What a dumb idea, I thought. It was 1997, and Philadelphia boosters were talking about getting $60 million in federal funds to help build a museum about the U.S. Constitution on Independence Mall.
Sure, I’d go to a National Constitution Center. But these dreamers were talking about a big-draw tourist destination, and I couldn’t imagine making the Constitution exciting enough to get Mr. and Mrs. America to pack up the station wagon and head to Philadelphia.
Nobody listened to me, and they built it. When it opened, I decided I was wrong.
“Freedom Rising,” the opening, 360-degree multimedia live performance alone will give you patriotic tingles. And the exhibits about constitutional issues are interesting and interactive.
No, it’s not a tourist attraction to compete with Sea World. But when friends come from out of town, I always recommend it.
The center regularly hosts debates and discussions of civic interest. And it’s taken the national stage a few times, as the site of Barack Obama’s historic speech about race in America, and later a presidential campaign debate.
The center has also sported a series of special exhibits to boost traffic. Some worked better than others, and a few strayed pretty far from the center’s core purpose. It’s not easy to balance the books at a nonprofit, and the center experiments with ways to get bodies in the door.
But it’s a gem of an addition to the city’s cultural life — a majestic building in a perfect spot that offers a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s a perfect fit with Philadelphia’s story.
The National Constitution Center is celebrating its 10th birthday today, and there’s all kinds of stuff going on (see below) including an exhibit on the history of the hoagie, and a real, 4.5-ton Wawa hoagie you can get a piece of.
But the bigger point is that the center is worth supporting. Consider a trip the next time your relatives come to town, maybe even a membership.
Happy birthday to us.
National Constitution Center birthday events:
A 4.5-ton Wawa hoagie will be assembled at the museum as part of Wawa Welcome America!
Visitors to the National Constitution Center can celebrate U.S. independence and participate in free patriotic events and activities, including Revolutionary War re-enactments, scholarly discussions, interactive shows, craft activities and a social media scavenger hunt.
All visitors will receive free admission to the museum (including the just opened 1968 Exhibit) courtesy of Wawa, as a part of Wawa Hoagie Day Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The 1968 ExhibitFeature Exhibition Gallery9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.The Vietnam War. Civil rights and women’s lib. MLK and RFK. Janis and Jimi. “Laugh-In” and love-ins. Bringing one of America’s most colorful, chaotic, culture-shifting years vividly to life, The 1968 Exhibit illuminates the power of “We the People” to exercise and expand our freedoms. Visitors travel through 12 exhibition areas corresponding to the months of the year — as well as three lounge spaces (bean bag chairs included) inviting interaction with 1968’s most enduring and influential music, movies and fashions.
Social Media Scavenger HuntHistoric Philadelphia9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.The museum is hosting a large-scale, social media scavenger hunt that hits all of the most important landmarks within Independence National Historical Park essential to the story of our nation’s founding. Participants will follow clues in order to find special life-size cardboard cutouts of some of America’s most famous Founding Fathers hidden in “secret” locations. They will then be instructed to follow the National Constitution Center on Twitter or Instagram (@ConstitutionCtr), snap a picture of themselves with the cutout, and tag the photo using #PhillyFounders. Clues can be found here.
Finding the FoundersHistoric Philadelphia10 a.m. – 3 p.m.The museum and neighboring sites throughout Historic Philadelphia are hosting free conversations with scholars, who will share their insights on equality and freedom through the lens of the American Revolution. Here’s the full schedule.
This program has been supported in part by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the federal-state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The 1776 ExperienceFront Lawn10 a.m. – 5 p.m.At a re-created Revolutionary War encampment, right on the center’s front lawn, practice mustering with the troops, stop by the medical tent, visit the blacksmith, or try your hand at carpentry or leatherwork.
Colonial DemonstrationsGrand Hall Lobby10 a.m. – 3 p.m.Experience what life was like before modern technology with hands-on, Colonial-era demonstrations, including paper-making, candle-making, a printing press, and lawn games.