Travels & Traditions: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - #1003

BURT WOLF: Philadelphia is the city where the Founding Fathers of the United States met to declare their independence from England, to draft the Constitution, to put forth the idea that all men are created equal. It is a city of firsts. It's the home of our nation's first fire department, first hospital, first zoo, first art museum. Its citizens were the first to wear bifocal eyeglasses, to take books out of a lending library. It is the historic heart of our nation and designed to capture the heart of any tourist. 

The number one tourist spot in Philadelphia, the one most visited, is The Liberty Bell. Number two are the outlet stores at the Franklin Mills Mall, which seems to confirm my belief that our nation was founded on the freedom to shop. And it all got started because of a bill that was overdue. England's King Charles II owed 16,000 Pounds to William Penn, but the king was a little short of cash, so he paid off the debt by giving Penn a huge tract of land in North America. It was actually bigger than England. William Penn was an aristocrat, which the king liked, but he was also a Quaker, which the king didn't like.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Quakers were much too liberal for the king. They believed in freedom of religion. They thought that a government should represent the needs of all of its people, outrageous ideas! He threw 10,000 of them into prison, including Penn. So the idea of paying off a debt, getting Penn and the Quakers out of his hair, shifting them off to the colonies 3,000 miles away seemed like a great idea. Penn could conduct his great holy experiment so far away that the king would not be bothered. Only one problem, the ideas that came to Pennsylvania with the Quakers were the very ideas that formed the basis of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolutionary War. Some days, you just can't win.

Philadelphia was the capital of Penn's colony, the City of Brotherly Love, but what the brothers loved the most was freedom, particularly freedom from England. In 1750, as part of the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania's Charter of Privileges, a bell was ordered from England. The inscription around the crown reads, "Proclaim liberty through all the land to all the inhabitants thereof." 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: They hung it in the State House, which is now known as Independence Hall. The first time they rang it, it cracked, so they recast it. They tried to ring it again, and it cracked again. The point seemed to be that anybody who trusted England to give the colonies a fair shake had to be cracked, and besides, the relationship between England and the colonies really was never what it was cracked up to be anyway.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Eventually a group of people who felt the same way ended up here in Independence Hall. They were delegates to the Continental Congress and had come from each of the 13 original colonies. On July 4th, 1776, they adopted the Declaration of Independence, which led to our fight for freedom and made Philadelphia the capitol of the United States.

But there was life in Philadelphia before the Revolution. Chris Klemek, who's a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania working on his doctorate in history. Under the name "Poor Richard's Walking Tours", he will walk you through the history of the city. Slightly irreverent and thought provoking, his tour is an interesting way to see Philadelphia. Chris is passionate about history. And when he's teaching, you just hang on and learn. Here we go.

CHRIS KLEMEK: William Penn is a radical guy. This is an aristocrat who converts to Quakerism, and he's going to bring some revolutionary ideas into the world with him when he comes, especially, to set up his colony in Philadelphia. Probably the most immediately obvious evidence of the radicalism of William Penn is the way he lays out his city. He creates basically the first pre-planned city in the modern world. It's a grid. He lays it out as a perfect grid, and this is in stark contrast to the London that he's born in and which he watches burn to the ground in 1666 because it's so dense and unplanned. The other radical idea that William Penn brings with him into Philadelphia is this idea of religious tolerance. And you see again, he's reacting against the persecution that he's been subjected to as a Quaker in England, so he wants to create a colony in which all faiths are tolerated, and the result of that is what we get here in Philadelphia, is America's first truly diverse society. CHRIS KLEMEK: All this tolerance and radical ideas proves very popular to the point that Philadelphia is going to end up being the largest city in the English-speaking world after London by the eve of the Revolution. And I don't think that there's any better illustration of the wealth that comes to Philadelphia in this time than this Anglican Church, Christ Church, that's built in the 1730s and '40s and really represents the grandest style, high Georgian architecture, the greatest building that you could find on the American continent at this point. What a great contrast we have here between the ornate Anglican Church that we just saw and this plain, austere, frugal Quaker meetinghouse, which in so many ways embodies the ideals that William Penn was trying to bring to his wholesome colony, his religious experiment. But the very success of that colony, that we've already seen, is going to ultimately undermine many of his ideals for what was to happen here. Probably the best example of this, is slavery, the slave trade is at the heart of much of the wealth that's coming into Pennsylvania. And yet the Quakers are at the forefront as early as 1688, of calling for the abolition of slavery. So now the question is - let's turn to the American Revolution – “Why here? Why Philadelphia?” And the answer is obvious. We've already shown, this is the largest, most cosmopolitan, wealthiest city in the Americas, so it's a really a no-brainer that when it's time to come together and forge a new government, that they're going to plot the revolution here, and even after the revolution, this will be the seat of the new national government that's put in place.

