When you spend all of your time on a college campus in North Philly, it can be easy to forget that you live in one of the most historically-rich cities in the United States – if not the most historically-rich, as our nation’s founding principles were scribed here. That’s what the National Constitution Center aims to remind of. Located in the aptly-named Old City, the museum is known for its themed exhibits, vast collection of Constitution-related memorabilia, and interactive educational stations all centered on that one document that so influences how we Americans live our lives.
I visited the Center in March in order to check out the Women’s History Month features, which were heavily hyped on its website. I learned pretty quickly, with great disappointment, that exhibits are not housed in one cohesive section. Instead, items and displays that relate to the theme are scattered throughout the museum and highlighted in brochures so visitors know where to find them. I also arrived at the museum so close to closing time that it didn’t make sense for me to spend much time hunting for small items, so I missed most of them. No snappin’ pics with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s judicial robe for me!
Trips to the Center begin with its original multimedia production, “Freedom Rising,” which runs every half hour. The performance itself is impressive, starring one actor who gives an oral history of America’s creation and maintenance of the Constitution and its values. The loud, sweeping orchestral music made the whole thing a little overbearingly patriotic for me, and yeah, that’s kind of the point, but there’s only so much Band of Brothers-esque trumpet a girl can take. Still, it succeeded in getting me in the mood for learning about some history.
The main section of the museum is a large circular room upstairs which features a ton of interactive stations, like a voting booth that randomly chooses two former presidents and asks you to vote as if they were running against each other this year. It seems to be geared toward children, but anyone could probably learn something by reading the fact snippets along the walls, figuratively spanning from the 1700s to today.
To me, the best part of the Center is the Signers’ Room, a space at the end of the main museum area where life-size metal statues of all of the signers of the Constitution reside. My friend Allison and I had a pretty fun time posing with the founders – shaking hands, chatting about liberty – as can be seen in embarrassing iPhone pictures that will not be posted online because I am an adult and shouldn’t enjoy this as much as I did. Ben Franklin was captivated by my charm, though, don’t doubt that.
The National Constitution Center is located at 525 Arch Street, near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Plan to visit the area on an open afternoon to take in all of Philadelphia’s most historical sites. Get there from Temple by taking the BSL south to City Hall, then the MFL east to 5th and walking north toward Arch for about three minutes. The Center is open Monday through Friday 9:30AM-5PM, Saturday 9:30AM-6PM, and Sunday 12PM-5PM.
Finally, here’s a super fun online quiz called “Which Founder Are You?” (I’m George Washington – “Self-controlled, dignified, and even-handed.” Wahoo!)