Liberty, Independence, Rocky and E. A. Poe

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing

Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Sunday, October 21, 2012

On this leg, we drove from Mystic, Connecticut down to Lancaster, PA, about an hour west of Philadelphia. The drive was pretty exciting, mostly because one of the support legs on the tent trailer came loose and was dragging on the freeway, making a horrible racket and causing other drivers to wave their arms at us. We had to drive it that way for about 5 miles through a very confusing set of interchanges between the Bronx and Jersey before we finally found a rest area and got it taken care of.

We made camp in Amish country, in fact, right next to an Amish farm. It was a beautiful area and had some interesting features, like a goat that was chained to a fence 24/7 (we made sure someone was giving him food and water) and a cat that tried to adopt us and kept trying to jump into our tent trailer every time we opened the door.

There was a farm road between the campground and the farm, where we would take walks and look at the farm and forest, visit the goat, and also this was where I started doing some phone interviews, looking to bring in some supplemental income. It was pretty interesting walking back and forth on this Amish farm road, petting a goat, and talking at length about things like dependency injection and the MVC component model. I wonder what the Amish would have thought of it.

The first attraction we tried to see was the Edgar Allan Poe historic site. However, it was closed on that day (park funding has been cut back due to recession). We would go back and see it on our last day in Philly, so more about that in a moment.

The first attraction we actually visited was Valley Forge. We learned quite a bit about George Washington and the miserable winter spent by his troops in this location. Basically what happened is that the British conquered Philadelphia, which at that time was the Nation's capital. The Patriots pulled back to Valley Forge and dug in there for the winter, where they could keep an eye on the British and also try to prevent them from moving farther west. The British generals thought about attacking Valley Forge but thought better of it, once they saw the fortifications. They had tried attacking such a camp before (Bunker Hill), but that didn't work out so well for them.

We got a chance to see reproductions of huts similar to those the troops built and lived in, as well as some redoubts (basically a dirt-walled fortress) and George Washington's headquarters, where he and Martha lived during that winter. However, besides the house that Washington used for his headquarters, there is almost nothing original in the area. During the height of the encampment, there were thousands of huts, a blacksmith shop, a commissary, etc. Within 10 years after the troops departed, everything was removed so the farmers could farm once again.

After Valley Forge, it was time to hit downtown Philadelphia and visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. To get into this area, you have to go through a security screen and then after your tour, they usher you back outside of the secure area. I understand and appreciate this kind of protection of our National treasures, but it makes me sad that it's come to this.

At Independence Hall, they give you free tour tickets, and then they corral a group of about 50 people per half hour into a room where a park ranger gives you some background on the structure and the events that happened there. We got to see the courtroom where the Supreme Court at that time was seated, original copies of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, along with the inkwell used to sign the Declaration.

The actual room where the Declaration of Independence was signed is pretty nondescript. It's a gray-walled room with many tables with green tablecloths. It looks just like what it was...not a room made for tours, but for doing the Nation's work. It was awe-inspiring to stand in the same room where America became a Nation. It made me thankful for the liberties and freedoms we do have, even if there are more I wish we had.

After our half-hour tour of Independence Hall, we went across the street to visit the Liberty Bell. It sits in the "Liberty Bell Center", which is an elongated room where you pass several exhibits about the Bell's history and artifacts that are related. One very poignant photo was of a Blackfoot chief, basically forced to do a photo opp with the Bell, while during the same period, the freedoms of his people were being taken away. As much as I appreciate America and the efforts of our forefathers, I understand that it came with a heavy price.

After you see various exhibits leading up the the Bell, you get to the end of the building and BAM, there it is. You stare at for a few moments, get your photos, and move away. It was great to see in person, but you can only stare at a bell for so long.

Our last stop for the day was the Philadelphia Art Museum. It would have been fun to go inside and check out the art. But it had been a really long day, and all I really wanted to do was relive that moment in the movie Rocky, when Stallone sprinted up the stairs and pumped his arms to the sky, with the museum in the background and then, swinging around, the view of downtown Philly from there. I can tell you that there were more people there doing this sort of thing than there were going in the museum. So, I made my tribute video, which you can find here if you haven't seen it.

The next couple of days were spent in camp, doing some chores and some work, with fuel supplied by our first Philly cheesesteaks (chicken version since we don't eat beef). Yum.

Based on a tip from our friends, the Bullocks, we decided to use Philly as a jumping-off point to see New York City, which you will hear about in our next blog. But on the way to the Greyhound station to catch our bus to NY, we stopped again at the Edgar Allan Poe house, so that's the last bit I wanted to share about Philly.

If you know much about Poe, you probably know that he moved around a lot (like yours truly) and that for most of his life, he was poor. The house he lived in in Philadelphia was a small but nice house for the times. Now it sits in a rather scary, rundown part of town.

During his time in this house (about a year), Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart and The Gold Bug, and began work on The Raven (to be published after he moved to New York). We watched a short video about his life (the main theme of which is that he was always. so. poor.). We also learned that he married his first cousin Virginia when she was 13 and he was 27. She seemed to be sick all her life and finally succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 24. We got to walk through the house, up a set of crazily steep stairs, to the room where she lived 24/7, while Poe must have walked up and down those stairs a million times, to see to her needs. The house struck me as claustrophobic. The rooms were small, the stairs narrow, and the basement creepy (how could it be otherwise?).

After Virginia's death, Poe turned to alcohol to comfort his pain. He was not a drug user, despite popular belief. The park ranger explained to us how Poe had enemies and one of these was tasked with writing his obituary after his mysterious death in Baltimore. This writer apparently always hated Poe, and invented stories of drug use to slander his name. Classy.

You can see why, given his constant poverty and all of the death and misery around him, Poe wrote such dark material. The truth is, according to the movie we watched, that all Poe really wanted to be was a magazine editor. He loved gathering, editing and publishing stories, and his own writings were mostly written to make some money. He finally got to publish his own magazine about a year before he died.

Philly is a great American city. A lot of history, a lot of great places to visit, and just a cool vibe about it. I don't think I'll be moving there, but I would like to visit again someday.

Stay tuned for our next blog, from The Big Apple!




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