In honor of our nation’s 237th birthday on July 4th, I dedicate this post to Philadelphia. I recently visited Philly, where I hadn’t been since I was a child, so this trip was like seeing it for the first time. I had traveled to this historically and culturally rich city for business but carved out a little time for some whirlwind sightseeing. Taking that extra time was one of the best things I had done for myself in a long time.
Admittedly, I love American history, especially its early days, but I defy anyone to visit Philadelphia and not be wowed by the vision, daring, foresight, brilliance, energy and optimism that fueled the birth of this nation and much of which took place here. I also admit that these days, I find it hard to avoid feeling cynical about the state of our nation. Our stultifying, choking and often absurd government regulations and litigious environment are demoralizing, the antithesis of what America was based on, and very obviously a drag on our current prospects. The normalization of the welfare state and the scandalous efforts to actively recruit people to get on the public dole are also a slap in the face to the concept of proud self-reliance which has always, until recently, been one of our proudest achievements. To me, these trends reflect a nation in decline.
But this made my visit to Philadelphia that much more inspiring: I learned more than I had known about our history and am now inspired to learn much more about what the Founding Fathers (and mothers!) sacrificed to build this revolutionary concept in democracy. This gives me hope.
The room where the Declaration of Independence was signed,. It is a great feeling to stand in that room.
My short sprint through some of Philly’s historical gems did not do them justice at all, but I loved every place I visited and took what I could from my visits, including the thoughtful exhibits at the Liberty Bell Center, and the spacious and beautifully orchestrated exhibits and videos at Independence Visitors Center. I was moved to stand in the same room where the Continental Congress met and where Declaration of Independence was debated, edited, and signed. Next time, I’ll make sure to visit the gorgeous the National Constitution Center, which I simply did not have time for.
I dashed in to see the late 19th Century European paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest and most impressive museums in the country, and was delighted that the organizers of the conference I attended included a guided tour of the Barnes Foundation. It is hard to believe, but the massive collection here all belonged to one man, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, who bought much of his collection during the Depression, picking up even Renoirs, Monets and van Goghs for a song. What makes the Barnes Foundation distinctive among fine art museums is not just the scope of the collection, but Dr. Barnes’ unique and innovative way of displaying the works.
One of the more than 180 Renoirs at The Barnes Foundation.
I also took a walking tour tracing the footsteps—literally and historically—of Benjamin Franklin, who lived in Philadelphia for many decades and made his mark here in almost every endeavor possible. Sure, I had known he was an inventor, statesman, scientist, philosopher, wit, and ladies’ man, but I had no idea of the scope of his contributions. Franklin, who was the youngest of 15 children, was pulled out of school at only 10 years old to be apprenticed to a soapmaker, but his almost total lack of formal education didn’t stop him from becoming an accomplished writer, printer, inventor (bifocals, Franklin stove, the first flexible catheter, ways to harness electricity and various methods of conducting heat, among others) and founder of the first subscription library in the world, hospitals, colleges, insurance exchanges, and philosophical societies. This was in addition to his political achievements, such as securing the support of the French for the American Revolution, negotiating the Treaty of Paris in 1783, serving as Governor of Pennsylvania for three terms, and his stance as an outspoken abolitionist. And there is much, much more than even this list.
I plan to read Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, to learn more not only about this remarkable man but about our remarkable history. He lived in a time when the sky really seemed the limit in terms of what a man could achieve in a new, open and free land.
Meanwhile, here’s a little column that I enjoyed, and which includes some of Benjamin Franklin’s timeless wisdom: Ben Franklin’s advice for marketing change agents. And if you can plan a trip to Philadelphia, go. It will make you feel good about America and its possibilities all over again.
If you are new to the Mirth and Meaning blog, I welcome you! Catch up on blogs you may have missed by visiting my site: http://www.judygruen.com And w.hen you need a break from reading about Benjamin Franklin and want something funny and sugar-free, read my latest book, Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping.