What the government shutdown means for Independence Mall

Listen 1:19
Shown is Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Shown is Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Updated: Dec. 22, 2018, 12:00 p.m. 

America’s elected leaders have partially closed down the federal government over their inability to compromise on money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell center are closed to the public, but the Independence Visitor Center remains open.

While city services are unaffected, the Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia is a microcosm of the confusion that could unfold if a partial shutdown happens. Certain historic sites on the mall are operated by the National Park Service, others are run privately.

For example, Independence Hall would likely shut down, but the Museum of the American Revolution would remain open. The National Constitution Center will be open; the Liberty Bell pavilion will likely be closed. The open-air, multi-media President’s House will be accessible; the open-air “ghost house” of the Ben Franklin Museum will likely be closed.

If a shutdown happens it would be the second this year. In January 2018, a skeletal force of park rangers was on-site at Independence Hall for security. Otherwise, the park was unstaffed, its building shuttered. In January, tourists determined to see the sites lined up outside the Liberty Bell pavilion, patiently taking turns pressing their faces against the glass window to get a glimpse of the fabled crack.

The Visitor’s Center on Independence Mall is run collaboratively between a private corporation and the Park Service. James Cuorato, the CEO of Independence Visitor’s Center Corporation, is confident the visitor’s center will be allowed to stay open, but the staff will be redirecting people to other attractions outside the park.

“It can be a little bit confusing. We live this every day down here, so we’re used to explaining it to people,” said Cuorato. “It will require an additional level of explanation on different attractions.”

What, exactly will be open and not open will likely be determined once a shutdown is announced. A Park Service spokesperson would not say if a plan for a possible government shutdown exists yet.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.