Tag Archives: American history

Independence National Historical Park

I took a trip this past Memorial Day weekend, so I’m loaded with more material, so I may switch back to posting twice a month in the coming months. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s finish with my last stop during my Philadelphia day trip from last August…

Independence National Historical Park, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Independence National Historical Park encompasses several street blocks, thus various buildings and facilities are considered as part of the park. The historical park is open daily from 9am to 5pm, but hours may vary for some of the buildings and facilities, thus it’s best to check the park’s website for hours of operation. Independence National Historical Park is easily accessible via car and public transportation. If you choose to drive, there are various parking lots nearby, but note that fees do apply. If you choose to take public transportation, take the SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway, the blue line, to 5th Street/Independence Hall Station, and walk about one block west to reach the Visitor Center or one block south to reach Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The historical park can be a short half day visit if you want to visit the must see sites only, but if you want to see everything, it can take several days, so there’s plenty to do. Should you wish to switch things up a bit, stop by the Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation to take a break from history and learn some chemistry.

As mentioned above, Independence National Historical Park includes a lot of sites, but I only managed the must sees during my visit, thus this post will cover only the following: Independence Square, Liberty Bell Center and Independence Visitor Center. Independence Square is comprised of Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Philosophical Hall and Old City Hall. To get into Independence Square, visitors are required to go through a security screening, but the line moves relatively quick. Independence Hall is open daily from 9am to 5pm, and to 7pm in the summer. Admission to Independence Hall is by tour only. Timed-entry tickets are required between March to November. Tickets are free and can be obtained at the Visitor Center on the day of the visit, or for a small fee tickets can be reserved in advance either online or by telephone. ( I didn’t want to pay a fee, so I just headed to the Visitor Center first thing and obtained tickets. Don’t get there too late, since they do have a limited amount of tickets per day.)  The tour starts in the East Wing of Independence Hall, where the ranger guide gives a 10 minute overview on the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, followed by a 20 minute tour of the first floor of the Independence Hall, bringing the total tour time to 30 minutes.

The West Wing of Independence Hall contains the Great Essentials exhibit. Visitors can view original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. There is also an inkstand on display. (Please excuse the poor photos, my hands aren’t still enough for longer exposure times needed to take pictures in low light.)

Congress Hall is open from 9am to 5pm daily. Congress Hall is accessible only by tour, but there is no need to obtain tickets, as it’s on a first come first served basis, so just show up around the scheduled tour times. Tours last about 15 minutes and are scheduled for every 30 minutes. Congress Hall was home to the U.S. Congress from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the U.S. The building is two floors, the open space ground floor was where the House of Representatives met, and the U.S. Senate congregated on the second floor, which is comprised of several rooms.

Philosophical Hall houses the American Philosophical Society (APS) and its museum. The APS was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 to promote useful knowledge.  The APS museum is open between April to December, from Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. (Check their website for current hours and exhibits.)  The museum contains one exhibit that rotates on an annual basis that features the society’s collection of historical items and materials. The museum is on one floor of the building, spanning several rooms. When I visited, the exhibit on display was “Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America”, which lasted from April 15, 2016 to December 30, 2016. The exhibit highlighted Jefferson’s collection of Native American languages. I didn’t get a chance to visit the Old City Hall as I was running low on time and also I couldn’t find the entrance, so I decided to skip it and move onto the next destination.

The Liberty Bell is one of the most famous sites in Philadelphia. The bell can be seen in the Liberty Bell Center, which is very close to Independence Hall. The center is open from 9am to 5pm year round, to 7pm during the summer months. Admission is free.  Asides from viewing the Liberty Bell (which is a lot smaller than I expected), there are various exhibits highlighting the history of the Liberty Bell.

Last, but not least, is the Independence Visitor Center. I started here to get tickets for Independence Hall, but didn’t see the exhibits inside until the end. The visitor’s center contains a theater where visitors can enjoy films about the founding of the United States and the Revolutionary War. In addition, there’s an exhibit inside showcasing some prominent historical events and figures related to Philadelphia, such as the Underground Railroad and Benjamin Franklin.

Seeing all of the above took me about 2.5 hours total, including travel time to each place, and waiting for tours to begin and in lines . The majority of the time was spent with the guided tours as the time was predetermined; in the self-guided areas, I spent significantly less time, not more than 20 minutes in each area, and looking back now I don’t feel it was an adequate amount of time for some of the sites. Thus other visitors will most likely need more time to see all of the above, but the minimum time to spend is 2.5 hours (however, you may spend less time too, if you read and move faster). Everything at Independence National Historical Park is free, thus it’s a good place to bring your friends and family as there’s enough to do that everyone will find something interesting. People who enjoy history will definitely have a field day as every where they turn, a piece of history is staring back. So put on your good walking shoes and learn about the founding of the United States at Independence National Historical Park.

