🎶 “In West Philadelphia not born nor raised, in Kdub is where I spent most of my days 🎶” — which is why I decided to take my next trip to Philly. I love to travel, I love history – all kinds of history and Philadelphia is steeped deep in American history.
The primary reason for our trip to Philly was to attend Team Neve Quits Patriot Tour, featuring Marcus Luttrell, Retired Navy SEAL and author of ‘Lone Survivor’, Taya Kyle, author of ‘American Wife’ and widow of Chris Kyle, David Goggins, Ultra-Marathoner and Retired Navy SEAL and Chad Fleming, Retired Army Ranger.
Since we only had one full day of being tourists/sight seeing – we decided on the Philadelphia Sightseeing Hop On/Hop Off City Tour aboard an English double-decker bus, which was wonderfully convenient – you don’t have to worry about getting there, parking and you can pick from any one of 28 stops across sixteen-miles – choose your ideal visitation spot and they will deliver you to the doorstep (or close to it). The loop takes about 1.5 hours if you stay on for the whole loop, the tour guides were full of facts and funnies = Live Expert Local Guide Commentary. We purchased these through Groupon for only $22.00 USD per ticket (reg price is $32.00 USD) – so keep an eye out on this site if you plan on booking.
Had we had more time we would have done more – but given the time we had we chose: to exit at Eastern State Penitentiary, The Rocky Steps/Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Masonic Temple and Independence Hall. Having had more time I would likely have added: Christ Church Burial Ground (where Benjamin Franklin is buried), Chinatown and Museum of the American Revolution.
Below I’ll highlight some of the stops.
Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State opened more than 180 years ago, it changed the world. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence in the hearts of prisoners. The building itself was an architectural wonder; it had running water and central heat before the White House, and attracted visitors from around the globe.
In 1842 Charles Dickens visited the United States to see Niagara Falls and the Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP). Of ESP he wrote “the System is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong….”. In my blog titled “Kingston Penitentiary: Canada’s Alcatraz – MY TOUR” you’ll see that Dickens also visited Kingston Penn in Ontario, Canada, the same year (likely the same trip to North America) and wrote in his American Notes for General Circulation, “There is an admirable jail here, well and wisely governed, and excellently regulated, in every respect.” He went on: “Here at Kingston is a penitentiary, intelligently and humanely run. Likely because KP was built under the Auburn system – which took a completely different approach than the Pennsylvania system. While it too incorporates Quaker ideals of reformation — humane conditions from bedding to health care, strict routines, and religious contemplation – prisoners are together, side by side, during work, meals, and prayer but return to solitary cells at night. Auburn introduced the tier system, different levels of cells built above one another, in which convicts are housed according to their offense category — first timers vs. repeaters, murderers vs. thieves, and so forth. Inmates wear uniforms of different colours, depending on their classification. The work regimen produces income that the Pennsylvania system could not generate, and this system is by far more cost effective and practical. Inmates are less likely to go mad, and it is easier to feed everyone in a group.
ESP held both women and men until 1923 when female prisoners moved to the new prison at Muncy.
Until 1924 inmates ate each of their meals, alone in their cells. For the first time in January inmates were allowed for the first time to eat as a group in dining halls.
For 8 months during 1929 – 1930 – Chicago gangster Al Capone made Eastern State Penitentiary his home. I read in an article in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, August 20, 1929 this his cell is described as “The whole room was suffused in the glow of a desk lamp which stood on a polished desk …. On the once-grim walls of the penal chamber hung tasteful paintings, and the strains of a waltz were being emitted by a powerful cabinet radio receiver of handsome design and fine finish…”
Capone was imprisoned when he stopped in Philadelphia while traveling from Atlantic City back to his home in Chicago in May of 1929. He was arrested outside a movie theater for carrying a concealed, unlicensed .38 caliber revolver. The Philadelphia courts were tough and handed Capone the maximum sentence: one year in prison. Although the courts tried to make an example of the bootlegger, the officials at ESP were very generous to him and allowed the comforts not typically granted to inmates, including fine furniture, oriental rugs, oil paintings and a fancy radio. He liked to listen to waltzes in his cell.
Now, I nerd out just by viewing a cool exhibit, but hearing one of your favorite actors describe it while you’re there is super cool nerd exciting! Steve Buscemi is the voice of the audio ESP audio tour – turns out Buscemi himself volunteered to help the museum while scouting a movie at Eastern State more than a decade ago. The audio tour states that perhaps Capone’s arrest was all too convenient as it came at a time of escalating mob violence in Chicago, he was accused of hiding in prison intentionally. Capone denied all his life that he came to Philadelphia to hide.
