When we visit Philadelphia, we are stepping back into the past – our own and that of all our fellow citizens. No matter how much is new and fresh in this city, it’s hard to leave without being overwhelmed by history.
As for our own history, on New Year’s Eve of 1975, we packed up our U-Haul and headed to New York for our fame and fortune, having lived in Philly for three years. It was exactly forty years ago, and we honestly haven’t looked back.
But we do look fondly on some of the many things that Philadelphia offers. One of our favorites is the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. Amazing painters trained there and they left many wonderful works behind, in a building that would dazzle the senses even if the walls were blank. Lots of colonial history here. We love George III across from George Washington, framing a doorway through which one see William Penn negotiating with the Indians. (They wuz robbed!)
To get to the Academy, we walked through City Hall. Ignoring Philadelphia politics and politicos, we always admire this building, once central to the city, surmounted by William Penn. Only recently were buildings permitted to exceed Willy in height. Gorgeous area, including a nod to our boy Ben Franklin. (We passed on the Frank Rizzo statue.)
Then it was on to the old Wanamaker’s building, now a scruffy Macy’s. When I lived in Philadelphia as a young child, being taken to Wanamaker’s for an Easter outfit was the highlight of my fashion season. The atrium features the world’s largest playing pipe organ, and the famous eagle, which was the place to rendezvous.
But we went further back in time with the obligatory visit to Independence Hall. In the 50’s, we walked right in and could caress the Liberty Bell, positioned right in the middle of the hall. But on the night we moved, the Liberty Bell moved too, to massive quarters across the street, to allow the millions expected for the Bicentennial to see it separately and in a more orderly way. We waved it good-bye, but still come back to admire the Georgian grace and symmetry of Independence Hall. There is security now, and tickets are required, but it is still possible to tour this wonderful part of our shared American history.
Right across the street is one of our favorite Philadelphia treasures, in the lobby of the Curtis Publishing Building, wherein they churned out the Saturday Evening Post for many years. It is a mural designed by local artist Maxfield Parrish, done in Tiffany mosaic tile. How fortunate that it has been preserved all this time.
Thankfully some tastes remain too, including Philly cheese steaks and my personal favorite, the iconic soft pretzel – with or without mustard. Carry on, Philadelphia!