I spent the drive there pushing away the weight of it, singing with the windows down. It was day one of a five-day getaway and I was reveling in it, that good vibe sensation of free, open days spread out in front of me. I let it creep in as I got closer. I stopped pushing, opened the door to it and let the thought of it, the heft of it, sit with me as I drove. I didn’t try to shape it or guide it, I didn’t fight it, I just let it in and let it be. And then I was there, at the Flight 93 National Memorial in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, where, on Sept. 11, 2001, a hijacked Boeing 757 carrying seven crew members, 33 passengers and four terrorists crashed into a field as part of a multi-pronged attack on the United States.
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.
I’ll tell you that his mother died when he was three, that his father was already gone and, an orphan, he was adopted by John and Frances Allan in Richmond. I’ll tell you he considered Richmond his home, called himself a Virginian and gave one of his last readings of “The Raven” here. I’ll tell you about The Poe Museum and the two black cats who live there, kept by the museum in honor of Poe’s love of cats. They’re named Edgar and Pluto.
When I went to Philadelphia, I realized I have some very strong feelings about Poe and what cities should be able to claim him. Philly is home to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, and that makes sense because Poe lived and wrote there for six years. They were some of his happiest and most productive years.
While Poe lived in a bunch of houses during his Philadelphia years, the house where the National Historic Site now resides is the only one still standing. He rented the house in 1843 and probably stayed there for less than a year with his wife Virginia and mother-in-law Maria Clemm, who was said to always be busy cleaning and cooking for the couple.
He wrote some of his most-known works in Philadelphia, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and, in total, he published 31 stories during his time there.
While no remnants of Poe’s time in the house exist today, the National Park Service has done an incredible job telling the story of his time in Philadelphia and in the house. They fill in the details where there are none.
The site includes the original home Poe and his family lived in, along with two adjoining residences built after his time there, now used to house a welcome area, a gift shop, theater and a few exhibits.
There’s even a creepy basement.
Poe and his family moved out in the spring of 1844 and a few other families rented the house until Richard Gimbel bought it in 1933. He was a fan of Poe and opened it as a museum, leaving it in his will to the city of Philadelphia. In 1978, the National Park Service took control of the home and opened it to the public in 1980.
The ranger here was incredible, which was actually pretty standard for all the park rangers I encountered during my time in Philadelphia. As I walked up from the creepy basement, I told the ranger I thought Poe would approve of the place, that I think he would have liked it. He said he liked to think so too, especially when the spiders were busy in the basement and the slugs were sliding their way across the walls.
So, Philly can have part of Poe. They can claim him, just like Richmond can, but what I learned in Philly is that I’m really not good with Baltimore hogging all the Poe-related attention. Yes, he lived there for a bit, but mostly he died there – on his way from Richmond to Philadelphia.
He was 40 then, in 1849, when he was deliriously wandering the streets of Baltimore. He was taken to Washington Medical College but died Oct. 7, 1849, and no one really knows what happened. The clothes he was wearing weren’t his own. He allegedly called out the name “Reynolds” a handful of times the night he died, but no one knows who he was talking about, and his medical records and death certificate are lost.
That’s mostly all we know. There were rumors, of course, that he was drunk, that it was rabies that killed him, or syphilis, or heart disease. But mostly, we don’t know.
Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is located in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, although it’s more than a mile from the main historic district.
Admission is free and the site is open Friday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. You can request a tour from a ranger or you can pick up a self-guided tour guide and explore at your own pace. There’s a Reading Room on site, too, and visitors are invited to read or listen to Poe’s stories and poems.