The real story

    “And this is the Starbucks where Betsy got her morning latte,” is what I overheard a tour guide say tongue-in-cheek while gesturing toward the cafe across the street from The Betsy Ross House last summer.

    Some riders on the passing Duck Boat were craning their necks to see the Old City-style building and take pictures of it. Those who didn’t laugh at the obvious joke must have been foreigners who may not have spoken English well or Americans who’ve been living under a rock, unaware that Starbucks is a 20th Century invention.

    Either way, their faces popped up in my mind as the debate resumed this week over establishing a law in Philadelphia to regulate what tour guides can and cannot say about our city’s history.

    It’s not clear to me that the guides should have to pass a history exam and become licensed with the city, however, they definitely should not be giving out misinformation.

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    Each time I’ve taken a guided tour around Philadelphia, usually with visiting friends, I found myself scratching my head at some point and wondering if what I just heard was really true.

    During a double-decker bus tour that included part of Fairmount Park, the guide told us that it’s the second largest urban park in the world, next to one in Berlin. I remembered thinking, “Hum, that’s very interesting.”

    He also said that the park was designed by Frederick Olmstead, the same man who designed New York’s Central Park. “Ah,” I thought.

    But when he said Fairmount Park covered over 100 miles, my friends and I looked at each other and frowned in disbelief.

    I now know that the last two bits of information are pointedly not true. But imagine the people who don’t posses a healthy skepticism or bothered to check the facts who may be telling the story of Philadelphia’s gigantically enormous park?

    People love to repeat sensational things, especially if someone in an official capacity says it. I know I do.

    Philadelphia tour guides who are good at their jobs are usually hardworking and can be very entertaining, but they shouldn’t have “license” to make up stuff.

    Just think of the unsuspecting tourist from Barrow, Alaska, who tells everybody back home about the time she was in Philadelphia and found out that Ben Franklin loved himself some Tastykakes.

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