Unique attractions and historically significant African-American sites are a big part of the Philadelphia story.
One of the most impressive structures anywhere in America is Philadelphia’s City Hall. Still used today for the city’s civic functions, the French Second Empire structure which took 30 years to build is the largest, all masonry load-bearing building in the world and the tallest City Hall in the U.S. at 548 feet. Tours here give visitors insights into the building’s history and architecture, including 14.5 acres of floor space, approximately 700 rooms, and 250-plus life-like marble statues adorning the exterior on all sides. The crowning touch is the statute of city founder William Penn weighing 27 tons at a height of 37 feet, with jaw-dropping dimensions including a 23-foot hat circumference, 18 inch nose length, 4-foot hair strands, 5-foot feet lengths, and 12.5-foot arm lengths. Be sure to take the Observation Tower Tour as well, which offers a glass-enclosed, spectacular 360 degree view of the city.
Marking its 294th anniversary this year, Christ Church Burial Ground is the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin, as well as four other signers of the Declaration of Independence, and many of Philly’s most prominent leaders. Featuring 1,400 gravesites, it stands as is “one of America’s most interesting Colonial and Revolution-era graveyards.”
At the 975-foot tall, 58-floor Comcast Center, the tallest building in Philadelphia and the tallest “green” building in the country, you will find The Comcast Experience. This 2,000 square-foot, four-millimeter LED screen, the largest in the world, is an awe-inspiring attraction incorporating technological and artistic life-like expressions at a resolution 500% greater than that of HD TV. Outside features a public plaza and fountain, a wrap-around energy-saving “glass curtain” offering 360 degree° views of the city’s urban landscape, and a striking eight-story “Winter Garden.”
Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary is unlike today’s prisons designed primarily to punish, and in the process dehumanize its occupants. It came about from the desire of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons to provide a place where the true definition of the work “penitence” could take place in humane conditions. Revolutionary for its time because it incarcerated prisoners without deplorable treatment or corporal punishment, every prison in the world was soon modeled after it.
The self-guided audio tour here is simply fascinating, offering an inside look through exhibits, interactive experiences, art installations, and oral histories into the lives of the prisoners and employees, and its innovative design. A synagogue, barbershop, psychological and spiritual counseling, work programs and more were just a few of the other aspects added over the years. And yes, no visit here would be complete without a stop by Al Capone’s cell, an unbelievable example of how his wealth and influence could not be contained, even behind prison walls.
Even more profound here is the present day social consciousness and public awareness component depicted in one exhibit that very poignantly, yet sadly, points out the incarceration disparities between races. But the folks here take it one step further by encouraging visitors to share their perspectives on how the prison systems—and their overall long forgone rehabilitation intent—affects us all as former inmates, family members of current and/or former inmates, children, and society at large.
African American history in Philly is up next!
Read the Entire Feature Series!
Part 1 Escape to Philadelphia
Part 2 Lots to See and Do in Philadelphia
Part 3 Exploring The City of Brotherly Love
Part 4 The History of African Americans in Philly
Part 5 Philly: More Than Meets the Eye
Part 6 Artistic and Culinary Delights in Philly