Gimme a “P”… Gimme an “A”

What do you do when you’ve canceled your reservations for a NYC spring break trip? For us, that meant 2 days of day trips into Washington, D.C. and then 2 days in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday morning: Out the door at the crack of 9:20am (we don’t go anywhere at the crack of dawn), with Encyclopedia Blue at the wheel (YIKES!!) we headed to


July 1-2-3, 1863 was a great deal warmer than April 7, 2009


close-up-of-robert-e-lee-on-travellerBut General Robert E. Lee still sat tall and proud on “Traveller”

dscn0489 …and we still climbed the platforms in the wind and snow flurries to see views like this:

Gettysburg, PA

Gettysburg, PA


I don’t know if it was sobering to the kids or not, but at least they will have a little bit more context the next time we sit down to watch the Ken Burns documentary “The Civil War.”

It was so cold and windy that we skipped the cemetery, swung into a McDonald’s for a pit stop (bathrooms and 15 dollar-menu cheeseburgers) before continuing on to Philadelphia.

Friendship Gate in Chinatown

Friendship Gate in Chinatown

in the Shanghai Bazaar

in the Shanghai Bazaar

Independence Hall (formerly known as the State House)

Independence Hall (formerly known as the State House)


We got settled into our hotel for the night and paid the $20 to park the car in an attended lot. Then we walked through Chinatown to Independence Square. Everything was closed up for the night, but we could still walk around and take pictures and make plans for tomorrow.

Nearly everything we saw on this trip was FREE (a favorite word for a family of 6), including the timed entrance tickets for Independence Hall.


The Liberty Bell is enclosed in a building (again, FREE to see) which was closed for the night; however, there is a viewing window for those who come after-hours.

We meandered down toward the waterfront in search of a place to eat dinner.

Irish Memorial

Irish Memorial

When you think Philly, what do you think of? What, you don’t think of Irish immigrants? After seeing this moving memorial, I certainly will!

great hunger, starvation, and desparation

great hunger, starvation, and desparation

mixed feelings about the journey

mixed feelings about the journey

Welcome hope from those who came before

Welcome hope from those who came before

SuperDad kept referring to that guy as “Uncle Sven” even when I pointed out that Sven is a Scandinavian name. “Seamus” didn’t stick!

In Remembrance

In Remembrance

Okay, so yes, you might also think of Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches, which is what I had for dinner (with onions, peppers, and mushrooms) along with a Harp lager (gotta keep with the Irish theme).

We kept to well-lit streets on the way back to the hotel. I’m told that Philly has a higher crime rate than NYC.

dscn0529-6-in-a-roomWe don’t need much for the night, just a bathroom and a place to sleep… but TV helps to keep us occupied while waiting for our turn in the bathroom. We put a boy on the floor, 2 boys in a bed, another boy on the floor, 2 parents in a bed, and there was still room for my new CPAP machine in the corner!

I opened my eyes to this sight

With complimentary breakfast in the morning downstairs, it was just right for one night. It also had some impressive views out the window the next morning! I opened my eyes to this sight —->


dscn0538-crane-lifting-girder-into-place2We were across the street from the new addition to the Convention Center.



We ate breakfast and checked out of the hotel but kept the parking spot (good until 3pm), then we moseyed back over to the tourist part of town. SuperDad and the boys toured the US Mint, but I couldn’t go in because I had a camera. (I wasn’t the only person standing outside while the rest of my group went inside). Then we all went over to see the Liberty Bell up close and in person:


We also had our free tour of Independence Hall:

Court room with 3 judges, jury box, and witness STAND

Court room with 3 judges, jury box, and witness STAND

Assembly room

Assembly room

Now it’s nearly noon… what should we do next?


A 20-minute carriage ride? That driver looks hopeful…


Nah… we need to spend the $30 on lunch.


(Sorry, sad driver — the economy sucks, doesn’t it?)

We try one final time (two previous stops have been unsuccessful thanks to large groups ahead of us) and manage to get into the Federal Reserve for the “Money in Motion” exhibit. It was FREE, but it wasn’t a free lunch…

SuperDad says we should Subway to the car. Huh? Why not walk? Oh. That kind of Subway! Five dollar foot-longs? Great idea! Four tuna and one roast beef on wheat, please. (We’ve got water, chips, and cookies stashed in the car.) Then we are off to our final tourist destination…


With 30 ft walls (ten more feet of wall underground) and an imposing facade… (those windows are fake — a trick of the eye, making the outside more imposing to those used to seeing European fortresses, while leaving the inside plain)


Eastern State Penitentiary was an active prison for 142 years. It closed in 1971 and is now a fascinating facility to tour. SuperDad read online that it was a great place to take families! I wouldn’t want to take preschoolers or toddlers there, but it was a great place for a family like ours.

dscn0585-eye-of-godThis was the world’s first true penitentiary; its goal was to inspire penitence. While the prisoners were in austere and solitary confinement, their arched cells were lit from above with a skylight (“the eye of God”)


They were supplied with a Bible, bed, desk, toilet, and meals. This place had central heating and running water before the White House did!


