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PHLASHING Through Philly


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    Published 1-2-2020

    Whether your latest resolution was to spend more time with your family or not, this column is for you. Philadelphia was designated the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage City in 2015, placing it on par with Berlin, Mexico City, Paris and Quebec City. It is widely recognized as an international destination, a historic and cultural mecca with venues that are accessible, affordable and family friendly. #visitphilly 
    I recommend CityPASS in every city where available and Philadelphia CityPASS is a member of the program. Passes are available online and can be printed or saved on your mobile device for use at attractions. Users choose up to five of twelve attractions to save up to 45% and bypass the ticket line. Tickets are valid for nine days after first use. A mobile travel guide is offered containing complete attraction information. citypass.com/

    Philly PHLASH is the best bargain in town. These colorful buses travel to 18 attractions, departing from a scheduled route, and two additional sites, Please Touch Museum and the Philadelphia Zoo, after a PHLASH transfer. Visitors can hop on and hop off, buses are 15-minutes apart, an all day pass is $5.00 and Seniors are free with a Septa Key card. This is also a great way to show guests the city. (note: No service from Jan-March 28) RidePhillyPHLASH.com  
    No matter how enthusiastic you are you can’t do it all in a day and most visitors tour Independence National Historic Park on their first trip and after that the choices become more difficult. The original city was planned to be 1,200-acres, 1-mile wide, 2-miles long and was laid out in an innovative grid system. Land to the west of the city was reserved for later use. That, including the cultural corridor known as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, has since become a tourist draw with a vast number of museums, scientific institutions and architectural attractions. 
    Anchoring the parkway is the Philadelphia Art Museum, chartered in 1876 as part of the Centennial Exposition. The current site was selected in 1907 because of its location on the highest point in the city. The building was primarily designed by the African American architect Julian Abele, of the Horace Trumbauer firm, with a design based on classical Greek temples. He received minimal recognition until the late 20th-century. The museum welcomed visitors in March 1928. The 240,000 object permanent collection and special exhibitions are displayed throughout more than 200 galleries. Before leaving the site visitors love to run up the 72 exterior stairs and have their picture taken with the Rocky statue located in a grove to the right of the steps. A marker outside details Abele’s contribution.  www.philamuseum.org 

    Dr. Albert Barnes was born in 1872 in Philadelphia, attended Central High School and earned a medical degree by the age of 20. He created an antiseptic and became a millionaire by the age 40 at which time he began purchasing art for his collection. In 1922 he established the Barnes Foundation and his residence on 12-acres in Merion, PA. where his artworks were displayed to a limited number of people. In 2012 the foundation moved into a new $150-million museum on the Parkway. In 2009 Barnes’ story was the subject of a documentary, “The Art of the Steal”. 

    The 24-room Barnes Collection is one of the world’s best of Impressionist, Post-impressionist and early Modernist European works valued at more than $25-billion. His 2,500 objects include 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 7 van Goghs, 46 Picassos as well as 125 African pieces and additional Native American and metal works. There are more Cézanne paintings there than in all the Parisian museums.  

    Until January 12, 2020 “30 Americans’ is on view. The exhibit explores race and gender through the artworks of 30 contemporary African American artists. Exhibited artists include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barkley L. Hendricks and Kehinde Wiley. www.barnesfoundation.org 

    Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the countries most haunted sites and has been featured on several television shows as well as in movies and music videos. Most people visit for the Halloween extravaganza, Terror Behind the Walls. I suggest that you visit for the history and architecture any time of year. 

    Don’t be surprised that Benjamin Franklin was there from the start. In 1787 he and a group of citizens met to discuss the deplorable conditions at the Walnut Street Jail where all prisoners, regardless of their crime, age or gender were incarcerated together. Crime and disease were rampant. Reforms were instituted but the need for a larger prison, based on the Pennsylvania System of repentance, rehabilitation and spiritual guidance, arose.  

    The co-ed prison, then in the suburbs, was completed in 1829. The design, a central courtyard with 7 corridors and 2-story cellblocks arrayed around it. The stone exterior’s walls were 20-inches thick. The prison was equipped with central heating and toilets and showers in each cell. Prisoners were isolated from each other with their only personal property being a Bible. They were fed and communicated through a hole in the door. 

    Fifty stop tours are self-guided but include an audio tour narrated by Steve Buscemi.  Highlights of the tour  are “the Hole” and a facsimile of the cell occupied by Al Capone complete with Oriental rug, radio and other creature comforts. Elmo Smith and Slick Willie Sutton were other notable prisoners. Women were admitted in 1831 and the cellblocks were desegregated in 1961. Visitors can participate in the Hands-On History program for an interactive experience. The prison, a National Historic Landmark, closed in 1970 and reopened as an attraction in 1994 although visitors, Marquis de Lafayette, Charles Dickens, etc., toured as special guests. 



    Renee Gordon has written a weekly travel column for the Philadelphia Sun Newspaper for the past fifteen years and has published articles on local, national and international travel in numerous publications. Her columns focus on cultural, historic and heritage tourism and her areas of specialization are sites and attractions related to African American and African Diaspora history. Renee has been a guest radio commentator on various aspects of tourism and appeared in a documentary, "The Red Summer of 1919". As an educator for thirty years she was an English teacher, event and meeting planner, served as an educational consultant and intern-teacher mentor. She contributed to textbooks on women's history and classroom management and has facilitated workshops on both subjects. Renee considers herself a "missionary journalist" and as such she continues to promote heritage and sustainable tourism.

    2013 Recipient of African Diaspora World Tourism Flame Keeper in Media Award for Travel Writing

    IABTW- International Association of Black Travel Writers
    PBJ - Progressive Black Journalists


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