Dining with Jefferson.
ATE Philadelphia 7-31-06
By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
On Friday afternoon I joined other members of the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) Leadership Academy to tour a few famous sites in old Philadelphia.
A Picture of Constitutional Sobriety
Precedes a Tasty Repast at City Tavern.
Our first stop was the National Constitution Center, a youngish place dedicated to the study of the United States Constitution. It was authorized by Congress in 1988 and then signed into being by President Reagan as an unfunded mandate a sparing gesture by a chief executive fond of symbolic acts. Without public funding, the Center's proponents needed fifteen years to transform the symbol into reality. It opened in 2003 with a threefold mission: to teach civic knowledge, to teach public action, and to promote democratic deliberation.
Our group of forty-plus viewed a theater-in-the-round, multimedia presentation, Let Freedom Ring, about the events leading up to the creation of the Constitution. A stirring interactive dramatization prepared us for further contemplation of Philadelphia's historic importance to the earliest years of the nation. The production ended with an emotive rendition of "We the People," as the words scrolled around the 360-degree panoramic screen at the top of the theatre.
Thinking about Our Founding Fathers.
Let Freedom Ring focuses on the vital public and personal contributions of our four founding fathers, Messrs. Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington. The program fit nicely into the Leadership Academy homework assignment for the Philadelphia meeting. We were charged with reading about the leadership qualities of one or more of the quartet. My study of John Adams was illuminated by the impressive displays at the Center.
Another panoramic display encircled the theater, reproducing
the original words of the Constitution. The panorama towered above the displays of text, costume, and artifacts, which lent drama and authenticity to the chronology of events leading up to the creation of the Constitution.
My colleague and friend Shirley and I were busy answering Academy homework questions about the leadership qualities of the four founders. Scribbling, strolling, and reading, we followed the exhibit toward its culmination in a room of life-size sculptures of the forty-two signers and three dissenters. This was my favorite part of the Center. Shirley concurred.
Figures of Sobriety, Intensity.
In an eerie still-life of intensity and sobriety, the sculpted figures brought the historic moment to life. At six foot three, Washington dominated the room as he held the signed Constitution. Franklin, the eldest of the statesmen at 81, leaned on a cane. The old man looked tired and satisfied. Alexander Hamilton, in an arrogant pose befitting a dandy, stood alone and off to one side of the room. Other signers were grouped in colonial delegations. The three dissenters, who had refused to sign the document, were aloof in a corner.
The National Constitution Center is a cornerstone attraction in a ten-block area devoted to history. Other attractions and landmarks include the Ben Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River and Penn's Landing, which anchors the eastern edge of the district. The Independence Visitor Center, the Liberty Bell, Old City Hall, Congress Hall, and Independence Hall occupy the southwestern quadrant of Old City.
Yes, the Bell Is Cracked.
Our next stop was the Liberty Bell. We headed across Arch and Market Streets to get in line for a glimpse of the cracked icon. Frances, one of the Association's former presidents, joined us there. Security was tight. The checkpoint rivaled airports for intensity and thoroughness and it took a long, long time to get through the line.
Beyond the security checkpoint was a modest hall of exhibits describing the creation of the bell. The Liberty Bell I viewed was the third casting of the original, and stories abound about the crack and how it got there. I tried to imagine how it sounded the day the Constitution was signed and why we've attached so much importance to a crack.
After I snapped Frances' picture in front of the bell, our trio decided to stroll along Market Street to find a little cool refreshment while trying to imagine another hot July day so many centuries ago.
Success was immediate. We found an ice cream shop, ducked in for a smoothie, and then continued our stroll around the corner to the Christ Church cemetery. We arrived too late to view the gravesites of the signers, but we did make it back to the National Constitution Center in time to catch the cohort bus to City Tavern, reputed in its day to be the most elegant establishment in British North America.
The 'Most Genteel' of Taverns
Is a Wonder of Flavor and Show.
Designed to recreate the atmosphere of an authentic London pub, City Tavern opened in 1773 and quickly became an important center for the economic, social, and political life of the city. John Adams deemed it "the most genteel tavern in America."
The three-story structure on Second and Walnut Streets rises above a tree-lined sidewalk. Servers and staff wear eighteenth century attire to lend authenticity to the dining experience.
We sat in one of the larger dining halls, complete with fireplace, paneled walls, and the austerity reflective of the simplicity and utilitarian lifestyle of the Federalists.
The menu featured a combination of Old-World staples, pork and sauerkraut, and New-World discoveries, turkey and potatoes.
Libations of Shrub, Porter, and Ale.
Libations on the menu demonstrated the resourcefulness of the settlers. Shrub, a fruit juice vinegar mixed with alcohol and sugar (or soda water for the teetotalers), evoked a spirit of thirsty inventiveness. General Washington's Tavern Porter also intrigued me. The drink is concocted from a recipe on file in the Rare Manuscripts Room of the New York Public Library. Other parched diners might be interested in Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale, adapted from Jefferson's original formula.
Historic characters arrived at our table to take orders, deliver entrees and libations, and entertain us with running commentary rooted in 1775 and tied to this day in history, July 28. It went like this. One young whippersnapper acted the role of a reprobate from England, who had landed a job as an apprentice at the tavern. His banter was lively, sardonic, and witty. He personalized his monologue by asking, "Where are you from and what are you doing in Philadelphia?"
We Assume our Personae.
I decided I would be from Ireland. My retort was delivered in my most mawkish Irish brogue. Others of our group of nine Terrell Peace, Frances van Tassell, Janice and Terry James, Belinda Gimbert, Shirley Lefever-Davis, Debbie Barnes, and Nancy Gallavan created personae from the territories, other colonies, or lands abroad. The suspension of disbelief combined with the wag's ramblings about the politics of colonial America set the context for a delicious repast from our legacy of British and German cookery.
The meal began with a Lancaster Field Greens Salad, drizzled with shrub vinaigrette, a sharp sweet dressing. Several varieties of colonial breads and scones with sweet-cream butter complimented the refreshing salad.
Entrιe choices were two: Colonial Turkey Pot Pie or Apple-Wood Smoked Pork Chop with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. I chose the pork, taters, and kraut substantial and tasty. The German-style kraut's sour sweetness inspired the palate to savor the succulent pork and creamy potatoes.
The Cook Scolds the Apprentice.
Chattering and chewing, we were amused to witness a scolding of the apprentice by one of the cooks, who then took a moment from her toils to tell her story of freedom gained from slavery. She praised her hard-working mother, and considered it her duty to relate the gossip from the tavern to the washer women at the wells.
At dessert a seasonal bread pudding, simple and dense I looked up to see the renowned Thomas Jefferson enter the dining hall. His oratory reminded me of the struggles and debates endured by the sequestered signers in their efforts to craft that wondrous document of independence.
We ended the evening with a boisterous colonial "huzzah" to the entertainers and servers at City Tavern. It was time for the next wave of wonder in the fair City of Brotherly Love.
Blues on the Horizon.
Several of our group continued on a walking tour of Old City in search of behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Pennsylvania State House circa 1776, punctuated by a presentation of Lights of Liberty, a sound and light show about the American Revolution. Others among us decided to attend an alternative sound and light show at the open-air amphitheater on Penn's Landing, featuring Rhythm and Blues by a Philly band, Jaguar Wright.
Let's see. . . . history or Blues? Which do you think I chose, dear reader? I'll part with the question, with all my best from Pennsylvania to each of you.