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Early America still comes alive in Historic Philadelphia

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STORY WRITTEN BY VINCE CAREY 
vcarey@21st-centurymedia.com
@vincecarey on Twitter

PHILADELPHIA >> If you have grown up in the region, chances are there has been at least one school trip to Historic Philadelphia.
Everybody probably has been there more than once.
There’s still an allure, though.
To think the basic tenets of the United States were debated right there a few blocks from the Delaware River can be kind of awe-inspiring.

HISTORIC IDEAS
Check out visitphilly.com for a complete list of what’s happening in Historic Philadelphia. Here are some highlights:
Family fun and festivals
 Spruce Street Harbor Park: Open daily along the Delaware River featuring food and drinks. There are also private waterfront cabanas and hammocks. Check out delawareriverwaterfront.com for more information.
 Colonial Kids’ Quest Puppet Show: Animal puppets lead the investigation as children of all ages track down Thomas Jefferson’s masterwork. Saturdays until July 23. Check out historicphiladelphia.org for more information.
 Once Upon A Time Storytelling Benches: Professional storytellers enchant their audiences with true, little-known tales from our nation’s past. This runs daily until Sept. 5. Check out historicphiladelphia.org for more information.
 Betsy Ross House: While there is debate about whether she actually stitched the origional flag, Betsy Ross was still a big force in Colonial America. Her interesting story is covered in detail at her former home on 239 Arch Street. Check out historicphiladelphia.org for more information.
 Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest: New this year at the outdoor roller-skating rink right on the river is a mini-golf course, and bigger benches and chairs. There is also a lot of new eating options. Check out delawareriverwaterfront.com for more information.
 National Liberty Museum: Features Technique, an exhibition of workes by renowned glass sculptors that depict the broad spectrum of ways the fragile material is used as art. This runs through July 1. Check out libertymuseum.org for more information.
 National Constitution Center: Special exhibition of “Headed to the White House.” The area features a history of American elections and voting. It also gives visitors the ability to launch their own campaigns, develop campaign messages, create campaign commercials and take the presidential oath of office. This runs through Nov. 13. Check out constitutioncenter.org for more information.
 Independence Seaport Museum: “Hellow Sailor,” running through the fall, offers a cheeky, saucy take on the classic, white-capped image of sailors with music, ads and pop culture. “Artship Olympia” transforms the oldest floating steel warship into an art venue. “Pirates & Patriots” weaves true tails of pirate-infested waters during the formation of the U.S Navy. Check out phillyseaport.org for more information.
 National Museum of American Jewish History: features “Locally Grown: Jersey’s Jewish Farms,” which explores how Jewish immigrants adopted the vocation of planting orchards, starting farms and tilling the soil of southern New Jersey. This runs through Aug. 28. Check out nmajh.org for more information.

Even now, with the car horns blaring and the choking smoke coming from the back of the tour buses, it isn’t hard to imagine the founding fathers walking through the doors of Independence Hall. Debating what a new nation free from British rule will look like and what they should eat for lunch.
Now, as part of the rebranding of the area as Historic Philadelphia, those historic figures (well, at least somebody dressed like George Washington and friends) come to life.
“There is more to a legendary city than its legends,” said Meryl Lentz, the president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia, the city’s tourism arm. “Many visitors don’t go beyond the legends that they know — the Liberty Bell Center, Independence Hall and the Visitor’s Center — and we all want them to see and do more here.”
According to studies, the average number of visitors to the historic area from 2011-2015 was 3.73 million. While a majority of those may be new visitors or those on vacation, there still is a heft group that has been here more than once.
So, the challenge is to make things new and old at the same time.
Part of that includes the reopening of the Second Bank of the United States, a Greek-gothic style building just down the street from where they signed the Declaration of Independence.
The bank, which was closed to the public over a year ago after a fire, houses portraits of all the declaration signers painted by Charles Willson Peale. Many of which were completed while they were still alive.
The bank, which took from 1819 to 1824 to complete, was actually closed in 1832 when president Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill seeking its re-charter.
“We want people to be able to reconnect with America,” Lentz said. “The goal is to not only sightsee, but sight-do.”
Even though everybody likes to see the Liberty Bell and while the Constitution Center offers a really in-depth look at everything about the government, there is a chance to get a little exercise with the history.
The Historic Philadelphia Trail is a 24-stop walk through Historic Philadelphia with stops at every landmark both big and small. The trail starts at the Independence Center and goes everywhere from the famous bell to the Seaport Museum and ending at the National Liberty Museum.
There will be maps available in the area and there is also a mobile component at visitphilly.com.
“It tells the story of the nation’s founding and the continuing struggle for liberty and freedom,” Lentz said.
Telling those stories are costumed guides throughout the entire area, some on benches and some just wandering around waiting to talk.
There are also plenty chances to tell your own stories by taking in the Independence Beer Garden or traveling along on one of the many Colonial Pub tours.
“We hope people will come here and take it all in,” Lentz said.

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