The Philadelphia Outsider
Discovering Philadelphia from the Outside In

More than 80 campers were lined up in the shade outside the National Constitution Center wearing matching red t-shirts. I spotted them right away and knew that my little happy camper was standing there among them anxiously awaiting his chance to see a set of George Washington’s original false teeth.  As I joined the rowdy group, I was given a cheerful “chaperone” sticker. It was my Soldier Boy’s first trip to the NCC and I wanted to be there for it. 

I have visited the NCC many times since moving to Philadelphia last fall. I’ve been as a tourist who wants to know more about the Constitution. I’ve been as a freelancer working with the NCC’s marketing department.  Whether I’m there for fun or for work, I always discover something new about the Constitution and our country.  And each each time I go, I’m reminded that my knowledge of “We the People” is, in a word, inadequate.  This was to be my first visit with the Soldier Boy – my nine year old American history buff – and I was determined to learn alongside him and experience the NCC from his perspective. 

We made our way into the NCC’s feature exhibition for summer, Discover the Real George Washington.  The children immediately crowded around the glass display of Mount Vernon. Side Note: Even in miniature, Mount Vernon is majestic. I could tell the boys were excited because their voices grew louder (in spite of being reminded to use “inside voices”). Not a one could help but touch the glass (in spite of being told not to — repeatedly). And in that moment, I remembered why I don’t volunteer to chaperone field trips anymore.

Meandering through the exhibition, I tried to keep my kid close so we could examine each display.  It wasn’t easy with that many campers swarming the halls and I know we missed some good things. But GW’s dentures did not disappoint.  They were fascinating and gross. We studied them as long as we could, carefully considering what it must have felt like to wear such a contraption in our mouths. After much discussion, we decided to be thankful for modern dentistry.

Next stop was the Kimmel Theater for Freedom Rising, a multimedia presentation highlighting themes of the Constitution.  We found our seats in the round theater and watched with wide eyes as the show revealed the compelling impact the Constitution has had on our nation – past and present.  Side Note: Grab a tissue on the way in because Freedom Rising will make your eyes well up with tears and your heart swell with pride.  Want a sneak peek? View a trailer of Freedom Rising.

The Core Exhibition was next. Again, the kids were swarming the touch screens and interactive displays.  My personal favorite was the American National Tree, which celebrates 100 Americans who have shaped the nation’s history.  The Boy and I looked for faces we knew and learned about the ones we didn’t.  Side Note: Each year the NCC adds a new profile.  The next one will be added during the Constitution Day Celebration on September 16, 2011.

When we stepped into the hallowed space of Signers’ Hall, the crazy campers had no reverence for it.  Fortunately, the NCC staff were used to it and shared an insane amount of information about the lifelike bronze statues of the original signers of (and the three who refused to sign) the Constitution. The Boy signed a copy of it himself under GW’s watchful eye.

We separated from the group and discovered one more opportunity to enjoy our time at the NCC with the Giant Board Game in the Grand Hall Lobby.  The Boy became the game piece and was asked a number of questions about the Constitution and American history.  He answered every question correctly and won!  Tired –and happy we got to see the teeth – we left the NCC knowing we’d return again soon.

The NCC has a robust daily program calendar and hosts a many special events throughout the year.  In the lobby, Delegates’ Café serves an affordable lunch with a nice menu and you can dine there any time without touring the NCC.  I’m a fan of the Maple Chicken Sandwich. The Newspaper Man likes the garden salad (and it’s under $4!).

Ending Soon: Discover the Real George Washington is open through this Sunday, September 5, 2011.  And the kids free summer promotion ends that day as well. So if you don’t have plans this weekend, now is the time to take the family down for gander at GW’s false teeth.

Save the Date: The Constitution Day Celebration is coming up on September 16, 2011 (Constitution Day is actually the 17th).  Witness a Naturalization Ceremony, watch the American Tree Induction Ceremony (with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) or play Who Wants to Be a BILL-ionaire to celebrate the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

Location: On Independence Mall

525 Arch Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Only Blocks from Independence Hall

Summer Hours:

Sunday to Wednesday: 9:30-5:00

Thursday: 9:30-8:00      

Friday: 9:30-5:00

Saturday: 9:30-6:00       

Parking: The NCC has a parking garage that can be entered from Race Street.  If it’s early enough, I circle the block to search for street parking on Arch Street right in front of Ben Franklin’s final resting place at the Christ Church Cemetery.  It’s a bit more affordable than the garage, but the time limit is three hours so plan accordingly. 


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