Pennsylvania – Brings about a bit of fighting talk!
We had ventured through the West of Pennsylvania previously, but briefly, as we drove from our paranormal experience in West Virginia up to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Now, As we headed south, we would get a chance to stop and check out a couple of important sights in Philadelphia and Gettysburg
Philadelphia – A symbol for freedom
One of the first things that come to mind about Philadelphia, is of course Rocky Balboa and the iconic run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The ‘Rocky steps’ are undeniably one of the most popular attractions. Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania as a whole, is also notable for its rich history connected with the American Independence movement. The display of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, is a strong symbol of the path to freedom of the founding fathers.
The Philadelphia atmosphere
First thing we noticed was the good vibe in Philly. It’s the largest city in Pennsylvania, and there was certainly a buzz. Tourists and locals, visiting sights, dining, shopping, cycling or just wandering the streets in the summer heat, filled downtown Philly.
Enlightened Capital of Pennsylvania
Speaking of dining, Philadelphia was the best city we have come across in the states for vegan restaurants. The vegan Restaurants even stayed open until late! Sometimes we wonder if vegans ate after 6pm as in most places we came across outside of Philly closed even earlier! Maybe they turn into gremlins after a certain time! Luckily, this Pennsylvania hub was happy to stay open late for us plant eaters!
Anyway be sure to check out Vedge or Charlie was a Sinner. Reservations in advance are a must as they are very popular. Vedge is fine dining and on a par with michiln star restaurants, while Charlie was a Sinner has a dark, seductive environment oozing personality. Both restaurants serve small plates with the most artistically crafted food.
We stayed at Motto by Hilton Rittonhouse Square. Its a funky new hotel concentrating on the basics. It was expensive enough due to it’s location but was cheaper than a lot of it’s competitors. Clean and convenient. It has a skybar on the 11th floor with some good views of the city.
Points of interest
The iconic Rocky steps are in fact part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The 72 stone steps lead up to the museum.
Knox did his best Rocky impression, as he dashed up the steps punching and singing into the air. He rose to the challenge! Knox wasn’t the only one mimicking the famous moves, fans travel from all over the world to relive the memorable scene from Rocky.
Awesome views over the city is your reward. Exhilarating!
If your fitness levels need work to become a champion, why not just watch others run up the steps, it will give you a good belly laugh.
Another massive attraction, where queues are long just to get a picture with the bronzed statue, is Rocky Balboa in all his glory. Arms raised in triumph, the character has come to epitomise the Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, will to succeed. The statue was created for a scene during Rocky lll in 1980 by artist A. Thomas Schomberg. Go early as not to wait too long!
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Museum of Art is a spectacular space for art lovers, you will find everyone from Picasso, Twombly, Duchamp, Van Gogh among many others.
They even have a weapons and armour exhibit, along with Asian rooms and a 14th-century Buddhist temple. The museum sits high at the end of the city’s famous Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Its steps and concourse are also popular for wedding photos. There were at least 3 separate photo sessions while we were there!
Of extraordinary historical significance, Liberty Bell is an iconic symbol for American independence and liberty. Abolitionists, women’s suffrage activist’s, civil rights movements and more have used the bell’s ethos in a fight for equality.
The bell, commissioned in 1752, with the inscription “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land and all inhabitants thereof”, was last physically rung in 1846. While an irreparable crack prevents it from being rung now, it still rings metaphorically across the city, Pennsylvania, the country, and the world. Its message is a reminder to us of how important our freedoms are and how we must hold onto them tightly no matter how hard totalitarian governments try to demolish them.
Independence Hall (The Old State House)
Independence hall housed the Liberty Bell, in the clock tower, prior to its removal across the road. The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were debated and adopted here also. A real centre of the focus for freedom in Pennsylvania and the US as a whole, It is easy to see why the locals are so proud of Philadelphia.
Originally built from 1732, There was major reconstruction to the sides and clock tower in 1781 by the Pennsylvania Assembly, with further reconstruction and renovations over the years. Through all this the building has maintained a lot of its original design.
At the rear, is a statue dedicated to a good old Irishman. Commodore John Barry was born in Wexford but made his home in Philadelphia. He is credited as being the father of the US Navy.
Once a grazing field, a burial ground, and a park in an increasingly upscale neighbourhood, Washington Square now serves as a leafy memorial garden.
It’s dedicated to those who fought in the revolutionary war. I wonder what those freedom fighters, battling a tyrannical government, would think of today’s modern politics? Was it all worth it?
State penitentiary – A Pennsylvania institution.
Eastern State Penitentiary, the richest prison, is the most famous due to its strict discipline teaching prisoners a lesson with severe punishment.
The architecture from the outside looks more like a grand castle than a prison. You can take a self guided tour where you will learn about all the history of the prison.
It is an hauntingly eerie building. It is even more compelling due to the fact that the audio is narrated by a Hollywood celeb, former prison guards, and prisoners.
Love sculpture at Love Park
It’s real name is actually John F. Kennedy Plaza, however most people know it as Love Park!
The Love sculpture which has resided in the space since 1976, is an extremely popular photo op, so prepare to queue.
The plaza itself is good to stroll around or sit and have lunch on one of the benches and watch the world go by. There is also a waterfall which kids just love to cool down in.
Philadelphia City Hall
The seat of the municipal government of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the City Hall is built in the rich Napoleonic 3rd Architecture. The structure blends an eclectic mix of styles and artwork to create a fantastic showpiece in downton Philly. It’s imposing and impressive. The building was designed by John McArthur Jr and took 30 years to build. It was completed in 1901.
There are also some interesting Bronze statues around the city hall, including one of Benjamin Franklin, the young craftsman.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a very arty place.
