Constitution) are on display. They are not the signed copies, but they were original copies printed for distribution. One copy was Washington’s and has his written corrections on it.

As I was looking at the documents, another exiting thing happened…a bomb threat!! Yes, the entire park had to be quickly evacuated. Two days of evacuations in a row….how strange. I promise I didn’t have anything to do with either one. As I was evacuated, I found myself at the border of Washington Square, so I thought I’d be spontaneous and explore. There is a tomb for the unknown soldiers of the Revolutionary War in the park.

By the time I took pictures of the monument, the park was back open. I had to go through security AGAIN, but there were no school groups in front of me this time, so it was quick. I went for a tour of Congress Hall, which is the building where Congress met for the first 10 years. In that Hall, both Washington and Adams were inaugurated. The inauguration of Adams is particularly significant, as it is the first time in modern western history that power was transferred from one person to another through an election process in such a peaceful manner.

On the other side of the park is Old City Hall, where the Supreme Court met while Philadelphia was our Capitol.

All of that wore me out, so I decided to make my way back to my room, even though it was still only 4:00. I had a night tour scheduled, so I wanted to rest my feet for a few minutes. I passed the Second Bank of the United States on the way, though, so I stopped to visit their portrait gallery. They have a collection of portraits of many who were instrumental in the founding of the United States, as well as prominent citizens of the state of Pennsylvania. Most of the portraits were done by Peale.

After the Second Bank, I had dinner…a Philly Cheesesteak! It was better than I was expecting.

I rested for a while and then went to a night tour called Lights of Liberty. It was a great tour. They give you headphones and you walk through various places in Independence Park as they tell you the stories of the Revolution. They project images on walls of the buildings to further dramatize the events. It is unique, interesting, and more in depth than a lot of tours. I would highly recommend it.

Well, I’m back in my room and ready for bed! Tomorrow night will be another late one, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post. I’ll try, though!

Oh yeah, did I mention my step count for today was 21,179? Not bad!