Our 2010 Road Trip, Part 11: Liberty and Death

Liberty Bell!

Our next attraction needs no introduction…

More Philadelphia! More American history! More icons of Americana! More really old things! Finally we were getting to the part of our road trip that Anne had been dying to see.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.

After the record-breaking nine-day epic that was our 2009 trek to the farthest reaches of South Dakota, we decided to scale back in 2010 with a shorter drive in a different direction. We previously drove through the corners of Pennsylvania in 2003 and 2004 — through Washington in the southwest corner on our way to Washington, DC; and through Erie in the northwest corner on our way to Niagara Falls. This year, that extra-large wooded state would be the center of our attention.

As one of America’s original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania contains multitudes of U.S. history and authentic places and things from centuries past. For the three of us, we figured it would do well. Anne is a big history buff. I’m willing to drive just about anywhere within reason. My son would be dragged along for whatever ride until such time as he developed a separate life and identity.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

After our guided tour of Independence Hall, across the street was the Liberty Bell Center, home of that household name we call the Liberty Bell.

Liberty Bell!

The entry line was long like a convention’s, but the admission and photo ops were free.

For those just joining America in progress: the Liberty Bell had been Pennsylvania’s State House bell, then was cracked at some indeterminate point in history by persons unknown with unfathomable motivations. 19th-century abolitionists later co-opted it as their own official symbol and gave it the name that’s stuck ever since. The Center where it’s housed is a narrow hallway-shaped structure with panels and displays explaining the history of the Bell.

Liberty bell uncracked!

The Liberty Bell’s uncracked half is rarely shown off. Pundits may disagree as to which is its “good side”.

We had to wait in line behind a few busloads of Asian tourists as well as our old Liberty Island travel companions, the Boy Scouts of America. Probably not the exact same troops, but it’s great circumstantial evidence of at least one crazy paranoid conspiracy that maybe they were tracking our movements and keeping us under surveillance.

Boy Scout Tour!

Outside later, one troop comes to a halt in front of their tour guide, who realizes we’ve spotted them and is ordering them to act casual so we won’t think they’re watching us. WE’RE ON TO YOU, REVOLUTION COSPLAYER.

A couple blocks beyond the Bell and on the other side of the Visitors Center was another large pocket of history — Christ Church Burial Ground, a bricked-off corner plot between office buildings that has kept its residents interred for over 200 years.

Christ Church Burial Ground!

Like many a cemetery, but ancient.

Christ Church Burial Ground!

Not every resident is famous, but quite a few are significant.

By Anne’s estimation the big man on campus is Benjamin Franklin, buried with his wife Deborah.


“Wife” is an oversimplification of a tortuous history involving common-law, bigamy, and a love quadrangle. For now let’s stick with “wife”.

We could read a few other names that varied in fame and legibility, including several cosigners of the Declaration of Independence. At the time I was most interested in Dr. Benjamin Rush, an official Founding Father who had a few choice scenes in HBO’s John Adams as played by Tony Award nominee John Dossett. For some reason we have no photo of his, but we captured quite a few others.

Francis Hopkinson!

Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence on behalf of New Jersey. Composer, currency designer, and the inventor of the stars-and-stripes motif that would define the format of future versions of the Flag of the United States.

Joseph Hewes!

Joseph Hewes, signer of the Declaration of Independence on behalf of North Carolina. He served for a short time as Secretary of the Naval Affairs Committee, helping pave the way for the U.S. Navy.

George Ross!

George Ross, signer of the Declaration of Independence on behalf of Pennsylvania. A Tory lawyer who switched sides shortly before cosigning, he was also the uncle-in-law of renowned seamstress Betsy Ross.

Dr. William Rush MD!

Dr. William Rush, M.D., youngest of the many children of the aforementioned Benjamin Rush.

Duffys and Dupuy!

I have no idea who Daniel or Mary Duffy were, or for that matter their neighbor Charles Dupuy, but they’re marked SACRED, so that should count for something to someone.

Giant Pointy Tombstone.

This one was among the fanciest stones, a son of a rich doctor or some other early American. Franklin gets a flat concrete slab that could double as a Japanese dinner table, while the most ornate tribute is set aside for the Tomb of Whoever Jr.

Franklin, Rush, Baby Boy Doctor Guy, and those Declaration cosigners were the lucky ones. Many of the stones had eroded over the centuries, leaving only blank slates standing upright at the head of graves since rendered anonymous by Mother Nature and selective recordkeeping.

John Spurrier!

John Spurrier, author of a tome called The Practical Farmer: Being a New and Compendious System of Husbandry, Adapted to the Different Soils and Climates of America. Containing the Mechanical, Chemical and Philosophical Elements of Agriculture. With Many Other Useful and Interesting Subjects. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were reportedly fans, so maybe it was quite the page-turner for its time once you got past the title that took up the first twenty pages.

To be continued!

[Historical notes:

1. Christ Church Burial Ground may be the site that began our fascination with Presidential burial grounds, despite its lack of Presidents. The following year we made a point of stopping at Grant’s Tomb in Manhattan for identical reasons. We’ve seen over a dozen such sites to date, and are planning to map our 2018 road trip around several more. Special thanks to Philadelphia for the inspiration.

2. Anne and I were both alarmed the other day when I realized that I no longer remember what I thought was so impressive about Benjamin Rush in that HBO miniseries, and in fact had forgotten his name altogether. We may have to make time for a rewatch someday so I can stop feeling old and/or brain-damaged.]

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[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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