IT SEEMED like a good idea at the time - like the Edsel, "new" Coke and the invasion of Iraq.

My deal was hosting my sister, brother-in-law and grandnieces, Kimberly, 9, and Amy, 7, who are kitten-cute and Ginsu-sharp. I wanted the Florida-raised kids to enjoy a "real" city, the birthplace of their nation, the City of Brotherly Love.

The first whack at the good idea came from Mother Nature, who cooked up the hottest day of the year for the family visit, turning Independence National Historical Park into a suburb of Hell.

"What's that smell?" asked Kimberly, holding her nose. It's barely 10 a.m. and the city's not ripe yet.

"It's horse poop," explained my sister, Andrea, the girls' grandmother. But she didn't see any horses.

We were outside the spiffy Independence Visitor Center, and a block away I saw some horse carriages lined up. That explained the poop, but not why the horses were out in a scorcher. Horses aren't supposed to work once the mercury hits 91. (The horses were pulled later in the day.)

But the kids' first impression came earlier, in the parking garage at 801 Filbert. The elevators didn't work, and the two automated pay machines in the lobby didn't take credit cards, only cash. Welcome to Philly.

In the concourse under the garage, two homeless men sat on the sidewalk, eating fast- food scraps and begging for cash. In Philly, the girls learned, nothing mechanical works and it looks that way for the humans, too.

Then we saw something that did work - the Continental Congress meeting room, after the Liberty Bell, which worked when it needed to and then cracked.

Security was sketchy. Guards stopped no one unless he had a bag, which was searched. I contrast that with security at the Statue of Liberty, which requires everyone to walk through an explosives "sniffer" machine and everything - including wallet and watch - goes into a bin to be X-rayed.

One process seems too little, one seems too much.

For sheer anal overkill, there's the Mint, outside of which I saw a line of tourists broiling in the sun.

They were the "camera sitters," because the Mint doesn't permit cameras. It also prohibits - this partial list is from its own Web site - large handbags, tobacco products, personal-grooming items (makeup, hair brush, comb, lip or hand lotions), umbrellas, strollers, any pointed objects (pens, knitting needles), aerosol cans, guns, fireworks, martial-arts devices, knives of any size, and large or small shopping bags, including souvenir purchases.

These are tourists. Of course they have cameras. I guess I was lucky to be admitted with my dangerous pen in plain view. Since the Mint offers no way to store prohibited items, some poor soul in each group must remain outside with the banned goods.

Welcome to Philly.

Curious about the oppressive rules, I called the Mint's number and got a recording. I left a message, which wasn't returned. Probably for "security" reasons.

I understand why the Mint - the nation's first - shrinks from firearms, but cameras? Is it afraid tourists will take pictures of coins made there? Their pockets are filled with all the coins they could want. Is Mint technology a state secret? The Babylonians mastered it eons ago.

Is the block-long Mint a more tempting target than the iconic Liberty Bell or the irreplaceable Independence Hall? Give me, and the tourists, a break.

If the Mint must ban certain items, it should offer lockers, as is done at the Statue of Liberty - paid lockers, by the way.

It's a different way that the Mint could make money. *

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns: