I’ve known my friend Patricia since we were college seniors, which was over 30 years ago. We both joined the Peace Corps after graduation and were slated to go to different countries. Her’s had a revolution, Americans were evacuated, and she ended up not only coming to my African country, but to the same town. After the Peace Corps, we moved to DC together, where we shared a hovel and one coat (her coat, which she let me wear every other day) through our first year of independent adulthood. So you see, I owe her. I’m telling you all this to set up the ice cream-in-snow story that comes up later in this post.
But let’s start at the beginning of our Philadelphia trip, with Patricia saying, “I have a friend who works for the National Museum of American Jewish History. She wants us to visit.” Patricia works for the Smithsonian, so she knows a whole lot of museum people.
I’m interested in Jewish American history. I’m particularly fascinated by the history of Jews in the American south. And the current (until June 2) special exhibit at the Jewish museum happened to be Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, about southern black colleges that gave refuge to Jewish scholars from Nazi Germany. Perfect. We drove to Philadelphia from Maryland in the morning, parked under the Independence Mall Visitor Center, picked up our Independence Hall tickets, and walked across the mall to the Jewish Museum. A statue of Uriah Levy stands across from the museum. I’d never heard of him until I got to Monticello, and now he’s everywhere.
We started on the fifth floor, with special exhibits. That’s where Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow was located. The permanent exhibit starts on the fourth floor, going chronologically from the 16th century, with the first Jews to reach the colonies, and working its way down to the second floor and modern times. You know how I love George Washington, so I have to mention this: they have letters between George Washington and various Jewish communities, assuring them of his support of religious freedom. When we finished with the exhibits, we only had a few minutes before we had to be at Independence Hall. So we ducked into the museum’s café, where I had a great salad and Patricia had homemade soup for lunch, while watching the snow falling on Independence Mall.
Yes, it was the weekend before the official start of spring, and it was snowing in Philadelphia.
We made it to Independence Hall on time. I already told you about that, so I’ll pick up after the Congress Hall tour.
Since we started planning for the Philly visit, Patricia had been talking about a particular ice cream parlor that, according to yet another museum friend of hers, makes the world’s best hot fudge sundae. She really, really wanted to go and since I’m all for ice cream anytime, anywhere, that was fine with me.
The ice cream place is called Franklin Fountain (everything in Philadelphia is called Franklin something) and was about 5 blocks east of Independence Mall. We got there and found that there was a line of people. Standing outside. Waiting to get in.
I don’t do lines.
This is where the “I owe Patricia for not being cold every other day while waiting for DC buses during the winter of 1980” comes in. Not that she’d ever hold it over me, but…. I stood in line. In the snow. For about 30 minutes. And that was just to get in the door. Then there was the wait inside. Once inside, though, there was a sudden turnover of patrons and the tables emptied. I was relieved that we wouldn’t have to eat our ice cream outside in the cold. Instead, we got to sit in the quaint, turn-of-the-last-century shop and enjoy our very, very good sundaes. They even have vegan ice “cream” in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.
A block from Franklin Fountain is Christ Church, the first Anglican church in Pennsylvania, founded in 1695. They claim Benjamin Franklin as a parishioner and he is buried in their graveyard a few blocks away. The parishioner part seems a tad suspect since Franklin wasn’t much for organized religion. I’ll have to ask them about that on my next trip, because on this one, I didn’t get to the church.
I also didn’t get to another close-by site that I very much wanted to see: Elfreth’s Alley, a one block community of picturesque, well-preserved early 18th century houses. There’s a museum on the block, dedicated to telling the story of the “ordinary” Philadelphia citizen.
Both sites had outdoor aspects better suited to a dry day, and rain was falling quite heavily by the time we finished our sundaes. So we high tailed it back to Independence Mall and the National Constitution Center.
The Constitution Center was having a special exhibit on the Prohibition, which had lots of interactive elements and objects and information about society and culture during the period. I enjoyed it a lot. I wasn’t as crazy about their permanent exhibit, though. It starts in a theater-in-the-round with a one person performance piece/sound and light show about the significance of the Constitution (they call it “a multimedia event”). It was – for me – neither informative nor (to make up for the lack of information) entertaining. I’d rather they have stuck with the usual intro film. Then came rather ho hum exhibits on the history of the Constitution. Maybe I was underwhelmed because I’m a social and military history kind of gal – legal history, not so much. Photos were allowed only in the Prohibition exhibit and in Signers’ Hall, with life size statues of the founding fathers.
Philadelphia has a 15% hotel tax and I must have been feeling particularly cheap that weekend, because I didn’t want to pay it. So we stayed outside the city proper at the Aloft Hotel. It was at the airport, an easy 15 minutes trip from downtown Philly. It was clean, convenient and cheap — just fine for an overnight. But I doubt I’d ever stay there again. There are better options (Hampton, Homewood) for hotels at that price point.