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Liberty Hall Museum

Since this summer has been so cool and breezy, and work has been light and easy, I took another half day trip on a Friday, a few weeks ago. Turns out there are plenty of museums in New Jersey, however most of them are far from my work place, and not en route when I go home, so I’ll have to visit those some other time. In the mean time, a museum that was along the way is…

Liberty Hall Museum, located in Union, New Jersey

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(This isn’t the museum. It’s the visitors’ center, the place to pay for admission. You can’t get in without paying.)

Liberty Hall Museum is located within Kean University, so it’s not hard to find, there are signs pointing the way even outside of the university. The museum is open from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Saturday. Regular adult admission is $10 and student admission is $6. (The person who worked there thought I was a student; I’m quite please to know I still look young enough to be one.) Since the museum is located in a university, one would think that visitors will have to do that whole university visitors’ thing: park in a special lot far away and pay who knows how much. But not at the Liberty Hall Museum, they have their own visitors’ parking lot, and best of all it’s free and right in front of the visitors’ center.

As I approached the museum, I saw a sign posting times for the guided tours, and thought, “hey they offer guided tours in addition to letting visitors roam freely.”( I’m not particularly fond of guided tours, so I didn’t bother too much with the sign.) When I entered, another thought suddenly hit me, “there was only the guided tour of the museum, you can’t wander as you please.” As I realized that, I wanted to turn around and leave, however I couldn’t exit as the museum employee already saw me and I was the only person there, so I paid my admission fee, and prepared for the guided tour.

The Liberty Hall museum tour is my first guided museum tour, and it was a VIP experience. The tours are every hour on the hour. I arrived at about 20 min pass 2pm, so I  apparently missed the 2pm tour and would have to wait till 3pm. However the museum employee  informed me there wasn’t a 2pm tour as people didn’t show up, thus he decided to do the tour with just me so that I wouldn’t have to wait until 3pm. It was a very considerate thing to do, but I was freaking out at that moment because I’ve never been on a guided tour, I don’t know how to behave: am I supposed to ask questions? can I wander away a bit? can I linger at particular exhibits? In addition to that, I knew nothing about the museum, so I was most likely going to stare at my guide like a wide eyed child. Nevertheless, the 2pm tour that was just me and my guide, an older gentleman who has worked at the museum for 11 years, began.

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The tour begins with a 10-15 min orientation video that gives visitors a history of the house and the people who lived there. From the video, I learned that the house was built in 1772, and originally belonged to a William Livingston, who was the first governor of New Jersey. The house was sold at one point, but was repurchased by a relative to William Livingston, and thus became the Kean house, as the new owners carried the Kean last name. After the video, my guide and I crossed a big garden to get to the museum house. Photography is not allowed inside the museum house.

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(The museum house, hidden behind trees)

The Liberty Hall Museum is a three story house that contains 50 rooms. According to my guide, one of the features that makes this historic house special is that it was never a boarding house. In addition to that, the folks who lived there never threw a single item out, thus a lot is known about the origins of the items in the house, as there are even receipts for some of the items. The best part of the museum was the second floor which consisted of the bedrooms. The bedrooms were all individually themed, and consisted of artifacts relating to that particular theme. For example, there a was room called the “Martha Washington” room because she supposedly slept in that room, hence the room was decorated according to the time period that she lived and consisted of artifacts from then. Even though the Liberty Hall museum is a historic house museum, it has special exhibitions too. When I visited, the exhibition was on the travels done by the various Kean family members, hence in a several of the bedrooms, there were artifacts highlighting the travels of the Kean clan, such as photographs, souvenirs, maps, etc.

Aside the bedrooms, the basement, which was the servants’ quarters, was a real eye opener. The museum had a really old clothes washer and dryer that I didn’t recognize as such, and would never have guessed that’s what they were. In addition to that, the museum house had an open hearth kitchen and various cooking utensils that were used for cooking in the hearth. (My guide was very thorough, he even explained to me what the utensils were for, as I didn’t recognize some of the items again.)

The tour lasted about an hour, thus I spent a total of about an hour and half at the museum. For guided tours, the guide is very important as they make or break the tour, as demonstrated by these two ladies who left the 3pm tour midway. (My tour just finished, and they were leaving, so my guide and I bumped into them.) They mentioned that their guide wasn’t that enthused about the museum, and thus didn’t seem well versed in the museum house’s history, hence they knew they weren’t going to enjoy the tour much. (I spoke with one of the ladies, and she mentioned that she has done several museum tours, and thus knew what to expect from the tours.) Because I had a great tour guide, the Liberty Hall museum tour (and my first museum guided tour) was a really good experience (although I still prefer roaming free). So go take a guided tour of the Liberty Hall museum, and see for yourself the house that has been around as long as America has been. (Just be on the look out for the older gentleman guide, he’s the one you want to lead your tour!)

