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Tourists turned away at Liberty Bell, Independence Hall amid government shutdown

Tourists expressed disappointment as they were turned away from Liberty Bell and Independence Hall during partial government shutdown that impacted National Park Service.

Amy Deleon of New Paltz, N.Y., and her son, Beni, 5, look at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia through a window on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. The federal government — including the National Park Service — entered a partial shutdown at midnight.
Amy Deleon of New Paltz, N.Y., and her son, Beni, 5, look at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia through a window on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. The federal government — including the National Park Service — entered a partial shutdown at midnight.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Sara Keller traveled all the way from England to Philadelphia to learn firsthand how Americans kicked some British butt during the Revolution. It was not to be.

“Sorry, love, I know you wanted to see how we beat you,” Keller’s American husband, Donald, told her as they peered through a window at the Liberty Bell while standing outside in the cold on Saturday morning.

“It’s really annoying,” said Sara Keller, 35, her voice laced with a British accent.

“I was just messing around, but I really wanted to show her how we gained our independence from the Brits so to speak,” said Donald Keller, 34.

The Kellers, who live in London, said they booked a hotel and planned to spend the weekend touring Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center before heading to visit Donald Keller’s family in Toms River, N.J., for Christmas. They were among dozens of disappointed tourists who found the sites closed because of the partial government shutdown. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are operated by the National Park Service, which relies on federal funds to operate. The National Constitution Center, however, remained open Saturday because it is a private nonprofit that does not rely on federal money. The Museum of the American Revolution, at Third and Chestnut Streets, was also open, as was the Betsy Ross House at 239 Arch St. and Franklin Square at Sixth and Race Streets.

The federal shutdown began at 12:01 a.m. after Democrats in Congress refused to meet President Trump’s demands for $5 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico. It was the third government shutdown this year, though this one is expected to impact fewer federal workers and services because Congress has already passed spending bills for a number of departments.

However, the lack of funds for the National Park Service and other federal agencies and departments, including Homeland Security, Transportation, and Agriculture, will affect 800,000 federal employees. Roughly 420,000 workers, whom the government deems essential, will work unpaid, though they will get back pay after the shutdown ends. Another 380,000 employees, including almost everyone at NSA and more than 50,000 workers with the Internal Revenue Service, will be furloughed, meaning they’ll stay home without pay.

By midafternoon Saturday, an informal line of people waiting to squeeze into a cubby-like space for the best view of the Liberty Bell through a window grew dozens deep.

Amy Deleon, a tourist from New Paltz, N.Y., who came to Philadelphia with her family, said she was bummed about not being able to see the city’s most iconic historic sites, but mostly she was worried about people who rely on the federal government for a paycheck and won’t see one as their bills roll in over the Christmas holiday and possibly beyond.

“It’s the holidays and it’s already hard times on people to begin with,” Deleon said as she stood in front of Independence Hall with her husband, Joe, and their 5-year-old son, Beni.

“The bigger picture is that federal employees are going to feel the pain,” added Joe Deleon, who said he is retired from the Marines.

“People say, `They are going to get paid anyway,' but a lot of workers don’t have the luxury to have emergency resources. The reality is that most people live paycheck to paycheck," said Amy Deleon, who works as an accountant. “It’s a sad thing, especially knowing the ridiculous reason behind it.”

Meanwhile, a video posted on Twitter by newly elected U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat from Delaware County, went viral, with more than 40,000 retweets and 104,000 likes by noon Saturday. “I have a bunch of ideas for how to spend $5 BILLION and a wall ain’t one,” she tweeted on Friday afternoon as a shutdown seemed all but certain. In the video, Scanlon stands in front of the White House and ticks off a list of things the money could be spent on.

“$5 billion dollars would cover the cost of repairing Puerto Rico’s power grid,” she says. “$5 billion dollars would cover medically assisted opioid addiction treatment for over three quarters of a million people...”

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign started by a Florida man to raise money to help President Trump build the Mexico border wall, continued to gain steam, raising $14.9 million from more than 241,000 donors in just five days. Brian Kolfage, who started the page on Thursday, describes himself as a Purple Heart war veteran who lost three limbs and writes, “If the 63 million people who voted for Trump each pledge $60, we can build the wall.”

Fresh turmoil in the Trump White House, coupled with news of the government shutdown, likely contributed to investor angst. This week, U.S. stocks plunged to the deepest low in a decade.

“If I had investments in the stock market, I’d be pretty scared," said Renee Bolden, 66, of Mount Airy, as she surveyed crowds of shoppers walking by her booth at the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market at the foot of City Hall on Saturday afternoon. She said business at her booth, where she was selling handmade sweaters and jackets, had been slower than expected.

“I think we have a lot of indecisive shoppers this year,” she said. “People are being a little more frugal this year. They are being smart about how they are spending their money. I think a lot of it has to do with the economy."

Bolden said she’s been feeling “more of a financial crunch" lately, with her credit card interest rates inching up and food prices increasing.

Michael Shea, 48, of Northeast Philadelphia, who came out to browse the holiday booths, said he’s feeling good about his financial health. Under President Obama’s administration, Shea said, he got laid off from his job at an office supply carrier in Bucks County. The company rehired him after business picked up under Trump’s presidency.

“I’m happy. I’m working. I’m paying my bills. I’m not homeless," Shea said. Then he gestured to waves of people walking by with shopping bags. “Look how many people are out here shopping. It’s packed. I was out here two years ago and it wasn’t like this,” he said.

As for the government shutdown, Shea said that federal employees will eventually get paid and “life is still going to go on."