See that wooden door in the rear? It led out to a solitary exercise yard, which looked like this:


(SnakeMaster not included in prison yard package)


The rooms were small:

listening to a description

listening to a description

dscn0587-facilities-in-each-cellBut at least there was a toilet!

Officials from other American cities and from Europe came to visit this new kind of prison, where the goal was focused on reform instead of simply punishment.
The building itself (along with the “new approach”) became a model for over 300 prisons world-wide.

Al Capone was the most famous prisoner here, but there were plenty of others, too. There are several escape stories, including the infamous tunnel:

dscn0598-site-of-the-infamous-tunnelUnder the guise of fixing up an old storage room at the end of the hall, a prisoner (who was trained as a stonemason) dug out a hole in the wall, which he hid behind a wall-mounted wastebasket. Over the next 18 months, he dug 15 feet down, then tunneled the full distance across the prison yard, under the 40-ft prison wall (10ft of which was underground) and up & out into the street! He didn’t make his escape that night, but came back for his buddies. Twelve men made it out through that tunnel before they were caught! The final man turned himself in on the 8th day — he knocked on the warden’s door and asked to be re-jailed. He was hungry and didn’t know where else to turn. Everyone from that incident was re-captured, as well as most of the other attempted escapes. There was only one man in 142 years of prison operation who escaped; to this day, no one knows what happened to him.

After the prison closed in 1971, feral cats made this place “home.” A sculptor has created 36 different “ghost cats” which can be found throughout the building.

ghost cat

ghost cat

Eventually a humane society stepped in to spay/neuter these cats, and the last of them died in 2002 or 2003. A wonderful man named Dan McCloud fed them every day for 28 years; he died in 2002.


I was navigating for our return trip, so I nixed the turnpike in favor of driving on highway 30 through Lancaster County. I was rewarded with the sight of an Amish horse & buggy (and driver, of course) crossing the highway as we drove through a small town.


We learned a lesson here: staying in the city is a BIG time-saver. The less time spent commuting to where you want to be, the better! For the still-to-happen NYC trip, while I don’t think we can scrape up the funds to stay in $$~Manhattan~$$, I think we need to stay closer in than Elizabeth, NJ.

9 responses to “Gimme a “P”… Gimme an “A”

  1. Thank you!
    I almost feel as if I was there with you to see all of the same things as you did.

  2. One thing I loved about both Philadelphia and Boston was all the corner graveyards–so fascinating.

  3. What a great trip you guys are having! Love seeing on the sights and sounds when we can’t get to that part of the country ourselves!

    BTW, I just gave you the Zombie Chicken Award! Head over to the Frat House to pick up your award!

    Love your blog!

  4. Hoboken, NJ, is right across the river.

    And the Liberty Bell? 20 years or so ago, it wasn’t encased in brick and glass like that. It was in a sort of open brick pavilion in the middle of a grassy field. For some reason, it’s been classified as a terrorism target and been incarcerated. Ironic, isn’t it?

  5. I visited Philadelphia back in the summer of 1981, and the Liberty Bell was just as Suburbancorrespondent describes. I’m pretty sure you could touch it, too, way back then. Nowadays, they’ve figured out that when you touch it, it breaks down a tiny bit each time, so you can’t get that close to it anymore.

  6. What a lovely holiday you all had! Sucks about the weather though.

  7. Gosh, I *thoroughly* enjoyed your recap of the trip. (I usually read blogs while I eat breakfast/lunch, and this *totally* relaxed me) Thank you so much for all the details — it was quite interesting. And too cool that you also got to go to Eastern Pen. I’ve seen that on “Ghost Hunters” before. Thanks again for the great post. Oh, and one more thing, *kudos* on all the smart money-saving tactics!!! I was *impressed* — you remind me of me. 🙂

  8. The Carriage Driver

    It’s too bad you guys couldn’t have come with me for my tour. Next time you come back look me up. It’s really worth the paltry $30.

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