As well as the Museums, statues, with even the courts getting in on the act, there are plenty of glimpses of colourful murals to brighten the concrete, bricks and mortar.
There are really meaningful sentiments put into these works of art and it is credit to the people of this old Pennsylvanian city.
Walnut Street Theatre
The official Theatre of the State of Pennsylvania and America’s oldest theatre, It was sad to see the Walnut Street Theatre with its doors still shut. They hope to open again in the fall / autumn.
It’s doors open over 200 years ago in 1809. It has changed hands a number of times but has remained open to delight many theatre goers. A lot of pre-Broadway tryouts have played here before going on to be big hits. A Streetcar named Desire, Starring Marlon Brando leads a long list of famous plays and names that have tread these famous boards.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – The civil war turns
After our brief stay in Philly, we headed west to the site of the bloodiest single battle in the Civil War Conflict. The pennsylvania town Gettysburg was the centre of the head to head between General Lee’s Confederates and Meade’s Union army. The 3 day battle had almost 166,000 participants with over 51,000 casualties, including at least 7000 killed (many more were listed as missing).
General Lee had come across the North / South divide to try and capitalise on the defensive victories he had won in Virginia. The goal was to force a negotiated peace but he failed in this respect and had to retreat with heavy loses.
A famous address
A portion of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address as the Union soldiers were remembered:
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
Key areas of the battlefield – Gettysburg, pennsylvania
Virginia had been ripped apart by war and food shortages were also an encouragement for Lee to march his men up to the rich farmlands of Pennsylvania. 75,000 headed north, and with 90,000 Union troops in the area, a fight was brewing.
There is a lot of ground to cover for the visitor. We picked up a map at the visitors centre and started our auto tour. It’s free to do this. Monuments, statues, and commemoration of the troops involved litter the countryside.
Soldiers national Cemetery / Cemetery Hill
We began at the closest point, which was the Union stronghold of Cemetery Hill and Meade’s Headquarters during the battle. The Soldiers’ National Cemetery is here. A respectful place of peace and quiet. Over 50,000 people, from both sides, were either killed or injured during this slaughter.
The Soldiers’ National Monument
Among the graves and other monuments, stands tall the Soldiers’ National Monument. The monument is dedicated, in the main, to the Union soldiers that are buried here. With Liberty on the pedestal, the figures of War, History, Peace, and Plenty depict the story of the ‘heroic struggle’ and the outcomes of peace and plentiful for all in its aftermath.
Meade’s Headquarters and Highwater Mark
The fortified strong point of Meade’s force was the focal point of the battles final day. General Lee makes a fatal mistake, as he feels the previous two days have weakened Meade’s forces and position, of ordering Gen. Pickett to advance across a mile of open fields to attack the central position of the Union army, from the west / south, on Cemetery ridge. Heavy fighting is going on to The East and South around Culp’s Hill.
It is a massacre of the Confederate soldiers during this assault. The foolhardy strategy was to try and overwhelm the Union forces but their position was much stronger. Only one brigade reached, what is now known as, the High Water Mark. 12,500 Confederate soldiers were involved in this assault, with an estimated 60% casualty rate. The advance ultimately led to defeat and retreat.
Amongst the many memorials in this area is the Pennsylvania Memorial. This is the largest memorial in the State park and marks the soldiers from Pennsylvania that fought at the battle. It is inlaid with regiment names, battlefield statistics, carvings, Political figures, and the Winged Victory statue on top of the dome. One can walk up a spiral staircase to the top platform of the monument to get a view of the battlefield.
McPherson Ridge, Oak Ridge, and the Eternal Light
On the 1st of July the battle commenced as Confederate forces, seeking supplies in Gettysburg, came upon Union Cavalry and the fighting begins.
The Confederate advance was held up until the Union infantry arrived. In they end the union lines began to crumble and they retreated to Cemetery Hill by late afternoon. We were there after the battle’s anniversary and the Sun was shining high over a calm countryside.
The heat was fierce and we can only imagine what it must have been like, in full battle uniform, with the roar of guns, the screaming of the fallen, and in the frenzy of the conflict.
An observation tower helps one see over this part of the battlefield while the ground level allows one to appreciate the undulation of the land.
The Eternal light Memorial
75 years after the battle over 1800 civil war veterans, all in their 90s, helped President roosevelt dedicate memorial. “Peace eternal in a Nation United”. People from both sides were in attendance. On top of this, the states involved met the cost of the monument.
The main position of the confederate forces, Seminary ridge in the lush countryside of Pennsylvania would be where the armies would face off. It has become known as parallel ‘fishhooks’ due to the general aerial view of the positions.
From here, the infamous Pickett Charge would begin. It would ultimately end the battle in defeat for the Confederate army.
Warfield Ridge, Little Round Top, The Wheatfield, and The Peach Orchard
The Confederate General anchored his left flank at Warfield Ridge. Now, the Union troops were positioned Opposite him.
Meade’s defence here wasn’t strong. As the attacks began in the late afternoon of July 2nd, the Union troops had to act quickly, under advice from Brig, Gen. Warren, to re-enforce the position. There was heavy fighting here that took its toll on both sides.
Federal troops had to retreat to fortify Cemetery ridge as the Confederates made costly gains.
Defeat and The aftermath
Back to where we started, the Pickett Charge, on the 3rd July, finally took its toll on the Confederate army. Shattered, they retreated with Lee in defeat. Maybe, due to his own men being decimated, Meade didn’t pursue General Lee’s forces. Lincoln felt that Meade had let the enemy escape and the prospect of their surrender had slipped away.
He may have been right but I guess he hadn’t been fighting in a hell hole for 3 days while over 51,000 casualties only told some of the story. How must those that hadn’t been injured physically have felt mentally?
In the end, 2 more years of bloody fighting happened before peace came. The states were United to a degree.