Lifestyle · Travel

Fourth of July in Philadelphia: “We Own This”

I’m a Philadelphia native and an unashamed history geek. I experienced my first history-induced goosebumps when I was a child and my father took me to explore the streets of colonial Philadelphia. I was awed to be walking in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

July 4 has been celebrated as our national Independence Day since 1870. However, in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, no one was celebrating as Jefferson’s hand-written copy of the Declaration of Independence was delivered to a printer. The Revolution had become a shooting war in 1775 and was not going well for the colonies. Those who signed the document on July 2 were keenly aware they might be signing their own death warrants. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Philadelphia doesn’t celebrate on the Fourth of July only; we celebrate from June 28 through July 8, and we invite the rest of the country to share in our annual “Wawa Welcome America!” festivities (Wawa’s a chain of mid-Atlantic convenience/grocery stores). As the city where the Declaration of Independence was actually debated, written, and signed in 1776, Philadelphians feel understandably proprietary about American Independence Day. In announcing plans for Philadelphia’s 2014 celebration of the Fourth of July, Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter, asserted, “This is Philadelphia. We own this.”

The schedule of events leading up to July 4 included block parties, outdoor concerts, free museum days, and even an outdoor screening of Rocky on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Where else could it be?) July 4itself is a daylong extravaganza, starting with the reading of excerpts from the Declaration of Independence on the steps of Independence Hall. The reading is followed by a parade with more than 5,000 participants, ranging from Mummers to Miss America. There will be a seven-hour street fair; there you should be able to obtain a cheese-steak fix. It wraps up with what is billed as the “Largest Free Concert in America,” held, appropriately, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The concert is followed by an intense fireworks display over the Art Museum.

Ever since becoming empty-nesters and moving to Center City Philadelphia, we have lived close enough to the Parkway to experience a healthy dose of the mega–popular music concert and window-rattling fireworks from the comfort of our apartment, without actually joining the crowd. Last year’s Fourth of July concert is estimated to have drawn an attendance of more than 750,000, despite being held when the country was still jittery from the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. Perhaps even more remarkable for the city still trying to live down Eagles football fans’ pelting Santa Claus with ice balls, there was only one arrest (after someone shot off a BB gun and some people panicked).

640px-Liberty_Bell_2008During the July 4 celebration, descendants of the signers of the Declaration gather to gently tap the bell at 2 p.m.

Even with all the high-quality hoopla, I find myself most moved by a much quieter July 4 event, when descendants of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence are permitted to gently tap a nationally revered symbol, the Liberty Bell. In that ceremony, I feel the arc and continuity of American history (the glory and the tears) represented by people with the same DNA as those who were willing to put their necks on the line in 1776 for independence and a remarkable new view of civil society.

Come celebrate the Fourth of July with us in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. There really is something for everyone.

 

Suzanne Fluhr is an almost-recovered Philadelphia lawyer who blogs about baby boomer travels for the body and mind at Boomeresque. Her work has also appeared on other blogs, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Richmond-Times Dispatch, and in a Thanksgiving Anthology. She is happy to share an updated Fourth of July in Philadelphia with her readers.

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  • Jeremy July 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Love the Mummers!

    Reply
  • Mike July 6, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Awesome, Suzanne! You did such a great job here! My first reason to visit Philly is for my friends Suzanne, Dino and Steve. The second reason is those steps where Rocky was filmed so I’m glad you mentioned it!! We hope all well with you! 🙂

    Reply
  • kay dougherty July 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. I had a job in Philadelphia for 3 years even though I continued to live in Boston and I spent a lot of time in the city-center and always thought it would be a nice place to live. I also love the National Constitution Center in Philly. I’d be like you – thrilled to enjoy the music and fireworks without being in the crowd – sounds great!

    Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr July 6, 2014 at 12:51 am

    Mike, you are waaayyy overdue for a visit to the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection). If you’re interested in American history, you’ll need at least a week!

    Reply
  • Maddy Resendes July 5, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I love this post. As a one time theater/acting major, I loved being involved in projects that brought history alive. Philadelphia, as you describe and experience it, should be a magnet for anyone trying to capture imaginatively the living breathing realities and “actors” who had the vision to get the ball rolling on this amazing experiment: the U.S.A. Philly gives me goosebumps, too (including the cold Philly winter induced variety!) We now need some leaders with equally bold fearless vision as our founders to true the wheel of our present day democracy – leaders who can motivate the politicians and the citizens of our land to confront the exigencies of our modern day society in a compassionate and effective manner.

    Reply
  • Mike (Nomadic Texan) July 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Suzanne,
    I hate to admit this, but I have never been to Philadelphia. I tend to like historical venues also and need to get off my duff and see your hometown. Maybe next summer. Great post young lady!
    Mike

    Reply
  • Betsy Wuebker July 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    We so love Philadelphia, and I’m envious of your Center City lifestyle. Thanks for reminding us of our last visit, which was over the 4th several years ago. 🙂

    Reply
  • Helene Cohen Bludman July 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I am jealous of those who are able to attend the July 4th festivities in Philadelphia. We are always “down the shore” where fireworks are less grand but family tradition prevails (not complaining). I didn’t know about the signing event you mentioned at the end. I’d love to learn more about it. Great post.

    Reply
  • Montecristo Travels (Sonja) July 4, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Like the part where the decedents get to tap the bell. That is very cool.
    What a legacy.

    Looking forward to visiting a truly historic city.

    Yay!!!

    Reply
  • Roz Warren July 4, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Terrific post! I’d like to state for the record, as a fellow inhabitant of the City of Brotherly love, that Suzanne got it all Just Right!

    Reply