Other fun facts:
- 1970 January – Eastern State Penitentiary closes.
- 1996 Eastern State’s arched cellblocks and central rotunda are transformed into a mental institution in the movie 12 Monkeys, with Bruce Willis and in 1998 is portrayed as a Southeast Asian prison in the movie Return to Paradise.
Rocky Steps/Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Rocky Steps are the 72 stone steps to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Pretty much everyone knows the Rocky movies, they’re a part of pop culture and a huge part of my childhood. The steps made their appearance in all of the Rockies except for Rocky IV, which is my personal favourite. Many tourists visit the steps to recreate the scene themselves – I however did not – I walked up them, slowly 😂
“Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.” – Rocky Balboa
Fun fact: Sly was actually injured when filming this movie, he only ran up the first 10 steps; a body double ran up the rest.
Stallone commissioned a bronze statue of Rocky. The statue was initially at the of steps for the filming of Rocky III, but was ultimately relocated at the bottom of the steps. I look bad in the pic, so I’m opting to not post it.
The Masonic Temple
I’ve always been fascinated by the Freemasons – I’ve watched so many documentaries on their origins and their society of brethren.
6 of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were Masons. US Presidents who were or are Freemasons: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford.
Other notables include: Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Mozart, Winston Churchill, J. Edgar Hoover, Jesse Jackson, John Elway, Benedict Arnold, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Scottie Pippen, Michael Richards, Shaquille O’Neal, Paul Revere, Cy Young, John Wayne, Richard Pryor, Clarke Gable, Don Rickles, Harry Houdini and Buzz Aldrin — to name a few.
Masonic symbolism is abundant all over Washington D.C. If you look at the layout of Washington DC you will see many Masonic references.
The Masonic Temple in Philadelphia was constructed in 1873. Tours are offered a few times a day, so they have to be scheduled. We weren’t aware of that and arrived an hour early, since we were tight for time, we toured the Library and Museum on our own (cost $7.00 USD). The museum houses thousands of books and cool artifacts relating to the history of the Fraternity and the founding of the USA. The Museum’s collection consists of more than 30,000 items.
Along the whole double decker bus ride, you have the opportunity to take in the historic sites of Philly without getting off, as well as hear some colour commentary from the tour guides such as their favourite places in town to grab a cheesesteak and other places to check out while you’re in town.
I’m a health nut, but when I eat, I go hard. I’m a Buffalo wing magnet, a sandwich fanatic, a cheesesteak guy. But I’ll only get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia. No one else does it right – Kevin Hart
This is the start/stop point of the city tour. Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed in this historic building. We wanted to see The Liberty Bell before ending our day tour, but, there was a line up, and a security line to go through so unfortunately we had to opt out as we had to be at our VIP event for The Patriot Tour for 5:00 p.m. at the Kimmel Centre.
2017 Patriot Tour
The event we made the 9 hour trek to Philly for was The 2017 Patriot Tour – which features retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, author of ‘Lone Survivor’, the NY Times Bestseller, which recounts the heroic sacrifices of fellow SEAL Team members assigned to Operation Redwings in which Luttrell was the only survivor, Taya Kyle, author of ‘American Wife’ and wife of the late U.S. Navy SEAL Sniper Chris Kyle, retired U.S. Army Capt. Chad Fleming and retired Navy SEAL and ultra-marathon runner David Goggins.
Beforehand, we were able to have a quick meet and greet with the speakers – it was great to meet them in person and shake their hands. Taya and I talked shoes/boots quickly and even Chad loved my Steve Madden Tsunami rain boots. I’ll have to find the pic where I’m shaking Marcus’ hand and Chad and Taya are pointing at my boots. We were also given signed copies of Lone Survivor and American Wife.
These humans were the most inspirational folks I’ve heard speak in a long time. Talk about sheer grit, determination and sticktuitiveness. These amazing people share their experiences with the crowd while also taking the time to recognize military personnel in attendance as well as the first responders – everyone in attendance stood in applause – this made my eyes swell up a bit.
They each had something poignant to say.
Taya Kyle shared that her faith in God got her through Chris being murdered. She recounted the story of how they met – which was very true to the movie script of American Sniper. She jokes about the day they met in the bar and that yes, Chris did in fact hold her hair back while she vomitted. About how she works to keep his memory alive, how humble he was that it made him feel awkward that he was referred to as The Legend.
