I’d taken one look at the thick, winding line for tickets to tour Independence Hall, cackled, cursed and said no, thank you, to the whole busy mess.
“I’m too mean to wait in a line that long,” is probably what I told my friend Tara, herself a resident of Philadelphia, as I scowled at the line and once again rattled off all the other options for National Park scampers, as if I hadn’t been prattling on and on about them since my arrival the day before.
Fast forward to later that morning and there we were, standing outside Independence Hall. There’s a handful of historic buildings there and we asked a passing park ranger if there were any we could enter without a ticket or a lengthy line-wait.
“How many are in your party?” he asked.
“Just two,” I said.
“I might have room for you on the next tour,” he said. “No promises, but wait by the bench over there and I’ll let you know in a few minutes.”
We thanked him six or seven times before heading straight to the indicated bench, exchanging giddy, sideways glances as we went.
“Park rangers are the best,” I said, smiling, trying not to let my hopes of getting into Independence Hall get the better of me.
A few minutes later the ranger was back, motioning us from our bench. He led us into the East Wing and told us to take a seat, that the tour would begin soon. As soon as he left the room, we squealed quietly at each other, trying not to drawn any attention to ourselves while marveling over our luck and the absolute delight of getting a spot on the tour without having to wait in the terrible, no-good, very bad line.
Once the rest of the tour group arrived, a ranger gave us an overview of Philadelphia’s historic importance in American history and told us the story of Independence Hall. Construction started in 1732 on what was then the Pennsylvania State House, built to hold all three branches of Pennsylvania’s government. It was completed in 1753 and then it became the “birthplace of America,” according to the National Park Service.
In 1775, George Washington was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army inside the Assembly Room. Later that year, Benjamin Franklin was appointed as the first Postmaster General and from 1775 to 1783 it was the primary meeting house for the Continental Congress. The Articles of Confederation were adopted there in 1781.
Oh, and the Declaration of Independence was approved there too, inside the Assembly Room, on July 4, 1776. It was then read outside in what is now Independence Square. More than a decade later, in the summer of 1787, America’s founding fathers debated and completed the United States Constitution there, windows shut tight to keep their deliberations a secret.
After learning the history of the building, the tour headed for the Supreme Court Room and then on to the Assembly Room.
As an American history lover, I’ve spent a good chunk of time standing in fields where American history was made. I’ve often stood in reconstructions of what was or even what might have been. And that’s fine. We’re young. We don’t have thousand-year-old castles, but we do have this, Independence Hall and the Assembly Room where our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were deliberated and decided. It’s different, yes, but standing there in that room, looking at the chair where George Washington sat as our nation was founded was incredible.
On the way out of Independence Hall we again thanked the ranger who got us a spot on the tour and quietly made our way outside.
“Wow,” I said, because I didn’t have any other words that could explain what being there was like.
Independence Hall is part of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tickets to visit the Hall are free and required. Information on how to get tickets is here. The park is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with all buildings closed on Christmas Day.
SHUTDOWN NOTICE: Due to a lapse in federal funding, Independence Hall and most other sites within Independence National Historical Park are closed to visitors during the partial government shutdown.