National Museum of American History

With this post, I will have reached the finale of the Washington D.C. adventure (woo-hoo). It took me nearly a year to make a post for each DC museum visited (I didn’t even visit that many), but the summer memories surely brightened those cold, dreary winter days when I just sat at home and ate. Without anymore commentary, the last DC museum is…

National Museum of American History, located in Washington, D.C.
(No building picture because I was extremely tired at the time)

The National Museum of American History is part of the Smithsonian Institution, so it goes without saying that admission is free. During the summer, the hours are from 10am to 7:30pm, and regular hours are from 10am to 5:30pm. The National Museum of American History is located right next to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, so it was pretty natural that me and my traveling companions hopped over after the natural history museum visit, to take advantage of the summer hours and to get the most out of our DC adventure.

We visited the museum pretty late, around 5, thus there were no more floor maps to guide us, so we just followed the wall map as best as we could. The museum layout was a bit inconvenient (I consulted the museum website and found a museum floor map). The museum has three floors in one building, which is perfectly normal except that the main entrance is on the second floor, which means visitors will eventually have to retrace their steps if they want to leave from the same entrance they came from. Nevertheless, the stairs aren’t that steep, so it’s not that troublesome (but I was super tired when I visited, so I really didn’t want to walk extra).

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The museum has a series of iconic American history objects placed throughout the museum that highlight the theme of the exhibitions in that area. The first (and only) one that I manage to see and take a photograph of was the Civil War Draft Wheel, which identified the American wars and politics area of the museum.

The main appeal of the museum for me was the gowns worn by the first ladies, thus we headed to the third floor where the exhibit is located. However, without a handy dandy floor map, we weren’t so lucky to get the right exhibit the first time. The first gallery visited was entitled “The American Presidency”, which details all aspects of the lives of the American presidents. I found the personal lives of the presidents to be most interesting: to see the toys their children or grandchildren played with, the clothes they wore, the hobbies they had. It makes us realize that presidents are normal people too, people who want to enjoy life and spend time with their loved ones.

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Right after the American presidency gallery, we found the First Ladies exhibit, it was right next door. The gowns were very elegant, ones that I can envision a first lady wearing. It was nice to see all the gowns side by side, to see how fashion has changed since America came to be. Aside from the gowns, the exhibit consisted of china and tableware that the First ladies used to entertain at the White House. In addition, there is a section that highlighted how various First ladies contributed to their respective husband’s presidential administration, which demonstrates that the First ladies weren’t there just to look nice and serve the foreign guests food. However, I felt that the section was overshadowed by the rest of the exhibit. The exhibit aims to encourage visitors to think about the changing roles of women, but because the gowns and the fine china are the main focus, the exhibit perpetuates the idea that a woman has to look beautiful and serve a delicious dinner. I feel more emphasize needs to put on the changing roles of women for the visitors to really consider it. Although I have my complaints, I did enjoy the exhibit.

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Continuing our exploration of the third floor, we ventured into the exhibit entitled, “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War”. As indicated by the title, the exhibition chronicles Americans at war, from the American Revolution to the present day conflicts in Iraq. I quite liked the section on the American Revolution because I understand the Revolutionary war the best of all the wars that America has participated in, and it’s easiest to enjoy something that you understand. However, I found the highlight of the whole exhibit to be the one room that displayed the villains of World War II: Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. The room consisted of three display boards only, but it was very impressive somehow.

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Finishing off on the third floor was the exhibit on the Gunboat Philadelphia, the oldest surviving American fighting vessel. The Philadelphia was a vessel that was used during the American Revolution. It sank during a battle on Lake Champlain in New York, and wasn’t recovered till 1935 with most of its equipment still intact. The gunboat was moved to the museum in 1964.

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The museum had an exhibit about the Little Golden Books while my traveling buddies and I were visiting. During the early 20th century, story books for children were expensive and only available to the privileged, but with the introduction of Little Golden Books, which were  inexpensive, sturdy and child-centered, story books became accessible to all children. (I kind of remember seeing the Little Golden Books when I was younger, the cardboard covers and gold foil spines.)

On the second floor, we explored the “American Stories” exhibit which contains many artifacts that told stories of America’s history. Since we were running low on time and energy, I ran to see the most famous of them, the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.  There are a lot of artifacts in the gallery, so it will taken hours to see each and every one in detail, therefore go early if you want to be thorough.

We didn’t explore the first floor galleries because as mentioned above, we were exhausted. All in all, we spent about an hour at the National Museum of American History, and that is definitely not enough time to see everything. I managed to see all the exhibits I wanted and bits of others, but I missed out on a lot, so this museum  deserves a future revisit (and has been placed on my to revisit list). In the meantime, history buffs, and anyone interested in American history will enjoy the museum, but others will also find something to marvel at (the First Ladies’ gowns are a good place to start), so go take a look at the National Museum of American History if you have a moment to spare.

Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages

I’ve lived in Stony Brook, NY for a couple of years, and let’s just say that Stony Brook is a small town, so there really isn’t too much to do, especially if you don’t have a car.  It does have a museum, which I’ve never been to, for a variety of reasons. Well, the chance came a few weeks ago, and I jumped on that opportunity, and took myself and a friend to…

Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages, located in Stony Brook, NY
(Sorry, no picture of the building, you’ll see why soon)

The Long Island Museum is very easy to miss if you are not looking closely. (I wasn’t, so I missed the turn for the museum and had to double back.) There are two reasons for this: 1) Museums are typically big buildings with in your face displays of the museum name, but what I saw was a small one story building, with a moderate sized display, that sat about ten feet from the road, thus making it slightly harder to find (Also, I didn’t have a GPS); 2) Museums are typically big buildings that are a few stories high with all the exhibits inside, however the Long Island museum’s design is different. The small building that I saw was the visitor’s center, where the admission desk and the gift shop are located. The actual museum galleries are located across the road from the visitor’s center, and spread out on a couple of acres. Hence, the atypical design of the Long Island museum makes it slightly more difficult to locate for city dwellers like me.

The Long Island museum is open on Thursday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm; Sunday, from noon to 5pm. Regular admission is $9, however if you visit on a Thursday, they have a two for one deal. After you pay, they give you a little clip to gain entrance into the other galleries (so make sure not to lose it). After you exit the visitor’s center, you must either cross the street to see the other exhibits, or drive your car to the other side (I suggest you drive your car over, there is parking on the side, and it seems safer to be in the car than trying to cross the streets).

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First stop was the carriage house. The carriage house could easily be its own museum with the vast amount of carriages on display. It also fits my description of a typical museum, big name display and three floors of exhibits housed in one building. From everyday use carriages, to luxury carriages, to motorized carriages, the carriage house is a carriage enthusiast’s dream come true. I am no carriage enthusiast, but I had a good time at the carriage house; my first time seeing so many various carriages in one place. In addition to carriages, there is an exhibit on carriage-making, showing the process via a short video and some original equipments used in a carriage workshop. The carriages were organized by type, such as luxury carriages and parade carriages, so each gallery of carriages had its own theme. The carriage house was a nice experience, but I think it would be better if they had a floor guide because it makes navigating the exhibits easier. (Also, it’s easier for me to remember what I saw.)

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Next stop, American history (pertaining to Long Island). The American history portion of the museum consists of several historical buildings originating from several parts of Long Island. These historical buildings are as follows: Beaux-Arts Fountain, Nassakeag One-Room Schoolhouse, Outdoor Privy, Samuel H. West Blacksmith Shop, Williamson Barn, Smith Carriage Shed, and Smith-Rudyard Burial Grounds. The blacksmith shop was fascinating, as I’ve always thought that blacksmiths only forged weapons, but turns out that make everything that can be made with metal. The schoolhouse was another memorable building because of the setup of the classroom. The chairs and desks face the teacher’s desk as is typical of modern classrooms, but the blackboard is located in the back of the room, so how do the students copy the notes? Plus, on all the students’ desks were little portable blackboards, very similar to students today taking notes with tablets.

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Last, but not least was the Art museum. According to the map of the museum, the art museum features changing exhibitions of American art and history. When we visited, the exhibits on display were “A Painter’s Studio is Everywhere: Paintings by William Sidney Mount” and “Coney Island and Jones Beach: Empires by the Sea”. The gallery “A Painter’s Studio is Everywhere” is very typical of what you will find in most art museums, paintings on the wall. The “Coney Island and Jones Beach” gallery was very fun, plenty of memorabilia from the past relating to the two beaches, such as historic beachwear, photographs and prints. (No pictures allowed in this gallery.) One video captured my attention for its entirety. It was a video recorded in Coney Island (I think in the 1920s) featuring some of the whimsical rides of the time. The rides were simple with lots of spinning involved, but I have never seen rides like those before, there were no straps, no belts, nothing to prevent people from getting hurt. (The speed was probably not enough to cause any serious injuries, though.)

We spent about an hour visiting the whole museum, and the carriage house alone was worth the admissions, so many carriages, but the history and art bits were nice additions. The museum was actually one of the emptiest ones that I have ever been to, the whole time we were there, we saw less than five other visitors. It may be due to the location, the fact that we visited on a Friday afternoon or the default travel vehicle no longer being a carriage. The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages was different from most museums that I have been to, but it was a good experience. If you happen to be in Long Island, a carriage enthusiast, or whatever other reason, drop by the museum and take a look, there are not many other places that can boast such a large carriage collection.