Chad Fleming shared the story of how he lost his leg (transtibial amputation of his left leg) in combat and had undergone 23 surgeries! I was in awe that once fit, he CHOSE to re-deploy five times, each time going right back into the fight. He spoke of how he was one of the few amputees who have been able to redeploy into combat as an amputee. If that isn’t strength of character then I don’t know what is!
David Goggins – the word quit does not exist in this guy’s vocabulary. I was astonished by his resilience and sheer grit to make it happen. He told of how he was 297 lbs and needed to lose 100 lbs in a month to be able to join. He did it. He had to redo BUD/S training THREE TIMES! I can’t imaging doing it once, more or less going through hell week 3 whole times! He told of having signed up for a 100 mile race in 24 hours, having only ran once for training – by mile (I want to say 75, shoot I forget) – his body was so exhausted he sat down to take a rest and his body gave out – he couldn’t go any further – his feet hurt so much that he couldn’t even get up from his blue chair to go to the washroom (he doo dooed himself). Not wanting to give up on his dream – he taped his feet, got up and ran the remaining miles to successfully complete the race! In 2013, Goggins broke the Guinness World Record for most number of pull-ups in a 24-hour period by completing 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours.
And lastly, the man of the hour – Marcus Luttrell – I am sure this man needs no introduction. We all know his story from the movie Lone Survivor. Watching the movie was good, but, seeing the REAL man behind the story in person and speak personally of Operation Red Wings and the mission to kill or capture Ahmad Shah (aka Mohammad Ismail), a Taliban leader responsible for killings in eastern Afghanistan and the Hindu-Kush mountains. The SEAL team was made up of Luttrell, Michael Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson. I won’t get too deep, I’m sure you’ve all watched the Hollywood movie, in which Marcus is played by Mark Walhberg, and if you haven’t – go. watch. it now.
In short: a group of goat herders stumbled upon the SEALs, and the four SEALs immediately took control of the situation and discussed what to do with the herders. Murph suggested that they should be released. Luttrell believed they immediately betrayed the team’s location to local Taliban forces and within an hour, the SEALs were engaged in an intense gun battle – which he describes as being 3 hours in duration in real life as opposed to 40 mins or so in the movie. The rest of the SEAL team members were killed. He told of how some scenes in the Hollywood version differed from real life events – in actuality Matt Axelson was not shot in the back of the head – he was shot in the face and his jaw was hanging from his face. Marcus was the “Lone Survivor”. Badly wounded (his back, leg and nose were broken and he was shot a few times), he managed to walk and crawl seven miles to evade capture – he tells that he kept his goals short – he would take a stone draw a line in the sand and crawl to it, if he made it, he’d keep on going. Most of the time he recounted these events, he looked down and to the right – like he was reliving it right there at that moment with us. He was eventually found by a few villagers. For days Mohammed Gulab and the other villagers protected Luttrell from the militants—even in the face death threats. They alerted the Americans of his presence, and American forces finally rescued him six days after the gun battle. Another misnomer from the movie was that the rescue occurred during the day, but in actuality it was at night. Following his physical recovery from Operation Red Wings, Luttrell returned and completed one more tour before being medically retired.
Overall, Philly is a pretty neat city, I wish we had more time to explore, lots of historic things I would have liked to have had the time to fit in i.e. explore Penn’s Landing, enjoy fine dining aboard the Moshulu, tour the Cruiser Olympia and done a boat cruise up the Delaware.
Of note for those considering visiting – parking is atrocious – I am not kidding – the streets are full 24/7 – good luck finding street parking anywhere – unless you stalk someone going to their vehicle. It’s beyond jammed – both sides of the tiny narrow streets – I would HATE to be a homeowner and have to do this each night when I get home from work. Also in the area we stayed in – there weren’t a lot of public parking options and if there were – they were all full. Our first night – we arrived at about 8:45 PM and we had to park all the way at the University of Pennsylvania parking garage and take a taxi to our Airbnb! (FYI – taxi number is 215-666-6666)
Make very sure you read the street parking signs if you are lucky enough to nab a spot – most are 2 hour max parking without a permit – from what we were able to find – you cannot purchase time selected permits – we can do this back home in Toronto by simply going on line – entering your plate # and your credit card info and printing off a parking permit for the time you need.
I now 100% completely understand why the A&E show Parkings Wars was a hit – holy snickerdoodles!
Have any of you been to the City of Brotherly Love? What was your favourite place?