Generally speaking, there are two types of visitor who make their way to Congress Hall, in Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park. There are those who have just finished their tour of Independence Hall next door and are looking for something else to do while in historic Independence Square. And there are those who couldn’t get tickets for the Independence Hall tour (which are free but must be obtained in advance) and are looking for anything they can go in and see without a ticket while they’re in the square.
What do visitors make of a building that looks like the structure that once housed a famous person, that stands on the same piece of ground as that now-destroyed original structure once did, but is itself only a replica of that structure? Is that building still worth a visit? Should the replica have any meaning for visitors? That’s the question that confronts visitors to the Declaration House at 7th and Market streets in Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia’s historic district, just south of the Second Bank of the United States, stands a statue to Robert Morris, someone most of that city’s current residents will never have heard of. But Morris was a very important man in the country’s early history. If Robert Morris had had his way, the nation’s capital today wouldn’t be in Washington, DC. It would be in Philadelphia.
One of the most beautiful old buildings in Philadelphia’s historic district is a former bank with a lot of history behind it that’s now used as an art gallery. This is the Second Bank of the United States. It’s still called that, even though it hasn’t been used as a working bank for more than 180 years. It’s a hidden treasure. Really.
In case you missed the last posts on the subject, I was suggesting before that the Liberty Bell really has meaning for many, many people, even if they’re not always quite sure why that is. If you want a quick primer on how this works, try getting up close to the bell (or a picture of the bell) and look more carefully at four things—four visual elements—you can see clearly marked on its surface: a date, the names on the bell, the crack, and the “Proclaim liberty” inscription.
So yesterday I started talking about the Liberty Bell and noted how hard it is to get a handle on its significance. In another post I’m going to try and rectify that. But first, I want to say something about how the bell is displayed to the public.
As a newcomer to America, I found the Liberty Bell to be a bit of an enigma when I first saw it. It’s a biggish bell with a big crack in it. Sure, it’s old, but not that old. It’s a sacred relic, supposedly beloved by all Americans. It’s got a big crack in it. It had something to do with the American Revolution, but then so did lots of other things that are still around today. The word “Liberty” features prominently on its side. It’s put on display so people can go right up to it. And it’s got a big crack in it. Maybe it has something to do with the big crack.