BURT WOLF: In that building.

CHRIS KLEMEK: Yes. This is Carpenter's Hall. It's the hall of a Carpenter's Guild, where they keep all their secret documents about how to plan buildings, and that's why the revolutionaries are going to meet here first in 1774 because they want secrecy. They want to be hidden from the street because they're discussing radical ideas, the radical ideas like Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" that say you can overthrow a government, that you can challenge a millennial tradition of monarchy. And they're saying, "We're going to plot treason. We're going to take on the most powerful army and navy in the world." And the amazing thing, we call them Patriots now, because they won. So they win, you've got a newly independent nation with its own institutions, but that still leaves us with the question of just how radical was this revolution, and it could be said that this is actually an oxymoron, a conservative revolution because it doesn't fundamentally restructure the American society. I mean, we think that the connection between money and politics is something new, but few people realize that George Washington is the wealthiest man in America, even before the Revolution. Then there's the issue of all these illustrious documents that are produced here in Philadelphia, proclaiming enlightenment, ideals of liberty and equality for all men, but they're not resolving all the tensions from William Penn's time of how slavery is going to exist in this ostensibly enlightened nation or whether women are going to be allowed to vote or even if Native Americans should be citizens. So all those tensions are going to create an irony around a symbol like The Liberty Bell, which in the 19th century is adopted by abolitionists as a flawed, cracked, emblem of an unfinished revolution. But there's life in Philadelphia after the Revolution. And this is where we need to talk about good old Ben Franklin, because all through the 1700s, Ben Franklin has been founding some path-breaking institutions for cultivating practical knowledge, useful skills. This includes the first lending library, America's first modern university, the University of Pennsylvania, or the American Philosophical Society, which is the premier scientific institution of its day. And the presence of all these institutions, unique in America, are going to lead Philadelphia to the vanguard of a new revolution: the Industrial Revolution. And Philadelphia in the age of the Industrial Revolution, when the railroad is the great symbol of this technological marvel, Philadelphia is the center of the railroad industry. It's in Philadelphia that we get the world's first billion-dollar corporation. Guess what? The Pennsylvania Railroad. It's also here that John Wanamaker is inventing the modern department store, and the best part about Philadelphia, is no matter what we're looking at, the religious toleration of the 17th century, the political revolutions of the 18th century, or the industrial revolutions of the 19th century, all the monuments are still standing. So Philadelphia really is the best place to come if you want to understand America.


BURT WOLF: Philadelphia has the largest collection of outdoor murals. They were put up as part of the Mural Arts Program. Russell Meddin, a member of the Mural Advocacy Board, took me on a tour.

RUSSELL MEDDIN: This mural is particularly interesting because, not only is a wonderful piece of art, but it really shows what murals can do for a community. In this area of Grays Ferry, there was a really nasty racial incident in this ethically diverse neighborhood, and they needed a way to bring people back together. And this one has really done it, and it really has worked. The Mural Arts Program began in nineteen eighty-four. It was set up, as a way to combat graffiti because, at that time, Philadelphia was just being blasted with graffiti all over the town. And it was thought that if we could take the people who had been caught for putting tags on walls and sort of channel their energy into something a little more positive, it would be a great way to change things around.

BURT WOLF: That makes sense.

RUSSELL MEDDIN: This one was done last year, and it's called Crystal Snow Skate, and it shows just a wonderful winter scene in the city. Right across the street from the recreation center, this wall had had graffiti on it and has totally taken care of the problem. Burt this is one of my favorite murals because it's large and really colorful. It's called the Philadelphia Muses, and it was done for the Avenue of the Arts, which is a block from here and so, also up here, we have members of the art community. They're members of Philadanco, which is dance company, Philadelphia Opera Company are all depicted on this mural.

BURT WOLF: These are real people, too.

RUSSELL MEDDIN: These are real people, real artists in Philadelphia, what is really fascinating is this is a complete stucco wall. It started as a complete stucco wall. And if you look to the right and left, you see brick columns. She painted those. Over the 2000 murals that we put up, we've had very, very, very little re-hits of graffiti on those walls. So it really has done what it was supposed to do. A lot of our newer murals are being funded by corporations and foundations, so if you have a corporation or foundation and would like to fund a mural in Philadelphia, please give us a call.

