Is it May already? Mother's Day is next week, Memorial Day's a few weeks off, and graduations are around the corner. For many, there's a wedding anniversary in the mix, too.
And there will be out-of-town guests coming. This presents a great opportunity for you to take them out and see what this City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has to offer. Need a suggestion? How about a scavenger hunt? It's a way to use your thinking skills and powers of deduction; you get to compete with others who have taken the challenge and to see parts of the city you may not have seen since the Bicentennial; plus, walking is great exercise.
A few weeks ago, I had great fun on a historic hunt called Find Your Philly, via mobile app. Two other mothers and I, along with our girls (in third to fifth grades), started at the Independence Visitor Center at Sixth and Market. We followed clues that took us to various sites within walking distance.
The first took us by the exhibition "The President's House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation," which stands in the footprint of the first White House and honors the memory of the nine African descendants whom President George Washington held as slaves.
We passed the Liberty Bell Pavilion and stopped at Independence Hall. Looking for someone who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we mistakenly thought we wanted a photo of the statue of Washington out front. We had a hard time getting the image, what with all the guards and sidewalk chains and traffic. But we hunters bagged our prey.
Then, as we followed the clues to our next destination and passed the statue The Signer, we realized that's what we wanted all along. The Signer stands in a park at Fifth and Chestnut. It was inspired by Pennsylvanian George Clymer, a signer of both the Constitution and the Declaration.
Our next set of clues took us to Thomas Paine. He's in the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank of the United States at 420 Chestnut. The building, constructed from 1818 to 1824, looks a bit like the Parthenon, thanks to bank president Nicholas Biddle, a Greek Revival enthusiast. Run by the National Park Service, the gallery is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free. (In a totally unscientific survey of 25 random people in Center City, I didn't meet one person who knew we had a portrait gallery in the city.)
In all, there were 20 clues that took us all around Old City. We walked the path Benjamin Franklin took from his home to church, and learned that the earliest mail carriers also carried guns and that the B. Free Franklin Post Office on Market Street is the only Postal Service mail office that doesn't have a mailbox out front.
The beauty of the scavenger hunt was that all of us found something to enjoy. The girls liked reading the plaques aloud and following the clues. The mothers enjoyed walking and learning more about U.S. history. For one fourth grader who was learning about the American Revolution in school, it breathed life into her lessons.
We decided how much time to give each stop and we could veer off when we saw something of interest - like the ice cream truck that happened by.
Perhaps the best thing, though, was that we didn't have to pay for anything. The clues took us to free destinations. And, thankfully, they weren't very crowded, except the Liberty Bell.
Just about everybody who visits Philadelphia wants to see the bell - and get a picture with it, no matter how long it takes.
As I've observed lately in many museums, science centers, aquariums, and zoos, people believe they are entitled to stand at exhibits as long as they want. They don't care how many people are waiting to see or hear or experience it, too. These people are oblivious to the notion of sharing.
And don't get me started on the parents who are so excited - or relieved? - to be there that they don't realize - or ignore? - that their children are totally bored. Those bored children then start to do what they do best - play, and run, and whine - and annoy everybody else.
I was blaming these bad behaviors on a relaxing of the American code of conduct. It's like every day is Casual Friday, and anything goes. But then I was at the National Aquarium, and foreign visitors were as poorly behaved as the Americans. What gives?
Recently, the Barnes Foundation raised its ticket prices so people would stop touching the art. What? I cannot imagine touching a masterpiece. What could these people be thinking? Clearly, they're not. But raising prices won't improve behavior.
Recently, as I stood alone before a portrait of Washington by Rembrandt Peale at the portrait gallery, I felt an emotional connection to the first president. It never crossed my mind to touch the painting. Being there was enough. I didn't fear the long arm of the law. I didn't fear being caught on camera. Some things are just wrong. And, admission was free.