Independence Hall, Philadelphia, USA
It seems appropriate that trying to visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia is an act of democracy in itself. This is, after all, the building in which the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both signed.
So it’s fitting that for those who want to see it, there’s an equality in the system.
You can only go inside Independence Hall as part of a guided tour. The tickets are free but they’re only available from 8:30 in the morning, and they’re allocated for the day’s tours on a first come, first served basis.
For someone like me, who arrived in Philadelphia on a bus at lunch time and was hoping to see the sights before jumping on another bus that evening, there was no chance.
The tickets to go inside were well and truly gone by the time I tried my luck at the visitors centre.
They had been dispensed – democratically – to those who had made the effort to be there early. And, presumably, to those who had committed to stay at least one night in the city.
Still, spending the afternoon in Independence National Historical Park starts to give you a sense of the history that created this country.
In the small shaded area known as Independence Square, the reading of the Declaration of Independence is reenacted.
The characters from 1776 play their parts, a small group of tourists watch on, and a larger group of children are encouraged by their parents to listen and hopefully learn something.
The Liberty Bell
A couple of hundred metres away, the famous Liberty Bell is housed in a building made especially to exhibit it.
It’s smaller than I expected, the crack seeming more like a fracture than the huge gaping hole I’d always assumed it was.
But it had pride of place in the building, with a direct line of sight to the replacement bell that was made in 1876.
(Perhaps of interest, in 1976 Queen Elizabeth II gave the American people another replica from the foundry where the original was cast, and this hangs on another building a few blocks away.)
The exhibition introducing the Liberty Bell proudly describes it as “the world’s symbol for liberty”. I wonder if that’s perhaps an overstatement, considering most of the world has probably never heard of it, let alone knows why it is famous.
But this is the United States and the prism through which all is viewed is quite narrow.
Out in the park and along the mall, is perhaps a more relevant and timely symbol of freedom for the world.
Barricades on the road, heavily-armed guards and security checks are now a routine part of this American landmark since the September 11 attacks.
The declaration signed in this building may have been a result of war and terrorism, the constitution may defend the right of revolution, but the world has changed since the crack first appeared in that bell.