BURT WOLF: I don't have one, but you might mention it to them.

RUSSELL MEDDIN: Well, if you have a corporation or, foundation and would like to fund a mural in the city of Philadelphia, please call the Mural Arts Program. We have a wall for you.


BURT WOLF: During the Colonial period, Philadelphia was North America's most important commercial city. It was the home of the American Revolution. And the first capitol of the United States. But it was also a center for great eating and drinking. It was famous for its bakers and pastry makers, ice creams, and restaurants. And it still is. It's the place where a visitor can trace and taste many of the major influences on the history of American eating and drinking.

This is the Reading Terminal Market. It has supplied the cooks of Philadelphia with excellent products for over 100 years. But it is also a good market for tourists. In addition to all of the foods that are meant to be used by local residents, the Reading Terminal Market has foods that are to be eaten here, taken back to your hotel, or brought to your home. You should try the soft pretzels, which are served with a topping of mustard; hoagies, which were developed to celebrate the first presentation in Philadelphia of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta; and cheese steaks, which have become a signature food in the history of Philadelphia gastronomy. Many of the foods at the Reading Terminal Market come in from areas just outside the city, areas that are well worth a visit. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The plantations that grew up around Philadelphia were based on the English manor system. A central element was the bake and brew house that used yeast to produce beer and bread. Wheat was the major cash crop of the colony and it was used to produce the money that the colony needed to trade with England. But it also produced some great bakers.

BURT WOLF: Baking bread was the most important work. But Philadelphia was a great trading port with access to an extensive range of spices. The Mennonites in Germany and the Amish in Switzerland were attracted to Philadelphia because of its promise of religious freedom, but they were master bakers and skilled at the use of spices. Cinnamon buns were one of their specialties. The fame of the sweet baked goods of Eastern Pennsylvania is based on their recipes. They also produced great fruit pies. Three times each week ships sailed into Philadelphia with fresh produce from the Caribbean ... coconuts, bananas, pineapples, limes. They were regularly available. People expected the market to have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Foods and spices came up from the Caribbean but so did settlers. Many of the members of the first African-American community in Philadelphia came up from the Caribbean and introduced West Indian recipes. And it was the city's African-American cooks who, in the late 1700s, and early 1800s, helped organize the city's catering industry. They introduced the first catering contracts and changed the way people entertained. 

BURT WOLF: Market stalls have been in this area since the late 1600s. But the Reading Terminal Market came into existence in the 1890s when The Reading Railroad tried to have a group of market stalls demolished so it could build a new terminal. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Not a chance. The farmers held together and the railroad had to build their station above the market. As a matter of fact, the tracks are still up there. For many years the market and the railroad worked as a team. Someone in the suburbs would place an order, the market would pack it up, put it on the right train, the conductor would drop it off at the right station, and hold it until the customer came in and got it. As we developed a national railroad system, the food manufacturers in Philadelphia learned how to distribute their products throughout the nation.

BURT WOLF: In the middle of the 1800s, Philadelphia headed off to a new place in the world of gastronomy. For over 150 years, it had been a center of individual creativity. Now it was becoming a center for industrial innovation. The small store-front shops making small batches of ice cream by hand were still here. But in 1848, Eber Seaman patented a machine for making ice cream on a large-scale basis. It turned the luxury food into something that could be distributed to a mass market and made Philadelphia-style ice cream famous throughout the country. In 1858, John Mason invented the Mason jar and home canning took off. The market is filled with products that could only exist as a result of Mason's innovation. Philadelphia was also well known for its cheesecake. A shop called the Cheesecake House was in operation during the 1730s. Cream cheese is also a Philadelphia specialty. It was made here during the 1700s from fresh cream that was thickened and pressed into little rectangular forms. Cream cheese and other dairy products from Pennsylvania developed a national reputation for quality. So highly valued were Philadelphia dairy foods, that some products that were never made in Philadelphia carried the Philadelphia name so people would think well of them. Like Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese that was made in New York State. Animal crackers were introduced here in the 1870s by the Wilson Biscuit & Cracker Bakery. Philadelphia became America's focal point for the mass production of quality food products. But it also continued to develop its own local specialties.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The streets of Philadelphia, like the streets in many American cities, are filled with food vendors. Here in Philly the tradition got started with guys who were selling food at the centennial celebration of 1876. They were known as hokey-pokey men and what they sold has changed over the years with changing food fashion. Pepper-pot soup became Italian ices. Breads were introduced with sausages. They even sold antipasto!

WOMAN ON CAMERA: Hi. Can I get two soft pretzels with mustard, please?

BURT WOLF: These days they're famous for soft pretzels served with mustard on top. They've been sold in the streets of Philadelphia at least as far back as the 1820s.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: One of Philadelphia's most interesting gastronomic innovations took place in 1879. Gilbert and Sullivan were giving their first Philadelphia performance of their new operetta "H.M.S. Pinafore." To help celebrate the event, the bakers of the city introduced a bread in the shape of a boat which they called a "pinafore." To join in that celebration the hokey-pokey men began serving their antipasto on that boat-shaped bread.

BURT WOLF: People called the sandwich a "hoagie" using a contracted form of hokey-pokey. These days it's made from luncheon meats, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese and mayonnaise and presented on long Italian bread. And while you're tasting the specialties of Philadelphia, you should include a slice of scrapple. It's a mixture of pork that has been cooked in broth and thickened with cornmeal and buckwheat flavor and served for breakfast along with eggs. It was introduced to America by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers and based on the pot-puddings of Northern Germany. You might also try some of the water ices that came to Philadelphia with immigrants from Southern Italy. And finally, the famous or infamous Philly cheese-steak. Thin slices of chuck-eye steak are cooked on a grill. You can choose from four kinds of cheese.

COOK ON CAMERA: We’ve got American Cheese Whiz … provolone … mozzarella and pepper-jack. The most traditional is the Cheese Whiz. If you ask for a cheese-steak, they kind of expect to get the Cheese Whiz on it.

BURT WOLF: Whichever you choose, it’s melted on top and onto the roll, and finally a topping of grilled onions.


Not on most lists of sites to see in Philadelphia but right downtown and worth a visit is the Masonic Temple, home of the Freemasons. The Freemasons are the world's oldest and largest fraternity, and many of the men who founded the government of The United States here in Philadelphia belonged to the Freemasons, including George Washington.

JOHN MINOTT: Well good morning and welcome to the Masonic Temple.

BURT WOLF: There are free daily tours of their building, and I took one along with a third-grade class from the Friends Select School. Our guide was John Minott.

JOHN MINOTT: This is Oriental Hall, and everything in this room was modeled after different sections of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada in the south of Spain.

BURT WOLF: Masonic Lodges began in Scotland in the 1700s and came to Philadelphia with some of the earliest settlers. This building houses their meeting rooms.

JOHN MINOTT: This building was one of the first in the city of Philadelphia to receive electric power. This is indeed Egyptian Hall, and it is very authentic, down to the Egyptian writing, or hieroglyphics, that can be translated.

JOHN MINOTT: And last, but not least, is the turkey. Now, I have to admit, we really don't know why that turkey is there, but we like to think it's there to honor Benjamin Franklin. Do you know the eagle was the symbol of our country? Well, he wanted the turkey to be the symbol of our country. I would like to thank you very much for visiting us. It's been great fun doing this tour with you guys.


BURT WOLF: Philadelphia has become the leading city for African American tourism in the United States. Part of the reason is historic. But just as important is the role that African American artists play in the city's present cultural life. A perfect example is Philadanco. Joan Myers Brown is the founder.

JOAN MYERS BROWN: Philadanco is a modern, contemporary dance company, and I say modern and contemporary even though it might sound redundant, but we're modern and we do contemporary work.

JOAN MYERS BROWN: Well, I had two dance schools back in the 60s, and by the time we got to the 70s, I had youngsters I had trained who had no where to go and nothing to do with that training, so I thought I would provide a vehicle for them to show their talent.

BURT WOLF: Philadelphia also has an unusual blend of music and dance, which is put on display during the first day of each year.

That's when the Philadelphia New Year Shooters and Mummers Association holds its annual parade. 

Shooters because the early Scandinavian settlers who came to this area in the 1600s would fire their guns as part of their New Years' celebration, Mummers because Momus was the ancient Greek god of mockery. Those two elements came together in the French word mumeur, meaning a disguised participant at a festival who makes fun of society. James Bland, an African American composer of the 1800s wrote "Oh, 'Dem Golden Slippers", which is the official song of the parade. And the official dance step is called a cake walk, a high strut with a backward tilt.

BURT WOLF: For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.